There are many reasons to go to a historically Black college and/or university. The culture is rich. The fraternities and sororities are iconic. And if that weren’t enough, some HBCUs even aggressively market scholarships to prospective White students! Unfortunately, the grass isn’t always greener in those darker soils — just read about the student who faced the ignoble aftermath of being kicked from multiple group chats. From the New York Post:
A white student at Howard University’s law school is suing the institution for racial discrimination, alleging the school created a “hostile education environment.”
Michael Newman, the plaintiff, attended Howard University School of Law starting in the fall semester of 2020 and remained there for just two years until he was expelled in September 2022. He is seeking $2 million in monetary damages for “pain, suffering, emotional anguish and damage to his reputation.”
This isn’t the first time that White students have alleged discrimination after going to Howard, deliberately courting controversy, and then DARVOing at the smallest amount of pushback:
Let’s get in to the details.
Newman suffered “depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts” as a result of “public ostracism, vilification and humiliation,” the lawsuit claims. At one point, Global Head of Diversity Recruiting Reggie McGahee allegedly told Newman he had become the most hated student McGahee had seen during his tenure at the university, according to the suit.
Following discussions of Newman’s purported racial insensitivity, students learned of a tweet from Newman’s private Twitter account that included a picture of a slave baring his badly scarred back with the caption, “But we don’t know what he did before the picture was taken,” according to the lawsuit.
Newman claimed the tweet was mocking commentators who “attempt to explain away videos of police brutality by claiming the victim must have committed wrongdoing before the video started.” He alleged that students responded with references to his race, gender, sexual preference, age and personal appearance.
Now, look. I’ve done my fair share of meme-ing. Having a picture of a viciously beaten enslaved person as a gotcha reply to a Twitter spat is some weird business. I haven’t seen the tweet, but let’s just assume it was some version of “Whipped Peter” that Newman had saved in his phone to deploy like a Yu-Gi-Oh trap card when the right conditions were met. I’m gonna also go out on a limb and assume what some of the student responses were:
Of course, there’s more to his “hostile learning environment” claim.
The trouble started when the university shifted to remote learning at the start of the pandemic, meaning students communicated through purely online forums and through GroupMe chats, Newman claimed in court papers.
After a symposium featuring an African-American speaker in the run-up to the 2020 election, Newman said he posted on a professor’s forum page asking if further dialogue could be had on “whether: (1) black voters didn’t question turning to government for solutions, and (2) reliably voting for the same party every election disincentivized both parties from responding to the needs of the black communities.”
Both of these are tired questions that evoke ire whenever they get brought up in public settings. It is a little hard to determine the flavor of the first question — is “not questioning turning to the government for solutions” some niche negative rights argument or just old “Welfare Queen” rhetoric? If the former, it is odd to specify Black people in this rights context because the problem is often the government, see MOVE bombing. If the latter, he could have done some reading and not burdened the class with his PragerU talking points.
The second question could use a little context. Here’s a good example from The Times:
In 2016, campaigning in a Michigan suburb that is around 2 percent Black, Donald Trump prodded Black voters to give him a chance, asking: “What the hell do you have to lose?” and boasted to the nearly all-white audience: “At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95 percent of the African-American vote. I promise you.” Earlier this year, the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, stated matter-of-factly that “unlike the African-American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things.” More crudely, he told the radio host Charlamagne Tha God in May: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” (He later distanced himself from both comments.)
Regardless of the specific wording used to summon it, the “Leave the Democratic Plantation” — much like its Moynihan-esque “Why Don’t Black Mothers And Fathers Get It Together” cousin — are stock tools in the “Don’t Get Mad At Me, I’m Just Asking Questions” utility belt that allow you to make broken “cultural” arguments without crossing the line by saying that Black people are broken. It is a common right-wing playing good faith tactic.
None of those conservative talking points are take-down arguments by the way — most of them can be addressed by reading The New Jim Crow (which gives an in-depth analysis of the financial incentives for targeting Black communities as prison fodder) and listening to this catchy little jingle.
And as a person who has had these conversations for years now, even with the people willing to move past the well-worn bookbag metaphor, gingerly holding someone’s hand through coalition building is a taxing endeavor. I’d imagine Howard Law’s students, enough of them at least, felt the same way.
Some students responded negatively to Newman’s post and reached out to school administrators, prompting Newman’s removal from one of his group chats for the class, according to the allegations.
Newman also described feeling “utterly disenfranchised” at the school and compared himself to a black student at a primarily white university. The student response was again largely negative, with some calling his comment “offensive,” he claimed.
Newman repeatedly apologized for offending anyone, stressing he was seeking to “learn, not just law, but to learn the thoughts and experiences of people of color,” the lawsuit stated.
But Newman allegedly faced more overt hostility, with many students starting to refer to him as “mayo king” (a perceived reference to his race) and “white panther,” and students claimed that “controversies” that they blamed on Newman had caused “severe stress” and “distracted them from their studies.
Tl;dr — I can get why folks found him annoying and didn’t want him in a couple group chats. And while he may not have liked the “Mayo King” moniker, it is pretty hard to not see that buddy was LARPing a Family Guy episode.
Whatever, man. Best of luck to
Michael Scott Michael Newman in all of his endeavors.
P.S. — I’d bet $10 the “White Panther” thing started as a joke. Do you not get how cool of a nickname that is? “Oh no, they called me a pale king, oh the huemanity!”
Imagine going to a HBCU and not knowing The Dozens are a thing? Getting accepted to an HBCU and starting a lawsuit because you got called names as people tried to be friends with you is…well I might get in trouble if I say it. Take it away, Logic!
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.