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Racelessness in Private Schools: Should We Deconstruct the Racial and Cultural Identity of African-American Adolescents?


by Signithia Fordham - 1991

Paper argues that racelessness is a concept that symbolizes efforts to deconstuct historically constituted relationships between African-Americans and whites, including intrusion into the notion of academic adequacy and African-American students' enrollment in private schools. The paper discusses implications of racelessness for African-American students' school performance in private school contexts. (Source: ERIC)

I thank Jean Parker, a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University for the use of her data. In addition, I value the critical comments and suggestions of Iris Ford, Linda Chalfant, Pearl Kane, Uli Linke, Michael Moffatt, and Wendy Weiss who read and/or offered suggestions on successive drafts of this article. I am solely responsible for this final version.


Enrollment in private schools sets in motion a process of deconstructing ethnic identity.1 In the private school context, African-American students are being asked to deconstruct their black identity—that is, to play by a set of rules historically established by Euro-Americans—while simultaneously affirming the commitment of the recruiting institution to equality of opportunity by being black.2 In these institutions, African-American adolescents are expected to be both black and unblack, concurrently.


How black adolescents survive this dilemma in the world of private schools is rarely cast as the central issue in their education. The manner in which these institutions—wittingly or unwittingly—deconstruct African-American adolescents’ racial and/or cultural identity has been largely ignored. Consequently, how black adolescents achieve academic success in such social contexts remains shrouded in mystery.


Christian Neira, a black college student reflecting on his high school experience, provides a poignant description of the difficulties he encountered in trying to retain a sense of Self while a student in a private school in New York City. His case typifies the mandated dissolution of Self and the resulting dissonance, tension, and fragmentation characteristic of African-American adolescents as they struggle with the idea of becoming the Other.3


When trying to live in two different worlds, one is in peril of not belonging to either of them. One is left in a state of confusion. The morals, behaviors, thinking, and perspective of the world of a New York City housing project are radically different from those of an elite preparatory school in the same city. Being put in the position of changing one’s character every morning and afternoon to adapt to two different worlds endangers one’s identity.4


In several recent biographical and autobiographical analyses, black adolescents who are private school graduates acknowledge an omnipotent, pervasive sense of a threat to the Self and and even more powerful pressure to become what they perceive as the Other. Yet, in researchers’ written discourses, the silence surrounding this dilemma is deafening. In those rare instances when researchers describe black adolescents as people rather than as mere students in the private school context, the deconstructed nature of their lives is revealed.5


In the following analysis, the overwhelmingly positive perception of the value of private schooling for African-American students is juxtaposed with a central finding emerging from an ethnographic study of school success among adolescents in a predominantly black public high school: Achieving academic success in a context where a Eurocentric ethos dominates necessitates divorcing one’s commitment to a changing yet familiar African-American identity and embracing instead an unpredictable, unfolding meaning of both Self and Other. For African-American adolescents, learning to cope with the “burden of ‘acting white’” is (or becomes) an academic imperative, an undeniable breach of the Self. Ironically, this academic imperative is also the quintessential element in African-Americans’ post-civil rights era identity implosion.6


Elsewhere I used the term racelessness to label and describe students’ conscious and unconscious perceptions of the existence of this academic imperative. Racelessness, I argued, is a societal goal; it implies deconstruction because it seeks to transform the meaning of race and its related constructs by highlighting their absence. As I initially envisioned it, racelessness (1) denies the existence of racial, ethnic, and cultural barriers in the larger society; (2) seeks to systematically expunge from African-American students’ cultural repertoire those aspects of their group identity that might be associated with their African and African-American ancestry; and (3) attempts to reconstitute African-Americans in the image of the Other.7


In this article, I argue that racelessness is a concept that symbolizes the effort to deconstruct the historically constituted relationship between black and white Americans, including its intrusion into the notion of academic adequacy and African-American students’ enrollment in private schools. Racelessness is described and its implications for African-American students’ school performance in several private school contexts are analyzed. These data include (1) the reported findings of several researchers; (2) biographical and autobiographical sources; and (3) an ongoing qualitative study of African-American students’ and their parents’ experience of private schooling in six independent schools in New Jersey.8

FICTIVE KINSHIP: IDENTITY AS PROCESS


Fictive kinship is an anthropological concept. It signifies a kinship-like relationship between persons not related by blood or marriage, who also have some reciprocal social or economic connection. In other words, fictive kinpersons are socially constructed.


