(ThyBlackMan.com) Dr. Dre is one of the most successful entertainers in history, earning hundreds of millions of dollars by making great music. Much of this music moves because he has been able to successfully package urban/black culture, selling it to audiences around the world. One of the questions some have about those who readily use their blackness for profit is the following: What are you giving back to those who gave you so much?
It’s hard to know exactly what Dr. Dre is doing for the black community, but we all know where he made his greatest gift. Dr. Dre and music producer Jimmy Lovine recently announced a whopping $70 million dollar donation to USC to create a new degree. The program is one that pulls together liberal arts, graphic arts, business, music and technology. Dr. Dre’s donation is the largest ever given by any African American in history, and the money is going into the hands of rich white people.
As I prepared to give the commencement address at Simmons College, a growing HBCU in Kentucky with a very rich history, I heard a story about a group of ex-slaves who pooled their money to buy four acres of land so they could educate future generations. Without sacrifices like these, the school would not be giving so much to the community today. The school’s president, Dr. Kevin Cosby, has not taken a paycheck for his work for the last eight years and readily speaks of how the school is located in one of the poorest districts in America. He sees his contribution as a chance to lift up the community
If I could transplant Dr. Cosby’s brain into Dr. Dre’s body, black America would be changed forever. Also, had those ex-slaves been naive enough to give all their money to the big white university down the street, the impact of their contribution would be minimal at best. One of the reasons that black Americans struggle economically is because we’ve been locked out of economic opportunities, while massive institutions like USC hoard the wealth to protect their own (take a look at the very low percentage of African Americans they hire or admit as students). Simultaneously, when we do have access to the resources necessary to begin our building process, we don’t feel inclined to support those who look like us. That’s the difference between us and the Jewish community.
Another person who had something to say about the gift is Dillard University president, Walter M. Kimbrough. Dr. Kimbrough was once the youngest president of any HBCU in the country and proudly considers himself to be a part of the hip-hop generation. In an op-ed in the LA Times, Kimbrough openly asks Dre why he chose to give so much money to USC, as opposed to one of the struggling HBCUs that really could have used those resources:
I understood their need to build a pool of skilled talent. But why at USC? Iovine’s daughter is an alum, sure. And he just gave its commencement address. Andre Young — before he was Dr. Dre — grew up in nearby Compton, where he rose to fame as part of the rap group N.W.A. The Beats headquarters are on L.A.’s Westside.
Still, what if Dre had given $35 million — his half of the USC gift and about 10% of his wealth, according to a Forbes estimate — to an institution that enrolls the very people who supported his career from the beginning? An institution where the majority of students are low-income? A place where $35 million would represent a truly transformational gift?
Dr. Kimbrough is absolutely correct. USC’s endowment is over $3.5 billion, which gives this school more money than every single HBCU in America combined. Even more stunning is that the school’s endowment isn’t even in the top 20 in the nation. The point here, and I hope Dr. Dre understands this, is that white people have plenty of money. They don’t exactly need black people making donations, since they’ve already earned over a billion dollars from their African American athletes, many of whom have mothers who can’t even pay the rent.
Even worse is that much of this wealth was accumulated on the backs of slaves and black people who were locked out of the economic system. Schools like USC make it diffcult for black students to gain admission and even more difficult for black faculty to get jobs. Additionally, for Dr. Dre, his $35 million dollar donation (half of the $70 million he is sharing with Levin) is merely a drop in the bucket for a school like USC that is sitting on an amount of money that no HBCU will have for at least another 100 years.
Dr. Kimbrough goes even further to explain why USC was a questionable donation target for someone who grew up as a struggling black kid in South Central Los Angeles.
USC is a great institution, no question. But it has a $3.5-billion endowment, the 21st largest in the nation and much more than every black college — combined. Less than 20% of USC’s student body qualifies for federal Pell Grants, given to students from low-income families, compared with two-thirds of those enrolled at black colleges. USC has also seen a steady decrease in black student enrollment, which is now below 5%.
A new report on black male athletes and racial inequities shows that only 2.2% of USC undergrads are black men, compared with 56% of its football and basketball teams, one of the largest disparities in the nation. And given USC’s $45,602 tuition next year, I’m confident Dre could have sponsored multiple full-ride scholarships to private black colleges for the cost of one at USC.
Dr. Kimbrough made a courageous decision to write this article. There are some who might criticize him as a “hater” or argue with his right to question what Dr. Dre does with his money. But I’m not talking to those people right now. Instead, we must look at the facts: Dr. Dre, a man who has made hundreds of millions of dollars selling back urban culture to the world has made his largest donation to a predominately white university that doesn’t need the money and rarely admits black students unless they can play a sport.
By the way, the university has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from African American athletes, while HBCUs can barely pay the bills. All the while, almost none of this money is returned to the black community, and multi-million dollar USC athletes like Reggie Bush have their integrity questioned for receiving a few hundred dollars under the table. The fact is that these schools rob black people blind, don’t give hardly anything to the black community, and laugh at the fact that we are ridiculous enough to turn around and give all the money back.
I think this is what some in the dotcom era might call an “SMH moment.” Dr. Dre is a brilliant producer, but this move just doesn’t make any sense. I hope he has something to say.
Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins