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I tell myself that I don't have a dog in this hunt.

Money is tight everywhere, and in a state like Mississippi, where money is always tight, tougher times for the country mean cutting yourself to bone. Toward the end of last year our governor suggested consolidation of the state's three historically black universities and incorporation of the Mississippi University for Women, the first public college for women in the United States, into one of the other three state universities. This was an unpopular suggestion, to say the very least, and Santa Clause swept it under the skirt of the tree.

There it remained until this past Monday, when local papers reported on another proposal to consolidate the state's three public HBCUs under a new name and with clearly defined missions for the currently existing campuses. The proposal, made by Ronald Mason, Jr., president of Jackson State University, the largest of the three public HBCUs, was never intended for public consumption, but it's provided a tasty meal for the local newspapers, citizens, and legislators for the last few days.

Public conversations surrounding race relations are always a bit dodgy, but they're necessary; if you're going to move forward, you have to acknowledge where you've been, why that's brought you to where you are, and what you need to do differently in the future. Outsiders might handwave the entire problem away as being one more indicator of how backwards this state--and, by extension, the American South--is and how racism still lives and breathes "down there." Insiders know there's more here than meets the eye.

I tell myself that I don't have a dog in this hunt. I'm lying.

I work at a small liberal arts college and read the Mason story from the comfort of my office. Up the newly-repaved but still potholed road from my college stands Jackson State University. Southward are the buildings of the state capital. To our immediate east stands a rival college, several high schools, a lovely old neighborhood; to our west could be more of the same, but hard times and dwindling resources have left these could-have-been places to rack and ruin. The eastern demographic is predominantly white, the western predominantly black.

This is my geographic situation, and it couldn't better represent my cultural one either. Every weekday morning this middle-aged black woman bundles up her son, places him in her car, and travels two miles southward to enter this particular contact zone. I pass the eastside high school where my husband teaches as I head for the west where I find my son's day care center after passing a string of solidly built but utterly vacant houses. There are bars on the windows at the center and a buzzer at the door, but inside everything is warm and friendly and open. I kiss him goodbye and hand him over to the young women who run this Montessori day care center in one of the poorest sections of the city.

I turn my car eastward, then enter the iron gates that encircle my campus. When I first came here, I thought the gates were lovely, a marker to the world that something special is happening behind this fence. As I began to understand my socioeconomic geography, I started seeing the gates as a buffer from the world outside the college. On bad days, they seem as walls to exclude those perceived to be socially undesirable. On good days, they act as sound-proofing against the noise of the city and state, allowing me to untangle so many twisted up phrases.

Take the phrase that defines this group of colleges and universities: "historically black." These schools are "historically black" because they are no longer exclusively so, their doors long ago opening to students of all races. They are "historically black" because they have long served this once legally under-served minority population. They are "historically black" because history has been unkind to blacks in this country and these schools give the black community a sense of ownership and pride.

But "historically black" carries heavier luggage. To some, "historically black" means it's holding you back, that your embrace of this racially defined community space keeps you from integrating into the larger society. To others, "historically black" means you continue to lack, that you'll only get what you need to get by when others long ago received what they needed to get ahead. And sadder still, for some, "historically black" means niggers get back, know your place and stay out of our schools.

A lifetime of being black in the American South has taught me to listen--consistently, not exclusively--with my skin.

I don't know what vote I would cast were I in the legislature. I can't say that I wouldn't have made a similar proposal (although, I hope, a more effectively presented one) were I in Mason's shoes. I won't say that I believe the schools should remain untouched in perpetuity.

I do know that tough and often unpopular decisions have to be made. I can say that I understand why Mason's proposal has wounded and angered the black community, why, having publicly denounced the Governor's initial proposal, he's seen as Janus-faced on this issue. I will say that HBCUs occupy a peculiar--and peculiarly necessary--place in American higher education, and that while I may not be directly involved in this conversation, I have a vested interest in its outcome.

I'm a mother, a teacher, a taxpayer. I have to have a dog in this hunt.


The conversation continues:

Jackson State President: HBCUs Future at Risk

This post was written in response to the Week 12 Current Events prompt at [ profile] therealljidol.

on 2010-01-31 07:43 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
This is really well done, and one of the few Current Events stories that got my attention this week. You draw us into the dichotomy of your locale and I love the circular use of the "dog in this hunt" phrase.

on 2010-01-31 08:14 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I have to second this comment. Thanks for bringing this up as a topic - you have fascinating insight on it.

on 2010-01-31 08:32 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
And I third it. What a great topic to bring up, and I love the approach you took. Excellent work.

on 2010-02-01 03:40 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks; glad you enjoyed it!

on 2010-02-01 03:39 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks; I wasn't expecting to find myself so taken by this topic, and I'm glad that you found it worthwhile!

on 2010-02-01 03:38 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks; I'm glad that you enjoyed it!

on 2010-01-31 07:44 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Fascinating post. Thanks for sharing this.

on 2010-02-01 03:41 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I'm glad you found it interesting; I was thinking a good bit about Louisiana while I was writing. I don't recall this being much of an issue there, although I may be misremembering.

on 2010-01-31 11:44 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Quote: "...if you're going to move forward, you have to acknowledge where you've been, why that's brought you to where you are, and what you need to do differently in the future."

Well said.