To adequately capture the essence of this process within the black community and between black and white Americans, I have broadened the definition of this anthropological concept to encompass the self-definition of an entire human population: all African-Americans as fictive kin.


This broader definition of fictive kinship symbolizes the sense of peoplehood or collective social identity evident in many aspects of African-American life, including the numerous kinship and pseudo-kinship terms they use to refer to one another. More importantly, it is evident in the unique way black people design and define their relationship to one another. In fact, some scholars, including Abrahams and Gay,9 argue that black students’ use of the vernacular in the school context, for example, is “simply another way of communicating a feeling of identity and brotherhood and thus a substitute for ‘Brother,’ ‘Sister,’ or ‘Dude.’ “ Others, including some anthropologists, see the use of the vernacular as merely another expression of the fictive kinship system as I am describing it here.10


Essentially, membership in the black fictive kinship necessitates suspending the idea of a separation of a personal self and a cultural self. Membership in the black fictive kinship system commingles these otherwise disparate phenomena, celebrating the achievements and accomplishments of the group rather than the individual. An individual may be honored by the group, as in the cases of Marian Anderson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and so forth, but each of these individuals is honored as a symbol of the achievements of the group. Indeed, a striking feature of the African-American Self is members’ unilateral focus on density in their interactions. Dense interactions suggest that a valued component of group life in the African-American community is a broad, detailed knowledge of community participants. Embodied in this manifestly group-based individual knowledge is a copious, expansive awareness of the public and private dimensions of group members. Basically, group members are judged in “the round.”11 Also, as Williams notes, in the African-American community there is a decided passion for “texture . . . preference for depth over breadth, an interest in rich, vivid, personal, concrete, tangled detail.” Furthermore, human interactions are replete with “repetition, density, [and the] mining [of] a situation from many facets and angles.12


This kind of social interaction stands in stark contrast to what is expected of students in the school context—both public and private—where a strong separation of “I from us” and “me from thee” is not only expected but deemed absolutely essential for academic success. Indeed, the quintessential feature of the dominant society’s organizational life is distinguishing the individual from the group13—an inversion of a central premise of fictive kinship in the black community.


In the contemporary private school context, this general distinction between the black fictive kinship system and the mandated individuation of the dominant society is fused and defused. The postintegration practice is to recruit black adolescents and to expect them to deconstruct their identity with the black fictive kinship system and, at the same time, to validate that the schools they are attending are committed to inclusion without racial considerations. Moreover, it is expected that the recruited students can do this best by making a charade of their black identity. These contradictory expectations indicate a dilemma of gigantic proportions.


The mandated collapsing of the personal self and the cultural self in the school context fosters an individualistic ethos and greater attention to breadth rather than depth both in relationships and in the way students approach and seek to master textual information. It also leads to a preoccupation with competition rather than cooperation; noninvolvement rather than deep, tangled (human) engagements, endemic features of fictive kinship as it is constituted in the African-American community.


Not surprisingly, African-American people—adolescents and nonadolescents—unsuccessfully attempt to bring their cultural knowledge and composed reality to the private (and public) school context; but, as I noted above, this is not allowed.14 Ultimately, they come to the conclusion that in order to become successful, they must adapt to the existing, organizational context within the school. Ironically, black students’ attempts at constituting themselves through their indigenous community culture in the school context unwittingly ensures their academic “failure,” because most aspects of the culture of black Americans are stigmatized and assigned a negative valence both in the school context and in the larger American society.


Several examples of how black adolescents have survived or are surviving in the private school context, including spatial and psychological separation of the individual from the group, are discussed in what follows.


I remember one incident during high school that demonstrates the tightrope that I walked. I was coming out of my home when I saw one of my neighbors also leaving for school. While waiting for the elevator, we began to talk. I was dressed in compliance with the dress code of my school: tie and jacket. She told me she went to Joan of Arc, the public high school across the street from my school. I told her I was dressed like this because I went to the Trinity School. Her expression was of deep shock and pity. She asked, “How do you survive?” I first thought she meant how did I survive living in the projects, but later that day in school I came to the realization that she meant to ask how I survived at the preparatory [Trinity] school.15


How do you survive if you are black, are attending a private school, and are a marginal or encapsulated member of the black fictive kinship system? Is it either desirable or possible to erect barriers that minimize the fear of assimilation and contamination? Further, if the individual has a choice in the matter, how does he or she breach this seemingly incoherent yet apparently inviolable process?


