Thank God for my HBCU: A Reflection on Duke University Professor Jerry Hough’s Baltimore Commentary By Mervin A. Bourne, Jr. May 19, 2015 @mervinbourne mervinbourne.com

Tonight I had the opportunity to read several articles about Professor Jerry Hough, the Political Science Professor from Duke University, who has made himself famous by expressing his honest opinions about a NY Times article entitled: “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.”  I also made certain to find his actual comments and read them in their entirety, so as not to opine in ignorance. Let me first say thank you professor Hough, for responding honestly after you read the article. The sentiments you sent to the world via internet gave us all a glimpse into your heart, mind and soul, exposing the ignorance, miseducation, and dare I say, paternalistic racism that dwells within you and so many Americans.

By way of background, the article by the NY Times Editorial Board points out that the Baltimore riots “threw a spotlight on the poverty and isolation” of that community. It then goes on to cite how the Baltimore of today came to be, by discussing historical facts – not opinions – about the role that racially discriminatory housing policies, Jim Crow laws, and banking practices played in the genesis of poverty-stricken Baltimore City. The article also touches on how these policies, implemented via segregation and apartheid (yes, apartheid in America, not South Africa), were enforced by local and federal government, and restricted Blacks from the opportunities for suburban home ownership and generational wealth-building that was afforded to their non-black counterparts. The editorial reads more like a history lesson, supported all the way by mere facts, than an opinion editorial.

Enter Jerry Hough, esteemed Duke University professor of political science, to call the Times to the carpet, beginning with – “This editorial is what is wrong.” I knew it was about to get really good, because an intellectual was about to pathologize one of the country’s most plagued predominantly black cities from the infinite wisdom of his ivory tower. Those of you that know me know that I am a proud graduate of Morgan State University, which is in northeast Baltimore City. Some of you may also know that I was a political science major, and so the musings of my fellow political scientist about “the blacks” (yes, he really said it) of my second home are of special interest to me.

As I read, I began to reflect, and the more Hough typed, the more common threads of ignorance, miseducation and racist ideology became apparent.  I cringed as I thought, what if this man was responsible for teaching my son? How many young adults – other people’s children – has he already indoctrinated with his historically erroneous opinions. In less than 250 words, Hough managed to be so wrong, in so many ways, it was almost impressive. Then I began to thank God for my HBCU, and for all the things I was taught there that Hough, although an esteemed poli-sci professor at what is supposed to be one of our nation’s best universities, seems oblivious to. I’ll focus on three:

  1. You are obligated to know history, especially your history. Hough starts off: “This editorial is what is wrong….The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.” Why is it that whenever someone connects current political, economic and sociological states of affairs in communities of color to history, the mere recollection of that history is attacked and decried? Beware of anyone who wants to erase history, or conveniently elects not to put current events into a historical context.  My HBCU taught me that history must be learned and understood, as it is the critical backdrop through which we can understand and address the problems and issues of the present day. Equally as important, I learned that my history did not begin with slavery or with Christopher Columbus, because “They Came Before Columbus.”
  2. People will always question your competency – force them judge you by your actions, and the results you produce. Hough uses ill-fitting and historically erroneous comparisons between American Asians and American Blacks to support his theory that Blacks are in their predicament because they are lazy and feel sorry for themselves. He states, “So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.” At Morgan, I was surrounded by brilliant professors of color, nearly %100 of whom were PhDs. I was immersed in intimate classrooms of brilliant, industrious and ambitious young men and women who are now teachers, lawyers, medical doctors, optometrists, dentists, actresses, entrepreneurs and engineers. My HBCU taught me that “the blacks” are not a lazy people. Apathy and lack of motivation are symptoms of historical miseducation, lack of resources, and social decay. Only the ignorant or the fraudulent judge a people by their symptoms and ignore the root causes of their ills.
  3. Acceptance by others is not a real aspiration – you are valuable and have the potential for greatness within you – aspire to change the world. Hough, in his misguided and paternalistic superiority, decries “the blacks” for not yearning and striving for integration and assimilation to the same degree as “the Asians”, stating, “I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.” Mr. Hough believes that if only blacks would give our kids “simple old American names”, and step up our “integration assimilation” game, we’d be that much closer to our Asian counterparts in nearing white acceptance and perhaps, even success. Names are important and can be powerful. It is also true that across racial lines, the quality of our inter-racial relationships needs to be addressed honestly, and in an informed, historical context. However, it is nonetheless sad and utterly erroneous, that a political scientist responsible for the molding of young minds, attributes the ills of Baltimore City, even in part, to their lack of aspiration for white acceptance. Dear Mr. Hough, non-white races do not obtain value, worth, or dignity through the acceptance of our white brothers and sisters. When we were born, we were valuable and worthy, beyond measure. Those that fail to realize this are equally as afflicted as those suffering under the lead foot of ignorant miseducation, racism and oppression. I learned that at my HBCU – thank God. #Baltimore #HBCU #MorganStateUniversity #DukeUniversity #JerryHough #racism
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