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In the battle of Howard vs. the deplorables, I’m taking Howard

Howard alumni help run the world, and we know it

Recently, The Washington Post reported that enrollment is up at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) all over the country. As a proud graduate of Howard University, this doesn’t surprise me, but I do view it as welcome news.

We’re living in an academic environment in which the University of Chicago has defiantly announced that it will not countenance trigger warnings and safe spaces, and more broadly, in a country in which a major candidate for president has insisted that Mexicans are rapists, that he will build a wall on our southern border to keep out said rapists, that Muslims should be banned from entering the country and that President Barack Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen. Said candidate retweets white supremacists and holds rallies where people of color have routinely been subjected to physical attack, so keen are his supporters to return to a “great” America in which darkies remain silent and know their place.

The real HU vs. the first HU

As Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jamelle Bouie and Charles Blow have already written, if you dig a little further into the facts behind Hillary Clinton’s characterization of half of the supporters of Donald Trump as a “basket of deplorables” — “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it,” as she called them — polling data reveals that Clinton was being generous. It’s actually more than half.

No wonder why more students are enrolling at HBCUs, and thank goodness.

Howard and its fellow HBCUs provide essential training grounds for those who will lead the charge against the deplorables. These are the institutions crafting the future leaders of thought and policy who will ensure this country does not fall prey to bigotry and jingoism, because to be a proud product of Howard University is to be a person who doesn’t just thumb his or her nose at hate, but one who does so with unmatched style, confidence and flair.

You see then, why Ferguson, Missouri, protester Clifton Kinnie made it his collegiate home.

Howard is a special place. It doesn’t cultivate arrogance so much as it does a radical sense of self-love and worth as a black person. Of everything I drew from my time there, this was the most important and lasting impact of being a Bison. I’ll carry it with me always.

There’s a phrase that’s popular within the online social justice community: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

The flip side of that resides at Howard.

When you’re accustomed to equality — when respect for people of color is as inherent to a place as the air you breathe or the water you drink — anything less quickly becomes unacceptable and irrational. Black people are amazing — why wouldn’t you want them all up and through your country, making everything better? Who wants that life? No one important.

Of course Howard people are an arrogant, uppity, insufferable bunch. Not only do we know we’re equal, and insist that the world operate as though we are, we know we stand on the shoulders of giants.

When Obama was first campaigning for president, some poor, misguided pundit whose name needn’t be mentioned sneeringly referred to Michelle Obama as “Stokely Carmichael in a dress.” I remembered giggling to myself. Said pundit meant it as an insult. I saw it as a point of pride.

Howard giants are American giants. We know it, and we demand that everyone else recognize it, too: that the contributions of Toni Morrison, Thurgood Marshall, Zora Neale Hurston, Amiri Baraka, Andrew Young, Jessye Norman, Ossie Davis, Lucille Clifton, half of relevant black Hollywood and, yes, Carmichael, have made America a more perfect union. Not just for black people. For everybody.

Howard didn’t start off as an institute (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Howard isn’t the “black Harvard.” It’s Howard (and as far as I’m concerned, that’s so much better). Of course, it’s the Real HU. Ask anyone from Howard. As far as we’re concerned, it’s the only one.

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the senior culture critic for Andscape. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts and literature. She is the 2020 winner of the George Jean Nathan prize for dramatic criticism, a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism and the runner-up for the 2019 Vernon Jarrett Medal for outstanding reporting on Black life.