Most of the research discussing the independent, private, and sometimes elite school contexts centers on the achievements—that is, grade point averages, graduation rates, and test scores—of the matriculating students, particularly black and other students of color. As noted above, research describing African-Americans’ dissolution and reconstitution of the Self in the private school context is virtually nonexistent. Consequently, the following analysis represents a first step toward filling this research vacuum and answering these questions: Why do African-American parents send their children to private schools? How do black adolescents survive the private, independent school context? How do these institutions dissolve and reconstitute—concurrently—an African-American identity? Conversely, are African-American adolescents’ efforts to deconstruct a quintessential Euro-American institution in such a way that it becomes not only habitable for African-Americans but an extension of their indigenous community effective in any way? Included in the following analysis are (1) African-American parents’ perceptions of independent schools and some of the factors motivating them to embrace private schooling for their child(ren) and (2) the “voice” of African-American adolescents, recounting, in their own words, their “effacing” and “embracing” experiences in the private school context.

STUDENTS AS SOLDIERS: STAYING THE COURSE


Curiously, even when African-American parents are aware of a widespread lack of validation of their children’s racial and cultural identity in a specific private school context, they frequently do not eschew it for another school and/or the public school system with its more egalitarian ideology. This response appears to be embedded in the notion that obtaining schooling and school-related skills and credentials is an apolitical act. In some ways, these parents’ responses suggest that they have accepted the dominant Euro-American ideology that equates school-related learning with the essence of civilization and progress. By embracing school-specific skills and the dominant notion of literacy in this way, African-American parents appear to be encouraging their children to become “soldiers” in dissolving one aspect of a multidimensional ideology: African-Americans’ intellectual inadequacy. Sylvester Monroe’s description of his mother’s reactions to his attempts to leave the exclusive private school he was attending in New England is a case in point:


The main reason I was there [at St. George’s], I reminded myself, was to please my mother and . . . the schoolteacher largely responsible for getting me the scholarship. And my mother had given me an out, or so I thought. She said to me at the outset that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least go and see what it was like; I could always come home. . . . After roughly two weeks, I had what I thought was a stroke of luck: I got sick—so sick, in fact, that I was admitted to the school infirmary. . . . I went to the phone, already planning my return [home]. “Hey, Ma,” I began. “Hey, how you doin’?” “Not so good. I’m sick as a dog, Ma. This place is always cold, the food is terrible, and now I’m in the infirmary.” “What’s the matter with you?” “I can’t keep anything down,” I said. “The doctor says I’ve got a bad case of nostalgia. I think I ought to come home, OK?” “Sure you can come home—but under one condition,” she said. “What’s that?” I asked. “The only way you’re coming home before you’re supposed to is in a box [casket].”16


The critical issue here is not Monroe’s mother’s specific response; her rejoinder mimics that of most parents who might misread their child’s plea as an inappropriate request. The more central issue is the cultural “shaping” unique, yet endemic, to participants in every social system.17 This particular mind shaping appears to make Monroe’s mother unable to hear something culturally meaningful and therefore worthy of her support in her son’s request to escape that which was “psychologically crushing” him.18


Other black parents respond in similar ways. In discussing the implications of the lack of black students’ participation in the closing-day ceremony at the elementary school her son attended, a black mother describes how the school psychologically crushes African-American students’ identity:


Why is it that all of the student presenters of the awards are White? This task requires no special talent, except to be able to hear since the principal whispers the recipients’ names to the child. Why, also, are all of the Student Council members White? Does this imply something about leadership capabilities, starting even in the first grade? Finally, of the third and fourth graders, why is there only one Black child receiving honors? Surely, in this state [Mississippi] where education and academic achievement take a backseat to a number of mundane issues, White children can’t have a monopoly on intelligence or academic ability. . . . I also notice [sic] a few Black third graders seeming to anticipate their names being called for honors, only to find them skipped as the presenter moved along alphabetically. I left with my questions and my son, who was then in kindergarten, vowing to make an appointment with the principal.19


In a recent descriptive study of six private schools in New Jersey, Parker admits that most African-American parents realize that their children will suffer socially and emotionally in the predominantly white, independent, elite schools they attend. Nevertheless, because they think the “academic learning that takes place in private schools is far superior to that which is obtainable in the public school” context, they encourage their children to endure the inevitable identity explosion and implosion, “sacrificing” their sense of who they are for the higher value their parents and they themselves attach to school-related skills and credentials.20


Embedded in virtually all the responses of the African-American parents in Parker’s study is “sacrifice.” That is, all these parents are presently encouraging or have encouraged their children to “give a little” on a strong racial or cultural identity for a more highly valued goal: academic credentials from an elite private school. The following quotations are indicative of how these parents responded when their children voiced identity-related pain:


I didn’t know whether my daughter would fit in socially, but I knew that the education she’d be getting would be better, and I think that’s worth the sacrifice.


