Betsy DeVos does not understand black history when it comes to higher education. At all. (
Pop quiz time! What was the impetus for the founding of historically black universities and colleges (HBUCs)?
I’ll give you a hint. This statement from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? It's not the right answer.
“[HBCUs] started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution. HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.”
I wish you could see me sitting here waving my hands around and rubbing my forehead as I try to formulate a cogent explanation for all the ways this statement is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.
Let’s start with HBUCs. Some of the finest institutions of higher learning in this country are historically black universities and colleges. They have a distinguished history and have graduated extraordinary people into all fields, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Spike Lee, all of the Tuskegee airmen, and Oprah.
What they are NOT is some shining example of a Republican-style “school choice” agenda. They grew out of the fact that American universities and colleges were too damn racist to let black people come to school with white people.
During the Jim Crow era and beyond, universities and colleges were segregated and students of color couldn't even apply.
It wasn’t an absence of opportunity; it was a flat out denial of opportunity.
If you were black in America and wanted to go to college? You were going to have to first start your own college. Luckily, some missionary organizations were willing to help people of color get schools up and running. That was nice of them, but it was still segregation. So only kinda nice. Not all the way nice. A still-racist type of nice.
Why doesn't the Secretary if Education know this? Good question. This is not arcane information. You can read all about it on the Department of Education website, actually. It says this for anyone to read: “At a time when many schools barred their doors to black Americans, these colleges offered the best, and often the only, opportunity for a higher education.”
"Often the only opportunity for higher education," Madame Secretary. Not a choice. A necessity.
I’m pretty much out of patience for people in power who cannot accept that RACISM IS A REAL THING. I’m not here for listening to people gloss over the stain systemic racism has left all over this country of ours. This is our history, it’s time to own it. The only way we can do better is to know better.
Go back to school, Secretary DeVos. You’ve got a lot to learn.
Image Credit: Flickr/Michael Vadon