It's going to be a hard tightrope to walk for years to come.

on 2010-02-01 03:43 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Yes, it definitely will, although it's been a tough one to walk for many years prior. It's so difficult to turn the tide of many, many years of injustice, and we humans are an impatient lot.

on 2010-02-01 06:01 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Fascinating look at this debate.

on 2010-02-01 08:43 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]

on 2010-02-01 06:34 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
This was really well done as handled both scopes, small and personal on your level and broad and far reaching on the other, yet tying them all together so the broad issues seem personally important to your readers.

I especially liked your paragraph about the gates. That was a very effective image.

These decisions will not be easy ones...

on 2010-02-01 08:44 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks for reading and for the compliment. It's so easy to forget how close to our lives the issues of the day really are.

on 2010-02-01 07:08 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
What I enjoyed about this entry is that it was a local story that has a much wider reaching implication. You did a great job with it.

on 2010-02-01 08:44 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thank you; I'm glad you enjoyed it!

on 2010-02-01 03:37 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
So interesting!

Outsiders might handwave the entire problem away as being one more indicator of how backwards this state--and, by extension, the American South--is and how racism still lives and breathes "down there." Insiders know there's more here than meets the eye.

There is a whole universe of truth here, and the sad truth is that white people "up here" have no freakin' clue what goes on "down there."

In all honesty, the view white Northeastern liberals (I'm including myself here) have of the South is that it's a scary, scary place full of scary, scary people, and the people they persecute. And, given the sharp political divide in this country and the relentless Christian conservatism we perceive coming from white Southerners, there's a strong feeling of bitterness and resentment about it. In my own mind, there's a kind of disgust that's founded on assumptions about racism, religious fundamentalism, and painful parochialism. And there's also, frankly, a deep sense of confusion about African-American Southerners and how or why) they stand it.

I have no doubt that all that sounds painfully ignorant and narrow-minded to you and other Southerners - or not. To be honest, the American South is more another country to me than, say, much of Europe, where I've spent far more time. I'm just being really honest here, because the one thing I do recognize is that, as long as we remain totally ignorant of each other, the Northeast and the Southeast will continue to view each other with suspicion and even enmity.

on 2010-02-01 08:51 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Oh, my dear, thank you for the candor! I wish you lived closer (or I lived closer or maybe that we both lived closer to the Mason-Dixon line) so that we could chat over coffee.

You know, I could easily say the same about how Southerners view our Northern neighbors; what's important is, as you point out, being honest and open in our discussion so that we can try to understand.

I can certainly see where your perception of the South comes from--the loudest folks always get the most attention. There is a strong current of conservatism here, but we have many more progressive folk here too. And yes, one might wonder how black folk handle the deep South, but our experiences are as vastly different as the varying hues of our skin. I had to keep reminding myself of that as I read the comments on the various news stories on this topic; I'd frequently find myself wondering how anyone could support or say X, then have to remember that my experience was different.

on 2010-02-01 11:14 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I wish you lived closer (or I lived closer or maybe that we both lived closer to the Mason-Dixon line) so that we could chat over coffee.

That would be wonderful, yes, YES! I wish.

the loudest folks always get the most attention.

And the most shocking. Last year in Gettysburg we visited souvenir shops and found t-shirts like these. ( I was completely shocked. I honestly had no idea in this day and age they would sell things like that anywhere other than a White Supremacist website.

I don't even know how to put it into some kind of context...

My head knows the South today is a far more diverse place than those images suggest. But it's so hard to see past the shocking bits.

on 2010-02-04 03:34 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
That website doesn't surprise me in the least; it's part of this movement that tries to rehabilitate the symbols of the Confederacy, reclaiming them along with the perceived lost pride/manhood of the region. It's not about racism--not in an overt way--but it's tough to justify waving those symbols around without invoking the whole history they represent.

on 2010-02-02 01:05 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
MS has been a tough place for education for a long time... I've been somewhat familiar with it because my uncle was president of Magnolia College about an hour and a half Northeast in Kosciusko until he retired in 1997. He always had some very interesting stories to tell.

on 2010-02-04 03:27 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I can imagine he did; this state seems to almost revel in its bottom-of-the-list-ness!

on 2010-02-02 01:18 am (UTC)
shadowwolf13: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] shadowwolf13
Well done, it takes a bit to get me to care about current events but you've done it here. :)

on 2010-02-04 03:28 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]

on 2010-02-02 08:15 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I *love* that this current event has personal resonance for you. I think this is part of why Current Events is a difficult prompt (though not quite as difficult, IMO, as Trip-Tropping). This made for compelling reading. I'm sorry your partner didn't make it through this - I would have loved to have seen how this intersected.

Anyhow, well done.

on 2010-02-04 03:29 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thank you so much! I, too, would have liked to see the intersection, especially given my partner's geographic location.

I haven't quite been able to figure out just what the trip-trapping topic is supposed to be...

on 2010-02-02 10:59 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
This was a really interesting read. I live in one of the most liberal states in the country (despite the last election here in Massachusetts) so it is interesting to read about other parts of the country. I still shake my head at times.

on 2010-02-04 03:30 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
You know, there are loads of progressive and liberally minded people down here--just as everywhere, I suspect--but the louder voices always prevail!

on 2010-02-03 07:28 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I thought this was an excellent reflection, very informative, and very even-handed for someone who claims to have a dog in this hunt.

on 2010-02-04 03:30 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
Thanks; I try to see as many sides of an issue as I can, which makes it tough to make decisions at times!


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