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Jabari Asim: A Troubled Picture for Black Male Students

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Posted on Jul 14, 2006

By Jabari Asim

Editor’s note: In this column, the author notes that the gender gap among African-American college students is growing at a dangerous rate. He traces the problem to boys being socialized to be tough, regarding education with contempt and suspicion.


WASHINGTON—Back in college, my friend Sidney and I used to liken lunchtime to visiting one of those popular ice cream parlors that boasted an expansive menu.

As black men on our predominantly white Midwestern campus who weren’t there on athletic scholarships, we recognized that we were part of a fairly exceptional group. We didn’t consult the statistics that would have confirmed this—we got confirmation every time we entered the cafeteria on the ground floor of our dorm.

We’d pause at the door and survey the several tables crammed with young black women. In our popular and vaguely disrespectful parlance, we marveled at the variety of “flavors” available for dining companionship. Short, tall, plump, skinny, dark, light—you name it and there they were, an endless array of pulchritude occasionally interrupted by a black man or two.

With the numbers so much to our advantage, our general lack of maturity seldom hindered our chances of finding willing partners. I was even lucky enough to marry one of those women. As obsessed as we were with the bountiful beauty before us, my male friends and I seldom, if ever, paused to consider such weighty issues as gender gaps and educational imbalances between the sexes. That was 20 years ago, but I understand that, in some respects, the cafeteria in my old dorm probably looks similar today.

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I get that impression from a new report issued last week by the American Council on Education (ACE). According to the report, the apparent gender imbalance among African-Americans at my college was simply a hint of things to come. It found that, while significant gender gaps favoring women did not develop within each racial/ethnic group until the mid- to late-1990s, it is now an established fact of academic life.

Among traditional-age students (age 24 or younger), males have dropped from 48% of total enrollment in 1995-96 to 45% in 2003-04. A clear female majority has emerged among whites, Hispanics and blacks. Only Asian women have parity with Asian men.

“Women are making gains in college participation and degree attainment, but their gains have not come at the expense of men,’’ Jacqueline E. King, author of the study, said. That much is clear regarding black men, whose share of enrollment actually rose from 37% in 1995-96 to 40% in 2003-04.

Still, the gap is largest between black men and women. Black men and other male racial minorities earned 9% of bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2003-04, up from 5% in 1976-77. That’s still a paltry percentage, however, and lags way behind that of women of color, who tripled the number of bachelor’s degrees they earned during the same period, from 5% to 15%.

I don’t mean to disparage the black men who are attending college and doing their best to make their way in the world. Progress is progress, however slowly it is achieved. Yet it is painful to look at the numbers and wonder where the disparity will end.

Its beginnings are often obvious enough. Try the primary grades, when boys in communities like mine are socialized to be tough, and interest in school is regarded with contempt and suspicion. That viewpoint is deeply entrenched by fifth grade. At the all-black school in which my daughter was enrolled last fall, most of the boys came to school with anything but learning on their minds. They were violent, lazy and disrespectful and clearly regarded girls as playthings to be harassed and terrorized, the way a cat toys with a mouse. We’re talking about 10-year-olds, mind you.

The boys in my daughter’s class eventually became so disruptive that they were banished to an all-male class with a male teacher. But it was too little too late: We had already withdrawn our daughter and committed to a year of home schooling.

A lot can happen over the course of decades, but it’s hard to recall those boys and envision a future college student among them. My wife, in her customary fashion, has already expressed sympathy for the women who may someday encounter them as potential mates.

A lot already has happened where marriage and relationships are concerned. Interracial relationships are on the rise, and educated black women are increasingly exploring the other side of the cafeteria. It makes sense, as we’re all the same under the skin. The difference often comes down to a matter of degrees.
   
Jabari Asim’s e-mail address is asimj(at symbol)washpost.com.


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By designista, July 18, 2006 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This situation is truly sad and unfortunate, and I have often thought about the same issues.  This is also an ongoing topic of my group of friends. It seems some serious and urgent interventions need to happen to counter this generation’s long trend. It is sadly apparent that we who see this trend can’t seem to change or get it together either! So what will change?  One answer is to take action - get involved - i volunteer apporx 24 hrs per month in my community in various ways… this way i can see/feel an impact.

