Political thinker Irami Osei-Frimpong said he had to get something off his chest about the condemnation facing Howard University as students continue a month of protests against unsanitary living conditions in their campus dorms.
Students have been occupying the Blackburn University Center on Howard’s campus since Oct. 12, complaining that their dorms are infested with mold, insects and mice, yet the university has failed to meet their demands.
Many have slammed Howard, asking where the money has gone that the school received from a slew of donors – including a $40-million donation from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
People need to stop crucifying Howard for the conditions of its dorms and start understanding the root of the problem, Osei-Frimpong said. A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia’s Department of Philosophy, Osei-Frimpong spoke in a live stream that aired Nov. 7 on YouTube. He said the Howard infrastructure problem is a microcosm of the problem Black America faces as a whole.
“We have it confused. … We think Howard University with its $700 million dollar endowment is actually in the game. We think it’s the Black Harvard, it’s the Black Yale … but it’s not,” Osei-Frimpong said in the opening minutes of his video. “It’s not, because to be the Black Yale, to be the Black Harvard, you need Harvard’s endowment, you need Yale’s endowment, Georgetown’s endowment – right next to Howard, double the endowment. Howard’s cruising in at $700 million, Georgetown, $1.6-to-$1.8 billion. Billion.”
According to Osei-Frimpong, Howard having a $700 million dollar endowment and receiving millions in donations over the last year-and-a-half does not put it and other HBCUs on equal footing with prestigious predominately-white institutions.
“You have to understand, when you have an $850 million operating budget like Howard does, that’s annual. A million dollars here, $2 million there, you don’t have those kind of problems. The kind of problems you have are $50 million dollars,” Osei-Frimpong said. “It’s not enough. They don’t have it. Us (Black Americans), we don’t have it.”
HBCUs are continuing to suffer regardless of a recent surge in donations, because the sheer amount of money it takes to run and maintain a university like Howard is something Black Americans simply don’t have, Osei-Frimpong said.
“All of our institutions don’t have enough money to function in these Unites States because the United States doesn’t have two prices,” Osei-Frimpong continued. “It doesn’t have a Black price and a white price. It just has the white price and we don’t have the money to pay the white prices so our dorms have roaches.”
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He also noted the impact of the “Black tax” – a term that describes Black people who have monetary resources being responsible for helping family members financially.
“Berkeley can call Berkeley alumni and Berkeley alumni have tech money. Howard can’t call Howard alumni because Howard alumni are holding up the rest of their cousins so Howard doesn’t have it,” Osei-Frimpong said.
Since the murder of George Floyd, admissions to HBCUs have skyrocketed. Howard itself experienced a 15.9-percent increase in Fall 2020 applications, according to ABC News. However, HBCUs are still in dire need of funding because they have been underfunded for so long, according to experts. Some pointed to a recent increase in federal funding. However, some HBCUs used funding received from the American Rescue Act to cancel student debt and buy supplies for students.
To fix the issue, Osei-Frimpong said it’s going to take donations from “private alumni,” but he acknowledged that poses a problem for most Black Americans. The country needs to “make Black people whole so that we can give to universities like Howard so they can actually be made whole through private alumni,” Osei-Frimpong said.
He proposed reparations as a government solution. “It takes money to function in America and we don’t have and so we’re not functioning. Instead of faking it, we just need to admit that we don’t have it. We don’t have it. We’re broke. The U.S. made us broke. The U.S. needs to make us whole,” Osei-Frimpong said.
As for what Black people can do in the meantime, Osei-Frimpong suggests telling the truth and not pretending they have money when they don’t.
“There’s no shame” in that, he said. “That could be a point that we need to make and we need to kind of own rather than fake.”
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