If there were ever a clarion call for African American college bound students to reconsider their increasing predilection to choose white universities as their preference for higher education, it is now. The recent flurry of high profile incidents of racism, expose the underlying racist undercurrent and hostility toward African American students at white institutions of higher learning. The noose hanging incident (April 1, 2015) at Duke University only days before winning the NCAA men’s basketball championship underscores the discrimination that black students and faculty endure on a regular basis at white colleges across this country.
Shamefully, but not shockingly, the noose incident at Duke University is only one of several examples of blatant acts of racism including hateful speech occurring on the Duke campus directed at black students. In an MSNBC interview, a leading African American student at Duke profoundly stated the realities of black college life at white universities when he said that “the occasional display of public demonstrations of racism doesn’t bother me. What’s most concerning is the daily acts of racism that black students contend with every day.”
Sarah Burks, another African American student at Duke, was quoted as saying “punishing the culprit will not change the culture of racism on campus.” She added that friends of hers also experienced racism at Duke. The noose hanging from a tree outside the student center is only the latest reincarnation of a centuries-old symbol used to terrorize and intimidate black people by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, and individuals seeking to deny equality to blacks. The fact that this potent symbol of racism and white supremacy is being openly flaunted on college campuses more than 50 years after the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka speaks volumes as to the continuing resistance to black acceptance on white college campuses. Although the Brown case outlawed the doctrine of “separate but equal” and opened the door to integration in schools previously denying entrance to black students like Ole Miss, University of Alabama and others, it’s impossible to legislate morality and civility.
The underlying culture of white supremacy and black inferiority is too deeply ingrained in the social and political fabric of this country. The United States of America was constructed with the building blocks of separate and unequal. Racism is in its DNA. Forced integration has not, and will never change the hearts and minds of those whose birth right and promise of prosperity, rests on the bedrock principles of European dominance and control. The recent racist video chant at the University of Oklahoma by the white fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon members is another example of the volcanic eruption of racism at white colleges across America. The chant, “There will never be a nigger at SAE … You can hang them from a tree, but they will never sign with me … There will never be a nigger at SAE,” illustrates I believe, the true sentiments of whites with regard to black integration into white colleges and universities. These institutions are the bastions and gate keepers of Anglo/ European culture and white supremacy. The reaction to the video by OU President David Boren and head football coach Bob Stoops was predictable and more than a little contrived. Their feigned outrage begs the question of motivation, and is consistent with this modern age of political correctness. After all, what could they say? Other than to condemn the racist acts as an anomaly, and not representative of the University as whole, there was no other viable response.
Shortly after the incident became public, head coach Bob Stoops participated in a protest and “walk out” along with black OU football players and supporters. Stoops, of course is no dummy. He realizes that his livelihood and the millions of NCAA dollars that flow into the OU campus coffers, rests on the contentment and participation of the black athletes who comprise more than 85% of the starting lineup. This statistic is also true of the other major college football powerhouses. In these modern, ultra-competitive times, major sports programs can’t compete at the elite levels without the black athlete. They’ve tried and failed. Former University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant fielded mostly all white teams until the very end of his career. Bryant finally capitulated after other white universities began to saturate their teams with black players which resulted in a competitive advantage. Bryant then employed the old adage, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
Wow! What a difference a few decades make. I can remember sitting in front of the television set as a small boy with my father and asking, “Daddy, who are you pulling for?” My father’s answer would invariably be, “I don’t know chief, which team has a colored boy?” It’s amazing how far we have come in the way of integrated college athletics, where now in the two major market sports of football and basketball, you are hard pressed to find a white player on the starting lineup. All the star players are black, and all of the coaches and athletic directors are white, with very few exceptions. Yet, what seems like a windfall for black athletes has actually been a financial windfall for white colleges and universities. Those same institutions that once vowed never to integrate have changed their tune and now openly court black athletes and tolerate the average black student non-athlete as a necessary evil.
