Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Black Females in High School: A Statistical Educational Profile

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Black Females in High School: A Statistical Educational Profile

Article excerpt

Abstract

In life as in literature, both the mainstream public and the Black community writ large, overlook the Black female experiences, both adolescent and adult. In order to contribute to the knowledge base regarding this population, we present through our study a statistical portrait of Black females in high school. To do so, we present an analysis of data gathered using the Educational Longitudinal Survey of 2002. Findings suggest that in life as in literature, young Black females approaching womanhood are strong students who work extremely hard in an environment where sex, race, and culture can and do shape experiences and opportunities.

Introduction

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes were Watching God (1937) is credited as the first Black feminist novel. The novelty of this work in the words of literary scholar Neal Lester (1999) is that although "storytelling rituals specifically and public speaking rituals generally are reserved for men - Black and White - Hurston's novel allows the telling of a woman's story - a Black woman's - in her own terms that challenge the illusions of patriarchal order" (p. 80). In the novel, the protagonist's grandmother explains racial and gender hierarchy from her worldview, describing young Black females and women as beasts of burden, "de mule uh de world" (Hurston, 1937, p. 14). Historiographically, this novel is set in the antebellum South. Yet, contemporarily this novel holds credence as the "writer Hurston - the experiencing self - and character Janie - the narrative self - take us on a journey of personal discovery to the place where language, gender, and culture merge to give full voice to the otherwise often-marginalized Black female self (McKay, 1995, p. 54).

The mainstream public and the Black community, in life as in literature often overlook Black female experiences from childhood through adulthood. Overwhelmed by "the Black problem" in education, research on the underperformance of Black students generally, and young Black males specifically, abounds in education and allied fields (e.g., Comeaux & Harrison, 2007; Davis & Jordan, 1994; Ferguson, 2000; Frank, Kehler, Lo veil, & Davidson, 2003; Glassman Sc Roelle, 2007; hooks, 2004; Majors & Billison, 1992; Norman, AuIt, Bentz, & Meskimen, 2001 ; Sew ell, 2000; Weaver-Hightower, 2003). Comparatively speaking there is little analysis of the educational performance of young Black females. Except for in comparison to White females and Black males, educational researchers have little research to explain who young Black girls are as students. The best accounts contemporarily are rich, thick descriptive pieces, which in spite of their rigor are of limited generalizability due to their sample size (e.g., Evans Winters, 2005; Fordham, 1993; Fuller, 1980; Grant, 1984; Grant, Battle, Murphy, & Heggoy, 1999; Henry, 1998, 2001, 2006; Mirza, 1992, 1995, 2006; Morris, 2005, 2007; Ward, 2007). As invaluable as these contributions are to the field, broader statistical analyses are useful in confirming overall trends.

Young Black Females

Compared to the research on Black boys, the volume of literature on Black girls is sparse. While speaking of the education of Blacks in Britain, Nicola Rollock's (2007) observations and analysis in Why Black Girls Don Ï Matter: Exploring How Race and Gender Shape Academic Success in an Inner City School, depict phenomena all too familiar in the United States and elsewhere:

Black pupils tend to consistently perform below their White counterparts and below the national average. Key debates, examining how to address the difference in attainment gap, have tended to focus almost exclusively on the achievements of Black male pupils with little explicit attention paid to the needs and experiences of their female counterparts ... while prevalent discourses on femininity serve to increase Black girls' legitimacy in the context of dominant school discourses on academic success, those on ethnicity serve simultaneously to downgrade their legitimacy, both minimizing their opportunities for high status academic success and rendering them invisible in the debates on Black attainment (p. …

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