So one of the readers over at my blog (Sammy) sent me a link to a year long series in the Washington Post about the status of Black men. Here’s the quote from the first two paragraphs:
“What does it mean to be a black man? Imagine three African American boys, kindergartners who are largely alike in intelligence, talent and character, whose potential seems limitless. According to a wealth of statistics and academic studies, in just over a decade one of the boys is likely to be locked up or headed to prison. The second boy — if he hasn’t already dropped out — will seriously weigh leaving high school and be pointed toward an uncertain future. The third boy will be speeding toward success by most measures.
Being a black man in America can mean inhabiting a border area between possibility and peril, to feel connected to, defined by, even responsible for each of those boys — and for other black men. In dozens of interviews, black men described their shared existence, of sometimes wondering whether their accomplishments will be treated as anomalies, their individuality obscured by the narrow images that linger in the minds of others.”
Overall, the introductory article is good. There are a few statistics that are either misinterpreted or wrong, but for the most part the article reflects what I think are the common views on the “problems, perils, and prospects” of Black men. I am admittedly leery of some of the save the Black man rhetoric because, even though it is well intentioned, some of it can be very patriarchal. I don’t think that the first article in this series falls into that trap. The only trap it falls into is the trap of talking about Black men as if they live in a vacuum. To talk about Black men as if they have a a completely autonomous existence from Black women and the larger society misses the point. That sort of framing makes it look like Black men just develop themselves without any outside influence from other race/gender groups. I don’t want to be too harsh though because this is just the first in a very long series, and there are a few places in the article where the author does talk about some of the social forces impacting Black men.
What I would like to do with your help (You gotta let me know when these article come out, as I don’t have Washington Post access.) is take on a particular problem or issue related to the articles. In other words, I’ll let you know what the statistics say, and what sociologists say. (I suspect my guest posting time at Alas will be over by the time these articles come out, so you’ll have to get over to my blog to check out the other entries.)
Here are a few of the topics I expect the Washington post Series to take on: Murder, Imprisonment, Unemployment, Single Parent Homes, Poverty, HIV, Life Expectancy, Parenting, and Pop Culture Images. Even if they do not take on these issues, I will because these are definitely some of the problem areas for some Black men. I am also going to compare Black men to other race gender groups so you can get a sense of how the data compares.
I’m going to go ahead today and start with Black men and graduation/drop out rates.
Before we can talk about Back men and their graduation rates, it is important to place this in a larger context. The graph above looks at racial variations in high school and college graduation. (Asians, who are not included in these charts have a slightly higher graduate rate than Whites, and I could not fin data on American Indians.). The good news is that the drop out rate for Blacks has fallen over the past 30 years and the graduation rate has increased. Here are two charts depicting these trends. Even though the trends are good, the gap stopped closing in the mid 1990s and persists today.
So What About Black Men?
Black Male Primary and Secondary School Performance
The data presented above is disaggregated by race but not by gender and race simultaneously. So what happens if we look at Black males compared to other race gender groups: how are they fairing in school? In 2001 the National Center For Education Statistics Released this report, which details school performance by race and gender. This report compares boys and girls throughout the educational process.
Although my primary focus here is on drop out and graduation rates, I thought it would be useful to include a discussion of a few other issues related to educational achievement. On most measures of early development, Black males and females are relatively similar, and on most measures Black students tend to perform better than Latinos and worse than Whites (Reports for Asians and American Indians are not included). One area where Black boys fair poorly is in their likelihood of repeating a grade. 12.2% of Black boys ages 5-12 had repeated a grade (a higher rate than any other race gender group). This compares to 10.8% of Hispanic boys, 7.1% of Black girls, 6.9% of White boys, 6.7% of Hispanic girls, and 4.4% of White girls. When it came to fighting at school or carrying weapons, Black boys were also considerably more like than any other race/gender group to report doing this, but they were significantly less likely to use alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana than their male counterparts. They were also less likely to be offered, sold, or given an illegal drug than their male counterparts (but more likely than their female counterparts). In fact, the only race/gender group less likely to use cigarettes or alcohol are Black girls.
The drop out statistics show Black men to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. 13% of Black males 16-24 had dropped out of high school, compared to 31.6% of Hispanic males, 22% of Hispanic females, 9% of Black females, 7.9% of White males, and 6.7% of White females. So when it comes to high school completion rates. Black males are not at the top of the pack, and they are not at the bottom.
The most dramatic problem facing Black men, when it comes to education, is in the areas of college enrollment and completion. When it comes to college enrollment, the gap between Black men and other groups is sizable. In a 2004 issue of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education sociologist Obie Clayton argues that the low enrollment of Black men in college can be directly related to how Black males are treated earlier in their educational careers. He cites several major areas of concern:
1)The type of academic and career counseling Black males receive in high school. 2) The expectations high school teachers, counselors, parents and other adults have of them. 3)Lack of exposure to college-preparatory curriculum. 4)The preparation of their teachers. 5) Their family’s financial standing. 6) Their self-identity and overall attitude toward education and scholarship. 7) Their assessment of jobs and pay available with a high school degree or less, in comparison to a college degree.
My own assessment would be that on some of these issues, 4&5 in particular, Black males and females would not be differentially situated. However, I suspect that the expectations of teachers, counselors, and relatives have a profound impact on Black male college enrollment and high school performance. Clayton and his coauthors, Cynthia Hewitt and Eddie Gaffney, also argue that White female teachers in particular are prone to label Black male students as discipline problems.
The other elephant in the room is the mass incarceration of Black men. In this issue of Contexts Magazine sociologists Bruce Western and Becky Pettit argue that the the wide scale incarceration of Black men is contributing to an increasing divide between Whites and Blacks. Obie Clayton agrees. What should be duly noted is that these same Black male students are less likely to use illegal drugs, but more likely to be arrested for possession of drugs, abuse of drugs, and almost all other drug related charges.
I do think that when it comes to college we are in a crisis, when it comes to Black male enrollment and graduation, but I also think Latino/as are in an even worse crisis. I am not trying to distract from the problems related to Black men, but I have to wonder why the very poor academic performance Latino/as (men and women) is not as well publicized. What we do know is that young Black boys start out with very high expectations, and they like school, but somewhere along the way something happens. Recent studies have found that the “acting White theory” (the notion that doing good in school is a White thing) is not the primary reason for lower performance among Black males. My own sense of this is that the larger cultural expectations cause the funneling of Black boys away from gifted and college prep programs and into special education programs. Then, as Black boys grow into men the labels “less intelligent” and “trouble maker” become internalized. The school administrators, teachers, community members, parents, and other relatives all play a role in shaping this image of Black males. It’s also embedded in the popular culture, where Black men are more likely to be portrayed as violent than intelligent. It doesn’t help that definitions of “manliness” also contributes to this problem. When young Black men are encouraged to be the biggest, baddest, and the toughest, they often end up replicating negative behaviors (behaviors that many young White men can get away with–in particular using or distributing drugs).
So there you have it. Black boys seem to start out very slightly behind Black girls, moderately behind White boys and girls, and well ahead of their Latino/a counterparts. By the time they reach the college level Black men have fallen well behind Black women, and are now performing at the same level as Latinos (men).
I’ll be back with another post on Black men when the next article in the series comes out.