Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Part I: Boys Crisis Disputed!: Says Who?

On Tuesday, May 20, 2008, the Hartford Courant printed an article that first appeared in the Washington Post with the following headline: “‘Boys Crisis’ Disputed. Report: Gender Differences In School Success Overstated.”

As a black male professor, the headline caught my attention because the title appeared to contradict what I have been observing (and what friends at other universities say they have been observing) and fretting over the last several years, the declining number of black men in my classes (although, at my university, a growing percentage of the student body is black).

Whenever I walk across my campus, but especially when I enter a classroom for the first time, one of the things that I notice is that women of color outnumber, sometimes 3 to 1, men of color. And though I realize that gender inequity is real in many facets of American life and that one of the only ways to close those gender gaps is to have more women of color successfully matriculate through colleges and universities across this country, my heart sinks a bit because of the noticeable absence of men of color.

I thought to myself as I prepared to read the article in the Courant, if a gender difference in academic success is being overstated, where the hell are the brothas on my campus?

So, what is the article about?

After reviewing more than 40 years of data on achievement from fourth grade to college, a new report by the nonprofit American Association of University Women (AAUW) contends that the “boys crisis” in U.S. schools is more myth than reality.

The AAUW report – “Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education,” – looks at a variety of indicators of educational achievement, including dropout and disciplinary rates. The authors claim that their study is the first to analyze gender differences within economic and ethnic categories. They conclude that academic success is more a function of class (that is, family income) than gender.

Well! Okay! But, what about race and ethnicity?

My question was partially answered in the fourth paragraph of the article. “A lot of people think it is the boys that need the help,” co-author Christianne Corbett said. “The point of the report is to highlight the fact that that is not exclusively true. There is no crisis with boys. If there is a crisis [my emphasis], it is with African American and Hispanic students and low income students, girls and boys.”

What does she mean, “If there is a crisis?” There is a crisis on my campus, I thought to myself.

To my dismay, the rest of the newspaper article was mostly silent on those differences she clearly sought to minimize.

(Sidebar: Damn, I hate this color-blindness stuff – that is, the intentional downplaying of racial and ethnic differences. I’ll save a discussion of the “whitewashing” of race and ethnicity in popular and academic writing for another post).

The finding (whitewashing) reported in the Courant article that really caught my attention was that: “There is virtually no gap between boys and girls entering college immediately after high school.”


I next imagined someone from the Courant asking me, who you gonna believe, me, or your “LYING” eyes?

What does a good academic do? I did some research.

But, before I present some of the data I found, there is an important point that readers of this blog should note: even though more black women are attending college and earning degrees, their gains have not come at the expense of black men.

Nonetheless, AAUW’s data and data I culled from other sources (the American Council on Education and the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education) clearly show that there is a growing black male crisis.

A few examples:

· Although black male and female undergraduate enrollment is growing, in 2003-04, black women comprised 64 percent of black undergraduates and the gap is widening

· On many college campus, black women make up two-thirds of black enrollment

· There are roughly 200 black females graduate for every 100 black males; the 2 to 1 ratio is higher than any other racial group

· At many historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), educators say that on average, the ratio of women to men is about 7 to 1, and the graduation rate is 10 females for every 1 male

· Black women, who are 6 percent of the nation’s population, earned 7 percent of all bachelor degrees conferred in 2005-2006; black men, who are 6 percent of the nation’s population, earned 3 percent of all bachelors degrees conferred in 2005-2006

· Black men earned approximately the same percentage of all degrees conferred (3 percent) in 2005–06 as they did in 1976–77

So, what is happening to the brothas?

I’ll try to answer that question in my next post: Black Males and the School to Prison Pipeline.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Reverend Jeremiah Wright Is Controversial; Says Who?

Many of Rev. Wright's so-called "controversial" statements are really not that controversial.

Does that mean that blacks who have pinned their hopes and dreams in the Obama campaign wish Rev. Wright had kept his mouth shut until after the election? Of course they do.

But, does that mean that black people think that what he said is wrong? Nope. There are many good reasons why Rev. Wright’s core message and hyperbolic style of delivering that message resonated for so many years with blacks in Chicago, including his former parishioner and protégée, Senator Obama.

Let’s take a look at one of his most controversial statements: “The government gives them drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing God Bless America? No, no, no. God damn America, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating us citizens as less than human.

The government gives them drugs…

What in the world did Rev. Wright mean by this statement?

To answer that question, we need to go back to the three part series, “Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion,” published in August of 1996 by Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News, which began with the following words:

"For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency."

Webb’s story fueled much speculation across the country, and continues to fuel speculation in the black community, that the U.S.-backed Contra rebels, fighting a leftist Nicaraguan regime, were largely responsible for introducing crack-cocaine into the U.S.

While it has not been proven without a doubt that U.S.-backed Contra rebels targeted black communities with crack cocaine, there is little doubt that people affiliated with, or on the payroll of the CIA, were trafficking in drugs, and that some of those drugs made it into black communities across America helping to fuel the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. A 1989 U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report stated, "There are some serious questions as to whether or not U.S. officials involved in Central America failed to address the drug issue for fear of jeopardizing the war effort against Nicaragua."

… builds bigger prisons

America locks up more of its citizens than any other country in the world. According to a 2008 report by the Pew Center on the States, one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars. That amounts to roughly 2.2 million people, which represents 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

The prison population is disproportionately black and brown. According to the Pew Center report, based on Justice Department figures, one in 36 adult Latino men is behind bars and one in 15 adult black men is, too. A whopping one in nine black men ages 20 to 34 are behind bars.

Moreover, while only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars, one in 100 black women are.

Finally, according to a December 2007 study by the American Civil Liberties Union, “Race and Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice,” in 2006, the U.S. prison population was 46 percent white, 41 percent black, and 19 percent Latino.

For black men, the ACLU reports, the experience of imprisonment is practically surreal. One out of every 6 black males has been either to jail or prison. Based on current trends, one out of every 3 black men can expect to be imprisoned at some point in their lives.

“…passes a three-strike law

There is strong evidence that the overrepresentation of blacks and Latinos in prisons and jails is the result of discrimination and bad public policy at every phase of the criminal justice system. According to the press release for the Pew Center’s report:

“The report points out the necessity of locking up violent and repeat offenders, but notes that prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the nation’s population at large. Instead, more people are behind bars principally because of a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular “three-strikes [my emphasis]” measures and other sentencing laws, imposing longer prison stays on inmates.”

The most obscene aspect of the criminal (in)justice system is the so-called “war on drugs.” In the early 1980s, in response to the problem of drug abuse and an upsurge in violent crimes associated with the sale and distribution of crack cocaine, many states, along with the federal government, declared a “war on drugs,” adopting mandatory sentencing policies that included increased sentences for individuals convicted of drug offenses. Black and Latino people have bared the brunt of this war.

From the perspective of the black community, the war on drugs looks more like a “war on black people.”

… and then wants us to sing God Bless America? No, no, no. God damn America.

Is it really a surprise why he said this? I’ll leave that to you to answer.