When you’re a double minority, Groundhog’s Day comes around a few times a year.
Without fail, when I’ve expressed interest in a particular industry – the person with whom I’m speaking laments the lack of black males in said industry and tells me I’ll have no trouble finding a job.***
I have friends who are both black and male who hear the same thing in their respective industries and are told the same thing.
There’s an excellent piece at EdWeek this week from Donald G. Nicolas called “Where Are the Black Male Teachers?” Nicolas sites a few factors he believes contributes to the lack of black males in the education profession. While I have experience in education, I’m not an educator. Still, a couple of passages jumped out at me that seem to apply to
several every profession:
Fit. According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 82 percent of public school teachers in school year 2011-12 were white. When black men first enter the classroom, there is a high likelihood that they may be only one of maybe two or three black males on the staff, even in some predominantly black schools and districts. When hiring decisions are made within a school, they largely depend on “fit”: Will this person fit in at our school, and how well? Needless to say, adding a black man to the staff will automatically change a school’s dynamics.
As a black male teacher who has mentored other black male teachers, I can speak to the fact that parents, students, and fellow teachers may watch the black male employee more closely because of the rarity of the situation. The educator as well as the school community must be prepared for this. It takes a certain amount of character to accept and live up to this reality and the expectations that come with standing out.
Lack of mentoring. A deficiency of black males in the classroom obviously leads directly to a lack of them in school leadership roles, such as principal and assistant principal. Educators have long said that mentoring is a key to success for many new teachers. In fact, many districts have mandatory induction programs for first- and second-year teachers.
Part of the mentor experience includes pairing the new teacher with an administrator or teacher who will observe, discuss research, and share experiences in an effort to foster the novice’s growth as an education professional.
“When black men first enter the classroom, there is a high likelihood that they may be only one of maybe two or three black males on the staff.”
The expectation is that new educators will have mentors who have their best interests and professional growth at heart. I honestly think it’s a challenge for black men to find someone in their school willing to level with them and be honest about the great responsibility that comes not only with being an educator, but a black male educator at that.
The entire piece is worth a read.
Needless to say, I was in a dual state of disappointment and lack of surprise when I found this piece about the lack of a male presence in my own industry.
Unfortunately, as one who hasn’t spent extensive time in managing roles, this is an issue I have few solutions for. The frustrations of being told you’re one of few – if any – wear on the psyche. Admittedly, I remained in journalism and media because there weren’t many people of color in the profession and I believed my role in society was best served telling stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told.
The problem is I heard the same thing when I considered going to law school.
And again when I thought about family therapy.
And again when I went to graduate school and had visions of being a professor.
The sad reality is that I rarely see myself represented in the professions I aspire(d) to. I see people who look like me everywhere in kitchens, janitorial and other blue-collar professions. There’s nothing wrong with these jobs, they’re just not the jobs for me – nor are they jobs we want our kids to attain when we talk post-secondary education.
So if we aren’t in professional jobs, where are we?
I’m not so sure I want an answer to that question.
***While this statement may feel like a shot of encouragement, I often walk away wondering if the speaker has considered the barriers to entry in industries where few, if any, of the people at a given job environment look like you. Getting your foot in the door is hard enough without adding those pesky things like race and sex to the mix. That being said, these experiences do make me much more aware to the plight of women in the work place (women of color particularly). And while I could never walk a mile in those heels, empathy is powerful. I’ll be remembering all of this when I get in a position to call the shots. And rest assured, I will be calling the shots one day.