Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Black Immigrants Go to the Head of the Class

May 30th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

“Do African immigrants make the smartest Americans? The question may sound outlandish, but if you were judging by statistics alone, you could find plenty of evidence to back it up.”

–Clarence Page, in “Black Immigrants, and Invisible ‘Model Minority,’” published on RealClearPolitics.com

African American columnist Clarence Page calls them the “invisible model minority” (RealClearPolitics.com); a variety of newspapers have reported that this population makes up a disproportionate segment of the Black student presence on Ivy League campuses; and a Journal of Blacks in Higher Education analysis of U.S. Census data found that this group has, “the highest educational attainment of any population group in the country, including whites and Asians.”

If you have been following the growing media reconition of the diversity that exists within the and among the Black communities of the U.S., then you have probably already guessed that I am speaking of African immigrants to the United States.

Even as scholars debate the possibility of a Black genetic predisposition against intellectual achievement, African immigrants to the U.S. have quietly outstripped their white and Asian counterparts in educational success and attainment.

In a March 19, 2007 opinion piece on RealClearPolitics.com, columnist Clarence Page considers the overwhelming academic success of African immigrants to the U.S. and their children.

Page writes,

43.8 percent of African immigrants had achieved a college degree, compared to 42.5 of Asian Americans, 28.9 percent for immigrants from Europe, Russia and Canada, and 23.1 percent of the U.S. population as a whole.

That defies the usual stereotypes of Asian Americans as the only “model minority.” Yet the traditional American narrative has rendered the high academic achievements of black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean invisible, as if it were a taboo topic.

Page notes the relish with which colleges and universities have embraced African (and Caribbean) students, and ponders the relationship between the increase in Black immigrant populations on selective college campuses to the rapid decrease, at such schools, in the numbers of Black students descended from U.S. slaves. He exmines the growing presence of Afro-disaporic students for what it says about colleges’ commitment to combat the legacy of chattel slavery in the United States:

Are elite schools padding their racial diversity numbers with black immigrants who do not have a history of American slavery in their families? This development immediately calls into question whether affirmative action admission policies are fulfilling their original intent.

But as Walter Benn Michaels, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes in his book “The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality,” the original intent of affirmative action morphed back in the 1970s from reparations for slavery into the promotion of a broader virtue: “diversity.” Since then, it no longer seems to matter how many of your college’s black students had slavery in their families. It only matters that they are black.

Page does not begrudge Black immigrant populations their success; but he does read in the shrinking proportion of African Americans on selective college campuses a need for institutions and employers to reconsider the nature and meaning of diversity.

I hope that African immigrants’ success in U.S. colleges and universities will strike a blow against efforts to attribute the Black-white/Asian achievement gap to Black people’s inherent and genetically-based  intellecutal inferiority. More importantly, however, the news of African immigrants’ exemplary performance in the academic realm must inspire a deep and unflinching examination of U.S. Black communities’ approach to and attitudes about education. Research indicates that U.S. Black students and their families believe deeply in the significance of education. The challenge, then, is to channel this belief in the value of education into concrete actions — strategies and practices — that insure academic success.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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One Response

  1. Richard

    Once again, education is key.

    This is a very interesting phenomenon. I’m not sure exactly what to make of it. Though your point about US-born black’s attitudes towards education is well taken.

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