SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: An Educational Edge? A Women's History Month Meditation

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SPEAKING OF EDUCATION: An Educational Edge? A Women's History Month. Meditation

Do African American women enjoy an educational advantage over African American men? According to the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of The College Fund/UNCF, Black women are at least earning more degrees. In 1993, African American women earned 45,000 B.A. degrees, compared to 23,505 degrees for African American men. Headlines put it bluntly: "Black Women Earning College Degrees at Twice the Rate of Black Men."

The numerical edge that African American women experience in education isn't limited to the bachelor's degree. More than twice as many African American women received Ph.D.s in 1995 than in 1975. In the same time period the number of African American men increased only slightly -- by less than 5 percent.

But before anyone pops out the champagne and concludes that Black women have got it made and that the number of Black Ph.D.s is soaring, consider those numbers carefully. In 1995, more than 40,000 doctoral degrees were awarded. Of those, 872 (2.2 percent) went to African American men, while 926 (2.3 percent) went to African American women. In 1975, when some 30,000 degrees were awarded, 851 went to African American men, and 360 went to African American women.

Clearly, African American women experience a numerical edge in the number of degrees awarded. Does this translate to an edge in professional attainment, in societal power and influence, to an advantage in another realm? Do these degrees Black women get protect us from the stereotypes and glass ceilings that limit our achievement?

One might ask Alexis Herman, the stellar African American woman that President Clinton nominated to join his cabinet as Secretary of Labor in January, 1997. More than six weeks after she was nominated, Ms. Herman was the only Clinton nominee not to have her confirmation hearings scheduled.

After concentrated pressure from women's groups, Herman's confirmation hearings were scheduled for March 18, and by the time this article is printed, she may well have been confirmed. But for more than six weeks, Herman twisted in the wind, her record of achievement, her associations, her reputation picked apart.

I'm not playing the race card. The gender card will do, as well. Remember Zoe Baird, Lani Guinier, Joycelyn Elders. Though President Clinton has had a habit of high-tailing it away from nominees whom the Congress raises questions about, regardless of their gender, why is it that the most wrenching cases have been cases where women have been left hanging out to dry? …

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