Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Notes on the Differences between Black Students, Black Students & Black Students

The folks in my crew voice some frustration that administrators and white professors at our university fail to recognize the differences between black people and black people. They're frustrated, but there's a sense that they do not expect much. So they let it slide.

They don't give me a pass. 

If I refer to an East St. Louis student as a native of St. Louis, or if I say "you're from East St. Louis, right?" to a  Chicago student, I'll have some serious, extended apologizing to do.  I guess what goes around comes around though, as no one here would offend me by referring to me as anything but a Southerner. Ok, I have to admit St. Louis is growing on me, but note that I do live on the Southside of the city.

In general, the black folks at my university hold each other to fairly high standards when it comes to understanding black culture and intra-racial cultural differences. I've recognized that although African American students come from several different places across the state of Illinois and a few spots in Missouri, three key areas are St. Louis, East St. Louis, and Chicago.    

In her book White Money/Black Power, Noliwe Rooks points out that the "Black student population continues to change" on the campuses of elite universities like Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, as African and Caribbean born students have grown (and often outnumber) U.S. born black students. Close and knowledgeable observers at those institutions are quite aware of the differences and changes among black students, black students, and black students.

I've noticed related shifts among the geographic backgrounds of black students who arrive at the university. Overall, university officials inform us, the numbers of "minorities" (which sometimes includes black students) have grown. There is less conversation about the apparently shrinking numbers of East St. Louis students and the growing of Chicago students or the politics involved in heavier recruiting of black students from a distant city and less recruiting for black students at the closer city.       

In the coming months, I'll report more on what the shifts imply. In the meantime, I wonder what would happen if university officials were held to higher standards when it comes to understanding the conditions and differences between black students, black students, and black students. 

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