Does Whiteness Negatively Affect the African-American Community? By. Reginald Mathes, MPA

whiteness pics

Growing up in a Southeastern region of the United States of America, I repeatedly heard my father vent about Whites literally walking through him while simply walking down the sidewalk. He would vent about how his existence seemed invisible in the eyes of Whites. Is he racist? No. Am I racist? No. I finally experienced this in an airport in Connecticut when I bumped shoulders with a citizen of the majority race. It was as if he did not even see me. I looked back and he was looking back as if I was in the wrong. Instantly, I understood what my father was talking about over the years. While pursuing doctoral studies, I discovered two concepts for what my father was ranting about. I argue that the lack of acknowledgement of my father’s existence by whites rest in the unconscious habits of racial privilege and Whiteness that Shannon Sullivan’s book titled Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege (2006). Sullivan (2006) explores her claim of whiteness as ownership of the earth. Maybe this is the reason my father and I experienced a lack of existence acknowledgement.

Perhaps, we can gain an understanding of the Whiteness and institutional racism that is embedded in America by understanding Sullivan’s (2006) quote that states “One of the hiding places of the terror of whiteness is white people’s blithe ignorance of race and racism” (p.127). Furthermore, I actually thought my dissertation title regarding the lived experiences of African-American students at PWIs was irrelevant until the Trayvon Martin incident in Florida. A few months later, I discovered that my research areas regarding Eurocentric thought, institutional racism, Black identity and White identity development are vital to the uplift of the African-American community. Michael Brown’s assassination in Ferguson, MO confirmed the fact that my dissertation theme is relevant.

I argue that Whiteness affects the lives of African-Americans and perpetuates Black inferiority. In addition, I argue that the perpetuation of Black inferiority leads to Black on Black crimes, fatherless Black children, uneducated Black men and women and increased poverty rates in our communities. It is essential that we as citizens of America, understand the significance of human brotherhood. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the Whites are not pulling the triggers of guns in Chicago that led to the recent despicable amounts of Black men, women, and children being killed in Chicago. However, I argue that institutional racism that was ingrained in American society after slavery ultimately leads to the nihilism in the Black community that Dr. Cornell West discusses in his book titled Race Matters (1994). It is essential that Whites in America understand the importance of White racial identity development.

The dangerous thing about Whiteness is that it’s invisible. It is essential that our young Black youth understand that there was a system put in place after slavery to keep them from accomplishing the American Dream. I contend that we as a people in America, Black and White wake up and strive for the universal human brotherhood that Sullivan (2006) discusses in her literature. By the way she is White.

Do you prefer your African-American Son or Daughter to Attend a Predominantly White Institution or an HBCU?

Growing up in a two parent home in the Southeastern region of the United States, my parents were a significant influence in my understanding of the importance of education. Both of my parents attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). My mother and father, received Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from HBCUs. Neither of my parents attended a predominantly White institution (PWIs). I often wondered if they pursued their post-secondary education at a PWI, would I have grown up in a predominantly White neighborhood. Would my quality of life been significantly different if my parents were graduates of PWIs? Especially during a time when degrees were more valuable than they are today.

Currently, I am pursuing a Doctorate of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration at an HBCU. At times I find myself regretting pursuing a Doctorate degree at an HBCU. At other times, I feel that the education is just as valuable as if I were attending a PWI. At a time when dismantling HBCUs is in the headlines of the news, I’m finishing a PhD at one. Is this degree even going to be worth the hard work and dedication that I have put into my quest for greatness? Or will I end up with a name tag working at Wal-Mart that says “Dr. ——-? Oh how embarrassing that will be. Ironically, the education I have been pursuing has educated me about how these very same institutions that we grew up idealizing were major players in the perpetuation of Black inferiority. Yes, Princeton, Harvard, and the majority of the Ivy Leagues were institutions of higher education that perpetuated Black inferiority.

Regardless of the information that I have received pertaining to these institutions about how students dug up African cadavers at an Ivy League school in the northeast to dissect. Regardless of the fact that my doctoral education has informed me that African human tissue was the currency of the establishment of medical science at these institutions of higher education that we are taught to idealize, I still feel that if I had children I would prefer for them to attend a predominantly White institution. Don’t get me wrong, I love HBCUs and I know that they have produced an enormous amount of leaders in America, I still feel my children would have a better opportunity of the American Dream if they attained at least one degree from a predominantly White institution. Isn’t this just the perfect example to illustrate the strength of the White power structure in America? I wonder how employers really look at the applications of HBCU graduates. In fact, I was told recently by a friend that her manager looked down upon the very institution that I am attending. I have friends that graduated from HBCUs that frown upon their very own HBCU. Are our institutions becoming obsolete?

I argue that they are not, in fact I argue that HBCUs are literally lifesavers for members of the African-American community whose grades may not have been considered stellar in their secondary school days. This article was written to discover ideas and theories regarding the PWI vs. HBCU debate. Are our institutions still relevant?