In 2012, “The Steve Harvey Morning Show”, a very popular African American Morning Radio show had a prank call segment. The segment included co-host Nephew Tommy calling unsuspecting people (set up by their friends of course) posing as their boss. He would then ease into asking them to dress up as slaves for a “diversity” initiative. Those being pranked almost always launched into a swear filled diatribe until they finally caught on to everyone laughing. The interview immediately following would result in them saying something like “I was about to quit that damn job. I can find someplace else to work, no one will do that to me”. No paycheck was worth being so blatantly disrespected.
I suppose that’s why I still find it curious that the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) accepted money from the infamous Koch brothers to fund scholarships for African American students and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). For the record, I did not attend an HBCU. I spent a semester at Florida A&M - an HBCU - when I attended Florida State. But FAMU alumni have been my mentors, bridesmaids, and family. And I feel fiercely protective when people question the relevance of HBCUs. I applaud in fan boy style anyone who recognizes their importance or offers aid to keep these enormously important institutions afloat.
Except the Koch brothers.
Since 1944, UNCF has raised over 3 billion dollars to offer funds for African American students, who have been systematically denied access to higher education, providing scholarships to attend HBCUs. We have many of the nation’s most notable African American scholars, authors, scientists, entertainers, athletes, and minds because of UNCF’s diligent work. Had it not been for their effort we may have never known Dr. King or Diddy, Walter Payton, or Oprah. The list is endless. Historically, African Americans, and more specifically African American students, were deemed less intelligent, sub-human, and forced to be segregated. HBCUs proved that was a lie.
So to take money from the Koch brothers seems to be a slap in the face to the very foundations of UNCF and HBCUs. Because the Koch brothers are no friend to the black community. They dump cancer causing toxins from their factories into rural black communities that do not have the money to fight against it. Many residents in those communities are also employed by the Koch company killing them, creating the worst catch 22 imaginable: if you quit, you die of hunger. If you keep working you die of cancer. (#BlackLivesKindaMatter). It is very common knowledge that they are the driving force behind privatized prisons, the money maker that has recently sent judges to federal penitentiaries after being found guilty of wrongfully convicting young black and brown youth to fill said prisons in exchange for money. (#SomeBlackLivesMatter).
Additionally, it was well publicized that they overtly attempted to re-segregate schools in North Carolina in 2009. In fact, they succeeded until the community realized what had happened and fought back to remove the board members and the policies that executed the plan. But no worries, they turned their efforts into simply changing North Carolina K-12 curriculum. Which they also won. No lie, part of the curriculum calls into question if Brown vs. The Board of Education was actually a positive change. (#YouKnowWhat?BlackLivesDontMatter).
These types of practices are the very reason we need UNCF and HBCUs. To educate, to uplift, and to give a fighting chance to African Americans across this nation who systematically have had their legs swept out from under them in the name of the almighty dollar.
It seems now, however, that the same almighty dollar has bought our illicit compliance.
We’re cool with all of your injustices, as long as you throw some exploitation money our way.
To be fair, the overarching goal of UNCF is to send kids to school.
Wherever the money comes from, those kids still get educated, right? But let’s take a look at my alma mater, Florida State. Florida State received Koch Money. It was also uncovered by some very smart and very intuitive college students that the money came with strings attached. Certain professors had to be hired and teach Koch industry ideologies in the classroom (remember, Brown vs The Board = Bad). Again, this is public knowledge. Other schools, from University of Kansas to George Mason wizened up and got legal stays to protect having to disclose the strings attached to their Koch donations. Forcing us to ask the very obvious question: what are the strings here? What must UNCF do to get and keep this money? The possibilities are endless.
Still, even if UNCF has to do NOTHING; even if there were no strings attached to the donation (which UNCF is trying to spin here and here), there are other obvious issues. They have given funds to a few HBCUs before, Albany State and Fayetteville to name a few, but nothing of this magnitude. Additionally, UNCF has received funds from a subsidiary of the Koch brothers, Georgia Pacific, in prior years, but nothing as blatant as this $25 million PR stunt. Let’s be real - these are not human rights activists trying to share wealth and abolish racism. These are the guys that human rights campaigns are up against. So, why would they do this?
The answer is simple. To BUY new supporters in an ever diversifying nation without having to actually engage them. They are purchasing our loyalty - pretending to support us and our communities. Let me paint a quick picture: The Koch brothers read that soon, white people will be the minority in the United States. They realize they have to make some minority friends. They aren’t very likeable, but they do have a lot of money. So the Koch brothers decide to give money to UNCF because they need money to survive. They go and introduce themselves to the black community. Then they’d show them that big government isn’t working for HBCUs and the black community would agree. Once the Koch brothers found common ground, they’d put their plan in motion: “We’ll give you the money that the government doesn’t. Remember us when people we support need your vote”. More black people would go to HBCU’s because of the funding, which would be perfect for the Kochs who are also actively working for re-segregated schools. The Kochs would offer HBCU alumni jobs at their companies. That would give more black people incentive to go to HBCUs because of guaranteed job placement after graduation. Since Koch ideologies would be taught or at very least praised at HBCU’s as a result of the funding, it all makes perfect sense why they’d hire them. Thus expanding Koch businesses with more workers and a brand new generation of die hard black supporters. All it cost them was $25 million dollars. Sounds like a lot to us, but when you’re worth $100 billion dollars, you have vacation homes that cost more. The Koch brothers would continue their work making privatized prisons, putting young black and brown boys in jail, and attempting to resegregate the country. And when they do our country's best and brightest black minds would stay silent:
“I couldn’t have gone to school without Koch Industries.” They’d say, “ They may not be perfect, but they are helping.”
It will be indoctrinated in their minds that Koch practices aren’t quite as bad as some make them seem. Much like I was taught in the South that the Civil War was about State’s Rights, not slavery.
Try to play this off as conspiracy if you want. It’s not. Too much has been factually documented. If you think people don’t strategize this much or think this deep I urge you to volunteer for a local political campaign then get back to me. One could try to frame this as a good thing: HBCUs see higher enrollment, and don’t have to depend on the government. Right. Now you depend on some rich white guys from Kansas who don’t give a f*** about the uneducated, including members of your family, and the only way HBCUs survive is if two random brothers are always happy with them. That’s so much better.
What saddens me the most, is the reason UNCF took the money MAKES SENSE. But just like those people in Nephew’s Tommy’s prank, we have to have enough gumption to work someplace else. We can’t let people do that to us.
I had a long conversation with one of my mentors today. He reminded me that African Americans have $3 trillion dollars in spending power. Trillion. That’s over 999 billion- 3 times. The Kochs gave $25 million to UNCF. I did the math: roughly 5 million African Americans hold 4 year degrees. If everyone of them gave $25.00 a year, they could match the Koch’s giving. That’s not even including the other 34 million African Americans in the country. My estimates are very conservative. I’m an organizer. I know thinking everyone will give is far fetched and not based in reality. But I also staffed Obama in 2008 and I know what $10, $5, hell even $1 can do if given consistently. I cannot accept the excuse of “we need money” as a reason to accept donation without caring about the strings attached.
It’s time we started playing the money game. We must join together and help UNCF raise funds to support its mission and black students across the country. But that’s not all we must do. To cut through this Koch financed BS, we must find issues and candidates in our local elections and give them our support through time and money. Only then will we be acting in our own best interests.
Most importantly, we must ensure that Kochs don’t own our interests. Or our well being.
If you want to know if your school or alma mater takes Koch money, look here.
It’s time we start paying attention.