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Struggles of HBCUs Are Bigger Signs of Racism Than Confederate Flag

06/26/2015 03:20 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016

Which is a greater sign of racism, separatism and disdain for black people in South Carolina? The flying of the confederate flag, or the gutting of the state's flagship historically black college, South Carolina State University?

The confederate flag is a symbol of oppression, cutting funds to SCSU is an act of the same. Flying the confederate flag over the state capitol is a constant reminder of who's in charge, and what they really want for the Palmetto State. Allowing corruption and turnover to ravage South Carolina State's trustee board and then blaming the school for a lack of oversight is the coldest, most evil representation of how to destroy black communities from within.

How ironic that the vicious murder of nine black worshipers at the hands of a madman inspired by the stars and bars of the confederate flag, many of them HBCU graduates, has drawn people of all creeds and colors to realize racial tension isn't a good thing. But thousands of students, families and communities deprived of financial strength, intellectual capacity and political autonomy is not viewed as the same.

That is what is lost when HBCUs are not supported, particularly public flagship campuses, which are designed to provide comprehensive liberal arts and professional training to men and women who otherwise may not be accepted by larger, predominantly white campuses.

Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman referred to the phenomenon of generational racial animus as the 'Long Shadow of Slavery.' Framing his argument around the tracking of policies with clear impact for the nation's poor and racial minorities, Krugman says that political reactions to health care, gun control, minimum wage and taxation in states made rich and infamous by slaveholding resonate in today's public governance.

Only one former member of the Confederacy has expanded Medicaid, and while a few Northern states are also part of the movement, more than 80 percent of the population in Medicaid-refusing America lives in states that practiced slavery before the Civil War.

And it's not just health reform: a history of slavery is a strong predictor of everything from gun control (or rather its absence), to low minimum wages and hostility to unions, to tax policy.

So will it always be thus? Is America doomed to live forever politically in the shadow of slavery?

Notably absent from Krugman's argument is the outright assault on southern HBCUs, in states where the most aggressive defenders of the confederate symbol have all been losers in federal litigation concerning inequitable funding to black colleges.

Mississippi, Alabama and now, South Carolina - all have paid or will pay millions in a judicially forced effort to right the disparities of public funding to HBCUs, illegal program duplication, and purposeful creation of 'separate but equal' higher education systems for black and white students.

But these are the same states where legislators are calling for the removal of the confederate flag from public display and private loyalty? Farce and distraction don't even begin to describe the narratives.

The signs of separatism and hatred are not mutually exclusive, but Black America's outcry over their impact can only be defined as separate and unequal. And as HBCU alumni and advocates, we cannot afford to confuse the optics of what hate and racial intimidation really looks like.

Mobilizing to rid the country of the confederate flag is a worthy battle, but not more important than the war on the ideology which the flag represents.

Real hatred is most visible in the form of dilapidated facilities, declining enrollment, and threats to marginalize, merge, or close HBCUs. Real racial animosity is when black folks believe PWIs to be a better representation of the 'real world' than black colleges. The real confederacy is the collective effort to marginalize black college expansion, and through this, breaking the collective will of the people and communities which support HBCUs.

Removing the flag doesn't remove the response to its call. And the sooner we realize that symbols pale in comparison to the spirit and substance of racism, the better off we'll be in preserving our own dignity and freedom.