My son understands the value of a good education. When he first came to the school, he didn’t really like it. I try to teach him to be positive, and to keep faith in God because God will make a way for him.


Sometimes she likes it and sometimes she doesn’t. There were some problems the first year she was there, and she wanted to transfer back to the public school. I encouraged her to “hold on” until the end of the school year to see if problems in terms of racial isolation would get better. The next two years were a little easier for her. She’s met some nice friends at school. She still may have an occasional problem with a teacher or another student, but it’s not a major problem.


He likes the academic challenge. It’s good for him to get exposure to non-minority students. It’s good preparation for life. He might not get that inter-racial experience in our neighborhood.21


Interestingly, in one of the rare gender-specific references noted in Parker’s data, the key factor influencing one parent’s decision to send his child to a private school is the gender of the child:


It depends on what sex the child is. I wouldn’t send my son to a private school because the chances are better that he could forget who he is. Other friends of mine who have sons in private school have said that Black males are more easily accepted by the White males (sports) and by the White females (social activities). Black females like my daughter don’t have it quite that easy, but they tend to walk away from the situation with a better sense of who they are.22


Tensions associated with racial and cultural affiliation are rampant in the private school context. As the quotation above indicates, these tensions are exacerbated by the gender of the child. Consequently, in recruiting an African-American male adolescent, private school officials and their representatives must declare him a certified “good boy.” Following is one mother’s description of her son, who was recruited by an elite private school and subsequently slain by a New York City policeman:


He was such a good boy. . . . He never went looking for trouble, never in his life. Ed was a talker, not a fighter. . . . He was so gentle, Ed was, so sensitive. . . . He was never one to talk about race. . . . For a long time he didn’t even like to talk about politics.23


This same mother reveals why she actively sought to send both her sons to geographically and psychologically distant elite private schools, far away from their home in Harlem.


I wanted the best for Eddie, the best for both of my boys. Hard as it was, much as I missed them, that’s why I sent them away to school. I knew what the schools . . . [in our neighborhood] were like . . . the terrible shape they were in. . . . I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for them. I never fooled myself about that. Before they went off to prep school, I told them they were going to be different. They were poor, and all these other kids were rich. I said to them, They are bringing you up here because they want to learn about black people. They want to learn about their world. You have to teach them, and you have to learn about their world. You have to learn about it, because you have to fit into it. . . . Like it or not, it is their world. If you are going to play the game, you have to be in it. Maybe you can change the rules of the game later, but first you have to play it. You gotta pay the cost, if you’re gonna be the boss.24


To sum up, while most African-American parents appear to realize that when they send their sons and daughters to private schools, they are also asking them to make enormous social and emotional sacrifices, Parker’s data suggest that their understanding of the extent of their children’s identity deconstruction is incomplete.25 They do not appear to fully appreciate that their children will be constantly affirmed and negated concurrently, with negation, in most instances, being more significant than affirmation. As the following discussion of African-American adolescents’ recollections of their private school experience indicates, although they obtained excellent literacy skills, in many ways, the more critical lesson they learned is how to endure that which is virtually unendurable: to merge the mandated raceless persona with the institutions’ request that racial diversity be made manifest—somewhat, somehow.


Christian Neira says that


each of the two cultures considered me a foreigner, one who did not belong. Where my allegiance resided was their [both cultures’] question. Neither world [the housing project nor the prep school] fully understood me because these two cultures almost never meet, and when they meet on the street, violence and suspicion are their common language.26


Neira’s recollection of how he survived the private school context in New York City is not atypical; other black students have recounted similar experiences. Unfortunately, however, most of the existing literature focuses on the achievement differential of these students when compared with their public school cohorts rather than how the Self is reconstituted in the private school.27

