From origins of exploited free labor from enslaved Africans to the eery connection between profit over people and corporate greed, the US education system is a white supremacist technology, tool, and weapon that interconnects and maintains a tradition to colonial orders of the status quo. The violence of the U.S. education system has operated for centuries by upholding white settler colonial interests in exploiting the labor of African communities around the world, fueling student complacency through a neo-liberal agenda that promotes economic mobility through class traitor politics as a unsustainable tactic to shift the material conditions of African people. This global system of power that threatens the path to Black liberation is also mirrored as a blueprint for universities around the world. This article is a call out to institutions of higher education for being byproducts of racialized terror who are actively working to maintain socio political domination through white-supremacist modalities. The examples used in the article will speak to the complexities and insidious bourgeois agenda setting in US institutions, through Black historical scholarship and contemporary scholarship, and visible in Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Black upward mobility began as a tactic to shift the conditions of Black life in America but has consistently led to the prioritizing of white capital interests, becoming African greed, juxtaposed to moving towards Black liberation efforts. Many Black leaders have promoted Black intellectualism through legitimacy in academic education spaces. Still, this tactic towards Black upward mobility is not a powerful strategy if our genuine desire is global African liberation. Early Black exceptionalism rhetoric and politics in media and popular culture instilling a continuum of misogynoir and respectability politics impacts public interests through American exceptionalism propaganda. Much of the general desire toward Black economic mobility has always been rooted in white supremacy centered ideologies like respectability politics and agenda-setting propaganda that portrayed Africa as a poor and under resourced continent, when we know Africa to be a place of abundant resources and the birthplace of white obsessions like coffee. Throughout curriculums the Black radical thought an African global solidarity praxis felt hidden and in opposition of the American dream. This continued strategy for Black communities to escape racial terror by exploitative economic wealth practices like capitalism promotes a neo-liberal solution that centers Black middle-class communities as neutral and exempt from the harms of racial violence from centuries of exploitation beginning in African countries from white colonizers who even now continue to leave the people and land exploited. Governments worldwide use international-military practices, exploited labor, theft of resources, and white supremacy agenda-riden education systems that reinforce Black violence. Imperialist propaganda like ROTC (reserve officers’ training corps) programs and military recruitment on high school and college campuses target Black and Brown (non-Black Latinx) communities to support one of the largest polluters in the world, the United States of America military. This continued fight for economic validation in Black communities continues through the idea of educational mobility, to push Black youth to accumulate hoards of debt, even though campuses continue to be contention spaces of racism and violence.
This essay is not stating that institutions like historically Black colleges and universities have not at all impacted our radical politics and fight towards Black liberation. Gloria Richardson, a former member of SNCC, Kwame Ture, *the architect of the term “Black Power”, and Toni Morrison all attended Howard University and have been monumental to Black radical thought and radical imagination. But their radical efforts existed as less than the majority of the masses. Instead, this essay is a call to action for professors, students, and administration to do some internal reflections, urge classes to study, and develop communism education models, while many others should disband and relinquish their wealth and spaces to African liberation efforts. Academic spaces, especially those who make claims to promote diversity and inclusion, should interrogate their own policies from academic probation to zoom structures which promote exclusivity and ableism and see the very apparent resemblance in violent white supremacy practices that include stifling the efforts of African solidarity through abusive practices.
The solution to Black oppression in a global context will never reach resolution by changing the face of the person in a ruling class position. Barack Obama is a constant example of the harms that come from Black folks who do engage in positions of power and replicate the same state-funded violence that previous white oppressors have been a part of. Academic related violence impacts gender-oppressed communities like those who are women, femme, gender non-comforming, gender non-binary, and agender communities. Patriarchal violence is constantly violent and visible on college campuses, including exclusively Black spaces. Obama launched his “It’s On Us” campaign against sexual assault on U.S. campuses in 2014, which lacked actual bystander intervention and seemingly made the bystander responsible for combatting sexual assault instead of pushing masculine people, especially fraternity members to engage with the harmful ideologies of patriarchy and patriarchal violence. Academia has fueled gender-based violence, as well as the influence of elitist Black scholarship.
