Black women having more education than black men is not a recent achievement. Black women have had more formal education than black men for decades. I didn't know that before I read a black history book written by black women.
Over the years, I have heard a number of reasons offered for why this education gap between black women and black men may have occurred.
Some may have varying degrees of truth to them.
1. Black boys become seen as threats early in school. Boys are on the school to prison pipeline.
While that's true, it is also true that black girls are also targets of racism. They are punished at least 6 times as often as white girls while in school. And since they are being punished based on sexism too, they can be punished for things that come down to "not being ladylike." And black girls that are put on the school to poverty pipeline and the school to prison pipeline, both, at young age wind up in prison 3x as often as white women.
2. Black women aren't seen as threatening so white people let them achieve more.
This is an age old claim that assumes racism does exist while sexism does not exist.
I worked in a 95% male environment. And while our black numbers were really too few for the black men to actually join with white men in actually attacking women in general and black women specifically, it did happen to me once.
For the most part, black men faced a lot less resistance and always had the superior numbers in management (as compared to black women) to prove it.
Except for jobs having to do with social work and maybe teaching (traditionally women's jobs) black men in management usually outnumber black women. I haven't been to a predominately white male corporation yet where, out of the few black there, black women outnumbered the black men.
Sexism is as real as Racism
3. Schooling is geared toward girls as boys are more active.
I don't think anything institutional in nature is geared toward girls. Do girls have an advantage in being able to sit still and pay attention for longer periods of time? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the answer to this is somewhere between "yes" and "maybe." But boys used to get better grades than girls in school, didn't they?
Back when a girl's only allowed target was stay-at-home-wife-and-mother girls didn't do well in school? In fact, girls would dumb themselves down on purpose in the 1970s and earlier in order to be attractive to boys. There were actually articles written on how to stop girls from doing this. So I'd need to see a historical graph of data in order to decide one way or the other on school environment being better for girls nowadays.
4. Black women work hard. Black men are lazy
Nope. I don't see that either. Never have.
The standard theories aside, I think a black female historian may have the answer to the reason behind the education gap. But first let me explain why it is important that the author of this theory is black and female, both.
Most of black history is written by black men. While black women are mentioned, they are not at the center of analysis. This is problematic in the very same way that having white historians do all the telling of black history.
An example of white historians white washing history: There have been long books and longer documentaries on the second president of this country, John Adams. There have been very short but routine mentions of Crispus Attucks, a black man, reportedly one of the first Americans to die for this country at the beginning of the revolutionary war. But I've never read in any history book yet, that John Adams, prior to becoming president, defended the British soldiers that killed Crispus Attucks.* I found that little tidbit on Wikipedia recently BUT NOT on John Adams white protected Wikipedia page. This information was on the Cripus Attuck wikipedia page only.
Men, including black men, tend to do the same sort of highlighting and omitting when writing our collective black history down. Men are central, women are described as supports and accessories.
In the book Where and When I Enter, Paula J Giddings places black women at the center of her analysis. She concentrates on what women were attempting to do and what outcomes were for black women
When a family was running short on money, black men often had to quit school to support the family. We all know this already via oral and written black history. We know about this sacrifice of black men. But what Giddings shares is that black women had to do the opposite to in order to bring more money into the family home.
Black women had to quit jobs, mostly domestics at the turn of the 19th century, and get more education in order to bring in more money.
[In the 1940s] "factory floors and store counters were closed to women....therefore African-American women faced double-barreled discrimination against their race and their gender that funneled them into domestic work.
In 1940, 75 percent of the 32,000 employed black women in New Jersey [for example] were “domestic service workers,” according to the U.S. Census. By contrast, only 407 were teachers. Although World War II opened up new occupations to women, by 1950, 43 percent of black women still worked in private service.
For decades, black men and black women were doing what they need to do to bring money into the household. And if you think about it, that hasn't changed in 100 years.
When I was doing temporary work through a temp agency, before I had my degree, all I could do was more skilled but low paying secretarial type stuff. Men could work at factories, in construction, shipyards, etc. (Union limitations aside) Men without degrees got paid tons and tons more than me without a degree.
And I know men right now that work on the docks right now without a degree in sight that make more than me and work less.
The other thing to consider about black women quitting a low paying to no-paying job to go to school is the working conditions they were leaving behind.
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