By John N. Mitchell
The stories that came up on Monday when I Googled the name of award-winning journalist Jemele Hill did not surprise me.
I searched Hill’s name because I wanted to see how far conservative pundits would go in an effort to contort the words from her recent opinion piece for The Atlantic into something nonsensical and fallacious.
Hill, now a staff writer for The Atlantic, saw her star ascend in September 2017 when she infamously called President Donald Trump a white supremacist on Twitter. At the time, Hill was a co-host on ESPN’s Sportscenter, the sports network’s most high-profile show.
She has since become a favorite target of the right’s.
Hill argued that now is the time for elite Black athletes, who make hundreds of millions of dollars for predominantly white colleges and universities, to begin attending historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Her position is that the billions of dollars in television money and other sizable financial windfalls that predominantly white colleges and universities reap by having Black athletes, such as Zion Williamson and Kyler Murray, the top selections in this year’s NBA and NFL drafts, respectively, would eventually find their way to Black schools if athletes such as these opted to attend them. And she’s right. Sports fans will want to watch the very best athletes, and television networks will find them wherever they attend college.
The struggles of HBCUs are well documented. They are fighting daily for their existence. The reasons for this are manifold and in many cases institutional.
HBCU graduates don’t have as much money to give because they’re not earning as much as their white counterparts.
Pay gaps continue to widen between African Americans and whites, and the disparity is most acute when factoring in a college education. According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, Black college graduates earned 13% less per hour than their white counterparts in 1979 and 22% less per hour in 2015.
Hill’s premise is rooted in what minority communities have understood for years — that when the American Dream, as it frequently does, is not working out for the vast majority of the members of marginalized communities, changes must be made. And what could be more American than using the natural resources of one’s community — in this case the athletic gifts of young African-American student athletes — to strengthen the financial health of HBCUs?
Carlson literally told University of Maryland professor Jason Nichols that the “triumph over segregation was held up as comparable to storming the beaches at Normandy.”
He might be right, but it is disingenuous of him to cloak Hill’s suggestion that elite Black athletes opting to attend HBCUs would be an effort by Blacks to resegregate. More realistically, it is a typical right-wing talking point that comes from the same playbook that also tells African Americans that a “victim mentality” and the “Democratic plantation” are bigger problems than actual racism and a bigoted commander in chief.
If handfuls of African-American blue-chip athletes decide they are going to go to Howard University or North Carolina A&T, it will not be an indication that the sky is falling or that the status quo is no more. And it certainly won’t be evidence that there is some desire among Blacks who did experience what life was like before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka have an urge to do so.
But something radical must happen to help struggling HBCUs in need of money, resources and revenue streams that presently aren’t getting it done.
Hill’s idea could begin changing this in small increments. And what better group for this to begin with than members of Generation Z?