Black Male Graduation Rates Vary Widely From State to State
The 8/21/08 JBHE weekly bulletin describes a recent finding by the Schott Foundation for Public Education that there is, “a serious crisis in the secondary education of black males.” According to the Schott Foundation’s report, there is a 28 point difference between the high school graduation rate for white males and the high school graduation rate for black males: “Nationwide, only 47 percent of black males are completing high school. For whites, the rate is 75 percent.”
(Source: Journal of Blacks in Higher Education)
Considering the two charts above, one thing seems clear: there is an inverse relationship between the size of a state’s Black population and the proportion of Black males who graduate from high school. With few exceptions, those states with the lowest Black populations (less that 5 percent of the overall state population) have the highest Black male graduation rates. On the other hand, those states with disproportionately high Black populations (greater than the national average of 12 percent) have the lowest Black male graduation rates.
One possible explanation for this trend is that youth who live in areas with low Black populations experience less peer pressure to conform to any one particular idea of what it means to be Black. For young African American men and boys, this amounts to a freedom from (among other things) the pressure to conform to those prevailing images and stereotypes of Black maleness and masculinity that position Black manhood as violent, hyper-masculine, and anti-intellectual.
In the absence of these pressures, some young Black men are able to thrive without having to worry about whether or not their passion for oboe or Zora Neale Hurston or physics or pointilism (to give a few examples) measures up to the popular perceptions of the attributes of real Black men. This is not to say that young Black men cannot thrive in majority Black high schools, nor am I suggesting that the overwhelmingly white high school environment is a utopia for African American students . The question, though, of why and how some young Black men are able to thrive in those very environments that conventional wisdom would suggest are the least hospitable to them must be examined in greater depth.
Finally, I must underscore that the freedom from the narrowly drawn popular stereotypes about what it means to be Black and male is not about freedom from the notion that educational achievement is raced and/or constitutes “acting white.” On the contrary, freedom from popular stereotypes about Black manhood and masculinity is about the freedom from the oppressive fact that, in the United States, intellectual achievement and passion is gendered. Brainy guys — the guys who raise their hands in class to answer questions, who get involved in school activities beyond athletics, who play in the orchestra, who like to read for pleasure – are often labeled as sissies or wimps. In African American communities, in which access to traditional channels of male power (high earning power, authority over subordinates in the workplace, political influence, et cetera) is often limited, the investment in owning and projecting the strongest, most unequivocal vision of masculinity is even greater than it is for white, Latino, and Asian American youth.
I hope that the numbers reported in the Scott Foundation report will open up a larger discussion on which aspects of majority white high school environment are somehow supporting achievment.
Posted by Ajuan Mance