Last month, President Donald Trump issued an executive order prohibiting federal funds from being awarded to agencies or contractors promoting racial or sexual stereotyping. The objective is to reverse what the White House calls a growing culture of blaming white people for much of America's social tension and systemic racism in industry and governance.
The order outlines many items and guidelines for how it proposes to engage contractors and agencies on ending race blaming.
Sec. 5. Requirements for Federal Grants. The heads of all agencies shall review their respective grant programs and identify programs for which the agency may, as a condition of receiving such a grant, require the recipient to certify that it will not use Federal funds to promote the concepts that
(a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
(b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
(c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex;
(d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;
(e) an individual's moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;
(f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
(g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or
(h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.
Within 60 days of the date of this order, the heads of agencies shall each submit a report to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that lists all grant programs so identified.
The definition is dangerously broad and clears the way for the government to hold businesses back from federal funding if they venture too far into reverse sociopolitical engineering of systems and cultures built by historical racism.
It could also allow for a nearly instant and horrific reversal of programs created to support historically Black colleges and universities. Compare the definition in this order to the federal definition of an HBCU:
The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as: "…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation."
The disconnect between the two definitions allows for a straightforward interpretation of HBCUs, federally-designated colleges designed to reverse vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow policy, to now themselves be vestiges of discrimination against white students and professionals in higher education.
But let's assume that the Trump Administration says, "well, we weren't talking about HBCUs with this; we were trying to get rid of all of these diversity initiatives." Remember that in 2017 that Trump had to quickly walk back statements he made about the HBCU Capital Financing Program being "unconstitutional."
It seems that this was the foundation for the executive order signed just over three years later, which doesn't namecheck HBCUs but puts the funding programs, academic infrastructure, and culture in the crosshairs for political retribution.
Suppose Education Secretary Betsy DeVos decides or is forced to overhaul these programs based on the executive order's guidance. In that case, dozens of funding programs supporting education and workforce development programs targeting African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, and other underrepresented racial groups are at risk.
Student federal aid for HBCU students, funding for Howard University, HBCU graduate program development, construction projects, high school-to-college bridge programming, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professional development, and agricultural extension would be in jeopardy; simply because HBCU faculty and students teach and learn curriculum on the ties between racism, capitalism, and governance.
If we think the threat isn't legitimate, consider that three predominantly white institutions have paused diversity programs on their campuses. If they are concerned that diversity programming could jeopardize their funding, what should historically Black and diverse institutions with matching culture and curricula have to fear?
The only thing more significant than a racism-pandering executive order with a direct impact on HBCUs is the lack of response from HBCU leaders about its threat level. We've not heard a word of analysis or protest from HBCU presidents or chancellors, and no formal comment from the HBCU advocacy organizations, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund or the United Negro College Fund.
Trump is doubling down on equaling the playing field for white supremacists, their empathizers, and those who make money off their value systems. His game now forces federal agency heads into the unenviable position of auditing organizations for how well they can avoid telling and addressing truths about the prevalence of racism in all areas of American life.
If the HBCU community missed the memo, it is time to get caught up and get loud on just how much damage could be done to HBCUs between now and January 20, 2021.