Dubois did not just promote harmful colorists and classists discourse, but he also advocated for early eugenics practices with Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger. DuBois promoted the Talented Tenth which had many implications on the experiences of Black life, including colorism (paper bag test, which many argue was a myth but the photos never lie), classism, and misogynoir. Dubois served on the “Negro Project” board for Margaret Sanger and proudly stated that her early eugenics birth control efforts were “science and sense applied to the bringing of children into the world.”, in his October 1922 Crisis opinion piece that also referred to his own wife as a “servant”, among other “bootstraps ” rhetoric. Ten years later, DuBois apologized for his early and energetic support for the sterilization of Black birthing people. Sharing similar but different misogynoir ideologies, Marcus Garvey’s Black nationalist association, passed a resolution that shamed birth control and argued it went against “natural functions”. This harmful rhetoric is often taught to a new class of Black study students each year, and continues to fuel the hotep language against reproductive rights. Early eugenics and sterilization efforts are white supremacy genocide tactics, and DuBois alignment with violence against Black birthing folks should be more widly addressed and used as an example of our constant need to seek deeper understanding and center the fight against patriarchal violence in every space. Access to abortion care is every persons right, and accessible abortions strengthens the abilities for communities to be liberated. There seems to be a pattern in the actions that show early attempts of misogynoir and elitism as legitimate ideologies to move toward. A contemporary example of the complexity and infectious of the abuse of Black academics is from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who has served as a guest professor and speaker at colleges and universities around the world. Adichie recently doubled down on her anti-Black and transphobic politics, in her defense of JK Rowling’s disgusting comments. What Adichie did was use her position as a Black intellectual to run to the defense of white ignorance and white-hetero eugenic culture, while also weaponizing her proximity to power and the state towards American individualism. Gender oppressed communities are impacted by intersections of violence in academia spaces, including being sexually assaulted or killed by campus police and face exploitation by Black women intellectuals and instructors.
And with a global pandemic about to reach its 3rd peak, most college campuses have chosen profit over people and continue to overcharge tuition, require students to attend in-person class, and continue the same capitalistic-imperial behaviors via zoom calls by requiring students to complete hybrid classes and adding additional policing policies like requiring students wear shoes while at home on zoom calls. At University of Michigan, in September 2020, Black graduate students led a strike against The Graduate Employees’ Organization in support of safer conditions for students during a global pandemic and were met with a potential lawsuit by the University for asking for safe classroom environments. In a recent statement after a COVID-19 breakout on campus, the group said “We don’t want to be right-we want to be safe.” When students use their rights to combat violence at the academic level, they are met with threats from the state, even if it may be an attempt to keep all students safe. But these issues do not just happen at PWIs (predomantly white institutions), HBCUs are also colonized spaces and continue to reinforce colonialism and white power dominance.
Since the inception of HBCUs, these institutions have been an integral part of the long history and fight toward upward mobility for Black folks establishing legitimacy within academic and Black political power. HBCUs for centuries have been educational spaces for many Black leaders and acted as containers to promote Black liberation. The ugly reality is that these historically Black colleges and universities as institutions have not helped to further the Black radical agenda (though students have worked to continue to preserve radical politics of previous scholars) or support the efforts of student led groups who have tried to push these institutions through student organizing toward deeper understanding to show up for all Black communities. Howard University (named after a colonial white military officer), is one of the most well known HBCUs and prides itself of its ability to strengthen students through a social justice practice but years later, after the HU Resist student occupation, many of those demands still have not been met. These Howards students, who organize for Black liberation were asking for resources like adequate mental health services and for professors to use students correct pronouns. And many may still be unaware of the Koch Brothers donating $25 million to the UNCF in 2014, which went to numerous HBCUs including Howard. With connections to Donald Trump and the climate pollution crisis, the Koch Brothers are white supremacist bad actors who continue to fuel military defense, alt-right presidental campaigns, who defended Brett Kavanaugh while survivors spoke out against him, and have paid millions in discrimination and sexual assault lawsuits from employees. Howard still supports the Koch Brothers industries through their insidious partnership with Georgia-Pacific whose logo can be found on almost every bathroom fixture around the campus. A white supremacy company with funding and merchandise ties to HBCUs should worry us all, and with the recent donation of $40 millions dollars from MacKenzie Scott (Jeff Bezos ex-wife), we should all be concerned about economic interests growing in HBCU investments from white capitalists.
