Saturday, March 6, 2010

Overestimating a Black Presence

When I ask people here about the percentage of African Americans at our university, they almost always overestimate. 50%? 30%? 20%? Nope. Nope. Nope. Try somewhere around 10%.

Some of that overestimation perhaps comes from seeing black people hanging out together around campus. A few black students are actively involved in student government, and several black students work in the university center, which gives black people a certain visibility. Ah, we also show up in disproportionately high numbers on the university web-pages and in publicity materials.

That tendency to overestimate the presence sometimes amuses me. But sometimes, it causes trouble. Or, I should say that some of the consequences can cause trouble.

When people on campus try to advocate for increased resources or more thoughtful consideration of African Americans, there is a bit of resentment that emerges. "Why help this group that seems to be doing ok," some ask or suggest. People unaware of just how small the numbers of African Americans here actually are probably feel less sympathy for the group.

In other words, overestimating the presence of black people in a given environment can cause us to under-value a number of challenges and experiences.

I suppose we should do more to figure out what motivates that overestimation. But then too, we also have to deal with its ongoing consequences.


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, do you know what the percentages are at other local and/or comparible universities? While I agree that 10% is low, a slightly lower percentage than I would have guessed...but I would have never guessed as high as some of the percentages you have listed...I wonder where those guessers are hanging out at on campus, I'm wondering if 10% is high or low or comparable to other similar universities.

And, I agree with you that percentages shouldn't make a difference regarding the resources and money given to a program or population of students.

H. Rambsy said...

I've posted the percentages at other local colleges in the post "Overestimating a Black Presence Pt. 2." Check it out when you can.

Anonymous said...

And, I should explain in that last post, when I said "that percentages shouldn't make a difference regarding the resources and money given to a program or population of students," I meant re. the resentment issue.