Black Education?

Over the weekend, I witnessed an argument between my friends about the merits of Black students attending HBCUs versus PWIs.  Many of the points made brought me back to James Baldwin’s short story, “A Fly in Buttermilk,” where he talks to G and his family about the experience of attending an all-white school. Baldwin writes, “I began to suspect that the boy managed to support the extreme tension of his situation by means of nearly fanatical concentration on his schoolwork; by holding in the center of his mind the issue on which, when the deal went down, others would be forced to judge him. Pride and silence were his weapons. Pride comes naturally, and soon, to a Negro, but even his mother, i felt, was worried about G.’s silence, though she was too wise to break it. For what was all this doing to him really?”(193) While some might argue that society has progressed and that the severity of racism Black students face today cannot compare to what G experienced, there is complete merit in the observation that learning can be much more difficult when one is uncomfortable, isolated or misunderstood. While all Black students are not the same, it can be argued that being the first or the only can create a tense or difficult learning environment.  When there is a lack of understanding or relatability relative to teachers, administrators, and even fellow students, it can negatively affect learning. Rather than being immersed in the subject matter, these students can be preoccupied with understanding, fitting in, and not being ridiculed. Learning environments are critical to information share and retention. While the discrepancy in education levels G saw between his two schools is much greater than the differences between HBCU’s and PWI’s, when one thinks of “elite” institutions, HBCUs are rarely included. This leads to a few questions. Is there a discrepancy in what is being taught? Can HBCUs help Black students thrive because they’ve eliminated the distraction of isolation? Should Black students explore PWIs even if there’s a tangible price to pay academically and or socially? Should the best and brightest Black students attend HBCUs to bolster these critical centers of learning? In fairness, it would seem that many of the answers are dependent on an individual’s preference. A blanket approach would underserve many. The fight should be to grow the population of college attendees—information and education seekers—above all else. These are a series of difficult choices and considerations. As we discussed in class, segregation and integration have both resulted in additional challenges for Black people in America.