Who is the standard for my human flourishing? In almost all discussions, regarding culture, employment, economics, or education, there are the explicit or implied assertions men and women characterized as White in America are the standard. Relationships between ethnic groups within America has been a historically tortuous experience yet those horrible experiences have given way to progress at so many levels. Yet in the examination of progress, the standard for outcomes is based on White progress or human flourishing. White human flourishing functions as the arbiter for success in our nation and as long as a particular ethnic group has not achieved the same outcome as the White counterpart, racism is immediately deemed the cause.
What is generally ignored is the substantive progress and celebration of human flourishing within a particular group which is non-White. Hughes (2019) stated, “A complete conversation about race and racial inequality must involve not just identifying what goes wrong, but also what goes right—for if we fail to learn from the triumphs of our own recent past, we are doomed not to repeat them.” I understand wanting to address the problems in our society which are preventing all types of people from achieving his or her particular dream. What we should also work hard at promoting are the successes of so many people. People whose experiences are not representative of our current zeitgeist.
Education is a very important aspect of the human experience. Particularly for those who are African Descendants of Slaves (ADOS), whose ancestors were forbidden the opportunity to read or write. Even in the midst of educational prohibition, these men and women fought for opportunities to learn. During Reconstruction, the number of Black persons deemed illiterate was effectively 80% and within fifty years that percentage was 23%. Progress!
What about progress in higher level institutions?
The data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2008 Annual Social and Economic Supplement reported a ten year period between 2008 and 2018. This data is a not a longitudinal study which followed particular individuals over a period of time, rather the numbers are self-reported by individuals willing to offer information related to degree obtainment. The U.S. Census Bureau looked at educational attainment beginning with a high school diploma through a terminal degree of the doctorate.
In 2008, 27,184 individuals self-reported some level of educational attainment. Looking at the age group of 18 and older, 9,457 individuals reported as being a high school graduate. The number of 18 and over who reported completion of high school continue to rise over a five year period, 10,093. From 2008 to 2013 we can observe an increase of 6.73% of Black individuals reporting obtainment of a high school diploma.
What did Black Americans report in terms of obtainment of higher level degrees such as bachelor, masters, and doctorate degrees? Starting again with our baseline year of 2008 and looking at the same age demographic of 18 and over, the number of self-reported bachelor degrees were 3,318, masters degrees 7, and doctorates 4. Five years later, the number of self-reported bachelors degrees, masters, and doctorates were 3,857, 1,589, and 201 respectively. All college level degrees degrees continued to increase according to the last available data year of 2018. In raw numbers, 539 more Black Americans reported obtainment of a bachelor degree, 477 more individuals reported obtainment of a masters, and 52 more Black Americans reported obtainment of doctoral degrees. Observing the last available U.S. Census Bureau, Black Americans demonstrated more gains in the obtainment of these college level degrees with a rate of increases of 43% for bachelors, 72% for masters, and 118% for doctorates.
At all levels of education in the United States, the census data demonstrated significant gains for Black American men and women. Black American women who self-reported 18 years and older lead the way in overall educational attainment from 2008 through 2018. While the gap between men and women possessing a high school diploma is closer, we can also observe women generally move towards finishing a bachelor degree at a higher rate than men. What should be highlighted and celebrated is the continual increase of Black men obtaining degrees at all levels of education.
Perception is an important consideration of the human experience. How an individual perceives him or herself can influence thoughts, beliefs, and actions. As individuals coalesce around a particular set of beliefs, attitudes, or other common affinities, perception of another group is a reality. Societal perceptions and individual perceptions play a significant part in human flourishing.
How society perceives the progress of Black men and women in education can have an impact on the type of approaches regarding assistance. Sowell (1970) commented in a New York Times article titled, “A Black Professor Says..” The number of black students achieving better than average on standardized tests and those in college has been extraordinary. Sowell further observed there were approaches and programs in place at educational institutions, scholarship committees, and the other funding sources, which preferred to discriminate against qualified Black students in need of assistance, choosing instead less qualified applicants. Sowell (1970) identifies the potential reasons for such approaches included satisfaction of personal desires, address guilt, or satisfy protesting voices from particular Black advocates. Fifty-years later, as long as society continues to perceive Black Americans as struggling to achieve academic standards as the norm, then unhelpful approaches will persist, increasing difficulty for qualified students and placing non-qualified students in positions which could lead to failure.
Change in social perception necessitates communicating progress over time concerning individual or group of people within a particular human experience. It only makes sense as long as our society is educated to only hear of stats and stories which highlight those who have not succeeded as the norm, those who consider themselves Black Americans will be viewed as intellectually lacking and academically challenged. Men and women perceived of being in need of policies and do-good actions which can actually produce less than helpful solutions in the long term.
The sixties were a critical moment of asserting self-perception among Black Americans. The rallying call of Dr. King, Malcom X, Stokely Carmichael, and others to declare, “I am Man.” This statement and many more were significant in the announcement of human dignity and agency. Black Americans are highly educated in a formal setting. Gaining education in a formal setting implies developing logic skills, exposure to different ideas and philosophies, and exposure to new relationships to leverage social influence. The Black male in America is an educated individual who has the intellectual capacity to achieve education goals. This challenges the media driven narrative the Black man’s norm state is a prison environment, mental impotence, or diminished intelligence.
The great Olympia Wilma Rudolph stated, “never underestimate the power of dreams and influence of the human spirit. The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” As more and more, men and women who identify as Black Americans assert this claim, the narrative will be changed and every member of society will rejoice in the progress and contributions of each individuals pursuing his or her particular vision of human flourishing.