The African American Achievement Gap:

Last Updated: 23 Mar 2023
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The African American Achievement Gap: Why is it There and What Can be Done Are Black Americans Dumber than White Americans? Can it unequivocally be stated that European Americans hold more intelligence then African Americans? Are African Americans genetically wired to have a lesser mental capacity then European Americans? For a long time this was the explanation to a burning problem. African Americans score lower than White Americans on vocabulary, reading, and mathematics tests, as well as on tests that claim to measure scholastic aptitude and intelligence. This gap appears before children enter kindergarten and it persists into adulthood. The typical American black still scores below 75 percent of American whites on most standardized tests. On some tests the typical American black scores below more than 85 percent of whites. ” (CHRISTOPHER, JENCKS) This test score gap is not an inevitable fact of nature. It is true that the gap shrinks only a little when black and white children attend the same schools. It is also true that the gap shrinks only a little when black and white families have the same amount of schooling, the same income, and the same wealth.

However, after extensive research, no one has found any evidence saying that blacks have less intellectual ability than whites. So what causes this gap in test scores? Some attribute it to the culture of African Americans. They say that African Americans are uninterested in learning and don’t seek to pursue academic excellence. Some attribute the gap to testing conditions. Some attribute it to concepts such as “White Guilt” and “Stereotype Threat. ”(Will be explained later) I however cannot attribute it to any one thing. This whole issue cannot be explained by one concept.

Rather then trying to describe the achievement gap with one concept, I attribute it to a combination of many. The reason for the perceived gap in test scores is an intricate combination of things such as Stereotype threat, White Guilt, and Culture. On this issue, Thomas Sowell takes the position that this gap has nothing to do with racism or race. Sowell says, “For much of the first half of the 20th century, these differences were attributed to race-that is, to an assumption that blacks just did not have it in their genes to do as well as white people.

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The tide began to turn in the second half of the 20th Century, when the assumption developed that black-white differences were due to racism on the part of whites. ” (Sowell, Thomas) However, his research showed something different. With his study at Harvard, he noticed that most of the black alumni were either from “the West Indies or Africa, or were the children of West Indian or African immigrants. These people are the same race as American blacks, who greatly outnumber either or both. ” (Sowell, Thomas) This completely dispels the idea of race being a factor. So what does cause the gap?

Sowell believes Culture does. His main argument is that the culture from so-called “rednecks” from Europe caused this uneducated culture seen in blacks. He says, “The culture of the people who were called “rednecks” and “crackers” before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produce far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as high levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. ” (Sowell, Thomas) Now the most important points raised are that only a third of whites lived in this culture while 90% of blacks live in it.

Of course culture fades away eventually but, it has very slow within the black community; especially in the worst black ghettos in the country. This is a culture of counter productivity and self-destruction. Sowell says all blacks are regarded this way. However, the question has to be asked; can this really be applied to all blacks? It really can’t. Culture can be a valid explanation for this particular group of black people but it does not prove anything for all blacks. Not all blacks are from the ghetto.

Some actually come from prominent, stable homes. Some actually come from the same environment as successful whites and Langston Hughes takes a look at some of these people. Hughes also takes the view of culture but he examines it from the view of blacks that are not stuck in the ghetto but have stable backgrounds. Hughes takes the view that blacks are actually hindering themselves. He says that there is a huge obstacle standing in the way of every black person. He actually makes a reference about artist but it can be viewed as any black person.

He says the obstacle is, “this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible. ” (Hughes, Langston) His example is a poet. This poet subconsciously wants to be white because he feels it will make him a better poet. This poet comes from a strong background in the middle class. According to Hughes, they attend church; the father has a steady job; the mother works on occasion; and the children attend mixed schools.

However, the problem comes with how the parents treat their children. The mother says things like, “Don’t be like niggers” when the children are bad. In turn the father says things like, “Look how well a white man does things. ” So in this home and many others, black is not praised or celebrated it is taught to be ashamed of. They are taught to want to be white. It is staggering what blacks do to themselves because of this. Fist Hughes says the more predominant don’t support their own people.

His example is that, A “Negro clubwoman in Philadelphia paid eleven dollars to hear Raquel Meller sing Andalusian popular songs. But she told me a few weeks before she would not think of going to hear “that woman. ” Clara Smith, a great artist, sing Negro folk songs. ” (Hughes, Langston) This is the problem with many blacks. They don’t support their own people in anything because they don’t feel it will be accepted by whites and, that is ultimately what they want. Hughes also alludes to how blacks don’t’ support their own until whites do.

