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November 28, 2014

Response to Ferguson: Systemic Problems Require Systemic Solutions

Ferguson ASSOCIATED PRESS

Decades of segregation and inequality in Ferguson, as well as most American metropolitan areas, have fostered a racial inequality exacerbated by the criminalization of not just poverty, but the criminalization of black and brown bodies. Too many whites are too willing to believe that a black body poses a threat.

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Comments (32)

Richelle Carey at CNN Headline News recently reached out to me to find out why black men aren't graduating from college. I've written on this topic on a few occasions and also in my book 'Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about College.' The segment is here if you'd like to watch, and you can tell in the segment that I am angry.

I was angry during the interview because the lack of educational and economic achievement of the black male, along with mass incarceration, has continuously threatened the strength and stability of the African American family. I was angry because most of us, as Americans, have not had a sense of urgency when it comes to resolving these disparities. Some black men are too busy learning how to become thugs, and white America is too busy perpetuating racially imbalanced institutions that keep Jim Crow alive in America. Many black women are busy blaming every social ill on black men, which is equally problematic. At the end of the day, all of us are wrong, and we all have the ability to work together to solve this problem.

First, universities must stop making excuses for not hiring black professors. When I opposed the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan, one of the reasons I stood against her is because during her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, she didn't hire a single African American faculty member (out of 29 total tenured and tenure-track appointments). This problem is all too common, as many universities get applications from solid black professors and find some ridiculous, ambiguous and often secret reason to turn them down. The result is that many students go to college for four to 10 years (adding in graduate school) without having any black professors (except in African American studies, where they allow us to teach). That was my experience, as well as the common experience of many other black men who were educated at predominantly white universities. My hurdles in higher education led me to feel like a fish out of water, since there was no role model for me to look up to – I always felt like I was swimming upstream. Universities have to stop making excuses for not diversifying their faculty with underrepresented minorities; they must also stop hiring black professors for temporary jobs only, and start giving permanent positions to black faculty so that black students can have role models, too. A case in point is my brother's recent graduation from the business school at Cornell University. I saw only one black professor out of dozens on the stage. The same was true at my sister's graduation from medical school, where there was not a single black person in the entire group of faculty. Such outcomes should be appalling and unacceptable to all of us.

Second, black males must raise their expectations. Being a baller or a rapper is all fine and good, but it takes far less intelligence to be a doctor or lawyer. In fact, I earned good grades by studying four to six hours a day, which is less than the amount of time I would have spent on my job at Taco Bell. If a man can "slang" fast food for 10 hours a day, then he should be able to study for half that time. It's time for black men to stop pretending to be stupid. Of course, this doesn't include the black male soldiers out here who are already hustling to do the right thing. The truth is that black men are proud, strong and capable, and if we choose to dominate academically, it is fully within our ability to do so. In fact, if we were to take as much pride in our academic achievements as we do our athletic ones, we would be world-leading intellects. We would also have a lot more money in our pockets, since professional sports leads to more busted dreams than fulfilled ones.

Third, universities should realize that black men can do more than play basketball. I find it ironic that many campuses (i.e., the University of Kentucky, my alma mater) will claim that they can't find enough qualified black males to admit as students, yet they always seem to find a way to get a pack of black men onto the basketball court. I also find it interesting that campuses feel it is essential for black students to learn everything a person needs to know about Ben Franklin but don't require white students to learn much of anything about Malcolm X or the great civilizations of Africa. Perhaps if universities made a greater effort to diversify their curricula, we might find that black men are more interested in what they have to say.

I write all this from the heart, mainly because I was almost a statistic myself. When you break it all down, the black community must stand strong and commit itself to demanding a quality education for all of our children. All the while, we must encourage our children to accept and pursue quality education when it is made available. Education is the single most important commodity on earth, and the same way valuable oil is being spilled to destroy every living thing in the Gulf of Mexico, we are spilling educational opportunities that continue to destroy our community. Force your kids to pick up a book; it might save his or her life.







Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the new book 'Black American Money.' To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e=mail, please click here.

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