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"Multiculturalism" And The Devaluation Of Black Life At Penn St. University


The recent discovery of the bodies of two Black men in rural Pennsylvania along with a history of documented death threats to Black students at Penn St. University (PSU) are raising issues that many have deluded themselves into believing had long disappeared. The appearance of bodies, the proliferation of death threats and the lack of responsiveness by Penn St. officials to the fears of the Black student body is once again producing skepticism over the commitment that predominately White Universities have toward multiculturalism and even the commitment that Blacks have to themselves. The PSU controversy is even rekindling an age-old argument in the Black community about the wisdom of encouraging Black students to ignore opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in favor of becoming a small and some say token population at White-dominated state universities.

The campus events at the school best known for its championship football teams are just the latest in a long list of racial problems that occur on state universities every year. The Penn St. controversy, although covered in the media in a vacuum, is just the most recent incident of the mistreatment of Black students at that university. And the disrespect shown to LaKeisha Wolf, president of the school's student Black caucus reminds us of the way that several Black women were treated at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1990s - not just by White male students but by the school's administration.

It all goes back to a point that we have made repeatedly that Black life is so worthless in the eyes of many Whites - including those in positions of authority - that it is fruitless to seek justice from such unjust judges. Which brings us to the point of asking the question of whether Black attempts at "integration" in the superficial sense is well past the point of diminishing returns. Many Blacks shun HBCUs in favor of state and private institutions dominated by Whites, thinking that they will be getting a superior education. They also do so in an effort to compete with the "best", as if they, themselves are already a notch below their young White counterparts.

But at what cost?

Throwing various ethnic groups together in a crammed and competitive setting just for the sake of "multiculturalism" produces something less than a melting pot of harmony and understanding. It is more like a tossed salad where students who come from segregated neighborhoods and high schools in the suburbs, rural areas and inner cities are asked to now live right on top of one another for the first time.

And the whole premise of the arrangement is often to blame.

Blacks are viewed as "moving up" as they attend the so-called "best institutions that White America has to offer" and Whites are viewed as "tolerating" their new darker skinned neighbors. It is as if integration is a spiritual experience for Blacks and one of charity for Whites.

And Blacks feed into this perverse scenario by constantly making White acceptance and recognition of them almost the center of their college experience.

Even the "deal" that was reached yesterday at Penn St. typifies the offspring that the marriage of White supremacy and Black inferiority produce. While many of the students at Penn St. should be credited for making their security and the investigations of the murders a top priority, the entire negotiation between the two sides became increasingly watered down as a group of students, black faculty members and outside Black interests began to bargain for "things" from the administration like increased spending and more Black positions. As CNN reported:

"The agreement, signed about 6 p.m. EDT, commits the university to establishing an Africana Studies Research Center and increasing the number of full-time tenured black faculty members to 10 by 2003. Currently, there are four. A black vice provost will also be added to the president's council, which makes key policy decisions"

The Blacks at Penn St. got nothing but crumbs, as is usually the case when Blacks bargain at the table, seeking acceptance from Whites and nearness to power centers as opposed to a relationship based upon mutual respect. The appointment and payoff game, where a few Blacks get a few new jobs, and where a few more dollars are spent on "new programs" is tired, and as old as Blacks have been emancipated.

The Democratic Party just performed this routine when it created a voting rights institute and placed Maynard Jackson at the head of the new office. It just so happens that Jackson gave considerable competition to the eventual Party Chairman, Terry McAuliffe, in the race for DNC chair. Jackson also mobilized an impressive group of Black opinion leaders, politicians and civil rights leaders in support of his candidacy - people who know the Democratic Party takes Blacks for granted and who were making quite a stir over how the Party has moved away from its Black base in the last 20 years.

So, a deal was made and crumbs were handed out and Maynard Jackson now presides over a new office with a new budget. The revolt was quieted, jobs were handed out and Whites continue to run the Party. Now, they even have a Black buffer in that Maynard Jackson will be put out front to take the brunt of Black dissatisfaction when and if things go wrong in the relationship between Black voters and the Party.

Instead of walking out with a power base and building upon the issues that he championed in his race against McAuliffe, Maynard Jackson decided to do what every Black is told from the very first time they wish to rebel after suffering an offense in White society or institutions, - "work within the system".

Under these arrangements that take place in government and the private sector every day Whites work the appeasement formula to perfection as Blacks get virtually nothing in exchange for quieting down, slowing their unity and reintegrating themselves into a "reformed" system.

The "work within the system" formula worked itself to perfection at PSU.

Penn State last week announced it would add faculty to the African and African-American Studies Department, create an Africana Studies Research Center, create a new scholarship program and give more authority to the vice provost for educational equity, all in an effort to placate, appease and blunt the power of the growing unity of Black students on the campus and to spare the school any further bad publicity. They did so also in an effort to continue to reap the benefits of tuition and aid that enter into PSU coffers as a result of the school's Black student population.

This is the flip side of the disease of racism where Black inferiority mandates that Blacks work tirelessly to "change the hearts" of Whites through sensitivity training, diversity programs and multiculturalism. Unfortunately, Blacks don't realize how they look in the eyes of the people whose friendship, acceptance and power they so desperately seek. They are not respected because the Whites who think like this and are even being protested against, know that Blacks are "asking" for, as well as "demanding" the wrong thing.

The mere presence of Blacks at institutions like PSU where Blacks have been mistreated and rejected for years, shows Whites that Blacks don't respect themselves, as they should. Blacks style their efforts as a demonstration of power, courage and perseverance and find a friend in the White mainstream media who go along with the "We Shall Overcome" chorus that masks the Black inferiority complex.

But deep down, the majority of Whites in this country as well as people looking at America's racial divide from abroad, are wondering why it is so important for Blacks to win the friendship of Whites in places where they are obviously not wanted, even to the point of being hosed, bitten by dogs, murdered, and are the recipients of death threats.

Many Whites and international observers know that the civil rights movement, for all of the good that it did, has a serious flaw - it makes Whites and their mistreatment of Blacks the center of the universe in a way that makes White validation of the human rights of Blacks the end all.

"Surely", many White Americans and foreign spectators think, "these Blacks can claim their own humanity and give justice, wealth and power to themselves".

In the meantime, partly through their own undoing, Historically Black Colleges and Universities close down, one after the other, as Blacks frequently turn offers down to attend. And in many cases, the Black students want to attend the HBCUs but their parents, thinking in the civil rights paradigm, persuade them or force them to go to a White or state school in order to have a chance at a "better job" and making it in White America.

The whole mentality is really perverse and virtually all of the Black community feeds into it, at one time or another, in various spheres of activities.

If Black students and Black people really want their lives to be secure and their humanity respected, unity and support of one another will go a lot further than deal-making. Especially when there are Black bodies and death threats lying around.

Anytime a young and brilliant Black woman like LaKeisha Wolf has to wear a bullet proof vest and be surrounded by Black men just so that she can get an education, it should be obvious that more is at stake than crumbs from a university budget.

Instead of walking up to PSU with hands out, cutting deals, maybe Black students should be walking out of the door.

Maybe some of the other ethnic groups would like to assume the position of raw meat for ravenous dogs.

Blacks should not have to beg or negotiate for their man and womanhood from human beings who are not that powerful.

They can claim it all on their own and with the help of God.

And still get a quality education.

Some things just can't be negotiated


Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, May 3, 2001

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