Is Jemele Hill’s HBCU Article Worth the Outrage?

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Today, I find myself in the awkward position of having to defend journalist Jemele Hill.


A few days ago, Jemele Hill published a piece for The Atlantic in which she addressed issues facing historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s). The article, titled: “It’s Time for Black Athletes to Leave White Colleges,” has elicited outrage from right-wing Twitter and members of the conservative chattering class.

Several right-leaning news outlets excoriated Hill, claiming that she was arguing in favor of segregation. Singer and activist Kaya Jones tweeted: “Promoting segregation gets us nowhere @jemelehill”

Caleb Hull also joined in on Twitter:

“Jemele Hill in 2018: Segregation in schools was racist

Jemele Hill today: We need to segregate our schools”

Candace Owens chimed in as well:

“So @jemelehill is calling for black athletes to leave white universities.

YASSSS JEMELE!! Self-imposed segregation! Our ancestors would be so proud!

We should make it ILLEGAL for blacks and whites to play sports together and call it Hill-Crow laws.

…You insufferable idiot.”

This isn’t the first time that the former ESPN anchor has been the subject of criticism from the right. On more than one occasion, she has accused President Trump of being a white supremacist. But there is one glaring problem with the accusations that she was pushing for segregation.

None of them are true.

The headline certainly suggests that Hill was going to recommend that black athletes segregate themselves, but when you read the article, you can easily see that she is not promoting segregation. In the piece, Hill explained that HBCU’s  — which also admit white students who wish to attend – have played an integral role in the success of many black professionals while contributing to the black middle class. She writes:


“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.”

Many prominent HBCU’s are in financial trouble. In her article, Hill suggests that a group of high-profile black athletes choose to bring their skills to an HBCU, thereby helping these institutions earn more revenue. “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,” she explains.

Far from suggesting that all black college athletes should attend HBCU’s in an act of segregation, Hill suggests that some students make that choice. “Three or four of them could spark a national conversation—and, in basketball, could generate a championship run that attracted fans and money. Now imagine five or 10 or 20—or a few dozen. That could quickly propel a few black schools into the athletic empyrean, and change the place of HBCUs in American culture,” she writes.

A few dozen black athletes – at the most – does not a segregationist movement make. Later in the piece, Hill points to other black Americans who have used their talents to benefit their communities. She brings up people like the recently deceased Nipsey Hussle, who used the fortune he amassed from his rap career to create jobs and rebuild his community.


Here’s the bottom line. I have no problem criticizing Hill and others when they are making dishonest or destructive arguments. Last year I criticized her for lamenting the fact that black men sided with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh while he was the subject of sexual assault allegations.

But in this case, there was no race-baiting. There were no attacks on Trump. The article is simply about empowering black learning institutions using the free market. At no point does she imply that the government must give more than the $680 million that Trump already approved.

So was Hill’s piece as egregious as it has been portrayed? It appears not, and it does not seem that reacting with outrage benefits the conservative movement. Indeed, the fact that she recommended a free-market solution to a problem she has identified is far more conservative than progressive.

Some have not only taken issue with Hill’s supposed calls for segregation, but also to the existence of black universities in the first place. After all, there are no “historically white colleges and universities,” are there? But here’s the thing – HBCU’s were created at a time when blacks were unable to attend the same learning institutions as whites. And now, they are a part of American history. Just as many of us oppose the removal of Democratic Civil War statues as a way to preserve history, there is nothing wrong with supporting these schools, in my estimation. Besides, many colleges are already predominantly white


Another aspect of this story that I found odd was the push to defend universities that are not historically black in the name of “desegregation.” As stated previously, Hill never argued for segregation. But why would we defend the same schools that mock us, ridicule us, and bar our speakers from giving speeches? Are we really going to sympathize with institutions that compare us to Nazis?  I don’t mind if they lose a few high-profile athletes to HBCU’s.

Stories like this inevitably generate anger, which is why they get so many clicks and shares. We all fall for it at one point or another. But we must ensure we are attacking arguments that the left is actually making instead of immediately jumping to an erroneous conclusion.


What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!


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