I understand Nikole Hannah-Jones's decision to reject UNC's offer and appreciate Howard University's reception of her and Ta-Nehisi Coates, but research has shown that the HBCU experience is not a universally positive one for all faculty members of color with degrees from Ivy League institutions and other PWIs. The rivalry between alumni who attend HBCUs and PWIs still complicates relationships among Black college graduates and professionals, including college professors regardless of rank. This ongoing conflict is an ironic by-product of integration (Brown v. Board, 1954).
In addition, most HBCUs are grossly underfunded and situated in politically conservative states. They generally serve underrepresented students who are taught by underrepresented faculty in a world where being black is still perceived as "a problem." Discrimination and prejudice exist at HBCUs, too. Both are further complicated by a whole host of other "-isms" that divide and conquer, including but not limited to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and generation.
Moreover, not all forms of discrimination can be litigated. For example, the EEOC cannot help if an applicant was denied a position or promotion because he or she was not a member of a certain fraternity or sorority (an integral part of HBCU culture) or if both parties in a discrimination complaint are considered members of a protected class (e.g., Black, Latino, or Asian). The EEOC provides no protection from colorism or intraracial prejudice or discrimination. Simply put, a white person/perpetrator must be present in order for a racial discrimination charge to work.
HBCUs are not "Wakandas Forever" as much as many people of African descent would love for them to be. For employees, especially HBCU faculty, the impact of encountering multiple layers of injustice at an HBCU can be exponentially deleterious and have long-term social, psychological, professional, and financial ramifications. No academic institutions are perfect. They all have problems.
Why? Because wherever people are present, regardless of the hue, various kinds of relational problems and politics will emerge to muddy the waters. As Langston Hughes's poem "Mother to Son" suggests, "life ain't been no crystal stair” -- not anywhere.
Professor of history and founding director, SWATH
Texas Southern University