Howard University and the Negro

"One ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro..."

Those immortal words of W.E.B. Dubois, uttered more than 100 years ago, still resonate within the veiled hearts and minds of the African American community today. As we, in this space, continuously seek to carve our niche in this placed called the United States, we still refuse to ‘bleach our Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism.’ However, Howard University offers a unique view.

According to Cedric Robinson, and other scholars such as Michael Gomez, the mid-19th century saw the rise of at least two alternative political cultures among Blacks.

The first, maroonage, which advocated communitarian, inventive and democratic ideals emerged among the class of Africans who experienced very harshly the “brutal regime of slavery and peonage.”

This culture existed in en masse among the African-American community. The second, and better publicized and understood, was the “assimiliationist black political culture that appropriated the values and objectives of the dominant American creed.”

This emerged from bourgeois Africans who were closer in physical and social proximity to mainstream America. These two cultures contributed to class conflicts within the African community in America. However, this is a classism that is predicated on whiteness as a marker for not only success, but for comfort and security, remnants of white supremacy and racism.

This classism plays out everyday on the campus of Howard University. In order to understand this however, one must understand the history of Howard itself.
Formed by an act of Congress, which we celebrate today, Howard University is the only black university that was formed not as a land-grant university, but as a federally chartered, private, non-profit educational institution (see Howard University Endowment Act).

Therefore, it is easy to see which one of these different political cultures Howard University was built to serve. It then becomes clear, why and how Howard University seeks to encase its students in a bubble from the masses of Africans in America who differ in terms of their ideals as outlined by Robinson.

The analysis of Kwame Ture in his autobiography, “Ready for Revolution,” was indeed insightful.

In the chapter titled, “Howard University: Every Black Thing and Its Opposite,” Ture explains Howard University almost 100 years after its charter, as a place whose most egregious image in the African community was an elitist enclave, a ‘bougie’ school where fraternities and sororities, partying, shade consciousness, conspicuous consumption, status anxiety and class and color snobbery dominated a student body content for the most part with merely “getting over” academically.

He also describes the administration of the University as “a reflection of the massive contradictions underlying the relationship between Africans in America and whites in America.”

While we can acknowledge the presence of these ideals today in 2009 (especially in administration), thankfully this was not then or now the entire story.

Undeniably among this class structure, there exists maroons many of whom come from the first political culture but find themselves engulfed into the assimilationist model.

Many students at Howard have bourgeois mindsets, but would never be considered elite in any circle of the power structure. Yet those who came from a cultural foundation of maroonage found themselves forming groups like the Non-Violent Action Group (NAG) that advocated for African-American humanity as the administration cringed.

These were the faculty who challenged normative theory and engendered real consciousness in its students who would later challenge the power structure of the global empire in many ways.

Howard, although it never intended to be, became the meeting place for revolutionary thought among the masses of African people, who brought what they learned to the masses from Nigeria to Leflore County, Miss.

The legacy of these maroons is one of being ostracized, under-funded, vilified, fired and even cast into insane asylums. Although, today we act as if we are following the legacy of Sterling Brown, Rayford Logan or even Patricia Roberts.

The legacy of Howard University is the same legacy that existed at its founding, one that falls in line with what Howard scholar E. Franklin Frazier explained in his classic, “Black Bourgeoisie.”

If one understands this history then it is easy to see why Howard University cannot have a Go-Go on campus without a hitch, when other HBCU’s such as North Carolina A&T State University seem to do so regularly.

One can easily see with historical consciousness, why Pan-Africanism is scary for the “powers that be” and is not “needed.” One can understand when viewing things clearly, why one of the largest profiteers of the Prison Industrial Complex can feed us everyday.

The political culture dictates that this University has this relationship with the masses of Africans and with the power structure of the U.S. global empire. The understanding of contradictions is essential. As we deal with neo-liberalism increasing this understanding becomes even more critical, as Junebug Jabbo Jones loved to say:

“Effen yo’ doan unnerstan’ the principle of eternal contradiction, yo’ sho ain’t gonna unnerstan’ diddly about Howard University. Nor about black life in these United States neither.”

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by Josh Myers

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