The Evolution of the African American Struggle in Education

The Evolution of the African American Struggle in Education


“The purpose of education…is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions”, once inspiringly stated by African American author James Baldwin. This quote is powerful in the sense that education has always been encouraged to promote change in the world, yet society is still trying to rid itself of its prejudices, racism, and bigotry in education, displaying its unchanging nature. On March 23, 2023 I attended a program held by Dr. Derrick R. Brooms, PhD about the constant hardships and pressures black men have to consistently face in collegiate institutions in the United States. Dr. Brooms is a Professor of Africana Studies and Sociology and Fellow in the Center for the Study of Social Justice at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and his presentation incorporated elements of his own upbringing and how it relates to ongoing racial phenomenons that occur in higher educational institutions. For example, two quotes from Dr. Brooms that I feel summarizes his entire presentation perfectly are, “Success to me is that I got out”, and “Because you were black and for no other reason.” Dr. Brooms specifically spoke about the common stereotypes and pressures black men, such as himself, have to go through in their lives in order to succeed. Dr. Brooms’ analysis can directly be related to society’s understanding of African American history through a lens of social inequality, constant segregation, and economic struggles–all in which lead to lack of opportunity.

Social inequality has been something African Americans have had to constantly battle since as early as the 1400s. They were always seen as inferior, lesser human beings, and even animalistic. This imposed identity African Americans would have to carry with themselves would lead to several forms of social inequality and lack of opportunities as the Americas evolved. For instance, in the slave south, slaves were not allowed to partake in any form of formal education like white folks. In turn, they had to rely on each other for education. Deborah White writes about those experiences by saying, “But elderly slaves passed on other valuable lessons to youngsters, such as how to handle their owners, negotiate with overseers and other white authorities, and resolve disputes within their quarters” (White, 372). I find this quote to be interesting and inspiring because though African Americans were denied the freedoms to a formal education, they still found it within themselves to gather as a community and help each other survive in such a harsh environment. However, this form of “education” African Americans utilized among each other is not the basic, formal education that consisted of English or Mathematics, but rather they were tactics of how to survive the prejudices, racist, and vulgar acts white folks would impose onto them. That is the sad reality that can even be seen in today’s world to which Dr. Brooms referred to in his presentation. During his speech, Dr. Brooms mentioned how African Americans, such as himself, would be blamed for certain crimes, human atrocities, or societal issues simply “because you were black and for no other reason”. As a result, parents in the current world still need to have a conversation with their children to educate them about why they are frowned upon in certain situations, which is a theme that has, evidently, not changed much since times of slavery. This theme of social inequality can be further analyzed by diving into ways white folks would prevent African Americans from ever having social opportunities, particularly segregation.

In relation to education, segregation has played a major role in the lack of opportunities given to African Americans as well as the root of the underlying issue that continues to permeate in the United States. Segregation stems from the creation of Jim Crow Laws–an enforced system in the South meant to segregate whites from blacks in all forms of society including transportation, education, housing, economic stability, voting, etc. A monumental case that changed the trajectory of segregation was Brown v. Board of Education to which the Supreme Court concluded that segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment, making it unconstitutional. Despite this massive victory for African Americans, there are still variations of segregation currently present in the United States. This happens more covertly, rather than overtly. A scholarly article titled “Racism in Education” written by Christina Girod states, “Systemic racism is perpetuated by intentionally exclusionary school district boundaries. Such boundaries are designed to keep schools in wealthier neighborhoods segregated from nearby poorer neighborhoods. One way this occurs is through the secession of more affluent (and usually white) communities from districts that also include higher poverty (usually BIPOC) areas” (Girod). Though it is not an overt form of segregation, this exclusion of certain communities from one another is still a form of segregation. Furthermore, black men, in particular, can feel segregated from their own school community, as Dr. Brooms explained in his exhibition. Dr. Brooms discussed the overwhelming stereotypes African Americans are burdened with before they even enter their universities. Race and gender, Dr. Brooms described, can cause people to create their own assumptions about others’ level of education. A common stereotype young black men persistently face is the idea that they are “street thugs” and are lazy. With this stereotype, black students feel the need to prove everyone wrong, providing an additional pressure to their academic pursuits. Segregation has evolved over the years, taking on different forms and still affecting the lives of African Americans even though it has been considered “erased” from history as legislations have been put in place to prevent segregation from happening. Despite these legislations, segregation is still alive in the United States, but it is just more covert.

Both social inequality and segregation have heavily contributed to the final way in which African Americans have been given a lack of opportunity in education, which is through economic struggle. As a result of African Americans being seen as inferior and constantly pushed to the side through segregation, it has led to economic struggles because they cannot gain the same amount of respect and opportunity as white folks in the United States. Dr. Brooms touched on this topic during his presentation as he reminisced on his own life. During his time in college, he struggled for a time as the school did not provide him with the necessary resources and money to be able to continue studying at their institution. Eventually, he was able to work things out, but it was a battle to get there. In the same scholarly article as referenced previously, Christina Girod talks about unequal funding and its results by writing, “The lack of funding leads to fewer and lower quality resources for students at schools in poor neighborhoods. The impact can affect infrastructure, including the lack of repairs or updates to buildings and equipment” (Girod). African Americans and other minorities, who predominantly live in poorer neighborhoods, cannot even begin their lives with the same opportunities and quality of education as white people, which begs the question: If education is meant to be used to change the world, how can African Americans use it to the best of their abilities when there is an issue for them to even get the same quality of it as everyone else?

With all of these setbacks, hardships, and obstacles African Americans have to deal with, Dr. Brooms spoke about the educational desires black people have. He claimed young, black students desire diversity, a feeling of representation for their people, and the empowerment they receive when they break the negative stereotypes imposed upon them. In order for black people to attain these desires, however, Dr. Brooms provided six factors that can help contribute to the educational system creating a more inclusive community. The six factors are as follows: campus culture, connections across campus spaces, holistic care, belonging and mattering, representation, and relationships. After reflecting and understanding Dr. Brooms’ perspective and taking into account my own understanding of African American history, it is evident that there is still much work to be done in order to create a society with equal opportunities disregarding all the prejudices. Though it feels like society has come a long way, racism is still rooted in a lot of issues in the current world, as seen with the Black Lives Matter protests in recent years. Through understanding African American history and their own struggle and search into becoming their own people, can society better itself and develop a more empathetic mindset to create the most inclusive world as possible. 






  • Dr. Derrick R. Brooms Lecture Circuit     

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