Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gifted Minorities

Minority students who do not hold positive racial identities may be especially vulnerable to negative peer pressures; they may also equate achievement with "acting white" or "selling out" (Fordham, 1988), which contributes to low effort and, thus, low achievement. Specifically, Lindstrom and Van Sant (1986) reported that many gifted minority students must choose between need for achievement and need for affiliation. These students often succumb to negative social pressures so that need for affiliation outweighs need for achievement.

- Donna Y. Ford and Antoinette Thomas, Underachievement Among Gifted Minority Students: Problems and Promises

Everyone has heard of the blog "Stuff White People Like". I'd heard of it but never visited it myself, until tonight. In searching for information on gifted children, I came across a post about Gifted Children. It's an amazing coincidence because while I've read that minorities are under-represented among the gifted, I read my first account of what it's like to be a gifted minority yesterday.

I was stunned that someone who was profoundly gifted would be ridiculed as "acting white" because of her desires to go to college and eventually earn a PhD. She wasn't celebrated by her community; she was pressured to conform to socially acceptable view of how a black woman should act. What is worse is that this view was being pushed on her by those who ought to have been her strongest allies.

I found it to be quite depressing. It's hard enough to be white and deal with the misconceptions of giftedness that seem to be so succinctly summarized in the referenced post. I imagine it's far worse to be an ethnic minority and gifted (or, on the other hand, to be Asian and assumed to be brilliant because of your ethnicity). This post explicitly states that the assumption of giftedness is just a label to get special things for your kids. The unwritten assumption is that there are few gifted white children, but there are no gifted minorities.

Asking to have your child's intellectual needs met is for "white people". I have read a lot about girls, in particular, who pretend not to be gifted because they want to fit in. I can imagine that the prevailing attitude could be worse among minorities, especially after reading the comments.

I find it sad that the minority communities, who should be the most vocal in showing off their best and brightest to counter the unkind stereotypes pervasive in our society, are potentially more trapped by the anti-intellectualism that is overwhelmingly present in our nation. It makes me wonder how much the problem of low recognition of gifted minorities (and later, underachievement) isn't strictly due to outside ignorance that giftedness crosses racial boundaries. Perhaps some of it may be due the confluence of this ignorance with pressures of families and friends to not "act white".

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