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Research Paper on Modern African American Culture and Education


For many years people coming from Africa to the USA used to be slaves suffering from racism. Nowadays everything is different, and descendants of African people brought to be slaves in the USA are living now in this country, and are treated almost equally. The reason for saying “almost equally” is because it is impossible to erase the historical facts, and everybody still remembers what was going on in the past. However, a lot of things have changed. Nowadays African Americans unite in so-called “Black” or “Afro-American” communities, members of which have origins in Africa and were brought to be slaves. However, a great number of Black people freely chose to come and live in the USA. Associating in communities according to the religious or political beliefs, according to hobbies or maybe just because of the same color of skin they live now in the USA comprising a considerable part of the population in a whole. African Americans have their own culture represented by specific customs and traditions, literature and slang. However, culture and religion are not the only aspects of life of African Americans that makes them different from white population of the USA. Saying this it is impossible not to emphasize the differences in education between Blacks and Whites. It has been a serious issue for a long time that African Americans were less educated than the other representatives of population in the United States. However, it is necessary to mention that nowadays Blacks have made considerable progress in this sphere of life and attained certain achievements in education. Nowadays, it is possible to notice such a tendency that more and more African Americans finish schools and graduate from universities, thus increasing the number of literate people among their communities. The causes of this increase and its impact will be discussed later in this essay.

Important features of African American Culture and Education

There are several aspects of life of African Americans, which allow identifying them as community. The first one of them is culture, which is considered to be rather plentiful in social tradition. African American culture was always distinguished by strong family relations, very close interplay and support towards each other among the members of their social group. All these features help to define African American community from any other one. It is obvious that culture is one of the essential aspects of people’s life that helps to identify a community, and its main features of development. Black identity development has been linked to the extent to which young people associate with the cultural context of being Black. Research has demonstrated that the more that African Americans relate to their own Blackness, the more that they feel a responsibility and an affinity to the group [3]. A feeling of affiliation with community and strong interaction with all of its members serve as the basis of the peculiarity of Black community. Membership of community has been always more important to African Americans than the feeling of individualism and competition among its members. Jagers and Mock (1995) have talked about Afro-cultural communalism. This communalism is the tendency of African Americans toward collectivist orientation or the preference for interdependence among people. Students who are driven by this communalistic orientation cannot describe themselves in individualistic terms. In fact, much of their self-identity is grounded in their social concern for, and need to be with, others [3]. Being a member of community young African Americans always relate themselves to it, because as it has been mentioned above, individualism is not a characteristic feature of Black community.

This feeling of community is easily noticed in the field of education of African Americans. Very often bright students don not consider their academic abilities high, because comparing not individually, but as a group in whole. That’s why very often there is a stereotype that Blacks are poorer educated than Whites. There are several reasons for that. First of all the root of such difference lies in constant racial segregation of African Americans from the rest of the population, which led to obvious differences in education. Historically, African American students never had the same educational opportunities as White students and, therefore, started out at a different place altogether. African Americans began with a system that banned their participation altogether and that later provided limited access, but only as a matter of law, not as a commonly accepted practice. Although, presently, legal restrictions on access to schooling and higher education have been lifted, the remnants of racism still exist at the very core of the schooling structure [4].

Despite these facts Blacks were able to reach some success, and now the rate of educated African Americans has increased, while the number of Black families and singles below the poverty rate has decreased. However, the differences do continue to exist. Black students and adults have higher retention and dropout rates than Whites, lower test scores, and slightly lower pay and higher unemployment rates for equal levels of education. [5]

The following table evidences how the number of students of different race has changed in 2000 in comparison with 1980.

Percentage distribution of enrolment in colleges and universities, by race/ethnicity: 1980 and 2000

  1980 2000
Race/ethnicity Total 2-year 4-year Total 2-year 4-year
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
White, non-Hispanic 81 79 83 68 64 71
Black, non-Hispanic 9 10 8 11 12 11
Hispanic 4 6 3 10 14 7
Asian/Pacific Islander 2 3 2 6 7 6
American Indian/Alaska Native 1 1 0 1 1 1
Nonresident alien 3 1 3 3 1 5

The table is taken from the official website of National Center for Education Statistics (2003).

Another aspect of education that it is necessary to pay attention to is the number of African American students taking courses at most prestigious colleges and universities in the USA, which are usually called the Public Ivies. This group of public high – quality universities provides education at public school prices. It includes such universities as College of William and Mary, Miami University of Ohio, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Texas, the University of Vermont, and the University of Virginia, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, the State University of New York, the University of Washington, and the University of Wisconsin and others [2]. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the university with the highest percentage of Blacks in its student body appeared to be the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill, which has 11.1 per cent of Blacks in its student body. The University of Florida and the University of Virginia both have student bodies that are 8.5 percent black. Rutgers, Ohio State, SUNY-Albany, and the University of Michigan are the only other Public Ivies at which Blacks make up at least 8 percent of the student body [2]. The lowest percentage of Blacks in the student body appeared to be in the State of Vermont due to the small number of blacks living in the state (around 1 percent). It should be noted that at each one of this group of Public Ivies the Black percentage of the student body is less than the Black percentage of the college-age population in that particular state [5].

Speaking about the high school completion of African Americans it is necessary to note that the high school completion rate for Blacks raised between 1972 and 2000, yet the gap between Blacks and Whites has not narrowed since the early 1980s [5]. Here are some statistical evidences to show the real picture. In 2000, Blacks ages 18 to 24 had a completion rate of 84 percent, lower than the White completion rate of 92 percent, but higher than the Hispanic completion rate of 64 percent. Although a gap in high school completion rates still exists between White and Black young adults, the 2000 completion rate for Blacks ages 18 to 24 years old was statistically significantly higher, at 84 percent, than all completion rates for Blacks ages 18 to 24 before 1982 [5]. This statistical information shows that much more young people completed high schools in 2000 in comparison with 1970s. However not too many changes in the number of African Americans, who completed high school in 1980 and 2000, have been detected.


To make a conclusion it is necessary to emphasize that there are a lot of specific features concerning African American community, its culture and education. As it has been mentioned above that African Americans prefer to live in communities, where they all are strongly connected with each other by means of culture and religious beliefs. They deny individualism and competition among the members of community, and this behavior of Blacks has a large impact on the educational sphere of their lives.

Obviously, nowadays certain progress has been made, and more Black students enter universities, and some of them enter even prestigious ones. However, the differences still continue to exist, and the larger society apparently continues to perceive the black minority group as intellectually inferior [1]. Hopefully it will change as the time passes by. That’s why it is very important for scholars to study this aspect of education, and help African American student adjust to the contemporary educational system.


  • Charles V. Willie, Antoine M. Garibaldi, Wornie L. Reed. The Education of African-Americans. Auburn House, 1991
  • Comparing Black Enrolments at the Public Ivies. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
  • Freeman, Kassie. African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice. Praeger Publishers, 1998
  • Provasnik, S., and Shafer, L.L. Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 1976 to 2001.U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. 2004.
  • U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Status and Trends in the Education of Blacks, (NCES 2003–034), by Kathryn Hoffman and Charmaine Llagas. Project Officer: Thomas D. Snyder. Washington, DC: 2003. pubs2003/2003034.pdf

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