By Marshalee Mclean
“This place is sacred … and if white people just start coming in here, I feel disrespected, completely,” said a Black Morehouse student in Vice’s video “Being White at a Historically Black College.” The context of the video is an age-old question that only resurfaces in the mainstream occasionally, but sparks heat-ed debate: Should white people attend HBCUs?
The answer is simple: No, they shouldn’t.
Historically Black colleges and universities are described as institutions “established to serve the educational needs of Black Americans” by the U.S. Department of Education. Before the inception of HBCUs, Black students were notoriously denied admission to post-secondary institutions. Schools like Fisk, Hampton, Howard, Spelman, and Morehouse were among the first Black private institutions to educate in a racially segregated society. Through time, these institutions evolved into more than sites of learning; they became safe spaces for Black people to be their complete, authentic selves. But now, like almost everything Black owned or populated, they are under attack.
Bluefield, Lincoln, Gadsden, and St. Philips are just a few examples of HBCUs that have majority white populations. Spaces made by Black people, for Black people, full of Black history, culture and pride now have less than half Black student populations.
This invasion of Black spaces is all too familiar. From houses in Black neighborhoods, to Black-owned mom and pop shops, to clothes and music, society will stop at nothing to gentrify and oppress Black America.
Non-Black people believe that by attending HB-CUs they are furthering an ethos of anti-racism, but the opposite is the case. Coming into Black spaces doesn’t dismantle racism, it perpetuates it by conceiving of it as an individual, rather than a systemic, problem. The myth of racism being solely individual continues to halt true progress toward the destruction of institutions that profit off oppression.
Your white liberalism will not save us.
Attending an HBCU as a white individual, learning about Black history, trying to radicalize yourself, doesn’t compare to the realities of being Black. Try to “understand” us all you want, you will never be us, your privilege still stands. Part of being an ally comes with acknowledgement of privilege. Don’t use said privilege to invade what was, and still is, meant for us.
These sacred Black spaces aren’t for you.