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Black Students Face White Racism … Alone

“When I read in the Harvard Crimson that, ‘giving black people entrance into schools like Harvard was the same as teaching a blind man to be a pilot’ I just cried. My heart ached, you know, I was so excited to be in this place, and they didn’t want me here.”

Comment by a Black Freshman on Affirmative Dissatisfaction

Eugene Stovall

Oakland, California March 26, 2014

Complaints about racism from black students enrolled at white colleges and universities are being heard from all over the United States.

- A white fraternity hosted a Martin Luther King party at Arizona State University with partygoers wearing saggy pants and drinking from cups made from hollowed-out watermelons.

- At San Jose State University, three white students called their black roommate derogatory names, wrote racial epithets on whiteboards in their suite, and forced him to wear a bicycle lock around his neck.

- A member of the student government at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln used the N-word while opposing a resolution to restrict student representatives from using derogatory language.

Tyrell Collier, a black senior, asked for tweets about #Being Black at the University of Michigan using hashtag #BBUM. The flood of responses about black experiences on Michigan’s campus included:

-- "Dealing with the irony of being the only black person in a class where the prof says it's easier for black folks to get admitted."

-- "#BBUM is NOT raising your hand in class because you do not want to be THAT black person who just doesn't get it"

-- "having to be a 'know it all' in order to receive full credit on assignments because your peers second-guess all of your answers"

-- "that first class when black culture becomes the topic and you suddenly become the voice of all black people".

Black students became so fed up with racism at Harvard that they spoke out through a I, Too, Am Harvard photographic presentation on their Tumblr website. “Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned,” the website says. “This project is our way of speaking back, of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: We are here!”

The Tumblr website is part of a larger response by Harvard’s black students and others to Affirmative Dissatisfaction. The article, written by a white student for the campus newspaper, Harvard Crimson, said, that:

Less academically qualified applicants should be treated as such, unless they come from poorer households and therefore do not have access to the same amount of resources as other applicants. However, this would be class-based affirmative action, not race-based.

Helping those with primarily low academic qualifications into primarily academic institutions makes as much sense as helping the visually impaired become pilots. How would you feel if you were assured before going into surgery that your surgeon was the beneficiary of affirmative action in medical school? I do not see why higher academic institutions should lower their standards for admission.

Sophomore Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence reflected the anguish of Harvard’s black students: “I felt, and other students felt, that our presence and identity as black students was being de-valued… we felt like people were saying we weren’t smart enough to be here.”

Despite it’s ‘liberal’ reputation, the disease of racism also infects campuses of the University of California. Sy Stokes, a black UCLA student, produced a YouTube video that was viewed by 1.7 million people. The video produced by Stokes, the cousin of UCLA All-America and tennis star, Arthur Ashe, dramatized racism at UCLA.. “Every black student in class feels like Rosa Parks on the bus,” Stokes said. Racial hostility on Cal-Berkeley’s campus is so pervasive that often talented, highly recruited black students choose to go elsewhere.

On the other hand, there are those, who deny that racism exists at Berkeley, at UCLA or at any other university campus. It is claimed that what black students experience as racism, in reality, is a process of natural selection. It’s the way the University of California identifies a potential Clarence Thomas or a potential Condoleezza Rice or even a potential Martin Luther King. According to this opinion, this is an approved manner of selecting exceptional black students and preparing them for successful careers in government and the private sector. Ward Connerly, a former regent of the University of California was chosen this way. “Look how elite schools select their athletes,” someone might point out. “Black athletes and others selected in this manner have had outstanding careers. Look at President Barack Obama.”

Racism was raised in a report to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block by Earl Hutchinson, the president of the Urban Policy Roundtable. Hutchinson said that racist activity at UCLA was so widespread that the perpetrators didn’t even bother to conceal it. “If the behavior of the white faculty and staff at UCLA towards black students doesn’t change,” Hutchinson warned, “the Urban Policy Roundtable would ask the Justice Department to initiate an investigation.”

