Side-Eyeing Your Alma Mater, Ctd.

In the comments of the earlier post about how HBCUs often get in their own ways when it comes to alumni giving, d. takafari makes an important point:

Also… Philanthropy, sad to say, is a luxury, and it’s one that we largely can’t afford. Think about it this way; if there are reports of people not saving adequately for retirement, of not being able to help fund their OWN children’s college education, and not being able to pass down wealth to their own children…WHERE is the money for endowments to institutions going to come from?

I’d only push back a little and say that folks could probably part with, say, whatever their Netflix costs each month and send it back to their alma maters. But that, again, is a case that their institutions have to make and a process they have to make easy.

But it’s still an important point. Jason Whitlock’s premise is that black folks don’t give back because they’ve abandoned their institutions in the mad dash toward the white man’s colder ice.

Do you think Notre Dame’s base — well-to-do white Catholics — would flee their prized institution and let the football program rot from neglect, indifference and a desire to make non-white Catholics love them?

That is what is happening to HBCUs and their athletic programs across the country. In our desire to integrate, in our desire to create the ideal mainstream/white experience, we have abandoned black institutions.

If your bullshit detectors are wailing, they should be. Black folks and black institutions have  very different histories in this country — histories that didn’t allow for the deep pockets that keeps schools like Notre Dame on such firm financial standing.

The surly urbanist paints the picture:

Notre Dame is an elite private Catholic institution. It was started by and is still partially supported by the Holy Cross brotherhood of the Catholic Church. It has an endowment of over six BILLION dollars. It draws upon not only the private wealth of its esteemed alumni but also the support of the Catholic Church. A 2000 year old institution that is its own sovereign nation and is present in almost every country across the globe. [Emphasis mine.] And I would be remiss if I did not remind folks that  some proportion of the wealth of the Church comes from the benefits of black and indigenous slavery and the wealth benefits that white Catholics have gained over the years in profiting off of an economic system built upon the exploitation of black labor and the expropriation of black wealth.

Grambling State University is a public HBCU founded in 1901 in Louisiana for the purpose of educating black residents of northern Louisiana. The land on which the school was founded was donated by a local white lumber king. It has an endowment of nearly five MILLION dollars to serve approximately 5,000 students. Grambling has always depended upon the support of the state and Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, has supervised a constant campaign of disinvestment, most recently cutting over $50 MILLION dollars of support. Grambling’s decline is not due to the depraved indifference of a blind population obsessed with white acceptance, but is the inevitable result when states and the federal government disinvest from their own institutions. It should go without saying that the donated income of a few successful alumni will not be able to fill the gap made not only by more consistent external funding but centuries of accumulated wealth that black Americans have never had access to.

This is always so important to remember. Bill and Camille Cosby famously gave $20 million to Spelman in 1988, then the largest gift ever given to a black college. In 1992, the Dewitt Wallace/Readers Digest Fund kicked in $37 million, still the high-water mark for an HBCU. But just last week, the hedge funder Kenneth Griffin gave $150 million to Harvard College; Harvard boasts an endowment north of $30 BILLION dollars. Griffin’s gift to Harvard is 25 times larger than Grambling State’s entire endowment and larger than the endowments of every HBCU besides Howard, Spelman and Hampton.

HBCUs can do a better job of alumni outreach and customer service for their students. But that alone isn’t going to ameliorate the problems of history.

(major h/t to Stacey)  



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.