His example is “a young colored writer who had been writing well for the colored magazines for some years, but it was not until he recently broke into the white publications and his first book was accepted by a prominent New York publisher that the “best” Negros in his city took the trouble to discover that he lived there. ” (Hughes, Langston) The key here is “white. ” Blacks are afraid to be who they are because white is seen as the ultimate goal. Black is seen as inferior. So can this be applied to test taking? It certainly can. If blacks are feeling inferior then their test performance cannot be as good as whites.

Hughes is saying that being black is a hindrance that was built by blacks ourselves. But can this still be applied to all blacks. No it can’t because not all blacks come from households where white power is subconsciously feed to them. Some come from homes where black is celebrated. But for some reason the gap is still there but why? Shelby Steele’s position on the matter is based on the theory of White Guilt. White Guilt is a “vacuum of moral authority in matters of race, equality and opportunity that comes from the association of mere white skin with America’s historical racism.

It is the stigmatization of whites and, more importantly, American institutions with the sin of racism. ” (Steele, Shelby) Simply meaning that all white institutions are doing whatever they have to do not to appear racist. According to Steele this started right after the civil-rights movement. Where he believes that blacks made, “the greatest miscalculation in black American history. ” (Steele, Shelby) He says, we allowed ourselves to see a greater power in America’s liability for our oppression than we saw in ourselves. (Steele, Shelby) This meaning blacks saw an opportunity to get lazy because they thought they could get more out of taking what whites give rather then working to take their own. According to Steele, blacks have been living in an age of white guilt for about a few decades now. So Steele is taking the position that the achievement gap is where it is at because blacks do not have to work as much as they did before. Steele uses the example of a University. There is no way that they would admit students just based on academia because chances are there would be little to no black faces at the University.

This university would be called racist and scrutinized heavily. In Modern time, it is politically correct to include blacks in all walks of life. During the Civil Rights Movement, being black was terrible thing. You were punished for it. Today blacks are rewarded for it in many ways. It is good but bad also. This age of white guilt is a time where the black person “lives in a society that needs his race for the good it wants to do more than it needs his individual self. His race makes him popular with the white institutions and unifies him with blacks. ” (Steele, Shelby) This however limits him as a person.

This gives him less desire to work hard. What’s the point when things will just be put in his hand anyway? Steele uses Dr. Cornel West as an example. Dr. West was promoted to a full professorship at Harvard, which is a very high honor. However Steele says, “It was never Cornel West-the individual- that Harvard wanted; it was the defanged protest identity that he carried, which redounded to the university as racial innocence itself. How could anyone charge this university with racism when it promoted Cornel West to its higher reaches? ” (Steele, Shelby) So there lies the main point. Dr.

West achieved high position by doing less work. This is Steele’s explanation as to why the achievement gap is there. Blacks simply do not have to work as hard as they once did to succeed because the whites are “too eager for the moral authority black skin offers them. ” (Steele, Shelby) Can this explanation be applied to all blacks? Again some blacks are exempt from this. Some take the easy way out and take full advantage of things like affirmative action. However, some do actually work at what they do. But, for some reason, there is still a gap within this group that is working hard. Why is that? Claude M.

Steele offers the concept of Stereotype Threat as the reason this gap exists. Stereotype threat is “the threat of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, or the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype. ” (Steele, Claude M) Stereotype threat can be used to explain the reason that hard working goal oriented black Americans contribute to the achievement gap. When it comes to matters of race, it is assumed that a particular situation is experienced in much the same way by different groups of people. This is especially assumed to be true in test taking.

However, this is often times not true for blacks. Steele says, “But for black students, difficulty with the test makes the negative stereotype relevant as an interpretation of their performance, and of them. They know that they are especially likely to be seen as having limited ability. ” (Steele, Claude M) It is not that blacks are in anyway inferior its just a certain pressure is always put on them when doing things like taking test. This is because tests are often given as a test to measure ability, so because of the negative stereotype blacks feel an added pressure and succumb to it.

