Betsy DeVos’s ignorance of black college history is a disgrace

Aside from her suspiciously high donations to the Republican party, education secretary Betsy DeVos was also widely opposed due to her obvious ignorance about the many complexities of public school. And these concerns are quickly proving to be valid.

Following President Donald Trump‘s meeting with the presidents of historically black U.S. colleges, DeVos issued a press release seeming to praise the Jim Crow era’s racially segregated education, calling historically black colleges “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”

“They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish,” DeVos wrote, ignoring the irony of how black colleges emerged wholly as a result of a culture and legal system that denied them any options whatsoever.

As Slate points out, in the poorly written press release, DeVos’ statement that black colleges gave black students “more options” makes it sound “as if there was a robust competition between HBCUs and white universities for their patronage.” In reality, rampant discrimination, rampant anti-black hate crimes and threats against black youth trying to go to school, and decades of intergenerational poverty essentially stripped African Americans of access to education for decades.

Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lily lists just a few examples of what historically happened to black students who sought “options” in their education:

When black Mississippian James Meredith chose the “option” of enrolling at the University of Mississippi in 1962, a massive white mob formed on the campus; two people were shot to death and hundreds injured in the ensuing battle/riot, during which federal marshals came under heavy gunfire, requiring the ultimate intervention of 20,000 U.S. soldiers and thousands more National Guardsmen.”

DeVos isn’t wrong to praise the countless stellar achievements of historically black colleges. But she’s wrong to exclude the rich history of racism and persecution from which all of these achievements stem.

Ultimately, she’s wrong to portray yesterday and today’s black students as having “more options,” undermining the many barriers black students have and continue to face as they pursue higher education.

Featured image via Gage Skidmore (Flickr)