In Carter G. Woodson’s most famous work, The Mis-Education of the Negro, he calls on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) to assist with the formulation of the thought processes and the development of Blacks who seek to use education as a tool of liberation. For centuries, whites have trained Blacks to believe that they are naturally inferior and must find a way to “fit” into the white way of life because that is “what’s right.” Woodson noted that one reason whites have been able to control Blacks is because of the control they have over their thinking. Woodson posits, “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
Because this was the type of education Blacks were receiving, meaning the type of education that taught them how to be inferior, HBCU’s were charged with deconstructing this mindset and way of thinking. Therefore, HBCU’s took pride in their heritage, taught “their” history and demanded excellence in every academic discipline taught. Unfortunately, not all, but many HBCU’s have drifted away from this plan of operation for the sake of “fitting” into the cooperate structure of America.
Today, many HBCU’s care more about numbers than quality (meaning the quality of students they accept). Students are sought based on their ability to pay tuition—whether it be with cash or student loans. They are viewed as being “customers” and faculty and staff at these institutions are charged with providing their “customers” with what they ask for. Now, if they are requesting a quality education, which is why they are there, then of course, they will, and shall, get what they ask for. However, because they are viewed as customers and in America “the customer is always right,” faculty and staff are literally pushed against the wall when the student, or the customer fails a course, fails to submit documentation or follow protocol for any type of assistance. Faculty and staff get the blame if the student fails or if something is not handled for the student; the concepts of training, demanding excellence and student accountability have been thrown away. Students, not all but most, are simply pushed through their collegiate careers simply because they “paid” for it. Faculty members are literally punished for being demanding and asking their students for excellence. This way of doing things does not train them for the reality of living in Black in America; it hinders them in a competitive world that already views them as inferior.
Many of the leaders of these institutions of higher learning are doing their students a great disservice by treating academia like a major corporation. In white America, corporations only care about numbers and “return on investments.” What is truly being said when these terms arise on the campus of HBCU’s? What is being said is how we can be more like these “white” institutions that have money. No one is asking about the true needs of the Black students that attend HBCU’s. Instead, they are being sucked into a corporate vacuum that will do nothing more than train them how to enter through the back door.
Not only is the customer mentality hurting HBCU’s but also the curriculum. Because of money trouble, when discussing what programs should be cut, unfortunately, Africana Studies programs are usually the first on the chopping block. Why? Because of the lack of majors they would say, but now what should be asked is why aren’t there more majors in such programs. This question is not being asked but the answer is simple; HBCU’s have moved away from pride in heritage. These programs are given less money than others on campus and are not fully staffed (in most cases). Students are not taught the importance of their history and place in America in their first year seminar classes that many HBCU’s offer. What would Woodson say?
Therefore, this is a cry to HBCU’s to return to their purpose. The best way to end this cry is with a quote from Munson Steed:
“I beseech you to liberate yourselves from the vestiges of ignorance and rid yourself of the paralysis that infects your mind. Move from living a life based on the lowest common denominators and elevate yourself to higher ground, which is more than just keeping your head above water. Understand that the victory is beyond simply winning the battle. Warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. The mis-education of the millennium Negro has given rise to a perverse subset of African American celebrities who in the name of a musical genre and lifestyle called hip-hop forgot about the African American journey and the victory dance. The movement of African Americans leaping ahead of their parents like a game of generational leapfrog, ascending from the ghetto but not so far that they expunge from memory their cultural identities in order to be surrounded by those who look differently from them, and only appreciate the African American when he scores high on the SAT, and soars high on a basketball court.
Collectively, we must measure ourselves and celebrate our black history beyond the month of February. And we must never question the necessity and validity of Black History Month. The accomplishments of my dear good friends, W.E.B. Du Bois the first black Harvard graduate; and Booker T. Washington, who established Tuskeegee Institute; and our other friends like the founders of Miles College; or Dorothy Height, who headed the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years; and all of those other historic and iconic figures who held us to the course.
Why are we as African Americans declining in the number of individuals attending institutions of higher learning? Why would we question the value of HBCUs and self-impose the dilemma of what is noteworthy and valuable in our culture? Anyone born after 1949 should push for African American history year. Black Americans should have developed an entire calendar that would highlight the achievements that we can reflect on and use as the foundation to erect the legacy of nobility on. We will remember with dignity those who came under attack for integrating uncharted territories, we will remember those who were first. Those who drank when they came home, who cried while they slept, who worried and were gray before their time.
Oh, the miseducation of the Negro who now yields submissively to being petted and patronized. He wants to be the single Negro speaking for the millions of unemployed and unskilled who know nothing of Du Bois and Booker T Washington. If they did, they would mirror that behavior and come to a new and heightened appreciation for Black History Month and Dr. King’s birthday. They would follow the trail of blood and tears to the final destination. The angels are still questioning why we are falling prey to social ills inflicted on ourselves by ourselves.
I end this discourse on the plight of African Americans as Carter G. Woodson would in a Letter to a People. Why do you insist on creating a maze of confusion in your mind, and then look on quixotically as others celebrate your culture and your history? Fashion yourselves as a collective, and as a group to surpass the tea party, to collectively move any group of individuals who are working together for the advancement of their people.”
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