I read a post on a friend’s Facebook page today (a reply to my friend’s post that Black Lives Matter actually means “Black Lives Matter Too”) that reflected what many suburban white people seem to believe.
“At my kid’s high school, black kids very rarely take AP (Advanced Placement) courses. There are one or two black kids in her classes. In total, the school is one-third black. The analogy [in the original post] is interesting but in my real life, I see kids uninterested in taking advantage of opportunities. I’m always stunned. Why do they not take advantage of these opportunities?” the man wrote.
Perhaps I can shed some light on this subject based on MY real life experience.
In my high school, students did not just sign up for AP classes. We had to test high enough and be invited by a teacher to enroll. I believe the parents also had to agree to their child being placed.
My parents did not go to college and I was not encouraged to go to college. In fact, I was discouraged from doing so because people with degrees “think they’re better than us.” I was reading at a college level when I was in fifth grade. My mother claims she doesn’t remember my teacher saying that, but I was present for the conversation. My ACT score was in the top two percent and I received a scholarship to the University of Minnesota School of Journalism. I dropped out after one semester because no adults in my world cared what I did with my life.
My husband and his family did not go to college either. When my daughter was invited to enroll in one AP course, my husband said not to push her because not everyone is as ambitious as I am and just let her be a kid. I believed him.
I finally finished college at age 40 (the same year my daughter finished high school) and graduate school three years later. My daughters both finished college and one got a master’s degree.
We are white, but many disadvantages come from economic and social class. Black people who try to excel are often held back by their community telling them they’re trying to “act white” or become part of the oppressive rich class. Much like what I learned in the white working class.
Having studied racism and white privilege for 14 years, I strongly suspect that many black families at this school have no idea of the opportunity or how to apply.
With my friend’s permission, I posted my story in response to the man’s assumptions, concluding with the following:
“I would love to know if you accept this challenge to your assumptions and what you learn from it. Find out if the black students’ parents had the same opportunities and encouragement as you and your parents and grandparents did. Ask if they know how to apply for AP courses or even that they exist. Offer to help. Get to know people. And never assume you know anything about them until you actually know enough to call each other friends.
And that is how we will make change in the world.”