1) A quote from Dr. MLK, Jr.: “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
2) A couple of weeks ago, I had to take my African American history class to task. One of them had fallen asleep in class. Several others had out laptops, phones, and other devices despite my clear instructions in the syllabus and my reminders that, unless required, I don’t allow electronic devices. So, I told them that, once upon a time, I would’ve asked, “Do you treat your white professors like this?” but now, I don’t make it my business to figure out how they treat their white professors, I just know how they are NOT going to treat me. Because it is a majority black class, I also told them, “Don’t think, just because you look like me in some ways, that you haven’t internalized bullshit that tells you that you don’t have to respect me or my rules. I’m not going to let ANYONE mistreat me.”
I say that as a preface to my commentary on the situation with the Grambling State University football team. If you don’t know, Grambling is an HBCU and here is a brief synopsis of what’s happening:
Grambling State on Friday canceled its football game against Jackson State after Grambling's disgruntled players refused to travel to Jackson for the game Saturday.
The players -- upset with travel policies, poor facility conditions and a tumultuous coaching situation -- made a decision not to play at a team meeting Friday afternoon, a player told ESPN's Brett McMurphy.
I am writing because 1) I am from the Grambling-area and grew up with a deep love and admiration for the school and 2) my timeline has been flooded with Grambling alum and other HBCU alum/students who are horrified at the football team’s protest.
Off the top, let me be honest. I don't know all the circumstances. I am writing hurriedly on a Friday night. I’m a labor historian and a black feminist. I tend to be on the side of people who are protesting against unfair conditions. So, with just the bare bones of the story, my heart is with the football players.
The HBCU alums I am reading overwhelmingly think the protest is unfair to GSU and untimely, which is why I quoted Dr. King. When you are satisfied with the status quo, you will never see the need for protest. As a black woman, I do know where some of the alumni are coming from. We know that, no matter how many positive stories there are about HBCUs, no matter how well they serve our communities in a way that is profoundly needed, these are the stories that will get headlines (the protests, any financial mismanagement, any corrupt faculty/administrators, etc). We know that many of the problems are caused by state- and federal-level neglect of and disdain for such institutions.
But these young men can’t bear the brunt of that. They can’t suffer in silence for fear of airing our dirty laundry and having us publicly excoriated. They have a right to voice their concerns and an obligation to be true to themselves. They are not traitors. They are not untrue. They are probably not any of the nasty descriptors I have read just today. They don’t have to be quiet because the Bayou Classic is broadcast nationally. They don’t have to be quiet because of some broader goal. (Seriously, all of these comments reminded me of the pressure on some black women to keep quiet about our abuse and misuse at the hands of some black men. But that’s another post.) If it is a “privilege” to attend and play for GSU, then the university should reinforce why it is a “privilege.” Past glory and unquestioned loyalty will no longer do.
I quoted myself in point two, as a counter to people who think that black people cannot treat each other poorly and hurtfully. We can. I’m a living witness, given my personal and professional lives. I don’t have much else to say about that.
And, lest you think I am a complete outsider, bear in mind that I taught at GSU for one year. Nothing in my career has compared to teaching a majority black student body, many of whom understood where I was coming from, understood my politics, were used to black professors, and showed me so much love.
Despite all that, I knew I couldn’t stay. There are things that need to be addressed systemically and institutionally. I see the football players demanding that these things be addressed. And, while people might allege that they are not being true “G-men,” they are, potentially, being true to the centuries-long heritage of African American protest.