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Roll Over & Die, or Shut Up & Sell Out: HBCUs & the Talented Tenth in the Obama Era
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“HBCUs constitute three percent of America’s colleges but produce 20 percent of black graduates, 50 percent of black public school teachers and lawyers, 80 percent of black judges, and 90 percent of black BA’s…”
If there is a talented tenth, the phrase W.E.B. Dubois coined a century ago to denote the black elite whose success will enable them to somehow lift up the other 90% its beating heart lives those black colleges and universities. But the first black president is no fan of historically black colleges and universities.
Back in 2011, the Obama administration, more in tune with what its Wall Street contributors want than what its voting constituents need, made student loans significantly more difficult to get. Its new policies immediately caused 28,000 mostly African American students to drop out of historically black colleges alone for lack of funds to continue their education, and denied historically black colleges and universities a crucial $150 million a year in revenue. In the two years since, historically black colleges have begged for the restoration of the old rules on college loans but to no avail. The Obama administration has compounded the injury by releasing what it calls “college scorecards” that rank schools by graduation rate at a time when poorer students are dropping out in huge numbers nationwide due to economic stress.
Under these circumstances, the only way for historically black colleges to survive is to do the impossible — to attract ever wealthier students at a time when overall black family incomes are dropping. This is a financial crisis that HBCU trustees across the country know they cannot survive unless something changes.
Many have noted the past two years that if these things happened under a Bush-Cheney administration the black colleges, their alumni and traditional civil rights organizations would have been in federal court a long time ago. But the black misleadership class’s true causes are the careers of its own members and seeking the favor of those in power. So despite the title of an otherwise pretty good New Republic article “Why Black Colleges Might Sue the Obama Administration.” the spectacle of black colleges suing a black president to restore their students’ access to higher education is just never never never going to happen.
What’s their alternative? Jarret L. Carter of HBCU Digest is absolutely in tune with a large section of this class when he suggests that Condoleeza Rice be named the next president of Howard University, bringing her blood-stained rolodex of contacts from the board of Chevon, which once named a double-hulled oil tanker after her, and her record of lying and promoting genocidal warfare around the world to that office. Rice, he contends, can sell corporations on the proposition that “investing in” — basically taking over the cream of historically black colleges and universities will somehow benefit them. How any of this “uplifts” more than the tiniest fraction of African Americans who become admirals, generals and corporate fixers is unclear.
Those are the choices our black misleadership class sees for historically black colleges and universities. They can roll over and die. Or they can shut up and sell out. This is the corner they’ve led themselves into, and why we call them the black misleadership class.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He is NOT an HBCU alum, and lives and works near Marietta GA. Contact him via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.