Some may argue the upcoming Dear White Peopleand while I believe that’s a fair assessment to make I didn’t get that message from the much-anticipated film. Dear White People made the case for why PWIs still have a long way to go in terms of inclusion. It also highlighted how laughable the idea of a post-racial society is in contemporary America. It’s a film to let black students know their experience at predominantly white institutions is not an isolated one, and they’re not crazy for feeling odd as a “black face in a white place.”
But School Daze though?
School Daze is the film that singlehandedly made me want to go to an HBCU. Amongst all the comedy, musical numbers and phenomenal quotes (WAKE UPPPPPPPP!), there is a fantastic conversation that occurs between the dean and one of the board members of Mission College regarding the usefulness of predominantly black institutions in an integrated society.
The dean ultimately argues that there will always be a need for HBCUs as long as there are blacks in America. The most brilliant part of this conversation is it quickly devolves into a discussion about money and funding. The board member doesn’t actually care whether HBCUs are relevant or necessary he’s concerned with the student’s protesting of apartheid upsetting the school’s white benefactors. White folks’ sensibilities affecting black people’s ability to speak their mind in their own spaces? When has that happened, ever?
The debate regarding the necessity of HBCUs rages on to this day with some black people proudly boasting that they would never deign to attend predominantly black institutions because they believe PWIs offer an exemplary education in comparison. To you I say, you are dumb – we have nothing to talk about. All PWI’s are not bursting at the seams with wealth and resources. Just because They Accept Blacks Here University offered you a scholarship doesn’t mean all PWI’s are leaving HBCUs in the dust.
If nothing else the culture of an HBCU, having a space where there are black folks as far as the eye can see, sounds like a wonderful place to spend your young adult formative years. I always imagine a Mufasa-Simba moment happening the first time a black person steps on a predominantly black campus. A vision where the ghost of Sojourner Truth takes each student by the hand and says, “See black child, everything the light touches is ours” as they walk to the residence hall together (dramatic I know).
Watching School Daze when I was younger, and hadn’t picked what college I would attend, made me want to be at an HBCU so bad. I wanted to be a part of the homecoming step show where Dap and friends shouted their “Daddy Long Stroke” cheer. I wanted to sing and dance the song “Good and Bad Hair” (on the dark-skinned, bad-haired side, of course) alongside Rachel and the other dark chocolate girls. I wanted to talk about black history as History 101, not as an elective that I have an option to take in my Junior Year. That movie made me believe that the only natural place for a person of color to earn a degree was an HBCU.
As a proud alum of a PWI, I still wholeheartedly appreciate the film because it makes the same case 26 years later that it made in 1988: Black spaces are important. It doesn’t address what happens when black people cross over and attend white institutions, and that’s fine.
I have Dear White People for to fill that gap.
The fantastic thing about School Daze is that a chunk of the cast members are from A Different World, another great account of the greatness of HBCU’s. The classic tackled the major social issues of sexism, apartheid in Africa and colorism while simultaneously penning a love letter to historical black colleges and universities across the nation. I couldn’t ask for much more out of a Spike Lee Joint if I tried.