The Jackie Robinson Effect – Destruction of African America’s Institutions

Education & Career, Featured, History & Politics

“Even schools for Negroes, then, are places where they must be convinced of their inferiority.” – Carter G. Woodson

As I contemplate my decision to obtain my PhD, a question continues to be raised. Have I spent too much time at HBCU’s? Do I need to go to a PWI (pre-dominantly white institution) to prove I can compete with the best? For most of us coming out of a HBCU this is always a begging question. Yet for me it’s a slap in the face. There is a belief that too much exposure to one thought process in academia is a bad thing. This is called academic in-breeding, if you will, when all of your degrees come from the same institution. I truly subscribe to this belief. I am firmly against someone obtaining too many degrees from one institution. A change of scenery injects new thoughts and new ideas and offers a break from a homogeneous thought process. However, I reject the notion that ALL HBCUs think alike. Anyone who has serious knowledge of HBCUs knows this not to be true. Like everything in society there are subcultures of an overall culture. The notion that all HBCUs are alike is to imply that all African-Americans think alike. We know this to not be true. Southern African-Americans think differently than our Northern counterparts. There are conservative African-Americans and liberal African-Americans each making up a very diverse culture that is the American portion of the African Diaspora.

All of this comes back to my point of HBCUs. Why would we assume then that all their mindset and ideas are the same? Having attended 3 different HBCUs I have first-hand knowledge that this statement is false. Each had foundational similarities, yes, however so do most institutions of a certain culture. Once you are pass that point though other things come into play as to shaping those subcultures like region, financial ability, social landscape, and many other factors. If this is the case then again I ask why so many of us believe we have to justify our HBCU degrees with a PWI degree. The logic that we are a homogeneous culture of thought is based on stereotyping and faulty premises. I dare say that at no point would a student from University of Texas or Texas A&M University be told they have had too much PWI exposure and they really should go to a HBCU. Instead, they may simply be directed to another PWI.

In reality all that really happens when we start to believe that we must justify our own blackness in mainstream (or white America to be blunt) is a subscription to the destruction of our own institutions. I have called this the Jackie Robinson Effect by way of what happened to the Negro Leagues as a result of the success of Jackie Robinson to the MLB. Most will say,”well that’s a good thing – it was progress”. I say do not believe such tomfoolery. The MLB realized where the better product was and that was in the Negro Leagues. They had the better talent. They played the more exciting brand of baseball. More importantly, it provided a wealth accumulation for African-Americans because they owned the teams and the league. None of which was to be true once black players began leaving for the MLB. Wealth was utterly destroyed because there was no welcoming of black owners, just the labor. Diversity in ownership is the key, not diversity in labor.

The same can be said of the fate of HBCUs college football scene post Sam Cunningham’s, running back for USC’s football team who was from Alabama, game against Alabama. That game in fact changed the landscape of not only athletics, but great minds being recruited away from HBCUs and we have seen the price of this departure in our communities that were once vibrant and full of breathe. Communities that were once safe, prosperous, and fulfilling have become destitute because there are no longer strong institutions to hold them up. Indeed it appears we are once again encouraging the same dire results as we continue to believe we have to justify our blackness by taking our research to universities whose ownership is not represented by our community. A lesson in history and its results would serve us well.

Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & CEO of Sechen Imara Solutions, LLC. 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.

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