Africanizing Our Historically Black Institutions
“The Blacker the College the Sweeter the Knowledge,” is a common saying heard among students who attend Black institutions, as well as many proud alumni. These institutions have, from their inception, served a unique mission in educating the masses of Black folk, thus creating the Black middle class. They have done much with little and have educated some of the nation’s brightest minds. Alumni of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have gone on to graduate, professional and law schools in numbers surpassing Black counterparts from predominantly White institutions. There is however one major issue that is long past due of being addressed in regard to the original mission of these institutions, that of educating Black folk about Black folk.
It’s a shame that Black students attending a Black college seldom can enroll in a course about Black history, Black sociology, Black psychology, Black literature, Black religion or Black music. Yet they are required to take courses on Western civilization, U.S. history, Western humanities, American literature and English literature in order to graduate. Meanwhile Black students at predominantly White colleges have a better opportunity to at least minor in Black studies, or even receive bachelor’s or graduate degrees in the field. White campuses have become the intellectual breeding ground for being the keepers of Black studies and Black culture. Now what is wrong with this picture?
Dr. Carter G. Woodson warned of this, in his 1933 prolific book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, when he wrote: “The ‘educated Negroes’ have the attitude of contempt toward their own people because in their own as well as in their mixed schools Negroes are taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and the Teuton and to despise the African.”
What can be done to move Black colleges to the forefront of seriously educating Black folk of their true story? The same spirit of pro-activism that knocked down the doors of the ivory tower demanding that Black students be admitted, Black faculty be hired, Black studies departments be developed and Black cultural centers be established, must be rekindled today and targeted at our Black schools. We must once again raise our fists in protest and this time demand that Black colleges and universities step forward to stake their claim and become the Meccas of higher learning for Black folks.
Most Black colleges continue to do an excellence job of taking young Black students where they are, and moving them to where they ought to be, but we must demand more. We must demand that HBCUs become Africanized, so that our students will not have to reject a Black college and attend a White college just to learn about the Black experience in an academic environment. We must demand that courses are added and Black studies programs are created and functioning at every HBCU.
Students at HBCUs must learn about great empires of Mali, the wonder of Timbuktu, the strength of Queen Nzingha, and the courage of Ya Asantawaa. They should be able to analyze the works of Dunbar, Hughes and Hurston, and study Black liberation theology. Not only are their Black peers at White schools getting this information, but also so are the scores of White students flocking to Black studies courses.
HBCUs cannot continue doing a disservice to Black students by shunning Black studies courses. Black students attending HBCUs must demand a revised curriculum of Black studies courses, and we, the conscious community, must stand with them every step of the way.
— Dr. Pamela Safisha Nzingha Hill is an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas and author of An Afrocentric Perspective Towards Black Student Development: From Theory to Practice.
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