One of the biggest lies, myths and pre-conceived notions about modern day big time college athletics, is that in order to be drafted you must attend one of the big name white universities. This is historically untrue, and a new-age variation of “the white man’s ice is colder” syndrome. Black players were going into the pro’s in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s from black colleges like Tennessee State, Florida A&M, Grambling, Bethune-Cookman, Southern University, and Texas Southern long before integration took hold as inevitable and acceptable on white college campuses. Then just like now, if you have the talent, white professional scouts will find you.
So the question of whether it’s necessary for black students and athletes to suffer the humiliation and degradation of racism and disparate treatment, in order to reach their goals of success at the professional levels and beyond academia can be answered unequivocally. History shows us that the answer is “No.” We don’t have to be validated by involvement at white institutions to prove our worth. We never did. Black over achievers from HBCUs has been making made their mark on society for over 150 years. The tragedy is that many of these successes have gone unrecorded, and therefore unnoticed. Let us not be fooled. The oppressor has always sought to hide our greatness and take credit for our accomplishments. If it was good enough for my father and mother, it’s good enough for me.
At one time it was useful and necessary to break down barriers of legal and social discrimination. That time served African Americans very well. Now is the time to return home to our roots, and strengthen by our attendance and patronage, the nurturing hand of black colleges which gave the Negro race its first opportunity for higher education. When all of the other doors were closed for our educational advancement due to racism and Jim Crow, we built our own, and we educated our own. In many ways integration was the death knell for the celebration of the spirit of Black, educational and entrepreneurial independence and excellence. We have truly lost our way.
Even though the University of Oklahoma expelled two students for leading a racist song that sparked outrage across the country when it became public, that action by the university doesn’t solve the problem of racism on American college campuses. The underlying problem is systemic and endemic. Racism and white supremacy is ingrained in the social, economic and political fabric of these institutions which were built on the backs of blacks, but not for the education or inclusion of blacks.
So while universities and the national media will try to paint the picture of acts like these being isolated incidents, common sense and high profile examples of racism in all facets of American life tell us it’s not. My question is: Why? Are we Blacks gluttons for punishment or just so enamored with the prospects of assimilation with white folk, that we willingly suffer the slings and arrows of demoralizing abuse and disparate treatment? I again ask the question first raised by W.E.B. DuBois, “What is it about whiteness that makes it so desirable?” Surely in 2015 African Americans must realize that there is nothing inherently magical about being white, and nothing inherently inferior about being black. We have the ability to create our own institutions and traditions of excellence, just like our ancestors. “Back to Black” must become more than just a slogan, but a mantra that symbolizes and mobilizes a return to our rich heritage and legacies which produced many of the great African Americans of the last century.
I suggest that the solution is not to try to change white folk’s opinion of us or demonstrate that we are just as competent and talented as they. We’ve done that for centuries, and it has not made us any more acceptable as a race in any significant way. What we need is a return to our historically black colleges and universities in numbers and patronage which equals our mass exodus over the last 40 years to the universities of the Empire. We must return back to black colleges where we are not marginalized, tolerated or stereotyped all in the name of diversity, which in reality is a concept that is unattainable aside from numbers and quotas on a spreadsheet. Real diversity can only come through genuine acceptance, shared respect, and cultural appreciation for that which has forever been viewed as inferior among Europeans.
With respect to the African American Oklahoma football recruit who decided against attending OU after the racist video rant came to light, I applaud his decision. A message must be sent! I caution the young man however, against substituting one racist institution for another. All white colleges and universities contain racist elements and attitudes which will not go away in our lifetimes if ever. Why not return to our black colleges, the only safe haven against the spoken and unspoken anti-black sentiments which undergird the very fabric of this country. I say, “Back to Black,” young African American man and woman. Let’s rebuild and re-establish the proud legacies of our own historically black colleges and universities before it’s too late. Our schools are under attack just like our young black men and the civil rights gains of the last 50 years. We must make “Back to Black” more than a slogan. We must make it a movement.
Editor’s Note: Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at the-truth-teller.com. You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.