By William A. Foster, IV
The mere imparting of information is not education. – Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Are we American or not? Are we African or not? Over 100 years after W.E.B. DuBois first brought the theory of “double consciousness” to our minds, it is an answer that in our celebration of achievements we clearly still struggle with. We continue to celebrate our firsts into historically white institutions and give little credence to our accomplishments within our historically black institutions, subconsciously continuing to view our own institutions as second class. I continue to firmly believe a people are a reflection of its institutions. These institutions include the family, businesses, schools, and etc…
Every year we watch as Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color line of baseball and we as African-Americans cheer right along in joy. Yet, looking through the owners’ box of the three major American sports (football, basketball, and baseball) there is only one African-American owner 60 plus years later. Sorry, the Los Angeles Dodgers recent purchase by the Magic Johnson “Group” for $2 billion appears to have Magic Johnson as no more than the face of the group not the actual money, decision maker, or principal owner. He appears to be no more than a minority owner similar to that of Jay-Z with the New Jersey Nets and LeBron James with Liverpool FC. Magic as it were appears to be a convenient double irony if you will as the face of the group buying the team that broke a mythical labor color barrier in Major League Baseball. A “color” barrier I will touch on later had nothing to do with race. The real money and principal financier behind the purchase of the Dodgers is the Guggenheim Partners, a financial services company with $125 billion in assets under management. The operations of the team appear to be in the hands of Stan Kasten, a baseball executive although there is uncertainty whether he too has an ownership stake. Ironically, the man we love to hate Michael Jordan is still the only African American principal owner of a North American sports team.
The Negro Leagues who have been long since forgotten provided ownership as well managers and a more talented league of baseball from its inception, and yet over 60 years later we see little celebration of Rube Foster the Father of Negro League Baseball for what he did for the African American community economically, socially, and culturally. Meanwhile, Branch Rickey is praised for his “courage” of breaking the color line. The real color line that Jackie impacted for Branch was the “green” color line as the Dodgers with Jackie would break attendance records for the league at both home and away games making Branch Rickey an even wealthier man as Jackie was “paraded” before all-white crowds amazed by the “super negro”. We will hail the accomplishment of Ernie Davis being the first African-American to win the Heisman at Syracuse, forgetting it only cemented the expedition of talent from our HBCUs both athletically and academically, and crippling them financially. Academically, we’d rather celebrate Ruth Simmons becoming the first to become president of an Ivy League college instead of celebrating Daniel Payne who was our first college president at Wilberforce. Our neighbor state to the east Arkansas, we celebrate the Little Rock Nine who desegregated the all-white school there but in the process, serving to cripple black controlled education. No teachers came with them, nor principals, administrators, nor ability to control or influence curriculum, and in the decades to follow the Arkansas public school system as it pertained to masses of African-Americans would be a microcosm of its former strength in producing quality and quantity of brilliant black minds. This year, I watched as many African American friends and associates cheered on different HWCUs in March Madness, schools who routinely have less than 5% African American populations, typically no more than one African American on the board of trustees if any, and African American donors (where the real power lies) typically are so insignificant the African American and African diaspora population at these HWCUs is at the mercy of whatever leftovers are seen fit for them. Yet, the majority of African American population has no problem throwing their social and economic support behind these schools no matter how marginalized we are within them in terms of institutional power. Meanwhile, Shaw University women’s basketball team won the division II national championship and received very little press (even from our own) or fanfare about this amazing accomplishment. It was HBCU Nation’s 1st national championship in basketball since 2005 when the the Virginia Union men won and the first since 1988 for an HBCU women’s program when Hampton won.
We are in the process of indeed celebrating our demise and forever imbedding in our subconscious that we and more importantly our institutions are, and always will be, second class in this country’s mind. Carter G. Woodson says simply “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” To take Dr. Woodson’s quote a step further, we must do more than celebrate our history, but we must celebrate the history that moved us to a self-sufficient, self-governed, and most important a race that loves itself. Right and wrong can be argued and become a grey topic but I simply ask this continuous of cause and effect, that is to say, do the first we celebrate contribute to a positive impact on the African Diaspora going forward or are we celebrating a perceived subconscious step closer to being accepted as “white” that will destroy our culture and its history? This editorial is not an attack on those above but seeks to raise a conversation of are we properly examining the history we celebrate. Are we simply trying to celebrate that still ever elusive ghost of “whiteness”? I dare say we would not celebrate the first African-American to have been allowed to serve in the Ku Klux Klan or would we? Malcolm X many times believed that America was just as guilty as Nazi Germany for her atrocities against African-Americans. Yet, we continue to celebrate the entrance of a few into the very institutions that even in 2012 commit social atrocities against us from industrial prisons to under funded schools from elementary to college level as if this is some accomplishment that is helping us solve the ails of restoring our community pride and ability to succeed. Instead of seeing it for what it is and that is a drain of our leadership and excellence from our community into theirs while the masses of us as African-Americans are still struggling to get out of the proverbial and literal gutter. Because we all know that acceptance into their institutions so many times means turning your back on your own if you want to remain “accepted” and the losing of institutional power. It is not enough to celebrate history but to celebrate that history which uplifted and moved along the hopes and dreams for all of us and not that which highlights the divide and conquer of us over time.
Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & President of AK, Inc. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste as well as writing articles for other African American media outlets.