RACELESSNESS: EXPUNGING THE SELF


The most prestigious elite schools are currently making a greater effort than their lower-status counterparts to recruit black Americans and other students of color. Nonetheless, their historical exclusionary policies, as well as their uneven reception and intractable curricula, thwart their ability to attract and retain large numbers of African-American students. Anson notes, for example, that in the 1980s prestigious private schools were still experiencing an enormous dropout rate among African-American students. He cites a 1982 study of the dropout rate of African-American students at Phillips-Exeter Academy: 30 percent of all black students who enrolled in the school during that time period dropped out prior to graduation, a rate six times higher than that of their white counterparts. Even more revealing was the study’s disclosure that when the study’s authors interviewed these former Exeter students, they insisted that the primary reason they left Exeter was not because of the rigorous academic program but because they had been psychologically crushed.28


Carolyn, a student at Phillips-Exeter, and a friend and cohort of Edmund Perry, the slain African-American student who is the subject of Anson’s book, offers insight into why Perry and many other African-American students see themselves as having to deconstruct their identity in the private school. This deconstruction does not protect them; often they are psychologically crushed by it:


You gotta understand how it is for kids like Edmund and me—how it is for us to grow up in one environment and then be sent off to school in another that is totally different. You gotta understand the kind of things that does to your head. Because if you are like Edmund and you grow up in a place like Harlem, you are taught that you are powerless. . . But still, it’s only a vague notion. . . . Then you go off to an elite boarding school. . . . It’s one thing to hate something in the abstract, to be aware of some system that is keeping you down. It’s quite another to be face to face with that system. You are caught up in a situation where everybody says you should be happy, where you think you should be happy, and instead of being happy, you find there are tears in your eyes because you are so angry. That was one of Edmund’s tragedies. He was in an environment where he was constantly being reminded how powerless he really was.29


Carolyn insists that Edmund’s real tragedy was his inability to become the raceless person Exeter promoted in its black student population. Ironically, it was the institutional racism rather than the personal racism with which Edmund and other African-American students are all quite familiar that was the culprit in Edmund’s victimization.


Personal racism you can deal with. Someone calls you nigger and you can smack him in the mouth, and if you are bigger than him, he’s gonna know not to call you a nigger again. Edmund had dealt with that kind of racism all of his life—we all do—but before he went to Exeter, he had never, ever in his life dealt with institutional racism. That was something he couldn’t light against. How do you fight an assumption? How do you tackle history? How do you get your hands on an environment? You can’t—you can’t even begin to come to grips with it. That’s what makes it so insidious and hard to deal with. And the thing is, it’s never personal. It’s just there.30


In a strikingly revealing article published in Newsweek, Sylvester Monroe, now a successful journalist, describes a similar kind of response to his private school experience. He too acknowledges the frustration and loneliness he felt when he was forced to develop a raceless persona at St. George’s Academy, a predominantly white private school in New England, in order to achieve a modicum of success:


One of the greatest frustrations of my three years at St. George’s was that people were always trying to separate me from other black people in a manner strangely reminiscent of a time when slave owners divided blacks into “good Negroes” and “bad Negroes.” Somehow, attending St. George’s made me a good Negro, in their eyes, while those left in Robert Taylor [the housing project where my parents lived in Chicago] were bad Negroes or, at least, inferior ones. . . . Looking back on it, I was pleased to show what black boys were capable of. Yet, there was a faint disquiet. What bothered me was that some people found it easier to pretend I was something else [other than African-American]. “We’re colorblind here,” a well-meaning faculty member once told me. “We don’t see black students or white students, we just see students.” But black was what I was; I wasn’t sure he saw me at all.31


Monroe interpreted the compulsion he experienced around these issues not only as a lack of validation of his identity as an African-American, but also as an attempt on the part of school officials to deconstruct his identity. In other words, during the recruitment process, he was actively pursued by St. George’s officials primarily because he was African-American. After he was on campus, however, school officials presented a different set of expectations: They appeared to want someone with black skin and African features but someone who was also unblack. In this sense, school officials sought to make him a raceless person. However, instead of accepting the school’s latent yet not too subtle agenda, Monroe fought to retain his African-American identity, leading to the explosion/implosion of identity.


Another St. George’s teacher was surprised at my reaction when he implied that I should be grateful for the opportunity to attend St. George’s, far away from a place like the Robert Taylors. How could I be, I snapped back, when my family, everyone that I cared most about were still there? But you’re different, he continued. That’s why you got out. . . . I’m not different, I insisted. I’m just lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time.32


Common themes in each of the above examples are conflict, ambiguity, and resistance, realities that mangled the students’ efforts to survive and to maintain their African-Americanness. The students’ descriptions of their experiences in the private schools they attended were often labeled internally disconcerting. This forced many of them to question the value of their racial identity, leading them to question the value of what they were doing and being asked to do, even though they continued to do it.

