After fighting so hard for so long for integration, most of us are reluctant to admit that it has not served us well. This message is especially addressed to black parents, who rightfully take pride in the academic achievements of their children
The “best and the brightest” black high school graduates are heavily recruited by white, and even highly prestigious, universities. In fact, high school college admission counselors will take one look at the high-achieving black student’s record and immediately begin to recommend well-known and hard-to-get-into white institutions. This is very flattering to both the student and the parents.
Well, I am here to tell you that, in most cases, it is a colossal mistake. Your 17- and 18-year child is too fragile to face the overtones of racism alone.
In spite of efforts to appear “integrated,” race remains a critical factor on most campuses. No matter how much of a high achiever or academically gifted a black student is, there is a tendency in white universities to see him or her as a product of affirmative action, not really personally qualified to be there. This notion comes not only from the white students but the faculty, as well. There is very little, if any, validation that this is a brilliant and hard-working student who just happens to be black.
In most classrooms, the young black student immediately becomes the point of reference in any discussion regarding black people. I needn’t remind you that most academic discussions where race is an issue, blacks are portrayed in the negative. This is especially confusing to middle-class blacks because nothing has prepared them to become representatives of the poor and downtrodden or the primary inhabitants of prisons and jails. It comes as cultural shock of mammoth proportion.
Added to this is the undeniable fact that, in practically all close encounters with white students, the black student is invariably reminded that she or he is black in a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. This has the effect of telling the student that “you are here but you are not one of us.”
There is an alternative: the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Contrary to what most people – black and white – think, many of these institutions are absolutely on par with their white counterparts in providing students with a quality undergraduate education.
However, that is not the only advantage, not even the main advantage. The main advantage is that it allows your teenager to remain a real person, not just a black person and certainly not a representative of black people. I remember, when I attended New York University, some white student congratulating me because Willie Mays hit a home run.
When recruiters come on a black campus, it is because they are seeking black applicants. Not so on white campuses. They are there to recruit the sons and daughters of family, friends and colleagues. Black students do not fit in the equation.
On a black campus, your child feels at home. Not so on a white campus. There, they feel like a guest. That is because they are guests. They are not made to feel the ownership that the black campus proffers. The black females are especially minimized. The black males are likely to be star athletes and made to feel bigger than life because they bring high finance and envied recognition to the university. It is sad to see the black female in the stands wildly cheering her black brother who emerges from the locker room with a white co-ed on his arm.
Perhaps the two most precious advantages of attending an HBCU is that your child is likely to find a life-long suitable mate and life-long friends and associates. There is nothing more exciting and more enduring than Homecoming on a black campus. It is really home-coming because the graduates actually feel like they have come home and are reuniting with family. Former classmates and professors remember them well and glorify in their success.
Undergraduates of HBCUs are amply prepared for white graduate and professional schools. They have a firm foundation and have gained the maturity that is needed to side-step racist confrontation, no matter what form it takes.
Gilbert L. Raiford, a Miami resident, is semi-retired after a career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He is a graduate of Hampton University and a former student at New York University, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the University of Connecticut, Hunter College and Brandeis University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo:Gilbert L. Raiford