Jemele Hill: Black Athletes Need to Leave White Colleges

Jemele Hill
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

In an article for the Atlantic, “social justice” columnist Jemele Hill advised all black student athletes to leave “white” colleges because of inherent racism.

In a piece for the magazine’s October issue, Hill insists that black athletes are doing blacks no good by allowing “white” colleges to use the student’s athletic prowess to raise funds to benefit the college.

After noting that 2018’s top college prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux brought a lot of notoriety to a historically black college when he was looking colleges over, Hill pointed out that the NCAA and the “white” colleges that participate in the conference make billions a year off the sweat of black athletes.

“Almost all of these schools are majority white,” Hill disparagingly wrote, “in fact, black men make up only 2.4 percent of the total undergraduate population of the 65 schools in the so-called Power Five athletic conferences. Yet black men make up 55 percent of the football players in those conferences, and 56 percent of basketball players.”

This disparity works against majority black colleges, Hill says.

Black athletes have attracted money and attention to the predominantly white universities that showcase them. Meanwhile, black colleges are struggling. Alabama’s athletic department generated $174 million in the 2016–17 school year, whereas the HBCU that generated the most money from athletics that year, Prairie View A&M, brought in less than $18 million. Beyond sports, the average HBCU endowment is only one-eighth that of the average predominantly white school; taken together, all of the HBCU endowments combined make up less than a tenth of Harvard’s.

Seeming to believe that only a black college can successfully educate a black person, Hill added that all this tends to hamper the “creation and propagation of a black professional class.”

To shore up her assumption, Hill reels out some statistics.

Despite constituting only 3 percent of four-year colleges in the country, HBCUs have produced 80 percent of the black judges, 50 percent of the black lawyers, 50 percent of the black doctors, 40 percent of the black engineers, 40 percent of the black members of Congress, and 13 percent of the black CEOs in America today.

But Hill insists that the “flight of black athletes to majority-white colleges has been devastating” to black colleges. Not only have they lost money from a decreasing base of students, they have also seen a “57 percent decrease in state funding .”

Aside from bettering blacks, Hill also said that blacks should self-segregate because they “feel safer” at all black colleges.

Hill added, “some black students feel safer, both physically and emotionally, on an HBCU campus—all the more so as racial tensions have risen in recent years. Navigating a predominantly white campus as a black student can feel isolating, even for athletes.”

There is another thing, though, that drives Hill’s plan to have all black students quit white colleges: power.

Black athletes overall have never had as much power and influence as they do now. While NCAA rules prevent them from making money off their own labor at the college level, they are essential to the massive amount of revenue generated by college football and basketball. This gives them leverage, if only they could be moved to use it.

Hill then suggested that groups of black athletes should conspire together to attend a black university to change the conversation about black colleges.

Bringing elite athletic talent back to black colleges would have potent downstream effects. It would boost HBCU revenues and endowments; stimulate the economy of the black communities in which many of these schools are embedded; amplify the power of black coaches, who are often excluded from prominent positions at predominantly white institutions; and bring the benefits of black labor back to black people. In the general culture, prominent figures such as Beyoncé, LeBron James, and the recently slain rapper Nipsey Hussle have argued that African Americans should be using their talents not just to enrich themselves but to help strengthen and empower black communities. “Gentrify your own hood before these people do it,” Jay-Z rapped at the concert that reopened Webster Hall in New York City in April. “Claim eminent domain and have your people move in.”

“If promising black student athletes chose to attend HBCUs in greater numbers,” Hill concluded, “they would, at a minimum, bring some welcome attention and money to beleaguered black colleges, which invested in black people when there was no athletic profit to reap. More revolutionarily, perhaps they could disrupt the reign of an ‘amateur’ sports system that uses the labor of black folks to make white folks rich.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.


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