DECONSTRUCTING IDENTITY


The primary questions to be answered are: (1) Should we deconstruct the racial and cultural identity of African-American adolescents? and (2) How do African-American adolescents survive in the predominantly white world of the private school?


In the best of all possible worlds, deconstructing the racial and cultural identity of African-American adolescents is a process implying an openness, an unfolding of ethnic and cultural realities, including the raceless society envisioned in the dominant ideology of this country. However, as Ogbu asserts, “blackness” as a component of the identity structure of African-Americans is no longer a marker to be overcome.33 Consequently, an unintended outcome of recruiting African-American adolescents to the private school context in contemporary America is, paradoxically, an identity implosion.


Identity implosion among African-Americans implies a transforming of black adolescents’ understanding of who they are, and, as depicted here, an even greater effort to retain the Self. Ironically, the data presented here also suggest a stronger resistance to becoming the Other, just as private schools begin to change their historically exclusionary policies. As I have already indicated, researchers who study private schools rarely make the identity of African-American adolescents the central issue in their analyses. Curiously, there are no ethnographic studies of how black adolescents survive in the private school. This brief, rudimentary examination represents a first step in an effort to alter this practice.


The central finding emerging from this investigation parallels the principal finding emanating from the earlier public school study: Achieving academic success in a context where a Eurocentric ethos dominates necessitates divorcing one’s commitment to a changing yet familiar African-American identity, and embracing instead an unpredictable, unfolding meaning of both the Self and the Other. Consequently, learning to cope with the burden of acting white becomes an academic imperative for African-American adolescents, a quintessential violation of the Self.


Further, as the case study materials demonstrate, racelessness embraces deconstructionist discourse in that it symbolizes the effort both to appropriate and efface African-American adolescents’ historical yet evolving racial and cultural identity and to reconstitute it as the Other in the private school context. However, these data also indicate that the mandate to become the Other is frequently fraught with resistance and conflict, much of it appearing to be nonlinear, incoherent, inconsistent, and inexplicable. Because today’s African-American adolescents value their identity and because they are being invited into an institutional context that historically excluded them primarily because of their racial identity, they frequently struggle and resist the idea of becoming the Other. This is not a unanimous response—there obviously are African-American adolescents who do not experience conflict and dissonance in the private school setting. These students are comfortable with the world they inhabit. There are some students who actively seek to become the Other.34 For many black adolescents, however, becoming the Other in this context is tantamount to denying that as a cultural category race was—and still is—stigmatized and privileged. For many African-American adolescents, becoming the Other also involves, simultaneously, embracing the contemporary Other and effacing the historical Other, an unacceptable option.


Now that private schools—conceptualized as the Other—have discontinued their formerly exclusionary practices, the question might be asked: What other changes must private schools make in order to ensure that African-American adolescents feel a sense of belonging in these institutions? Unfortunately, this question cannot be answered without further empirical research, preferably a long-term ethnographic study.


Meanwhile, it is transparently clear that “opening the door and doing nothing more” is insufficient. As with all living species, survival takes precedence over everything else. If in the private school African-American adolescents are either unsure of or preoccupied with the survival of Self, their willingness to pursue mastery of the school curriculum is seriously jeopardized. Survival cannot be subverted; these students must be made to sense that their cultural identity is safe.


Given this reality, admission is the least complicated and in some ways the least important of the issues delineated in this article. It is also perfectly clear that asking African-American adolescents simultaneously to deconstruct their African-American identity—that is, to play by a set of rules historically established by Euro-Americans—and to validate the commitment of the recruiting institution to equality of opportunity by being African-American is task-overload.


If African-American adolescents are to succeed in both the public and private school context, these institutions must be able to convince them that the “Other is [no longer] totally Other.”35 They can do this best by disentangling black students’ perceptions of private schools and the dominant society in which they are embedded as embodying assimilation and contamination. Eradicating this and similar culturally sanctioned dualisms will reassure African-American adolescents that “the [S]elf [is not] at the funeral.”36 Of equal importance, it will go a long way toward embracing school success as a black adolescent’s prerogative.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 92 Number 3, 1991, p. 470-484
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 326, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 11:39:43 AM

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  • Signithia Fordham
    Rutgers University

 
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