Or The Case Against Integration
If you HBCU is dead, dying or in disarray it’s probably because you didn’t go there. You probably didn’t even realize it was yours. It was just that one school in the bad neighborhood where you were all, “My God! Who put Spellman in the middle of the ghetto?” because you’re not from Atlanta. You’re from Chicago or St. Louis or New York or Los Angeles where they don’t have HBCUs and colleges are in “nice” places. Your expectations are framed by the not-so-magical, integrated world of suburbia where if you were fortunate to actually get a decent education you dreamed of “A Different World” and most certainly got it if you actually pursued that dream at a black school.
But most of us didn’t go chasing after Dwayne and Whitley. Not us, the children of integration. And a lot of didn’t see those schools as ours, even if they’d been created for us, and went on to create mini-versions of it with other black students through self-segregation on the “white” college campus, ususally by joining black sororities and fraternities and trying to live amongst other black students. Because, in the end, even though we grew up integrated, we still didn’t always feel welcome.
Which was the crux of a discussion two older black men had with me years ago for a newspaper story. Both were ministers and both were members of the NAACP. They’d belonged to the local chapter in Bakersfield, Calif. for years, and they’d joined the larger organization when they were still young men trying to grasp the fight for Civil Rights of the 1950s and 60s. They both confirmed something that had been nagging in my heart nearly all of my life.
Integration wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.
More after the jump.
The goal was to get fairness, but what they lost was in some ways so much greater, they said. They’d lost an entire community. They’d lost support. They’d lost businesses. They saw black neighborhoods, once prosperous, gutted, leaving only those who couldn’t leave behind. They saw jobs disappear. They saw a “me first” attitude, a lack of a unified front or coherent strategy to deal with problems. They saw a drop in marriage, a rise in out-of-wedlock births and crime. They saw young people embrace ignorance over intellect and excellence. They saw churches become less and less the voice and defenders of the people, and more of a passive actor peddling salvation, but no where to be found as AIDs started picking off family members in secret.
And they blamed it all on integration. That all efforts for inclusion had come at the expense of blacks. That we’d been forced to give up a way of life to finally have the freedom to live our lives. After all, it wasn’t white students who were woken up at 4 in the morning to be bused across town and they didn’t cut off the garbage pick-up in the white neighborhood. They didn’t close down the white hospital in St. Louis City and make everyone go to Homer G. Phillips. Blacks wanted equality and got a destruction, en masse, of their institutions.
A high price to pay for the freedom to sit down at a restaurant or go to the college of your choice.
The men I interviewed admitted that segregation wasn’t exactly a paradise. Poverty was rampant. There was little money for anything. Entire communities were neglected by the government they paid taxes into. Schools were uneven at best, bad at worst (usually from lack of funding). There was a constant concern of property being seized suddenly if a black community was “too” successful. The Klan ran almost everything in Southern towns as back then it was one part racist terrorist group, one part social club for police, judges, business-owners and politicians. Yet despite all this, there was something to be said of having a piece of your own. Now, in the pursuit of affluence, the old men argued we’d come up with a bad case of “the white man’s ice water is colder” and had left those not as strong to twist in the wind.
Once we could actually sample from the White’s Only fountain without retribution, many of us never looked back.
I hear it from black business owners, especially those who run services, that getting black clientele is difficult as they often won’t do business with the firm unless they know they are doing business with white people as well. And I’ve been witness to the whole “Niggas can’t do shit” mentality my entire life, where black people tear down other black people for making an attempt at creating something, as if we’ve become allergic to our own success outside of athletics and entertainment.
Overall, the number of black business owners is far lower than the national average, and their businesses also “tend to have lower sales, fewer employees and smaller payrolls, lower profits, and higher closure rates.”
(Santa Cruz economics professor Rob Fairlie) reveals the worst part: Change is nowhere on the horizon. “There’s no evidence business ownership rates have improved a lot in the last 25 years,” he says. “Blacks have made fair gains in the labor market, education, politics and legal issues, but it seems to me like business ownership and performance are areas that have not seen the kind of progress that we’ve seen elsewhere.” (Entrepreneur)
And I hear it from both older black men and women who are convinced the children of their children have gone insane. When my grandparents were raising their family of eleven in Newport, Ark. more than 63 percent of black of a marriagble age were married. Rates have plummeted since then with the startling statistic of the rate of marriage among black women going from 62 percent in 1950 to 38 percent in 1995. Unemployment is abysmal. Blacks fought so hard to get access to the good blue collar jobs that had been denied them since the post war boom, but by the time black men made it to the workshop floor, the 1980s came along and those same car companies and factories who built the white middle class moved to Mexico.
Since most black families had little institutional wealth to build on and the few with some money lived scattered lives across the suburban divide, the same poverty that dogged black families before the Civil Rights Movement still existed in the integrated world of today.
It seemed that at the precise minute when the world was finally opening up to blacks due to the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, the double-edged sword of integration was hacking away at the very community these fledgling families, businesses and schools needed to weather through the roughest of times.
So for all the gains, success is uneven.
Which brings us back to the HBCU. This year a study was release stating that the graduation rate for black students at historically black colleges and universities is “4 percentage points lower than the national college graduation rate for black students” and “only 29 percent of the male students at HBCUs achieve a bachelor’s degree within six years.”
While it’s easy to spin this as abysmal, let’s be realistic — the difference is FOUR percent. The national graduation rate for black students at predominantly white schools is 42 percent, with black women graduating at a slight higher rate of 46 percent compared to 32 percent of men. (The Journal of Blacks and Higher Education)
Arguably, the integrated campus is doing just as bad as the all black campus in churning out black graduates. And if you are a black male student, the grass most certainly was not greener on the other side.
Opinion columnist Earle J. Fisher argued that the so-called facts obscure the reality about what an HBCU is.
If the racial divide in other aspects of our nation was merely four percentage points, we would have conventions all over the country celebrating the advancement of racial equality we have made. The reality is that with all of the tools and resources predominantly white institutions of higher education have at their disposal, one would think that the margin of difference in black students’ graduation rates would (and arguably should) be a lot larger …
It is unjust to assume that students at colleges and universities that are not historically black, who are given higher accessibility to privileges that assist them in academic advancements, should not excel at a greater rate than students at HBCUs, who do not have the same access to those privileges.
Have we simply traded one form of inequality for another? Before we had separate and unequal and today we have separate and still unequal, but you can go to the Starbucks without being attacked by a firehose?
Was it worth it if the good things we created had to be sacrificed for the dream of inclusion?
The Snob’s view: While integration wasn’t a magical pill that cured racism in our society, I honestly believe that there have been some social benefits. Alas in the pursuit of those benefits (see: better jobs, access to better schools, better homes and the ability to travel the country without having to sleep in your car because no hotel will let you stay there, the current president), we did lose a sense of community and traditionally, minority communities — from Eastern Europeans to Mexicans to Chinese — have benefited from relying on each other. Integration developed a sort of “divide and conquer” black hole that separated the more successful blacks from the rest of the community.
Many black professionals who had worked in segregated schools and hospitals lost their jobs when these institutions were closed so they could be consolidated into integrated state run facilities. This forced many of the educated black middle class to abandon their communities in search of work.
Thusly, classism came to Blackland in a big way and ultimately, I think this was the biggest unintended consequence of integration.
So? Do you agree? Disagree? Discuss below and if you feel strongly enough write the rebuttal as to why integration was necessary and why you can’t blame all of our problems on the end of American Apartheid.