By LEWIS W. DIUGUID
This time of year, black parents like my sister Renee and me swallow hard and send our adult children back to college with hefty checks and high hopes.
We want them to continue the trend of more people of color earning college diplomas. The National Urban League’s “State of Black America 2007: Portrait of the Black Male,” notes that “in 1960 only 3.5 percent of African-American adults age 25 or older had completed four years of college or more. By 2005, this number had grown to 18 percent.”
But the report also notes that for black men in America, there are two distinctly separate worlds. “In one world, the number of black men graduating from college has quadrupled since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; in the other, more black men are earning high school equivalency diplomas in prison each year than are graduating from college,” the report said.
“In one world, black families consisting of a father and a mother have a median family income nearly equal to white families; in the other, more than half of the nation’s 5.6 million black boys live in fatherless households, 40 percent of which are impoverished,” the report said. “The existence of these two worlds is both an example of what is possible, and a warning about the consequences of racism, inequality and marginalization.”
Even in the better world of college, our children face tough odds against getting a diploma. The Urban League reported that 43 percent of all black students who enrolled in a four-year college as first-time freshmen in 1995-96 finished with a bachelor’s degree by 2001, compared with 63 percent of white students.
The college completion rate for black males was 36 percent, compared with 47 percent for black women.
The opportunity to go to college means a lot both for the self-esteem of our children and their future economic well-being. The Urban League report quotes the Bureau of Labor Statistics, saying people with a bachelor’s degree “earn more than 11⁄2 times as much as high school graduates and more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma.”
But in that “other world,” the report also notes that “there is a white⁄black wage gap among educated individuals that is not explained by differences in degree, major or age.” Racism and discrimination are the culprits.
Just as those culprits were responsible for blacks being counted as three-fifths of a person in the Constitution, they hold blacks at 0.733 in the National Urban League’s 2007 Equality Index with whites being the standard of 1.
Yet, the Supreme Court this year in a 5-4 decision removed race as a remedy for integration in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle schools. It makes no sense when racism and discrimination still plague us.
A disproportionately high number of black students attend underperforming schools, which lessens their chance of completing high school, going to college, graduating and working on a job that pays a good wage.
Just as distressing are efforts by Ward Connerly to get voters to kill affirmative action in Missouri. Backers of his proposals have been successful in California, Washington and Michigan.
Yet, despite the distressing odds, our kids must continue to pursue college degrees. Indeed, it’s the only hope they have of being independent and living the American dream.
X Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.