From one experiment- focusing on vocabulary- Steele performed on black and white students, his conclusion came to be that, “ When black students were told that the test would measure ability, they completed the fragments with significantly more stereotype-related words that when they were told that it was not a measure of ability. ” Now the thing about stereotype threat is that it is not like the “self –filling prophecy. ” They don’t think they will perform inadequately and then in-turn score low. Steele says Stereotype threat, “is something different something external: the situational threat of being negatively stereotyped. So Stereotype threat can be applied to hard working black Americans because it only exist if they care that the negative stereotype is there. So these students actually work so hard to disprove the stereotype that they actually hinder themselves. For one of Steele’s experiments he noticed this to be true. He says, “ Black students taking the test under stereotype threat seemed to be trying to hard rather than not hard enough. They reread the question, reread the multiple choice, and recheck their answers, more then when they were not under stereotype threat. (Steele, Claude M) So what this did was make the test takers inefficient. If you think to long on standardized to you are automatically hindering a very good score. So the reason hard working black Americans contribute to the gap is evident. But, like it was previously stated, not all black Americans actually work hard so this cannot be the only reason the gap exist. I believe the gap exist because of a combination of a few of the afore mentioned arguments. Yes Sowell’s point is valid but the culture argument cannot be applied to all blacks.

Yes Langston Hughes point is valid but his aspect of culture cannot be applied to all blacks. The same goes for both Shelby and Claude Steele. Applying one of these theories to an entire race of people to explain the gap in test scores will just not suffice. I can honestly say that throughout my life experiences that I have seen every theory for myself. I have seen and lived among the people that these theories apply to and I believe that it all culminates to create the observed gap between African Americans and other ethnic groups.

Sowell is absolutely correct when he says there is a self destructive, counterproductive culture in the nations ghettos. Everyone I know from these areas thinks that way. They do not like learning; they hate hard work and are content being at the lower rungs of life. So when the children do go to school and take there standardized test, more often then not, they don’t try. They have a “whatever” attitude towards it. And for the few that do try, they just aren’t prepared because the people around them and raising them have this disdain towards learning.

I have a close connection with people who embody the “White Guilt” theory and the “Stereotype threat” idea. I have lived with it all of my life and I can say it has affected me. In high school and even in college I have seen an abundance of students who are whole-heartedly living in the age of white guilt. It’s not that they don’t’ try it’s just they do enough to get by because they know if they make it to a certain point, aids like affirmative action and minority quotas will take them where they need to go. So when it comes to test taking they do try, but won’t stress themselves out over it.

Although they are just as smart as their white counterparts, they just don’t see the need to put in the extra effort. Students that experience stereotype threat are just as prevalent. I can say that I fit into this mold. These students do in fact try to hard. They try so hard to prove the stereotype wrong they actually end of proving it. They try so hard not to make mistakes on the test that they do. They try so hard not to contribute to the gap, they actually do. So the reason the gap exist is a combination of many different people that come from different demographics and situations.

All of these added together make the achievement gap in test scores. It is clear to see that this gap cannot be explained by one theory. Too many blacks come from to many different situations for this to be the case. So we can see that when these are added up it amounts to the gap in test scores among other things. So how can it be fixed? Just like there is not one factor contributing to the gap, there is not one way to fix the gap. The solution would be more of a chain reaction effect. The problem starts in the inner city where the lazy “I don’t care” attitude is prevalent.

These are the people that create the negative stereotype black people have. So the blacks that are doing better than these people and are trying to do better in life have to bear the burden that the “ghetto” blacks place on them. The people that apply to Hughes theory are ashamed of them. The people in Shelby Steele’s theory are lazy because the world is trying to integrate them (the ghetto blacks). And the people in Claude Steele’s theory are working so hard to overcome the stereotype the “ghetto” blacks have placed on them.

Until the blacks from the inner city change nothing will. The blacks in the higher rungs of life can’t change their ways, in this case test taking ways, until the burden placed on them is lifted. So until the inner city mentality changes, the gap will forever be there. Works Cited CHRISTOPHER, JENCKS. "The Black-White Test Score Gap. " The New York Times. 1998. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. . Hughes, Langston. ""The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (1926). " Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. 926. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. . Sowell, Thomas. "Thomas Sowell -- Crippled by Their Culture. " OrthodoxyToday. org | Home. 26 Apr. 2005. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. . Steele, Shelby. "The Age of White Guilt: and the Disappearance of the Black Individual. " CIR Home. Nov. 2002. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. . Steele, Claude M. "Thin Ice: "Stereotype Threat" and Black College Students - 99. 08. " The Atlantic — News and Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and Food a? “ TheAtlantic. com. 1999. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. .

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