Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

The Shrinking Service Economy — A Call for Updated Expectations

April 12th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

(Source: African American Family Conference website)


From AlterNet:

In his 2007 book, Supercapitalism, Robert B. Reich argues that while industrial and clerical jobs could be outsourced to cheaper labor pools abroad, service jobs would stay in America. But Reich didn’t count on First World clients flying to the global South to find low-cost retirement care or reproductive services. The Akanksha clinic is just one point on an ever-widening two-lane global highway that connects poor nations in the Southern Hemisphere to rich nations in the Northern Hemisphere, and poorer countries of Eastern Europe to richer ones in the West. A Filipina nanny heads north to care for an American child. A Sri Lankan maid cleans a house in Singapore. A Ukrainian nurse’s aide carries lunch trays in a Swedish hospital. Marx’s iconic male, stationary industrial worker has been replaced by a new icon: the female, mobile service worker.

— Arlie Hochschild, “Would You Outsource Your Womb?”, AlterNet

A few months ago I was listening to an interview, on PRI’s To The Best of Our Knowledge, with U of Michigan psychology professor Richard Nisbett, about his recent book, Intelligence and How to Get It. In it Nisbett argues, among other things, that it is not genetics, but the style in which a child is raised that determines his or her IQ, and African American parents are currently raising their children for the kinds of jobs that their grandparents did.

If Nibsett’s assertion is, in fact, accurate, then a considerable amount of the Black -white achievement gap can be attributed to the fact that Black children and being raised with a skill set that is best suited for agrarian, factory, and service positions, all of which are few and far between in this rapidly changing economy. The quote at the beginning of this post underscores that in our global economy, not only are manufacturing jobs easily moved from one nation or hemisphere to the other, but service labor, as well.

Nisbett suggests that African American parents differ from their white counterparts in, among other things, the amount of encouragement that their children receive. While white children of professionals receive 6 encouragements (compliments, accolades, and general offerings of approval and support) for every 1 reprimand, the children of the Black middle class receive only 2 encouragements for every 1 reprimand. In the most economically marginalized Black homes, African American children receive 2 reprimands for every 1 encouragement. There is a strong correlation between the proportion of encouragements to reprimands and childrens’ I.Q. score, and evidence suggests that Black peoples’ greater emphasis on reprimands than their white counterparts has and still does contribute significantly to the I.Q. and educational performance gaps between children of these two ethnic groups. In particular, the kinds of abstract thinking skills that are almost a requirement for high achievement in the U.S. depend on children’s early exposure to the space to explore, interrogate, and question — even their parents and their parents’ authority.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in or around Black communities can attest to the fact that 1) Black parents (and grandparents) place a premium on obedience, and 2) Black parents often use dramatic forms of verbal and physical reprimands to enforce that obedience, both publicly and privately. As a people, we have inherited our expectations for obedience and our understanding (however limited) of child development from our forbears, whose children entered a very different world, economically, racially, and in terms of job opportunities available.

So, how do Black parents better equip their children for the labor market of the future? Well, African American parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and everyone else who has children in their lives can begin by making sure your encouragements vastly outnumber your reprimands. Tell the Black children in your lives how intelligent they are, who interesting their stories are, how original their drawings are, how lovely they are, and how much you love them. Encourage them to question by inviting them to ask how and why things are done the way they are — why some apples are green and some are red, why chickens lay eggs and cows don’t, why the sky is blue in. If you don’t know the answer, look it up together on the internet or — even better — during a trip to the library.

And you don’t have to limit your encouragement to kids you are related to. I often see strangers peering at other peoples small children and remarking how pretty or cute they are. Why not mention how smart they look (“What’s your daughter’s/son’s name? Mark? Well, Mark, you certainly look like a smart young man)?

It’s the responsibility of all of us who are Black, who care about children, and who care about our future to make sure that the current generation of children and young adults are prepared for the world as it is today, not two generations ago; and reminding them of their intelligence, ability, and beauty (mind and body) is one very simple thing we can do you help todays kids of African descent to become tomorrows autonomous, happy, and successful adults.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

  1. Kay

    Wow. Great post. A girlfriend and I were discussing how negative black parents can be with their kids in public settings. It’s hard to watch or hear. A little encouragement certainly goes a long way.