Academia Can Rise to the Next Level
March 25, 2002
By Tommy Ates
Can black academia practice what they preach on affirmative
action and the hiring process? Well, probably yes and no.
The question of whether racial discrimination exists against
whites at historic black colleges depends on what definition
of discrimination that person subscribes to. Ironically, affirmative
action for minorities at closed white universities in the
1960s opened the door for lawsuits, quietly shelved by many
black colleges. Increasingly, more racial discrimination lawsuits
are being filed by whites at traditional African-American
colleges, who are refused tenure as a professor or who are
appointed in administration positions.
Yes, the question of what is 'proper' affirmative action
again raises its head, and we must decide the answer soon.
These government incentives (or mandates) are well intentioned,
but there is a problem which reverse-discrimination suits
barely hint at: whites, in an increasingly multi-cultural
world, are finding difficulty in crossing cultural roadblocks
regarding issues that were supposedly 'settled.'
The reason the plaintiffs give for feeling that they have
been discriminated against are similar to minorities, except
in one sense - none seem to have the outright hostility that
has generally accompanied working in a 'closed' atmosphere.
In fact, many litigants report fair and wonderful treatment
by the faculty and the students as a whole. But there is a
problem; whites and blacks at traditional black colleges have
different ideas of what the goal of the school is.
For whites, it is another avenue of learning, of being able
to teach promising pupils and reach tenure status. For blacks,
it is preserving an avenue of learning by African-Americans
for African-Americans, learning in a way that requires
little deviation from cultural lingo. You are guided in your
studies by blacks that have your best interests at heart (unlike
the mainstream social machine). It is okay to talk in 'black
speak' informally. It is okay to feel safe being black.
All of these things have become an integral part of the black
college experience in modern times. Yet, in the late 20th
Century, as taxpayer dollars infiltrated African-American
universities, the same government stipulations in regards
to reaching committed hiring goals and student diversity applied
to these schools as well as the state and private white schools.
The oozing dilemma of historically black colleges being sacked
with such discrimination suits and burying them is nothing
new. The fact that more media organizations are reporting
them is notable. Younger whites are realizing they need equal
access to this emerging, niche society and since they are
the dominant ones (right now), it presents a potential problem.
Clearly there are two sides to this issue. White educator
litigants charge that they were shut out; but historically
black colleges also have a charge to keep in hiring and promoting
personnel that reflects and promotes the type of students
it wants to attend that school. Would the non-white teachers
be able to keep the same charge as W.E.B. du Bois or a Mary
McLeod Bethune? (Would they know who they were?)
Already at some of the smaller black colleges (like Lincoln
University), the white student population now vastly outnumbers
the original black counterparts. It becomes increasingly hard
to celebrate black-derived traditions with fewer and fewer
blacks present. Inevitably, there becomes a change in identity
in which another (mostly white) rises from the ashes.
This gradual, but dramatic trend is one that is following
smaller, lesser known African-American college one by one
as more blacks head to major universities where there tends
to be greater resources and larger endowments. White instructors
and lecturers, attracted by the difference in education experience
(and also, the need for diversity in staffing) are applying
in larger numbers, leaving a looming, cultural question for
black academia. Can a white president lead black students
at a historically black college?
To place an equal standard for hiring staff, black academia
would have to let go its independent spirit, its inner voice,
to join a modern society who has not yet remembered, regretted,
or fully admitted its mistakes and abuses of African people.
We still remember it was crime to teach blacks to read before
the Civil War. We still remember when we had no legitimate
voice. Our political leaders are still attacked for stating
inclusive positions and denigrated for showing any kind of
oratory skills other than those that reflect Western values.
Our schools are still substandard, and in the upper middle-class
'resistance war' to share taxpayer dollars in education, we
know that the battle not to teach black youth is still not
over. In essence, we are still tolerated, not celebrated.
Should whites achieve equal parity in the black education
system? Of course. Would that potentially lose the one last
educational voice we have? Certainly. The problem is an issue
of conscience. And for the life of me, on this issue, I wish
I didn't have one - we have to begin to trust ourselves, and
Tommy Ates loves the left because the left is always right!
He wants to help the underdog become the Top Dog.