Charles E. Richardson

You can’t trade ideology for history and keep it real

In my old age, I’ve become tired of having “tired moments.” Let me explain. I’m tired of people saying something totally clueless about race and then, without a mea culpa in sight, trying to explain it away. When confronted, they either charge the hearer with being, “too sensitive,” or with “misunderstanding” the speaker.

The latest case falls into such a category. Last Monday, the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, after meeting with presidents from historically black colleges and universities released this statement. You tell me whether I’m being, “too sensitive.”

“A key priority for this administration is to help develop opportunities for communities that are often the most underserved. Rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.” So far, so good.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.” Train still running on the rails.

“HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.” Now why did she have to go there. She continued. “Their success has shown that more options help students flourish....”

I’m I being “too sensitive” to wonder why she thinks the founding and operation of HBCUs was a school choice issue rather than a Jim Crow issue? Wasn’t someone on her staff, if not herself smart enough to say, “er, Madam Secretary, black colleges and universities were founded because of segregation, not some notion of choice, at least not in your use of the word. Blacks formed their own colleges and universities because they had ‘no choice.’”

DeVos is not the only person to fall into this Never Never Land of trying to reconstruct history. I get letters all the time asking why there is a black this or a black that, particularly during Black History Month. “Why,” they ask, “is there a Miss Black America” or a Black Entertainment Television Network.” While there are no stupid questions, the tone of these queries, show a historical ignorance, or should I say, willful blindness that creates a number of tired moments. They are not asking questions at all. They are accusing, because the questions are usually followed with a, “What if?”

“What if we had a, White Entertainment Network, or National Association for the Advancement of White People?” To those I answer, “You do.”

They forget that affirmative action wasn’t invented to help black folks, but to keep black folk separated from white folk. In most of this country’s education establishments, from elementary schools to colleges and universities, affirmative action worked 100 percent of the time for hundreds of years. At the University of Georgia, it worked from its founding until 1961 when Federal Judge William Bootle ordered the school to admit Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, its first black students.

And DeVos dares to say it was the pioneering spirit of school choice of which she is an advocate.

Let’s take her statement to its illogical conclusion. If choosing to start your own system of colleges and universities because of segregation, in DeVos’ mind, is school choice, then it must be alright to start segregation academies and call them charter schools and use public money, something she advocates, to do so.

No one forced her, or her Department of Education, that she now leads, to issue that statement, but it reflects her ideology, not history. It may not be the history she accepts, but it’s history she can’t erase from the blackboard of time.

DeVos may be worth billions of dollars, but she’s not the brightest bulb. I worry about people who put ideology in gear before all else. I believe in having a passion for what you believe in, however, when you see everything through your own little ideological prism, you’re divorced from reality. And no, I’m not being “too sensitive,” I’m being real.