How is it that we’ve become so incapable of handling our own children? (See ABC’s Super Nanny – it’s not just colored people - as in non-white, not just Black, or low-income groups). We do not give/pay attention to the young… we put them in activities and allow the school system unchecked to parent, and have abandoned concern in our communities etc, etc. 

There are many answers, but the main theme here is economics, and family and moral instability… In many poorer communities hair salons, bodegas and churches and malls have replaced substantial community and home gathering spaces. and in lesser $$ areas local churches for all intents and purposes have their own agendas as “bodegas for God.”  Their mission to teach has perhaps gone the way of profit, while many ministers look at and DO taste the “flavors” in the cafeterias as well – further populating their community with miscellaneous children – un-fathered in the traditional, nuclear family-structure-way.  I know these people and don’t just read about them – they live next door. This all may sound pretty cynical of course, but I can only state what I see. 

I can’t close here without adding a mention for the commenter:  I find the commenter’s statement insulting and off the mark (and certainly not worth repeating!). There is really no need to insult the writer’s opinion and experience, and I do not see where his ego has overwhelmed the *point* of his story either.  Aside from the use of one of the ugliest words in the English language to describe physical beauty = pulchritude (ouch!) - his point is duly made for this reader and echoes the concerns of many Americans no matter what their color or background.

*** The scariest thought for me is that these are the young folks who will grow up to be responsible for us in our elder years and the USA – they will be in charge of running things, and they are clearly unprepared to pick up anything more than the scent of T&A.

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By chaseme, July 15, 2006 at 1:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jabari Asim, please, please, please. You start this article addressing an issue that has simply quickened; so to speak from the time you were stalking the young girls in the cafeteria, to the point where it is now happening in your daughter’s classroom.

How do you think the father’s of the girls who you “paused to survey” felt? They had concerns for their daughters too. Who are you to feel as though you can address such an issue, when you start your report with sex in mind? Unfortunately, you also end it that way.

You see Jabari, the problem is not with the direction in which those young boys in your daughter’s class are heading. The problem is with the direction a lot of irresponsible adults are pointing them. In the case of your report, you have failed to notice the direction you take the reader.

Now, I’m sure it was your ego, which leads you to begin your report with telling us about the choices of women you had. How about we understand that it was more than our immaturity, but our drive from a biological transformation that steers us through that period in our lives? How about we, when we think we are mature enough, change our language to give young boys more to thrive for other than our “variety” in women, but our “variety” in opportunities? How about we attempt to change the language of our youth, by getting them to talk about things such as: Global Warming, the effects SUVs have on Global Warming, corruption in our political system, racism in New Orleans, corruption and racism in professional sports, the war in Iraq, the other children their age who are being maimed and killed in Iraq, sexism in Hip-Hop, BET is foul. Shall I go on, Mr. Asim?

You see, Mr. Asim one hears not only with the ears, but also with the voice. The voice is not just a spontaneous organ, but also a receptive one; it explores, as it were, that of which it speaks.

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By chaseme, July 15, 2006 at 1:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jabari Asim, you are an idiot! You start this article addressing an issue that has simply quickened; so to speak from the time you were stalking the young girls in the cafeteria, to the point where it is now happening in your daughter’s classroom.

How do you think the father’s of the girls who you “paused to survey” felt? They had concerns for their daughters too. Who are you to feel as though you can address such an issue, when you start your report with sex in mind? Unfortunately, you also end it that way.

You see Jabari, the problem is not with the direction in which those young boys in your daughter’s class are heading. The problem is with the direction a lot of irresponsible adults are pointing them. In the case of your report, you have failed to notice the direction you take the reader.

Now, I’m sure it was your ego, which leads you to begin your report with telling us about the choices of women you had. How about we understand that it was more than our immaturity, but our drive from a biological transformation that steers us through that period in our lives? How about we, when we think we are mature enough, change our language to give young boys more to thrive for other than our “variety” in women, but our “variety” in opportunities? How about we attempt to change the language of our youth, by getting them to talk about things such as: Global Warming, the effects SUVs have on Global Warming, corruption in our political system, racism in New Orleans, corruption and racism in professional sports, the war in Iraq, the other children their age who are being maimed and killed in Iraq, sexism in Hip-Hop, BET is foul. Shall I go on, Mr. Asim?

You see, Mr. Asim one hears not only with the ears, but also with the voice. The voice is not just a spontaneous organ, but also a receptive one; it explores, as it were, that of which it speaks.

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