I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

—Ralph Ellison45

The answer to the question "What happens to Black males in col­lege?" is in many respects as complex as the parallel but larger ques­tion of "What happens to Black males in America?" In terms of the outcomes—academic performance, college satisfaction, and self-con­cept—considered alongside campus racial climate and background characteristics, a mixed picture emerges from this study. In our 1990 sample of more than 800 African American students attending insti­tutions of higher education in the Upper Midwest, nearly twice as many Black men had college averages of C or lower than had aver­ages of A – or higher. Forty percent have been or are currently on aca­demic probation. In addition, sizable numbers of these Black men ex­pressed dissatisfaction with social life, faculty relations, personal aca­demic accomplishments, and financial aid on their campus. More than half of these young men expressed alarmingly low self-confi­dence and academic self-concept. They also reported unfavorable campus racial climates characterized by serious racial conflict, racial separation, and low sensitivity to Blacks’ concerns.

Taken together, the observed patterns of poor academic perform­ance, poor self-esteem, and hostile racial climate bode ill for the col­lege futures of Black males in this sample. Indeed, my more recent study reveals lower rates of retention and graduation for Black stu – dents—both male and female—on predominantly white campuses than my 1990 study. The paradox lies in the fact that the students in this sample seemed to be earmarked for success—most had excellent high school academic records and came from high-achieving, high – socioeconomic-status families.

Nor is it only African American males who are discriminated against on predominantly white campuses. Our analysis shows that African American women are also targets of discrimination on these campuses, and their satisfaction, academic performance, and self­concepts also suffer. What we see is that both Black men and Black women must struggle against the odds on these campuses to achieve their goal of a college education. Evidence suggests that their strug­gles and accomplishments are different at historically Black colleges and universities: these schools continue to graduate disproportionate numbers of Black males and females.46 Further, Black students who graduate from historically Black colleges and universities report bet­ter academic performance, greater college satisfaction, and more pos­itive social-psychological orientations, i. e., self-concept, aspirations.47

As of 1994, there were nearly two African American women at­tending college for every one African American male.48 On many pre­dominantly white campuses, the ratio often soared to three Black women for every Black man. This represents a dramatic turnaround from 1975, when roughly equal numbers of African American men and women were enrolled in college.49 As recently as forty years ago, the number of Black men attending college actually exceeded the number of Black women.50 In confronting the gender disparity among African Americans in educational attainment, Professor Edgar Epps remarked, "We don’t wish that Black women would do more poorly, only that Black males would do better in school." For it would be tragic indeed if civil rights efforts to improve Black male educa­tional standing required the curtailing of Black women’s opportuni­ties. Nor would it be wise to engage in the game of "oppression sweepstakes," an oft-seen exercise where discriminated groups are pitted against one another, vying for the perversely privileged status of "most discriminated." As much of this chapter reveals, African American females face distinct educational burdens in high school and in college precisely because they are women—Black women. Any claim that Black females have it better or worse than Black males misses the point entirely, which is that they are both burdened in ways that are similar and dissimilar. In the final analysis, it is clear that America’s educational system is failing Black men and Black women, so much so that one scholar characterized our losses in edu­cation over the past decade as "catastrophic."51

Without dramatic corrective action, African American students will continue to suffer in the nation’s educational systems. Ironically, it is African Americans’ hypervisible status in stories about America’s social problems that translates into their relative invisibility in stories about America’s success and achievements. As a group, African Americans continue to be victims of systemic forces of massive op­pression that restrict their horizons, stunt their growth, and deny their humanity. In a cruel twist, African Americans are criticized for their failures as players in a game stacked against them, a game de­signed to ensure their destruction/demise. Recognizing this paradox, James Baldwin observed that the wonder is not that so few succeed, but rather that, in the face of these odds, so many somehow manage to survive.

For Baldwin, the survival of African Americans has always been gender specific. According to Baldwin, men "cannot bear very much humiliation; he really cannot bear it, it obliterates him. All men know this about each other, which is one of the reasons that men can treat each other with such a vile, relentless and endlessly inventive cru – elty."52 Women, Baldwin contends, "manage, quite brilliantly, on the whole, and to stunning and unforeseeable effect, to survive and sur­mount being defined by others. . . . But men are neither so supple nor so subtle. A man fights for his manhood; that’s the bottom line. A man does not have, simply, the weapons of a woman."53 While Baldwin’s essay is not a scientific study, it offers possible clues why Black male and Black female students are affected differently by, and respond differently to, racial discrimination in schools. Accepting Baldwin’s argument for the moment, I am compelled to ask: In a society that di­minishes and dismisses them, where do Black women and Black men find their "personhood"? More to the point of this essay, in a society dominated by White males, where do Black men find their "man­hood"?

For the action of the White Republic, in the lives of Black men has been and remains, emasculation.

—James Baldwin54