Thanks to Beyoncé, All Eyes Are on Black Colleges. A Historian Says They Should Capitalize on the Hype.

Julian Wyllie:

The Chronicle spoke with deGregory on Monday about what the performance means for public perceptions of black colleges. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. It’s a media freakout for people reacting to Beyoncé’s use of black imagery. What’s the big deal here?

A. For members of the HBCU community, it is a source of affirmation of all that we know and love about the HBCU experience. It’s a demonstration that popular culture, whether consciously or unconsciously, values the HBCU within a historical framework. It also makes the case for our contemporary relevance and is made easier when popular culture adopts expressions of our campus cultures.

Q. Who is the affirmation for? Is it affirmation for people who don’t know about these colleges, or those who don’t care and ignore HBCUs?

A. These expressions have been a part of HBCU culture for as long as they have existed, but until there’s an event in popular culture that signals some interest, we are not seen as popular culture. I think that is a fair assessment, given that we know Beyoncé grew up in a town [Houston] that is dominated by HBCU band culture. Her father is, of course, a historically black college and university graduate, having graduated from Fisk University, where he sat on the board. So it’s not as though she’s unfamiliar with black colleges.