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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 oddly enough, 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 extraordinary 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 around him, rather than simply milk the community’s resources.
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 of 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 the black and the Jewish communities: They teach their children to generously target their resources to protect them against oppression.
Some may argue that Dr. Dre can do whatever he wants with his money, and this point is valid: No one has the right to tell any of us what to do – a child has no obligation to care about his mother, a husband has no real obligation to provide for his wife, the list goes on and on. But the truth is that if you choose not to care about your community, then don’t expect your community to care about you. Black people have always been incredibly loyal and supportive of Dr. Dre, particularly those who made him the defacto King of Compton and Long Beach. It would seem that his greatest economic gift should go to them instead.
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 and they aren’t going to use that money to help people who look like you. 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. The university sits down the street from South Central Los Angeles, a virtual war zone where prisons and funeral homes get rich from all the young black men being fed into the prison industrial complex. USC doesn’t use many of its resources to help these individuals, it simply uses Dr. Dre’s money to build higher walls so they can protect the rich white kids from the scary black ones.
I wonder if Dr. Dre knows that not only does USC admit very few black students, but the ones who are there are subject to serious racism and racial profiling. During a recent campus party, the LAPD sent over 70 police officers in riot gear with a helicopter to break up the party after noise complaints. All the while, the white kids were partying up in their fraternity houses without so much as a peep from the police.
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. USC shed no tears when Dr. Dre’s baby brother was murdered in the violence that has poisoned the black community. They did nothing when his son died from an overdose on the drugs that were dropped into black communities in the 1980s. HBCUs have scholars working to solve these problems, and thousands of students who will graduate to fight for black America. USC does NOT.
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. I love Dr. Dre’s music, but I am dying to ask my good brother, “What were you thinking?”
By the way, as schools like USC have gotten rich from black athletes, 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 money back. If I were the president of USC, I’d be giggling under my breath and wondering how a group of people can have such little respect for themselves.
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.
Dr. Boyce Watkins co-stars in the Janks Morton Film “Hoodwinked,” starring Dr. Steve Perry, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and Dr. Ivory Toldson. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.
Listen to hear an interview between Dr. Walter Kimbrough and Dr. Boyce Watkins as he explains why he wrote this article.