THE LAST WORD: African-American Males in Higher Education

By Harris, Whitney G. | Black Issues in Higher Education, October 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

THE LAST WORD: African-American Males in Higher Education


Harris, Whitney G., Black Issues in Higher Education


THE LAST WORD: African-American Males in Higher Education.

Despite the many problems that plague African-American males, the practice of classifying us as an "endangered species" has always struck me as a convenient, but a regrettable, sound bite. Granted, the current data on African-American males on such indices as college enrollment, prison statistics, and college and high school completion rates are dismal at best and frightening at worst. However, like all sound bites, "endangered species" not only overstates the case, it hides a large portion of the real picture. Even a cursory glance at the total reality will show that thousands of African-American males are achieving high levels of academic success.

This is especially true concerning higher education, where African-American males -- including students, faculty, and staff -- are forced to deal with the same negative societal issues as other African-American males. For example, institutional and personal racism is alive and well on college and university campuses. Also, the lack of positive African-American role models is a serious problem. On most historically white university campuses, most African-American males are in low-paying service jobs. Even a tenured full-professor, administrator, Roman Catholic priest (like this writer) is often given more than his share of the elevator space when he shares it with white women on many university campuses. So racism, favoritism, and policies and practices of exclusion still have a negative impact on African-American males on college and university campuses.

Nevertheless, if we are going to improve our lot, we must reframe the issues. We must move from a deficient "blame-the-victim" model to one that says not only that we can be successful, but we WILL be successful. We must begin by reframing our perception of our status. Rather than seeing ourselves as victims, we must see ourselves as creators of our own destiny. Rather than seeing ourselves as an endangered species, we must draw strength and courage from our 500 years of struggling against -- and often overcoming -- the hurdles of racism and other forms of bigotry.

We must not allow others to cast us on the endangered species list. If anything endangers us, it is our passive acceptance of being classified as endangered. …

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