Howard and the Politics of Respectability

To the victor go the spoils. This age old adage has been given voice from generation to generation. Simply meaning that the victor of any conquest benefits from that conquest in any manner they see fit. Often the terms of victory are paid out in history. The victor tells the tale and writes down their version of events in history books that both the conquerors read, as well as the defeated. On its surface, this does not seem monumental in any way, yet over time when those who have first-hand accounts of the events pass on, the only record will be in the history books. The history books will be the established version of the truth. Further, logic, reason, and argument will rest on what the history books hold within. In short, when people gather together in state houses, town halls, barbershops, churches and family living rooms discussing the issues of the day, the victors will have the upper hand, because in America might is right.
At Howard University, their might has determined them to be right regardless of the data and opposing facts. Howard was one of the few liberal arts HBCUs constructed during the 1800s. A majority of other HBCUs were rooted in the mechanical and agriculture sciences, which reveals itself today with the reliance on STEM education in the HBCU community. Yet, Howard was founded strategically and for a grander purpose. Simply put, Howard was founded in the District of Columbia to be strategically located next to Congress. The evidence of this is shown in the fact that Howard receives federal funds from the U.S. Congress to support its mission. Acting a light on a hill, Howard drew the most prominent thinkers in the African American community to garner a liberal arts education and lead their people out of the vacuous vestiges of chattel slavery in America. This destiny placed on Howard right or wrong has equated with Howard being considered the best HBCU regardless of the facts.

With this reputation Howard has capitalized on their wealth of influence by having numerous Presidents speak on their campus, recruiting globally, compounding on the interest in HBCUs during the “Different Wold” phase in Black America and taking an assumed role of leadership in the HBCU community. This endowment of influence for Howard plays hand in hand with respectability politics. In America, for one to succeed by American standards they will need to attend the rights schools, carry themselves in the correct manner, speech, dress, all the while, assimilate to certain views. For people of color who cannot to the letter mimic such a lifestyle accommodate this American standard to the spirit of the standard. Howard is the spirit of this standard. White America most of the time can only name one HBCU, which is Howard. White America respects the intellectual rigor of one HBCU more than any other, which is Howard. Howard sends the most students into corporate America and other “proper professional” fields as a result further entrenching their influence and reach.

President Obama Delivers Commencement Address At Howard University
This unearned endowment of influence culminates with the creation of “Howard West”. “Howard West” will be a satellite campus on Google’s campus, as Google pushes for diversity within their engineering ranks. Along with a new campus on the west comes too, the added benefit of respectability, influence, recruiting, sponsorship, donations, and prestige. Howard, as one can remember from earlier in this piece, was not founded to be a STEM university, rather a liberal arts school. Yet, due to the politics of respectability and the strategy and purpose behind the founding of Howard, has placed it in a realm where it has no peer. Even though “Howard West” will eventually allow students from any HBCU to attend this satellite campus, the name will still remain “Howard West” and words carry meaning. And in Howard’s case, gains in monetarily and status.
Black America suffers as a whole when the practices of mainstream America is willfully allowed to take place within our institutions of education. Howard has a monopoly in the HBCU community and there are no anti-trust laws to break things up. Despite the troubles that Howard may be facing, they cannot compare to the social, political, economic, and academic problems that are faced by the rest of the HBCU community. Black America is rooted in the belief that if we are to go far, we must go together. Howard may be fast and far ahead than one would expect or hope for, but they are going alone.

Possible solutions to correct these monopolies would be for Howard to recognize its privilege, engage in partnership with other HBCUS instead of corporate America titans, share best practices with other HBCUs, from a formal union between HBCUs regardless if the HBCU is public or private and advocate for all HBCUs when Howard has the spotlight.
I am not blinded by optimism to think that the changes in perception for the HBCU community will occur tomorrow, but I am of the belief that the HBCU community is only as strong as our worst institutions, because the students of today in our HBCUs will be our leaders of tomorrow and Black America needs all hands on deck.


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