It is mid August, over six months after I got some unexpected news that I believed would take me closer to my dreams. After four years of writing, studying, and working at white institutions as a part- time college instructor I was admitted into a doctoral program at a historically black institution. People had doubted me and snubbed my ambitions to study English. But I lived to see the words of my professor proven true—that when fact meets fiction function is what matters. I spent the last four years explicating this function to my collective, seeking to uplift through promoting critical thought.
My efforts however have failed to resonate with many because of their pecuniary deficiency. In laymen’s terms, to many I was too broke to be successful. The unstated premise is that I had more that enough education and that failed to land me a full time job–and my focus should be on full time employment not furthering my education.
But I know a nine to five, or working for the board of education does not fit me as it does not allow me the freedom of living through purpose. If not pursuing a means to provide a service to the black collective, blacks are merely prostitutes in various forms. Some wear clear heels and pick dollars off the floor, others wear business professional and made six figures a year—it is all prostitution.
With this in mind, all my endeavors were a means to an end, not an end by any means. It had been seven long years since I left the Mecca and I never knew much I had missed the hilltop until I graduated and lived life beneath it. But little did I know that the closest I would get to the Mecca would be the graduate school pen they sent me in the mail.
I should mention that as a safety net I applied to the university I had been working at for the past year. I was impressed by the black faculty and felt a sense of community I hadn’t felt at any other position. Yet, it still wasn’t Howard. It also didn’t present an opportunity to engage with black scholars at a black research center.
I waited six months for a promised graduate assistantship, and for those whom this term appears esoteric, I mean a means to pay for my education. As a woman who has invested much of her money and her adulthood in school, my doctoral ambitions were to find an institution who would invest in my pursuits. I also sought to find an institution who shared my mission to boost the black community, and believed in my work enough to invest in it. But unfortunately the desire to pursue an education at a black institution without adding any more to my tab, proved mutually exclusive.
The news hit me like a ton of bricks, because I am now faced with attending the white man’s institution for free, take out another loan, or defer admissions without the promise of funding for next year. The Langston Hughes poem “Harlem” comes to mind. Whether deferred dreams “stink like rotten meat” or “explode,” deferment is a living death to the black dreamer.
My experience, while heart- breaking and frustrating, is in no way unique. I know that there are plenty of those in the black community who also wish to attend a black university. There are also a good portion of blacks who encourage black youth to attend black universities, but it seems this encouragement can easily turn to discouragement in the wake of financial conflict.
Specifically, many of those throughout the diaspora who have also dreamed of attending the Mecca have also been deterred by a lack of funding. I recently read an article about an undergraduate student who was tossed out of her dorm and sleeping on a friend’s floor trying to scrape enough money together to pay her tuition. I watched another video on Youtube where a young lady was told shortly before classes started that she did not qualify for an award granted upon admission.
Many reading this will take the easy way out and attribute those denied entry into a Historically Black College or University as reflective of personal not institutional fault. This kind of faulty reasoning is the same systemized attitude that labels blacks lazy rather than disenfranchised. Also, if black people are not “good enough” for a historically black college or University it seems the black college or university is about as black as BET.
One look at the website however reveals that the University has extended the contract of its current president and hired some new faces, including a number of white men. This proves unsettling as the salary paid to these white men could very well afford deserving members of the black collective a means to study at a so-called black institution.
It’s also important to note that while associated with black achievement, Howard started as a white man’s attempt to create a place where his daughter and others denied an education, would have an opportunity to learn. Much like many of the now black neighborhoods were once white, so was Howard University. So this upcoming “gentrification” appears more like a “return” to whiteness rather than a seizing of black goods. It is also highly likely that what is happening at Howard foreshadows the fate of historically black colleges that do not have white origins. Given the current climate, funding for HBCU’s is may very much dissolve and force many to seek redemption by recruiting wealthy white, and non-black students. Slowly, the once black institutions will become increasingly white, our legacies replaced with “diverse” initiatives that deem Lincoln as prevalent as Alain Locke. In summary, it seems the black university is being gentrified in the same manner seen in black communities like Bedford Stuyvesant, Harlem, Washington DC, and Oakland.
Some may deem my analysis sour grapes, but my assertions function to consider the larger picture of white intent as illustrated through collective behavior. Just a few months ago, the overt racist Betsy DeVos gave the commencement speech at historically black college Bethune-Cookman, where a black faculty member chastised graduates overtly dissatisfied with Devos’ presence. If inviting a white racist to advise a group of HBCU graduates pacified in their acts of retaliation is not a sign as to where things are heading, I am unsure what is.
I wish this issue was as simple as allotting aid to those admitted, but the education available still isn’t enough to save blacks from the temptation of self-deprecation. I even wish that saving the black university from gentrification was the answer. In all honesty, there will be many melanated individuals who see the university as elevated in the increased white presence. There will be many who feel increased white presence is a sign of something blacks have done right, making those angered or disgusted by their integrated environment few and far between.
The issue exposed in this conflict is ownership. These so called historically black colleges or universities, and seemingly black communities were never truly ours. Thus, together gentrified communities and universities illustrate that that which is truly ours can never be taken away. This fact is illustrated in the non-black presence at the black college or university. A glance through a few faculty profiles at these so-called historically black colleges, reveals that non-blacks often maintain leadership positions in the Africana studies department (of all places) and comfortable teaching positions in other departments.
Similarly, the black community, while overtly bearing black community representatives, remains largely controlled by unseen whites who live fail to reside in the black community or have its best interest in mind. This veiled reality illustrates that the black college, like the black community, are heavily institutionalized, functioning to control the black body by nurturing its destruction, either by physical imprisonment or mental imprisonment, known to some as assimilation and to others as conventional success.
Many blacks also seem to feel that “diversity” is the cure for the conflicts of contemporary society. Diversity however is not real in a county rooted in racial injustice. Therefore, as a collective a non-integrated environment that places blackness at the center of all things seems most beneficial in cultivating the necessary self-esteem to advance the black collective. Thus, it is vital that blacks learn to read Kemetian language, l how to self-sustain through farming, sewing, cooking and healing naturally to succor the black collective. Reacquiring our native language and making our initiatives less about acquiring whiteness and more about reasserting blackness needs to be at the forefront of the black agenda.
In my evolution, my doctoral pursuits became far less individual and more about uplifting my community by becoming immersed in it. I can now say that while my assertions were once to attend a university and obtain my doctorate, this entire experience has made my ambitions so much larger.
I now see that black institutions, while significantly “blacker” than the Ivy League and other traditionally white colleges, are not black enough to truly uplift the black community. Specifically, these schools are far too often a platform for black bodies to do white things like acquire skills that prepare black bodies for plantation jobs. My doctorate, wherever I choose to attend, will be about unpacking this truth and working to correct the systemic adversity cast onto the black collective.
Furthermore, while I have always loved black literature, black writing, and any facet of black creativity, I now see its function as crucial in illustrating black ability to extract beauty from any situation– no matter how ugly. Furthermore, I study the discipline, not the language of English, as a vehicle to create beauty in the ugliness of white supremacy. In short, writers like Gertrude Dorsey Brown, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, etc are why I study English, as they illustrate that the good that comes from bad must come from us.