I presented today at the 7th annual Minority Male Mentoring Conference, held in Durham, NC. This is the second time I have presented at this well planned and well attended conference. My session was standing room only, several people told me at breakfast they enjoyed my presentation the last time and that they were looking forward to hearing me present this time. I was, of course, flattered, but told them it would not be a pretty picture I was going to paint about minority male academic achievement, college going and graduation rates.
Nor was it. Fewer than half the minority males in NC graduate from high school. If you do not finish high school it is obvious you will not graduate from college, at least not without something extraordinary happening. Back in the day one could read law or science and what your preparation was before that was considered irrelevant, if you could master the material you could get the degree. That is not the world of the 21st century. Our schools are more segregated than they were in 1972 and the higher the minority population the lower the school’s academic performance with only the rare exception.
Black and other minority males ( Latinos and American Indians) tend to be overrepresented in low track classes, vocational tracks and suspensions and expulsions. Depending on your point of view, and/or your knowledge base, this is because they are dumber and more rowdy than white boys OR the system is stacked against them. I am sure you know which side I happen to be on.
Americans, still in love with that myth of the meritocracy ( read some of my earlier posts about MY experience with getting rewarded for doing well–NOT) believe that if you try hard, do your best and expend sufficient effort you will be successful. Actually a lot of the time other people decide whether or not you will be successful and how successful you will be allowed to be. Sometimes it is your parents, sometimes it is your teachers, sometimes it is school administrators, sometimes it is college admissions officers, sometimes it is the person trusted with hiring.
You can be all that and a bag of chips and still get dissed. Minority males are the poster boys for dissing. Let’s start with kindergarten. Minority populations ( defined as black , American Indian and Latino) tend to be overrepresented among the poor. Research has shown that children from low income families hear about 4 million fewer words before kindergarten than middle class children. Because females tend to develop linguistic skills earlier, boys probably have less verbal interaction than girls. If they are poor boys one can only imagine what a disadvantage they have before kindergarten.
Okay, time to start school. Your teacher is likely to be white and female, both of which could be an issue. Given the picture that society paints of black males, it is unlikely that many of the teachers will expect much of the young man. If he is well behaved that is probably all that will be required, no need for him to excel academically, not expected, not accomplished. And, what are kids told immediately in school? You have to be still and quiet. We have known for forty years or more that males are kinetic learners. Now we have you. You have few words to interact with your verbal, probably raised middle class, white teacher. You are itching to move, but you have to stay still. You notice almost immediately the girls get better marks for both attention and obedience and you notice your teacher seems a tad bit wary of you. Welcome to school.
Because you feel alienated and marginalized almost immediately you end up not being very engaged, which means you end up being diagnosed as having ADHD, or being a discipline problem, or simply being delayed. The remedy for any of the above? Special classes! Not the route to college.
The conference had some good presentations, but there seems to be a continuing issue of the attendees being sure that what is wrong with the black male is the black male. Lots of presentation on what THEY need to do rather than the systemic racism and in some cases sexism ( anti-male this time) that exists in the education system.
I do not care how much motivation you give ( more about the opening motivational speaker who was a disaster later) motivation will not get you there. Wanting to do well counts for nothing if you do not have access to the tools and resources to do well. Sorry motivational/reach for the stars/you can do it/ speakers, you are selling snake oil.
Curriculum in k-12 and higher ed is not generally written by people of color. Admission to institutions that are not HBCUs is rarely granted by people of color. The rules of education are not made by people of color. Most grades are not given by people of color.
I have some hope that some of the good people there today will ontinue to work on the problems and perhaps one day realize they need to change the system, not the person.
Unless and until we fix the system trying to make minority males successful will still be a task to rival Sisyphus.
Postscript: I do not care if the person has a PhD, if they cannot speak standard English do not invite them to speak at a conference with education as its focus. Terms like ” my momma house” and phrases like ” I seen him come in” should not be spoken into a microphone at any event. The continuing battle for the black mind, the presumption that we are all escapees from some ghetto and have to be reminded of “where we came from” is growing tiresome. We do not need to hear from people who were in prison, people who were raised with only air soup and wind pudding to eat, or any other downtrodden refugee from the streets unless he/she has something besides their own personal triumph over the odds to share.While blacks are overrepresented in poverty, the latest data I have seen says that 68% of us live above the poverty level. Quit acting like degradation is the normal status of all blacks.