How Did An Alabama Senator, Tommy Tuberville, Get His Degree?

The first time I heard of Tommy Tuberville, he was the head football coach of the Auburn Tigers. Today, the former football coach is the United States Senator from Alabama.

What’s most concerning is that he’s a racist; whether a football coach or senator, him being a racist puts Black lives at risks.

Tuberville called descendants of enslaved Africans (Black folk)—specifically those demanding reparation—criminals, saying that “They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that… Bull****! They are not owed that.” Recently, Tuberville had to walk back his comment regarding white nationalists in the military, where he said that he referred to white nationalists as Americans.

He represents a walking version of why culturally responsive education is necessary for everyone – including politicians. He should not be in the work of banning books. He should think about banning this type of mindset in leadership (schools and policy spaces).

Recently, Tuberville veiledly attacked Black teachers by questioning where inner-city school teachers received their education. In a conversation with Donald Trump Jr., Tuberville said, “How bad our teachers are in the inner city. I don’t know how they got degrees. I don’t know whether they can read and write. They want a raise and less time to work, less time in school. We ruined work ethic in this country.”

This was a direct attack on Black Teachers.

Tuberville referenced a recent story about twenty-three Baltimore schools failing in math proficiency. He used the story as an opportunity to bash Black teachers in cities across the United States.

We know he did so because of the demographics of teachers in cities. In Baltimore, 40% of the teachers are Black. Nationally, Black teachers teach in cities more than they do anywhere else. Black teachers teach in schools where three quarters of students (at least) receive free or reduced lunch more than they do anywhere else. Black teachers teach in schools where students of color are in the majority more than they do anywhere else.

As for white teachers, city schools, schools where three quarters of students receive free or reduced lunch and schools where students of color are in the majority are their last choice.

We know where Tuberville was aiming his animus, claiming he doesn’t know how inner-city teachers got their degrees. I know how… they EARNED them! Considering the racial disparities of college completers as a result of systemic racism, Black teachers (and Black educators in general) earned those degrees with distinction.

When speaking on the “underachievement” of Black children, it’s a common strategy of conservative politicians to speak disparagingly of their teachers—especially those in urban schools; many of whom are Black teachers. Some of these “critiques” parlay themselves into critiques of Black people; with mentions of tropes such as a “culture of poverty.”

But the reality is quite different from this fictional tale. Black student successes can be attributed to the impact of Black teachers. When Black students have a Black teacher, their outcomes improve. Black students who have had at least one Black teacher are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college and are less likely to drop out of school. Black students are also less likely to receive exclusionary discipline at the hands of a Black teacher. 

The legitimate reasons that explain the challenges Black students are that their schools are underfunded, deteriorating, and without Black teachers. In addition to that, Black students are disciplined more than other students because of zero-tolerance policies, a lack of school counselors, and an increase in police presence at schools.

The senator from Alabama wouldn’t have anything to say about that. He’d rather engage is race baiting and race politics to secure his political power. While it may be tempting to disregard his commentary, we cannot. Because with his comments comes an influence over public policy, which will impact Black children and their families, in real ways.

In order words, Tuberville’s words will perpetuate Black children attending schools that are underfunded, overpoliced, and absent the impact of Black teachers.

The irony of it all is that Tuberville was once an educator, in the loosest sense of the word, as head football college for numerous programs; programs where Black student-athletes were in the majority on those. Tuberville had the attention of Black students as the chief educator/coach of his teams. Years later, he spews such vile from his mouth. Such a sentiment didn’t happen overnight.

One could argue that Tuberville was once an ally; advocating that the state of Mississippi removes the rebel flag from the state. But he only did that because that rebel flag hurt recruiting while coaching at the University of Mississippi. Tuberville is an example for Black college players deciding on where to attend school to play football; just because a white coach loves your talent, they may not like your skin.

There are plenty of examples

It’s important for Black educators to reclaim their narrative from racists like Tommy Tuberville; who only care about stoking racist ideas to maintain his own power. Black educators must continue to educate Black children, tell our own stories and speak out against conservative politicians who demonize us, attempt to take away funding from our students and attempt to tell us what we can and cannot teach our students.

We cannot stand idle as people whom we’re unsure of how they got a degree and a senate seat talk reckless. Wait… I take that back, we do know how Tuberville got his senate seat and degree… white affirmative action.


  1. Try it again since my email had a typo. Great questions. Greater insight. Thank you for your work on this piece and so many others.


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