The Souls of Black Boys

Mistreatment of Black Boys“No one ever discussed Trayvon Martin with us in class,” said Sydney, an introspective 9th grader, wistfully. Sydney is a participant in my Young Male Scholars pilot at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles. He and a dozen other 9th and 10th graders are having a spirited discussion about the impact of Martin’s murder on the criminal justice system in Gardena’s college center.

According to the school’s college counselor, black boys are a “rarity” in the center and our small meeting is the largest number that he has ever seen here. On a campus where black students are the second largest ethnic group next to Latinos, black males are either pounced on by military recruiters or left to fend for themselves, implicitly branded as troublemakers and potential dropouts.

The college counselor’s observation was the impetus for my starting the pilot in collaboration with Brandon Bell, a young, South L.A. community activist alum of King Drew Medical Magnet and Princeton University. In an educational climate where there were only 48 black male students in the freshman class of internationally prestigious UCLA, the pilot is specifically designed to pipeline black males into college through targeted intervention. But it is also geared toward politicizing young men of color by providing them with the historical consciousness and space to become an activist generation of organizers, scholars and intellectuals.

Our discussion about the political implications of Martin’s murder took place a day before the death of Nelson Mandela. As the world mourns Mandela and President Obama touts an eleventh hour focus on “income inequality” neo-apartheid conditions in American education continue to fester. Last week was bookended by two powerful education reports which indirectly indicted the myth of American exceptionalism. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that American students remained static in reading and science and were well below average in math, falling from 29th to 31st in global rankings. The Campaign for College Opportunity’s “The State of Blacks in Higher Education: The Persistent Opportunity Gap” illustrates the devastating impact of California’s anti-affirmative action policy.

Mistreatment of Black Boys

The Campaign for College Opportunity report concluded “that gaps between Blacks and other ethnic groups in college-going and attainment have remained virtually unchanged for more than a decade, and in some cases, have worsened.” Despite claims of increased college opportunities for millennials, “A smaller share of today’s California Black young adult population holds postsecondary degrees than that of Blacks between the ages of 35 and 64.”

Put bluntly, in an era in which affirmative action has been viciously discredited and all but gutted by both the Right and neo-liberal “left”, young African Americans are less educated than older African Americans. African American students attend community and for-profit colleges in higher numbers than other groups and have the highest student loan debt and default rates. In addition, black youth still have the lowest graduation rates in California.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the class of 2017 (this year’s 9th graders) will be required to have college prep classes in order to graduate. They must earn a C or better to do so. They will have to achieve this feat despite the Obama administration’s Race to the Top emphasis on high-stakes tests that narrow the curriculum, undermine critical thinking and force teachers to be glorified proctors.

Nationwide, black students are the least prepared for college, have the lowest enrollment in honors and college prep classes and the highest drop-out or push-out rates. The LAUSD requirement is set against the backdrop of deepening unemployment, prison pipelining and black male homicide rates. According to the Education Trust, “If current trends continue only one in 20 African American students will go on to a four-year college or university.” The 48 black males in UCLA’s incoming class are swimming in a sea of over 5000 new students.

Enraged by these stats, black male UCLA students recently released an activist video critique that went viral. But despite renewed attention to racial disparities in college access there is no federal, state or local policy or call to action that specifically addresses the fact that young African American male high school students are routinely dismissed as not being college material.

As the Martin case demonstrated yet again, the dominant culture does not associate young black men and boys with tenderness, caring, sensitivity, and compassion, much less intellectualism. Since white supremacist culture can never see black youth as victims they can only be predators and aggressors. The visceral fear that adults have of so-called black male criminality is one of the primary reasons why black boys are suspended and expelled at higher rates for lesser offenses than are white students.

Youth of color, like white kids, are trained to see explicit acts of individual prejudice as the only standard for racism rather than institutional racism and white supremacy. So when Brandon and I discussed how mass incarceration was devastating our school-communities some of the boys in the group said that “bad environments” and “bad choices” simply lead black youth to commit more crime. But after examining disproportionate crack cocaine use amongst white males and unpacking how legacy admissions policies allow mediocre white students like George W. Bush get into Ivy Leagues, the students’ consciousness began to shift.


Not seeing themselves in the curriculum, public education socializes them to believe that disproportionate numbers of their brothers and sisters are in prison due to bad choices, while college is the reward for the elite few who make good ones. Teaching them to see the connection between the racial politics of college access and the invisibility of Martin’s murder in their high school curriculum is a step toward defying this criminal mis-education.

Sikivu Hutchinson


  1. R. Keys says

    Effete morons. Young black men don’t strive for academic achievement because their culture devalues academic achievement. Why go to school when easy money is to be made committing crime? It’s more stimulating to sire babies the government supports. Fatherlessness is the norm. Who should get the blame? The educational establishment, white people? I’m so tired of the blame game. Black people, if you want your kids to compete in the world, get them off the streets, read to them, push for school choice, be an example of the value of education! Works every time it’s tried.

