Interview: Michael Eric Dyson’s Thoughts on HBCUs, Education and Immigration

Interview By Mona Austin

To paraphrase scripture, people will perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

The United Negro College Fund along with major corporate sponsors, have made providing access to educational advancement a tradition. Each year, the UNCF invests in the futures of countless deserving, yet financially deprived Black students raising millions of dollars through the successful telethon.

The UNCF currently supports 65,000 students at 900 schools.

At the filming of the UNCF Evening of Stars, last September, I spoke to scholar, professor, writer and Reverend Michael Eric Dyson about the state of affairs concerning Black colleges and universities among other things.

Dyson, who is a professor in humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, has dedicated his life to empowering people with knowledge. He attended the event in part because of his commitment to higher education. The mental giant expressed his thoughts on multiple social issues in a succinct interview.

Mona Austin: What is the current status of Black Colleges and Universities in America?

Michael Eric Dyson: Obviously they are under assault and under attack because there’s not a great deal of culture-wide sympathy for what they represent. The assault on affirmative action with the questioning of Black only or predominately Black institutions, people are questioning whether these institutions should survive and they should survive. My children have gone to them. I started out at a HBCU, so these institutions are important, but they need to be funded because they still provide the bulk of black college graduates in America. They are a feeder system for graduate education in America.

MA: Is there a greater need for affirmative action or self-motivation?

MED: Well both. Our white brothers and sisters experienced affirmative action for 400 years, but they didn’t call it that. You re-dress historic patterns of discrimination and you remove the barriers that were there unfairly. When Jackie Robinson couldn’t play in the major leagues, he had a lot of self-motivation. He didn’t have an opportunity to play. Affirmative action would remove the barrier that would disallow Jackie Robinson to play. If Michael Jordan was born eighty years ago. You wouldn’t even know his name. You would be talking about a black guy, with a bald head playing in the Negro League. Affirmative action removed the barriers that allowed his talent to flourish, so yeah we need motivation, but that motivation needs a pace to shine.

With passion building he continues, “If Martin Luther King couldn’t speak to the nation in a way that everybody could hear from him, that’s the nation’s fault not his.”

MA: What is your response to how the government is handling immigration, specifically border control or the lack thereof?

MED: America is in panic mode right now. American white brothers and sisters are nervous because they will no longer be the majority very soon, not only in this nation, but in the world. So the reality is that border patrol is really a code word for trying to keep things white and right. It’s not the Puerto Ricans, it’s not the Dominicans, it’s not the Mexicans it’s the Republicans. That’s part of the problem.

. . .of course protecting the borders of the nation is important, but Mexicans are not blowing up buildings and destroying the nation. Mexicans and other minorities, including of course Haitians”” when white Cubans can come in and Black Haitians are held back. We need to talk about racism.

MA: Is the issue really about numbers or is it power?

MED: It’s both. If you got power you can get numbers. The reality is if we have a ˜wet foot/dry foot’ policy that is not just. So if White Cubans can come in and Black Haitians can’t””that’s tragic.”

I think the tragedy is many African American people allow ourselves to be manipulated.

Michael Eric Dyson provides frequent commentary on subjects central to socio-political debate as a speaker and as host of the Michael Eric Dyson Show. He is the author of several books including “Is Bill Cosby Right?,” “Why I Love Black Women,” and “Between God and Gangsta Rap” as well as a contributor to Essence Magazine.