Why Can’t African Americans Reach Success

African Americans are lazy. At least that’s what everyone says. But what is really going on within the African American community? Why are white people and other POC doing better than African Americans and what is the African American achievement gap? There are 4 factors that play into the lack of achievement in the African American community: Home life, school, mental health, and the history of African Americans. This topic is often ignored by not only white people/other POC but also by African Americans themselves. I think this ignorance comes from a lack of understanding and that’s what I hope to provide.

Growing up, I was fully surrounded by African Americans. In my predominantly African American public school, it was basically falling apart. Not only were grades on a decline but also the behavior of the students. It felt like I was the only one focused on success. I even grew apart from some of my peers. Why did it feel like everyone in my predominantly black public school was failing and didn’t care? I didn’t know anything about the achievement gap and I even thought sometimes that they were throwing their lives away. But their failure wasn’t entirely their fault. I mean, how were they supposed to thrive in an environment where books were falling apart, physical violence was an everyday thing, and parents just sort of… gave up?

History matters. When speaking of African American hardships, it feels like it’s almost impossible to not mention our history. The NAEYC says “African Americans have been exposed to generations of legal and illegal measures to deny them basic rights.” Schools are still highly segregated and not to mention that segregation ended in 1964, meaning my grandparents went to legally segregated schools. Thinking that the effects of segregation are not still very apparent is silly. Predominantly black districts are more likely to be underfunded than predominantly white districts. How can our environment affect our level of success? Well, our environment can create toxic stress. The Economic Policy Institute says “characteristics such as excessive litter, vandalism, deteriorated and overcrowded housing, graffiti, noise, public drug and alcohol use, and conflict with neighbors in close quarters—can exacerbate children’s toxic stress response to frightening or threatening events and impede parents’ ability to protect children from that response.” Kids may have to already deal with this at home but also imagine these things occurring in school. I know that I’ve witnessed all of this by middle school and many other African American children. So how are we supposed to succeed in a school with that environment? Almost impossible to not to give in to that stress.

Screenshot 2021-03-31 at 5.41.04 PM
Screenshot 2021-03-31 at 5.41.04 PM

How many frightening experiences 1,007 kindergarten kids have had are displayed. The results are split by race and family income.

Many may be asking, what about the African American kids in a better situation? The Atlantic says “Even black children in the middle class are more likely to backslide into a lower class or stay middle class.” They also go on to say that parents in the top 50% regarding income, also backslide in their adulthood. This just goes to show that even when success is reached, it is not guaranteed to stay. Based on my experience with middle class African American kids my age, we do a lot of backsliding due to wanting to be “hood” or at least what they perceive as hood. That has to do with how people think an African American should act. Black people have expressed time and time again about how their community calls them “whitewashed” when they don’t exhibit stereotypical traits like: listening to rap, talking “proper”, or having straight hair.

Screenshot 2021-03-16 at 11.42.29 AM
Screenshot 2021-03-16 at 11.42.29 AM

Comparison of the income quantiles of white and black people in America.

The toxic stress put onto African American is already a lot to handle. Now think about the mentally ill Black Americans. One reason being black and mentally ill is stigmatized because of how expensive it can be. NCBI says “Differences in access to insurance and other mechanisms to defray costs, in levels of illness or patterns of symptom expression, in health-risk behaviors, and in beliefs, preferences, and help-seeking traditions can also explain disparities.” when referring to the lack of mentally ill representation of the black community. Black kids on TikTok even share their experiences with telling their parents that they are mentally ill. A lot are met with “no you are not”. How can ignoring mental health affect our achievements? Things like depression can leave a child with no motivation to do school work. Why not just seek mental help? “One study of clients discharged from State mental hospitals found that African Americans were substantially more likely than others to be hospitalized again during the ensuing year” and “In another study of treatment for depression, African Americans proved similar to whites in response to psychotherapy and medication, except that African Americans had less improvement in their ability to function in the community”. So is treatment even working for African Americans? Not to mention that a large number of black students are being suspended over and over instead of mentally evaluated or given real help. They tend to be punished more than helped.

Now the main question is how do we close this gap? I found that black representation could help this gap (something that African Americans have been fighting for for years!). Chalkbeat Philadelphia says “Black teachers, in particular, are necessary to help black students develop a positive racial identity and ensure they have the tools to combat all of the negative images and messages they receive about them, their people, and their community,”. Representation benefits African American students and White students as well. Chalkbeat Philadelphia also states that White kids need to have diversity in order to see the different viewpoints and culture of POC.

I was only able to touch on a small portion of this topic. There is a lot more to it that I won’t be able to to put into words. But I want to bring awareness to this gap so that we have more solutions to fix it. It takes a lot of digging to even find articles on the achievement gap. I’ve come to understand my old peers a lot more. I now understand that I was lucky enough to thrive through the madness and some may never make it out. I’m not even sure how long until we are able to make progress on closing this gap. But I do know it won’t be quick and a majority of African Americans will continue to fail before we can succeed.

Annotated Bibliography