It doesn’t matter how many black college football and basketball games ESPN broadcasts, how many HBCU graduates the network hires, and how much the network has done to diversify the industry of journalism. The HBCU community can’t let its suspension of Jemele Hill ride because the intersection of constitutional right and cultural allegiance should never be a separate track from industrial success.
HBCU advocates know what its like to have to choose between culture and industry, and the choice is not comfortable or fair by any standard. Out of 106 historically black schools, less than 10 of those are easily recognizable by hiring managers and executives who even when looking for black talent, often don’t have black colleges on instant recall for recruitment or have been misled to believe that the majority of our graduates lack flexibility in work skills and leadership.
We know what HBCUs do for our lives and careers, and how hard we have to work to make everyone else outside of our doors to respect that process. So now that Hill is at the center of a culture war with the president of the United States and a base which because of his words is increasingly comfortable with telling black folks “you either love being rich and famous in your or love being black, but you can’t do both,” that war should resonate with each and everyone one of us. Deeply.
Black people should not have to choose between our jobs and our blackness. And when one of us breaches the all-American ideal that we stay silent in the former on the subject of the latter, we almost instantly face the threat of being fired, discredited, or disgraced in the public square. ESPN has every right as a private corporation to suspend Hill for her advocacy on Twitter. The company has intimate business ties with the league she took on in her latest tweets, and has a large viewing audience among the base of people offended by her calling President Donald Trump a white supremacist.
But in a perfect world, Hill would’ve quit ESPN after the first run-in with Trump and launched her independently owned podcast backed totally by grassroots funding from black listeners. She would be the voice of our generation. But she can’t bank on that, because we aren’t economically or socially wired to instantly find ways to work independently of white privilege and black subjugation.
We’re wired to complain, to fight, and to take small victories of wealth and low-level acceptance over bigger rights like democracy, autonomy of perspective, and freedom.
Remaining silent on Hill’s saga puts us in a dangerous place on multiple fronts. If they can suspend her for legitimate dialog on her Twitter account, can they stop showing our games if our players kneel during the anthem? What position are we putting upon HBCU graduates at the company like Stan Verrett, Bomani Jones and leagues of others working backstage if we don’t publicly tell ESPN that we support them and their views, and expect all to flourish in their space or to face the consequence of our departed support?
Most of all, what message are we sending if we, yet again, allow our women to be the boldest among us, and refuse to back them with sincerity and courage of our own – as men or as whole communities?
Hill is not an HBCU graduate, but has been in our space before. And she’s handled those moments with a sincere and professional appreciation for what HBCU culture means today and not just in reverence of yesteryear.
Don’t get mad at ESPN. Don’t watch it. Don’t buy the products they sell, don’t Tweet them about putting our athletes on the SC Top Ten, don’t argue about what right they have to make personnel decisions. Don’t read the Undefeated and don’t let them on to campus to tell our stories until she’s back on the air.
But more than strategically reacting to their decision, proactively appeal to campuses like Hampton, Howard, North Carolina A&T, Morgan State and others to insure that she and other black journalists wishing to plead our cause on the biggest of stages have a place outside of assimilation, political gamesmanship and corporate racial politics.
HBCUs invented safe space. It’s time we started being a little more generous with our real estate.