As an HBCU Alumnus that owns two media properties about HBCU Life, the time that we’re living in is amazing. Our historically black colleges and universities are getting the press and attention they deserve for helping in molding the change agents that are poised to run the world. However, there is a level of inauthenticity in a lot of this coverage. It feels as if many media companies are embracing HBCUs because it’s the “hot thing”. It’s what’s trending on Twitter; it’s what all the “kids” are talking about. Because of this, they get our culture wrong. They spit out inaccurate history, ask demeaning questions and flat our disrespect our institutions and organizations.
The need for HBCU representation in newsrooms and conference rooms for corporate media organizations has always been apparent. Vice President Harris taking office has really exposed this need though. Take last Sunday as an example. New MSNBC co-host Johnathan Capehart did a tribute piece to our HBCU Educated VP that was perfectly fine. That is, until he started talking about her membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. I’ll let you listen in below for yourself.
Mr. Capehart was immediately met with backlash from AKAs around the nation. Unlike many media members that would’ve been in his situation, he immediately tried to right his wrong. He was educated on why this wasn’t cool, especially as a black journalist and profusely apologized. He then went and booked Dr. Glenda Glover, International President of the Sorority & President of Tennessee State University, on his Sunday show for this morning. It was a great move and a great interview. We aren’t mad at Mr. Capehart. As a matter of fact, we applaud him. However, this incident deserves a closer look. Especially after he said this:
“I went to Carlton, a small Liberal Arts college in Minnesota. We don’t have Greek life on campus. So, what did I know? A bunch of nothing obviously!”
Therein lies the problem. How can you report on the culture but not be a part of it? Why didn’t he toss to Tiffany Cross, a Clark Atlanta graduate who could’ve have spoken to the moment more powerfully being an HBCU Educated woman? How about booking Dr. Glenda Glover to come on the program before the controversy? Even better, how about getting an HBCU student that is an AKA but also a Campus Queen or SGA President to do a piece on what this moment meant? We wouldn’t be here right now.
Since these corporations now want to embrace HBCUs, we have to teach them how to treat us. We have to sit at the table and demand what we want. We want HBCU mass communications majors to have a larger opportunities to intern and job shadow for these companies. Give young HBCU alums the opportunity to become producers. Create a HBCU-to-Media pipeline program for all HBCUs, not just Howard, so we can see representation from all regions and all institutions. This problem can be fixable. We just need to let them know how.
But, we must also support our independent outlets that tell our story. We can’t continue to operate on the premise that “white folks ice is always colder” in 2021. We can’t get happy every time the media pats an HBCU alum on the back or says our school’s name on TV or the radio. We gotta own our own stuff. That way, when Mr. Capehart and others like him want to tap in with HBCU Infulencers they know where to go.
All love to Mr. Capehart but this is a teachable moment. HBCUs are not a trend or a new fad. We have and always will be a fabric of American culture. We must be respected as such and demand it.