Reaching Af-Am students through understanding their culture

I thought a while about writing this but I hope that by being so personal, I can get a discussion going among us about how to reach African-American students, get them involved in fl, and thus contribute to the Af-Am community. For those outside the U.S., I am sure there are similar communities in your countries where students are underserved due to the obstacles I describe below.

Last night I attended a b/d party for my wife’s cousin. While the ages of the 20 or so people ranged from 1 year to the late 60s and on, a slight majority of the people were in late middle age, 50s to 60s. The b/d girl turned 65, just a year or so under us.

What I wanted to convey in this blog entry/post was the overwhelming preponderance of over-weight people. There were fewer men but they, too, tended toward corpulence. The women were very over-weight, incl. most of the young women. There was a young couple who seemed of normal weight and one older lady who looked to be of reasonable girth. Several people had problems walking. My wife’s cousin, the daughter of the one celebrating her b/d, is facing a number of debilitating and possibly fatal diseases and is only in her early 40s. She breathed with an oxygen tank.

These folks, with the exception of my wife and myself and one other person, were all church folk and I was the only non- African-American. I imagine that those outside the church fare worse due to alcohol use and greater poverty. I haven’t seen figures on indicators of health along lines of church membership, but I would guess that such membership provides a strong support community that lessens the impact of environmental, social, and cultural pathologies.

This was a happy crew. We laughed and had a wonderful song from one person that so illustrated African-American culture that I put it on the blog under African Diaspora. We played a bingo party game and ate a lot. And there’s the problem.

My wife and I noted that her cousin always chooses this same place. It’s all-you-can-eat and features heavy, greasy food loaded with salt and refined carbohydrates. Plates were piled high. Probably a few people stuck with salads, but I didn’t notice. A good deal of the pathology resides in the diet. Social pathology was represented by a man just released from prison whose son was there with his son, so 4 generations: mom, son, son, son, and the mom is only 65. How many of the other people in the room had similar pathologies in the family I don’t know. Quite a few of the people I know are successful in their careers and have some education. But, again, these are church people and that makes a difference.

It is this world that Obama knows, both Obamas, I should say. Michelle grew up in it and Barack learned it in Chicago. It’s a huge world, 12%+ of our population, and a good deal of it hidden from the rest of Americans. Remember, I was the only non-Af-Am there and was there only b/c of my wife. Without her, my Black friends would be limited to college people and people on my job, if that.

And it is that ignorance of Black people that marks the discourse I hear and read among non-Blacks about the Black community. So if teachers are going to understand the world that their Black students come from, they must become aware of the forces at work in their lives. BUT, that entails coming to grips with the simple fact that most of the people in that room experienced legal segregation and the accompanying limited opportunities. And that group represents the stable, successful element in the community.

Many Blacks attend college, enter a career, buy a home in the suburbs… but do not leave Black culture. They still retain many features of Black speech; they are firmly rooted in the discourse, musical and religious culture of Black folk; they continue to bear many of the social pathologies attendant upon the Black community; and they have a higher rate of severe health problems than most other social communities. Only those who understand this culture can deal with it, but for White people in particular, that does entail, as I said, recognizing just how bad we made it for Blacks in this country and to recognize the continuing structural racism that permeates our various systems, social, economic, military, educational, legal, medical.

My son recently was involved in bringing integrative medicine services to various communities. He saw first-hand how ignorance of these communities – Black, Latino, Asian, Native American – restricts the services they can access. The providers just have no understanding of how to relate to them, of how to operate wth them. They ride roughshod over their values and expectations and then wonder why they seem unresponsive.

If we are going to remedy the health problems of the Black community, we need to understand it. If we want to give Black children the best education we can, we need to understand it. ETC.

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