  2. 36XYZ says

    The regimenting of LAUSD schools is incredibly harmful for children, especially poor, minorities. Child development needs to be an integral part of the elementary curriculum in order for students to develop into emotionally healthy individuals.

  3. Ryder says

    This article is a part of the problem… I’ll explain.

    “Our discussion about the political implications of Martin’s murder took place a day before the death of Nelson Mandela. As the world mourns Mandela and President Obama touts an eleventh hour focus on “income inequality” neo-apartheid conditions in American education continue to fester.”

    Educators (and politicians) instill racial identity politics into black youth, to prepare them for, among other things, maintaining a racial divide (black youth are NOT instilled with the idea that they are Americans).

    That this unfortunate Ph.D is simply adding her blows to the wedge that continues the divide, the result are black youth that are raised to feel apart and marginalized, and so THEY ACT LIKE IT. It has long been understood that achieving in school, and assuming the study habits that support it, is considered to be “acting white”. This attitude can only come from the black supported idea that these children are a special group, and are not true Americans. They are told they are African Americans, and told to reject America in favor of Africa… and we can see it, even as far as the new names that cropped up in the 80’s and 90’s. African or African sounding names were given by black mothers to their children… again, pounding the wedge of divisiveness.

    But what is more interesting, directly from this article, is the naturally assumed notion that racial politics and racial social issues are SUPPOSED to be talked about in class.

    That’s insanity. There is no place for that in class, except in the context of history. Slavery, MLK, as strictly history lessons (not lessons to buttress notions of current inequality… the wedge).

    Kids are supposed to be talking about how to perform titrations on acids in chem class, or algebra. Instead they are indoctrinated with the wedge.

    And notice further, this educated woman refers to Trayvon Martin’s “murder”… showing a “black only” perspective on the justice system… openly displaying disrespect for the system of law in America.

    I have my complaints about the Justice system… make no mistake, but open disrespect and disregard, displayed like this to children CAUSE THE DIVIDE, and prime the pump for anger and resentment for the first time these youths meet a police officer. Not smart.

    Trayvon Martin assaulted a watchman. It’s as simple as that. Assaulted him, had him pinned on the ground, and “ground and pound” style, beat the watchman. Fortunately, the watchman was able to get his legally carried firearm and defend himself.

    For this woman to distort facts that are as simple as this, to, YET AGAIN, paint ANOTHER picture of the plight of blacks, and further to suggest that this indoctrination into black anger should be administered in school (I’m sure it already is), is the PRIMARY problem we have today.

    Now we have the Knockout game…

    You’ve grown your angry young men… and now you see the result… assaults on the innocent who (sometimes) are able to defend themselves.

    And with each wave of black male crime, the public DOES become racially prejudicial… creating a vicious cycle.

    You are part of the problem. By priming the pump to that cycle in schools, you guarantee angry young men hit the streets looking for trouble, and finding it… just as the public has come to expect.

    If you were to really do your job, you would explain that black men have been doing so much crime, that the whole of society is starting to see blacks as un-trustworthy… and that they, as true Americans (not African Americans), have the difficult job to do of changing people’s perceptions of black males…

    Supporting an assaulted watchman is a good start.

  4. ronwf says

    “… the dominant culture does not
    associate young black men and boys with tenderness, caring,
    sensitivity, and compassion, much less intellectualism.”

    The dominant culture doesn’t associate white boys with any of those traits either. So what’s the big deal? You don’t have to be associated with any of those traits to be prepared for college.

    I’m an alumnus of what is considered a prestigious college. As such I interview high school kids who want to go there. I go to their homes to do so, generally. Some are rich. Some are not rich. But what distinguishes these households is that there are two parents there who care that their kid gets good grades more than they care if their kid is popular or can play sports. It does not good to get black kids into college if they’re just going to flunk out in high numbers once they get there (and thus get saddled with debt they have no way to pay off with no degree). It’s not easy for poor people. But the issue is that the children are affected by their parents’ poor choices. You want to see young black men in college? Let unmarried young black men not get unmarried young black women pregnant and create a generation of boys without fathers and this problem will solve itself in a generation.

    You don’t have to be rich or have intellectually accomplished parents to go to college. A good 16% or 20% of the students going to this school are the first of their family (or in the first generation of their family) to do so. But they had two parents that wanted their kid to achieve and were willing to do what it took to make that happen – a large part of which is being a family that lives together and commits to each other. As long as you have generations of young men raised up by single parents you’re going to see the current problem continue no matter what governmental or even private programs are put in place.

  5. babysoft says

    Reading this was like getting to take an extra deep breath of clear air. Someone’s telling tellin the truth up in here!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *