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Rich, Black, Flunking

2003-05-21 20:13:42.405235+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

Of note: Rich, Black, Flunking, describing U.C. Berkeley Professor John Ogbu's study of black kids from upscale families doing poorly in high school in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights.

Ogbu concluded that the average black student in Shaker Heights put little effort into schoolwork and was part of a peer culture that looked down on academic success as "acting white." Although he noted that other factors also play a role, and doesn't deny that there may be antiblack sentiment in the district, he concluded that discrimination alone could not explain the gap.

Of course he's been roundly condemned. The article is worth a read, and the book, Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement[Wiki], sounds like it might be worth putting on the queue once it gets a little shorter.

[ related topics: Children and growing up Books Bay Area Political Correctness Sociology Race ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2003-05-22 10:25:04.827389+00 by: Jeffery

This study confirms to me that some elements of black society still live in denial. By that I mean that they can't seem to accept that much of their own inability to reach parity in society with other ethnic groups is their own doing; their denial of self-responsibility and self-reliance provides false cover for their failures. True, racism still exists, but that has not stopped other ethnic groups from becoming very successful in our society. The study also shows the importance of parenting.

#Comment made: 2003-05-22 18:48:01.665929+00 by: Dan Lyke

I find in general that expectation is a lot of accomplishment, up there with ability, and outranking most social aspects. True, the teachers could be setting up the expectations lower, but over and over again I see that the primary indicator of how a child learns is what the attitudes of the parent are with respect to that child.

Kids are not "fire and forget", and I think far too many parents, white and black, think that the child hits 5, gets shipped off to Kindergarten, and "the system" takes over and will do a good job. Even if kids are going to school, the attitudes of the parents should be that they're being home-schooled as well.

(And yes, I now have some experience, even if only a couple of weeks, to back that up.)

I also remember a couple who were friends of my parents when I was high school age, he was white, had met her when he was in the Peace Corps over in Botswana, and they had two kids. The kids were quite a big younger than me, but I found them fun, bright, well spoken, and yet as I knew them I heard them start to affect ebonics or some facsimile thereof, and I started to wonder how much the popular culture would try to force them into some horrible stereotype. I should ask my parents if they've kept up, and how those kids are doing.

I think the solutions are more complex than "the parents should be parenting", but they're also quite a bit more complex than "the white folks is keeping us down", and all cultures are not created equal.

#Comment made: 2003-05-23 12:50:12.730486+00 by: Jeffery [edit history]

I agree with you completely Dan; setting expectations is a huge part of the game. And those expectations should be generated both at home and at school, with the former carrying more weight and importance in my opinion. To be sure, it's a complex situation for the black community, something that culture should not ignore in an effort to place blame exclusively elsewhere.

In general, I've only truly excelled when I consciously chose to raise my own bar, and to raise my own personal expectations of achievement. In the end, it's all very personal--and all about one's intention.

And yes, different ethnic groups and cultures can bring different strengths and talents to the table. A young man of color (18 years old) from a different Cleveland suburb from that mentioned in the study recently signed a $90 million deal with Nike. Way to go, Lebron James! I wish that I could do that!


#Comment made: 2003-05-24 02:46:54.31481+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

Getting a contract to promote a shoe because he plays b-ball is much more in line with his ethnic identity than studying, though.

#Comment made: 2003-05-24 08:55:04.816127+00 by: Jeffery [edit history]

You're absolutely right, Mark, and that's a perfect lead-in to my next point. Blacks lead the way in many entertainment fields, with basketball being one of them.

The problem for the black culture is that success in these fields often takes on lottery-scale proportions; that is, only a very few actually "make it." Success is very limited. To the extent that black kids "culturally choose" these career paths inhibits their ability to become successful in other more traditional career paths, where a modicum of success should be easier to obtain. The cultural intention of much of black America is simply focused on the wrong employment and educational goals, in my opinion. This is also an example where the success of a few can actually be counterproductive in some ways to the greater whole of a culture. Perhaps ...

It would be very interesting to understand from the original study how the rich blacks in the study actually "made it."