Friday, July 10, 2009

Frame It

I read something recently that made me think and I wanted to talk to y'all about it.

First, some background information on me. I attended an HBCU, that's a historically black college or university for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym. Like most HBCUs there were very, very few white people who attended the school seeking undergraduate degrees. Yet, my college produced Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright Scholars and was rated one of the top 100 schools in the nations by U.S. News and World Report at one time. I found that interesting.

I think I've said before that I attended a high school that was pretty much 100 percent black. It was a decent high school in a city where decent high schools are in short supply. Yet, despite the fact that it was free and its graduates attended Ivy League universities, no white children attended the school. I always found that interesting as well.

I bring up these two things because I read something recently that made me think about why I chose to attend both of those schools and what that choice meant to me, and what it means to others. What I read was a comment on a blog by a pastor who was looking for assistance in increasing diversity at his church. You can check out the actual blog here but I'll post the comment below:

Our congregations reflect who we are. You and your wife went to colleges with people who choose to segregate by sex and race. You did your elementary school outreach in a school that was not diverse. Not casting stones at any of these things but they are what they are and none of these landmark events speak of diversity. On top of that you do blog posts criticizing Christian events that are too white. Not exactly rolling out the welcome mat.

My church is diverse because that is who I am, not a goal I am trying to get others to adopt.

Couple these things with the reluctance many white people have to submitting to black leaders, and the fact that you are leading a plant in the south, the lack of diversity seems pretty understandable, if not expected.

See, this comment made me think.

When I chose a black school, it wasn't so much to segregate myself, but to avoid the rigors of integration as a minority. My problem wasn't with white people, it was with the things some of them do when they are in a majority. I'd done that dance in middle school, and I'd learned that it wasn't something I would deal with if I could avoid it.

However, this poster obviously doesn't see things that way. Like many others, this person sees attending an HBCU as an act of willful segregation, and uses it to question the pastor's commitment to diversity.

I find that interesting.

I won't be overly long in discussing the history of HBCUs, but it's safe to say they were created to combat discrimination not to advance it. Black folks didn't create black colleges because we wanted to get away from it all, we created them (or rather took white folks' money to create them) because most white folks didn't want us going to school with them.

Today, many of us attend those school because they offer easier access to a higher education, and because they offer a respite from the pressures of being an "other." Yet, for some reason, many white people persist in seeing these institutions as bastions of inequality.

The truth is, nobody prevents white people from attending HBCUs. Hell, if you check out the dental, medical and law schools at some HBCUs you'll find LOTS of white folks.

With this in mind, I found it interesting that someone could see HBCUs as places where white folks weren't allowed. After all, there are not rules, written or unwritten, forbidding white folks from attending. In fact, many HBCUs have begun actively recruiting white folks in recent years.

Moreover, I found it fascinating that this person would use the attendance of an HBCU to question someone's commitment to diversity. After all, most predominantly white institutions have minority populations well below what they are in the real world. For example, most white schools, have black populations around 5 to 7 percent.

I find it difficult to believe that going to school where your race makes up roughly 80 percent of the total population is a sign that you love diversity. Yet, this person didn't think going to a white school meant you didn't value diversity, only going to a black one. The way that person framed the issue, it was obviously black people who had the problem and were in the wrong.

Life is so often about framing. The media frames the news, the politicians frame the laws, and the regular folk frame their interactions with everybody else. We all decide how we're going to view the world, and then we start making decisions based on that world view. Only, many of our frames are so warped and crooked, it's impossible for us to ever get a clear view of life.

It's not only important for us to constantly evaluate our individual frame of reference, but it's important to force those around us to evaluate their frames as well. Sometimes that can be painful and tedious, but I'm beginning to realize that so many people have such a limited way of viewing the world that without some extra work on my part, and yours, we are all doomed.



macon d said...

I find this post . . . Interesting. (sorry, couldn't resist). White folks often fail to see their own modes of self-segregation. It's another symptom of the blindness of the white eye.

Darth Whitey said...

Interesting. Question: I suppose one of the main reasons you sought to avoid the rigors of being an "other" in your schooling was so you could focus on your studies and not worry about anything else (yes?) but then what did you have in mind for after you graduated?

Big Man said...


I knew that I lived in America so it was likely that I was going to have to work in a white-dominated business at some point. I figured that I would allow myself a respite from this during some of my formative years, and then deal with it as a fully-formed and well adjusted adult.

What I learned in middle school, was that as a child, I lacked the proper maturity to deal with all the stuff that comes with being a minority in a majority dominated situation. I guess I could have learned that on the fly, but I figured it would be better to put it off until later.

