Excellence Does Not Shield Black Students from Racism - Higher Education


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Excellence Does Not Shield Black Students from Racism

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Growing up, my parents taught me that excellence would yield results. Get good grades in school, develop a hard work ethic, and treat everyone fairly. While this advice helps Black students become decent human beings, it will not protect them from the challenges of being Black in America.

The recent killing of Richard Collins, III, exemplifies the extreme terrorism committed against Black people.  Richard Collins was an exemplary student at Bowie State University, a dedicated second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and a caring son. He was scheduled to graduate on May 23, 2017. Instead, his Black graduation robe draped his seat in memoriam to his life.

Despite research that shows Black male degree attainment across all levels of postsecondary education is alarmingly low, Collins was the exception. His academic journey was a reflection of his dedication to excellence, service, and leadership.  However, Black excellence did not protect him. He could not escape the hateful, barbaric stabbing perpetrated by Sean Christopher Urbanski, a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich Nation,” where members post racist and other offensive memes.

How dare Sean Christopher Urbanski take the life of Richard Collins, III.  How dare Urbanski feel that Collins was a lesser person because of his race. Urbanski did not view Collins as being human. We do not live in the world that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., envisioned when he proclaimed: “I have a dream that little black boys and little black girls will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

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According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we all have the right to live with human dignity. It should not matter whether a Black person has a Ph.D. or a GED, we are human.

Unfortunately, the truth is Black students must learn how to excel in their academic journey, professional career and social life, while navigating in a White world. In 1963, James Baldwin gave a “Talk to Teachers” describing the peculiar experiences of Negro students in America. Although Baldwin gave that speech over 50 years ago much of it is relevant to the Black experience in America today. In addition to the hardships of life that everyone encounters, Black students must deal with racism, hate, and White supremacy.

We find ourselves at this place again. Whether it is police brutality or hate crimes committed against people of color, it evolves from a resistance against Blackness. While I understand that Black on Black crime and other issues exist for people of color, it is time to stop these racist acts.

Of course, Richard Collins’ death is only one of many examples throughout American history. Recently, Jordan Edwards of Balch Springs, Texas, died from a shot to his head by a local police officer. Edwards, an honor student and scholar athlete, served as a model student in the community. During the Charleston church shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Tywanza Sanders, 26, died from the gunshot of a White supremacist. He graduated from Allen University in Columbia, S.C., in 2014, with a degree in business administration.   These students join the list of Blacks that are treated harshly because of the color of their skin.

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In my recent Talk at TEDxSMU Women’s Conference, I discussed my relationship with my grandmother, M’Dear, and how she prepared me for life as a Black woman. Before I started school, M’Dear would have in-depth conversations with me about everything, including race. She wanted me to understand that I was young, gifted and Black.

In addition to powerful conversations on sharing my voice and walking boldly in my calling, M’Dear prepared me for racial discrimination. She did not want me to be surprised when I encountered racial conflict. It is essential for Black parents to have “the talk” with Black children.  However, it is time for more White people to start having conversations with their families about what it means to be a member of the human family.

Dr. Candice Bledsoe is a faculty member at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and executive director of the Action Research Center in Dallas, Texas. Her research explores equity, access, and the experience of underrepresented students in higher education.

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