HBCUs Are Not Cover for Trump's Cowering From Racial Tensions

The Trump Presidency has been a master class in lies, exaggerations, misdirection, and incoherence for the better part of three years. But improvements for African American prospects in wealth and education have always been within arm’s reach for his talking point retorts to domestic policy challenges and fact-checking.

Racial tensions continue to stir around the world since the lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the president continues to go to his happy place on how much love he shows to the “blacks” based on pre-pandemic jobs numbers and historic funding for historically black colleges and universities. In previous years, the HBCU memo was always a good cover for him, and for the most part, one he mastered beyond the limits of his alter ego, Teleprompter Trump.

But in the aftermath of the Floyd killing, touting the amount of money given to HBCUs is little more than a tattered umbrella pointed at the ground in the middle of a hurricane. Trump has been wildly successful in upstaging his predecessor Barack Obama at reducing loan obligations, raising appropriation standards, and cultivating bipartisan interest and knowledge in black colleges in the halls of Congress. Those gains will empower HBCU leaders, students, and faculty in powerful ways; depending upon how the impact of coronavirus mandated closures and scaled-back reopening will ultimately harm black colleges.

But those victories and unknown outcomes have nothing to do with Trump’s sprinting in the opposite direction of where the country is now lurching in slow-motion towards racial awareness.

HBCU advocates, particularly those who passionately despise Trump’s covert and blatant stoking of racial tensions but who silenced their concerns in the name of saving black campuses, are sick of the sideshow — especially as his bungling of the Floyd protests mingles with his lead on the hastened reopening of the American economy; a prospect which has placed many HBCUs in a no-win situation on finance and public health to meet the demand.

Black Trump supporters have never been able to defend the president’s trafficking in racism and bigotry, but have always pointed to his productivity on HBCU support as the perfect undergirding for other black policy matters like criminal justice and economic stabilization. Even they can’t find the connections between Trump’s silence on the mounting pressure to reduce racism in policing, governance and commercial enterprise while turning up the rhetoric on issues like kneeling during the national anthem, maintaining military installations named for Confederate war figures and conjuring ghosts of segregation-sparked violence of the past.

Trump can no longer be allowed to use HBCU support as a point of pride when students and alumni of HBCUs, some from nearby Howard University perhaps, were teargassed during peaceful protests in order to clear the way for a nonsensical photo opp in front of a church.

HBCU students and graduates are at the literal center of this unprecedented era of social resistance which has captivated everyone from the back block to Wall Street, and yet the always-scrambling White House aides and staffers still haven’t gotten the president to connect the dots of how being nice to protesters is the same as being nice to HBCUs, because it is HBCUs which taught the country how to protest in the first place.

HBCU leaders and advocates have done our part to make the president look good at our expense, and it paid off in support of our institutions. But this is a new game being played for equally high stakes, and it is not a contest the president can afford to sit out or which he can wave a do-right-by-the-blacks magic wand in the form of an executive order, a funding mandate to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, or through his bullying of a GOP-controlled Senate for budget support of HBCUs.

Trump’s voice, or lack thereof, will dictate the direction taken by local cities, counties, and states on social justice at large. If Trump says that policing is worth fixing and needs to be corrected now, then it sets the table for similar conversations about disparities in health, education, finance, immigration, the environment, and more.

Trump needs to be clear; all black issues are HBCU issues. Fixing the schools without fixing the systems for which the schools are preparing to train, graduate, and send off leaders is more than counterproductive; its politically and socially nefarious.

It took some time, but we convinced a whole lot of people in our communities that the game was worth playing in the name of HBCU sustainability. Now it is time to play another game.

After all, if the polls are any indication, what the hell does he have to lose by trying something new?