“Every year, our white intruders become more greedy, exacting, oppressive, and overbearing. Every year, contentions spring up between them and our people, and when blood is shed, we have to make atonement, whether right or wrong, at the cost of the lives of our greatest chiefs and the yielding up of large tracts of our lands.” – Tecumseh
There are two families in the same neighborhood. The Johnsons and the Smiths. They both have the intention of building magnificent homes for their families. Homes they intend to pass down generation after generation. The Smiths have the Johnsons work for them and build their home, hold them hostage in fact on their land while they do so, and after their home is finally finished and pristine allow them to leave and go off and build their own – at least that is what the Johnsons think. As the Johnsons work diligently to build their home, they often awake many mornings to see their work burned to the ground, members of their family kidnapped in the middle of the night never to be seen again, and yet they persist in building their home. They often end up having to buy low quality materials from the Smiths at arguably predatory prices and even after purchasing these materials may awaken to see those same materials stolen or damaged, and yet they persist in building their home. Sometimes they catch the Smiths in the act of harm, but more times than not it is as if they are ghosts in the night. To make matters even more complicated, sometimes the Smiths will invite the Johnsons over for days at a time and allow them to sleep in their attic. The Johnsons often naively believing that the Smiths are wanting to commune with them often failing to see that every moment they spend entertaining and staying at the Smiths is a lost day they could be building their home. And while the Smiths enjoy being entertained by the Johnsons and having them sleep in their attic they are well aware only one of them has a home for their family. A place that is theirs. This reality has given the Smiths control of the neighborhood at every social, economic, and political turn. The Johnsons know that without their home being finished they will never be able to have a place to call home, but fewer and fewer of the family wants to continue building the home. Instead, they find themselves more and more settling for sleeping in the Smiths attic, cooking their food, and entertaining them and while they seem “free” to go and come as they wish, somehow they are right back where they started and their entire ability to exist is dependent on the Smiths.
The greatest magicians in history know that the key to any successful magic trick is the sleight of hand. To have one’s audience focused on what they believe is happening while actually something out of their focus is instead happening. Harvard University is the nation’s largest non-system endowment at approximately $50 billion. It is an amount that is well over 15 times the size of ALL HBCU endowments combined. To put in perspective just how insulting the $100 million endowment Harvard created for itself is, if it were an HBCU endowment, then it would rank number eight among the 2022 HBCU Money Top 10 HBCU Endowment list. It could easily double the size of all HBCU endowments with roughly 5 percent of its endowment. To add to the harshness of that reality, the gap between the top ten PWI endowments and top ten HBCU endowments has skyrocketed over the past the past decade from $103 to $1 in 2013 to a staggering $128 to $1 in 2022, there is absolutely no movement to atone for what slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation did to HBCUs and African American institutions. Simply put, write the check – but we know they will not.
For all of the frustration African America has with European American conservatives across the South, their European American liberal counterparts offer little more than lip service to right history’s wrongs, especially on the institutional level. And even when they “attempt” to do so they always do it in a way that leaves that them just as institutionally empowered and us just as institutionally dependent. A recent example of this is European American owned banks like J.P. Morgan and others “investing” in African American owned banks in the wake of the George Floyd protests. These banks did not simply write a repertory check to African American owned banks and step back so the African American owned banks had the autonomy to build with it as they saw fit. No, they “invested” and ensured that they receive the public relations bump for doing so while also ensuring that they are able to profit from anything they put into African American owned banks. Never is it, we know we owe you for the damages done and that we have disproportionate wealth and resources because of the history of slavery and Jim Crow. It is instead, a flashpoint like George Floyd’s death that European American institutions maneuver to look more inclusive by letting a few of us in their house to sleep in the attic, cook their food, wash their clothes, entertain them, all the while knowing that we still will have no home.
Harvard could have easily paid five to ten HBCUs between $10-20 million each to conduct the same research. Both accomplishing its goal of studying its ties and actually helping the financial coffers of HBCUs. This would have given a precedent for other PWIs who could then do the same with the same result. Assuming there are other PWIs that want to broach that subject of their own history. Harvard could have also picked up the mantle and took the vanguard on an effort to have itself and the rest of the top 25 largest endowments in the country redistribute $6 billion into HBCUs with those PWIs paying proportional to the size of their endowment. America’s largest twenty five endowments combine for $454.6 billion which works out to $151 to $1 for all HBCU endowments combined. A $6 billion infusion from those twenty five endowments would equate only 1.3 percent of their total. A percentage that is still less than the representation of HBCUs (3 percent) of the U.S. higher education institutions.
Instead, Harvard pats itself on the back with an accounting trick and says to the world and primarily to African America that it is serious about what who knows. This initiative got an immense social bump within African America when the now former president of Prairie View A&M University, Dr. Ruth Simmons, in one of her last events on the campus hosted the outgoing president of Harvard University and creator of the slavery initative, Dr. Lawrence Bacow. The Pan-African historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke would say we (African American institutions and leadership) are doing ceremony without substance. Harvard acknowledging or not acknowledging their ties to slavery does nothing for the social, economic, or political capital of HBCUs and African American institutions. Yet, we give them space in our spaces and credit for something that we already knew – that PWIs have exorbitant resources pools in large part because African America was choked for centuries from being able to build themselves into competitive institutions – and that is as true today in 2023 as it was in 1823 and 1923.
The whole of African America’s education problem does not solely lie with HBCUs, but starts from early childhood through graduate school. An African American child can not go from birth through graduate school in the African American educational pipeline. Other communities most certainly can and do. We have yet to see the profound problem with our educational dependency and as such have done nothing to formulate a strategy let alone act on one. We see Harvard and its peers lure us into a false sense of individual inclusion while continuing to starve our institutions. It is one of the greatest long games to ensure that a group of people have no institutional representation of their own nor control of that which is fed into their minds. Harvard University should pay if they truly believe in righting history’s wrongs and we would owe them no thank you or gratitude for doing so. Ultimately and without waver we must not be distracted by their shiny illusion of inclusion, but remember that is our duty and responsibility to continue to empower and build upon that which our foreparents started and ensure that our people have a home.