Lisa J said...

Excellent points Big Man. As a matter of fact, to prove how false the idea of whites not being welcome at HBCU's there are several that are at the point of no longer being eligible to be called HBCU's becasue they are in areas with many whites and whites have begun to attend in large numbers b/c. This is especially the case for commuter students or those who are going at night. I mean why not go to the school that is closest to you? I'll do some internet research on the names of those schools. Anyway, I think it was pretty shady of that pastor to call you out for going to an HBCU, no one asks white folks why they go to PWI's (predominately white institutions) and when they are there most stay far, far away from the blacks and other minorities who are there. I loved my alma mater, which is a PWI, and except for a brief stint in pre-school I always went to mostly white schools and never thought of going to an HBCU b/c I figured I'd been around white folks all this time, so why switch then. Especially since more folks would have heard of and had a favorable impression of the school I went to than if I'd gone to an HBCU, unless it was Howard or Spellman. I also wasn't considered "cool" by most of the few black kids in my school so I worried I really wouldn't fit in at an HBCU. I sort of sometimes regret that mindset.

It reminds me of how in the 80's and 90's there were books that kept discussing, "why do all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria" but never asked why the majority of kids, who were white sat together, and why didn't they try to sit with the black kids or invite the black kids to sit with them.

Personally, I've spent a disproportionate amount of my 30 something years in largely white environments and for me it is starting to get old. I get tired of having to encounter strange looks, sometimes being quizzed on where I went to school, how did I get my accent, what am I doing here, etc, etc, etc and explaining why I think differently or having to either bite my lip or argue with someone about why I and many other black folks feel differently from most white folks on certain issues. I'm not saying I will jettison my white friends or not try to meet new white folks, but I'm actively seeking out more black venues, and am looking into joining some black civic groups or maybe a black sorority just to not have to feel like a weirdo in my own skin except when I'm with family, my handful of black friends, or around my few white friends who get it or are not crass enough to go to certain areas by default.

Sigh, sorry for the long ramble. I just feel like as I age, being so integrated has paid off for me in some ways, but not being in more "black spaces" has been a detriment to me in so many ways.

Thanks for talking about this Big Man. YOu always get my mind going.

Big Man said...


Two thing:

One, the comment wasn't to me, it was to this pastor who ran the website. Sorry I didn't make that clear.

Two: The book "Why do all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria" is actually quite fascinating. You should check it out.

the uppity negro said...


I wonder where you got this idea from, lol.

Well, when I was in DC last summer, when the youth director took us downtown to Ben's Chili Bowl and we passed the stop for your alma mater, he asked "So can whites go to Howard?" and this was from a guy who was born and raised in DC suburbs and was 28--oh yeah, this was 2008.

Soooooooo, I told another friend who had graduated from Howard and he went off on me on the phone saying the exact thing you said: most all black institutions that are still in tact were created out of necessity, not because we wanted to self-segregate. And as you raised on my post, no one asks white why did they chose to go to TWI.

But to borrow the line from Lauren London's bf in the movie "This Christmas" many of us choose to go to HBCU's because of the quality of education and with the hope for a better tomorrow--the fact that the students and the profs look like me is a bonus.

Sweet Jones said...

Big Man,

Couple of things:

Keep in mind that for alot of Americans, the notion of HBCUs as ground zero for creating Black activists during the Civil Rights and (especially) Black Power Movements is still VERY powerful.

And for many, the thought that Black folk would not spend their every waking moment trying to 'diversify' mainstream institutions causes instant suspicion. Why would you Kneegrows continue to go to 'those' schools when you can go to our PWI?

Remember, 'diversity' is when deferential Kneegrows or other non-threatening minorities join the 'us', not the other way around.

Sweet Jones
FAMU, c/o 95

Shaun King said...

Great thoughts man!

Folk won't understand unless we tell them.

Hold it down!


The Witty Mulatto said...


Know what I really hate (and I've heard this from Black and white people) is when people say that an HBCU doesn't prepare its students for the "real world". That we're gonna have a rude awakening when we graduate and have to deal with white people on a regular basis.

Really? Like we weren't aware that white people exist?

As I said on my own blog, I also dislike when people think an HBCU's not "diverse".

And why is it an HBCU, but not an HWCU? I'm really trying to start calling them that. My white acquaintances are always a little nonplussed when I say, "Oh, so you go to a white school." But you can't have it both ways.

Raving Black Lunatic