In Defense of Black Colleges: A Note to Black Parents

Please discard the thinking that historically Black colleges are not an option for your children. That they should attend white colleges to “learn how to get along with everyone and prepare… them for the working world.” This thinking is killing our institutions, many of which are at the brink of closing due to lack of finances. Moreover, this logic serves to privilege whites at the expense of our own devaluation.

Contrary to what we’re taught, Black colleges and universities offer small class sizes, phenomenally successful and committed faculty, and an environment that edifies both the spirit and intelligence of our students. Prior to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, when Blacks began to attend white universities in larger numbers, historically Black colleges were the only educational option for people of color. Some four decades later, in so-called “post-racial America,” we bought into the illusion of integration and abandoned our tried and true institutions, forgetting how we came into prominence in the first place.

Arguably our greatest intellectual (W.E.B. Dubois), our greatest legal mind (Thurgood Marshall), and our greatest advocate for social change (Martin Luther King Jr.) were all products of Black colleges, not to mention Oprah Winfrey, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, Debbie Allen, Nikki Giovanni, and about 15 of our current Black Congresspeople. We should also add that over 70% of all Black doctors and dentists in the U.S. are Black college graduates, along with 50% of our Black engineers, and 35% of our Black lawyers. More immediately, one of my biggest inspirations, my mother, is a proud graduate of Fisk University.

Of course, our tendency to disregard and dismiss the validity of Black colleges speaks to the larger assumption that white institutions and ideas represent the standard or reference points of excellence for the world. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but attending school with whites does not magically make you a better student or naturally endow you with greater business acumen or worldly knowledge. We must stop privileging whites! As I once heard a powerful minister say: “Our ice is as cold as anybody’s, our sugar is as sweet as anybody’s; our hearts are as clean and our minds are as keen.”

Interestingly, Black and Brown people will soon constitute a majority of America’s citizenry. White folks will have to adjust to interactions with Black and Brown co-workers, employers, business partners, educators, theologians, law enforcement/government officials… what we may call the “Browning of America.” Yet I doubt that white parents are insisting that their children attend Black schools to better prepare them to navigate the world they will inherit. To say that it is disgusting, self-hating, and nauseating to observe many Black people promote such nonsense, is my attempt at diplomacy. It is troubling to see so many of us, stuck in the Wizard of Oz dilemma, where we seek miracles from an external wizard of oz rather than recognizing and building upon our internal brilliance. Before privileging white universities and dismissing historically Black colleges, we might want to remember what the good witch told Dorothy: “There’s no place like home.”

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