Hutchinson’s threat of a Justice Department investigation gave Chancellor Block and his administrators a good laugh. Even after the murder of two black students on UCLA’s campus in 1972, the Justice Department never investigated Chancellor Block’s predecessor. Though UCLA and the RAND Corporation conducted research at Jonestown where the murder of a sitting United States Congressman occurred along with the murders of a thousand black men, women and children, the Justice Department did not conduct any investigation of UCLA. Furthermore the Obama administration has no love for students of color. It deliberately bombed the University of Tripoli, targeting students as well as the library with air strikes during Obama’s overthrow of the Libyan government. Barack Obama, himself, betrayed both the black students as well as the pre-eminent black Harvard professor, Derek Bell, after he secured their support to become the editor of the Harvard law journal. The president of the Urban Policy Roundtable should know that neither Obama nor his Justice Department has any more love for UCLA’s black students than UCLA’s white administrators.

Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black students enrolled at predominantly white colleges and universities still need tough skin. And why is this surprising? Government funding in the humanities and sciences is controlled by the demands of the NSA, Homeland Security and the State Department. Students not recruited by the military or by the various “neo-con” affiliates of the “military-industrial complex” are shunted outside academia’s inner sanctums. Many black students are weeded out even before they’ve taken their first course. But the problem is not just a racist white faculty. Black students are deprived of a sympathetic black faculty and so find themselves in hostile college environments, defenseless and alone.

However, according to a former member of Cal’s faculty, Cecil Brown, black students are not the primary targets of racism in higher education. The real targets are those qualified blacks that academia wants to exclude from full and part time faculty positions. Brown expands on this point: “…white faculty, especially females, do not work with others to hire more black faculty. [They] treat any reference to [the need for additional] black faculty as an affront.”

Cecil Brown makes an important point. Corporations and the government share a common world vision not commonly shared by the greater society. In order to compete for government and corporate grants, colleges and universities must maintain a level of secrecy concerning the funded research. While white faculty can be entrusted with the secrets of the “military-industrial” complex, black faculty cannot. Black professor, Tyrone Hayes, a tenured professor of integrative biology at UC-Berkeley, makes Brown’s point.

Professor Hayes was funded by Syngenta to conduct research on the benefits of atrazine, a pesticide produced by the giant agribusiness corporation. However, Professor Hayes’ research did not produce the findings that Syngenta desired. On the contrary the research of Cal’s black biology professor found that foods fertilized by atrazine could cause severe sexual abnormalities in lab animals as well as humans. Bowing to pressure exerted by Syngenta, UC-Berkeley tried to stifle Professor Hayes’ findings. But the black professor refused to be muzzled as indicated by his article in the New York Times as well as his appearance on Democracy Now.

Cal is one of the largest research institutions in the world and receives billions in research grants annually. Black faculty, like Professor Hayes, are a threat to academic research institutions like Cal because corporations and the government do not want the public to know anything about their research. For this reason. any academic institution with a significant number of black faculty could lose millions in corporate and government research grants. And so colleges and universities use every means possible to limit minority access to faculty positions. One method academia uses is giving its available affirmative action positions to white women. Thus they could meet the letter of the Civil Rights law while maintaining white supremacy. But according to Cecil Brown, another strategy for limiting the demand for black faculty is fostering an atmosphere of on-campus racism. In this way, institutions like Cal can reduce its black student population and limit any demand for black faculty.

There are 5,500 full time and 6,500 part time faculty at UC-Berkeley. But Cal employs less than 100 full and part time African-American faculty and most of these are employed in athletic programs. Berkeley’s African-American Studies department has been emasculated by non-accredited courses forcing black students to take accredited courses in the traditional “white”-dominated departments. It is no wonder that black students feel isolated and alone. When I taught at St. Mary’s College, there were only five black teachers out of a total of five hundred faculty. And only one black was tenured. But while I was employed at St. Mary’s College as a part time lecturer, a white undergraduate female student, graduated, was hired as a tenured professor and then became a dean at the college. This is affirmative action that white folks can support.

The persistent institutional racism experienced by black students at white universities all over the country is no illusion; it is real. Deprived of support from black faculty, black students are defenseless and alone. Thus, in a real sense, black students are being pressured to relinquish their cultural heritage and place themselves at the disposal of white advisors committed to furthering corporate greed, mass incarceration and international militarism. Black students, who are unwilling to support the academic constructs of white supremacy, suffer the full impact of white racism.

Eugene Stovall received his Ph.D. from the University of California’s Political Science Department and has taught a several colleges including San Francisco State, USF and St. Mary’s College. Stovall has authored five books including Cassandra’s Curse: A Black Life In A Police State.