Issues like patriarchal violence exist because of the capital-interests that fail to address the conditions of violence gender-oppressed students consistently face. These instances continue to happen at Universities in Africa, in countries like Ethiopia, South Africa, and Tanzania. With Jessica Ott titling an article “The university of patriarchy” and describes the problem as “rooted in the patriarchal structure inherent in the University of Dar es Salaam and Tanzanian universities more broadly, which reflects societal power relations.” And while colleges and universities continue following the US education systems response to combating harm, gender-oppressed folks will face the most vulnerability in academic spaces.
And now all around the nation, students in the U.S. have organized rallies and protest to voice their solidarity with African siblings around the world who are fighting against military forces, policing, and SARS who have all worked together to push Anti-Black violence with the priority for the white ruling class, and those who abandon Black liberation for a fictitious shot at Black bourgeois without reckoning with their own exploitative behaviors in the complex of global exploitation and genocide. And with little US media coverage, which is a tactic in itself to silence global movements, youth in Nambia and South Africa have taken to the streets to speak against femicide and sexual violence. HBCUs have not publicly stood against and of the global terror of imperialism and policing, and showcase their silence as complacency. While most universities (HBCUs) still prompt ROTC and campus police involvement, even after the national call to defund the police, Black radicals are very aware of what the prioritized interests universities like Howard University fall on. Ironically enough, Black youth who join the military to escape poverty in the U.S. could be sent to the Congo to provide U.S. military aid to further exploit African land.
While any education system continues to honor anti-Black violence over Black radical scholarship, it must be held accountable, resources redistributed, and abolished for its longtime role as a tool for white supremacy. The current reality of the global education system that has centered US education as a model of success targets the most marginalized communities, like those gender-oppressed, working class, and poor communities who continue to be the most impacted by state-sanctioned violence in the academy. All extensions of academia and university culture, including; Black scholars and scholarship, HBCUs, Black capitalist wealth propaganda, and police presence on campuses all connect to the harmful practices that are reductive and undermining to the Black radical movement and the fight for Black liberation.
How did the U.S. become the richest nation in the world, where its educational system has hoarded wealth mirroring the same harmful practices of capital-imperial structures, while African communities (even those who receive degree(s)) continue to be exploited by the state? In a nation like the U.S., where ironically enough degrees continue to deplete in value, we should be moving towards a liberation politic that is rooted in global solidarity and not individualism or exceptionalism. From capitalist-labor exploitation like overworked and underpaid employees (including interns) on college campuses, to abusive hierarchy practices, anti-Blackness will continue to be inherent in academia everywhere. Black organizations and HBCUS should be educating, mobilizing, and politicizing Black students to combat institutional and state funded violence that many if not most college campuses are already intermingling in. Black studies departments must end the push of non-violent co-optation onto students and students should not collaborate with school officials (through committees that serve as distractions) instead of demanding what students currently need, like proper funding for Black studies departments instead of threats of closure(erasure) and cuts every year. African students should be building communities together and gaining skills in transformative justice and Black radical organizing practices.
In historical moments of continual violence by the government towards Black communities in the African diaspora, education spaces should empower youth to combat white supremacy, patriarchy, and oppressive conditions instead of promoting presidential election voting or economic mobility in constant instances where Black life is under attack. And while white militia presence continues to exist on all campuses, the threat of violence is visibly apparent. Universities should redistribute their wealth, support local community mutual aid groups with plans to abolish their infrastructures to adopt communist models of learning and building community power, and give their land to indigenous communities for land and food sovereignty.
Editors note: *although popularized by Kwame Ture, “Black Power” was originally coined by Mukasa Ricks