African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice

By Kassie Freeman | Go to book overview

pressure for expanded collective opportunities, or will they opt to pursue an independent course, secure in the knowledge that their degrees will ensure at least some modicum of personal financial well-being?

As this chapter concludes, we have come full circle, bringing us again to the point of questioning the strength of bonds between Black students in higher education, as potential members of an expanding Black elite, and the larger Black community. Obviously, where these bonds are weak, the leadership potential of these students will be limited, if not nonexistent.

Class cleavages and differences have always existed among African Americans. House slaves were differentiated from field slaves, artisans from laborers, and physicians from teachers. What is new, however, is the possibility (however slim) of subordinating one's racial identity to one's class identity. This option was largely nonexistent for Black Americans previously, when race was more castelike in its definition ( Lincoln, 1979; Wilson, 1978). History proves that for Blacks, such options are ultimately more facade than reality. In times of economic stringency, race tends to be reasserted as a criterion for deciding how to allocate scarce resources. At the very least, economic downturns tend to damage most those groups with historic economic disadvantages (i.e., Blacks and women more so than Whites and men). Increased unemployment among African American professionals, persistent educational inequities for their children, and the chronic precariousness of their personal financial situation make this point forcefully. Be that as it may, the social rhetoric continues to offer (as if it were a real possibility) Black college students the option of disassociating from their racial heritage as a route to upward social mobility.

If these findings can be trusted, African Americans in higher education today are resisting this offer. They continue to identify with, and be committed to, the collective good. Reported attitudes aside, the next few years will tell the tale. As these students graduate and enter the competitive marketplace, will their actions mirror their expressed ideologies? Will these students prove themselves capable and dedicated enough to provide the necessary leadership for African American communities in what are surely to be desperate times? To be successful leaders, they must repress strong temptations to "go for themselves," for "the rules have been changed. The lines of division have been laid between the few and the many, and the challenge to the few is to prove themselves worthy to be a people apart from their roots. In short, there are signs that America is prepared to write off the Black masses in exchange for accepting the Black elite" ( Lincoln, 1979, p. 30).


APPENDIX: VARIABLE MEASUREMENT

Black students' race consciousness/collective commitment was measured by a battery of items:

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