In a new book, Opting Out: Losing The Potential Of American’s Young Black Elite, professor Maya Beasley argues black folks are excluding themselves from high-paying careers. Beasley says she observed this “self-segregation” when she was a grad student at Standford University and noticed a considerable lack of black folks cashing in on the tech boom happening in Silicon Valley.
“As graduate students with little money and expensive tastes, we’d go out on the weekend and be at restaurants with people who were clearly dot-com-ers. I noticed that nearly none of them were black. There were a fair amount of Asians and South Asians and a lot of white people, but there really weren’t any African-Americans. You’d pick up the paper and find out about a new start-up but they were never founded by African-Americans,” she tells Wall Street Journal’s FINS blog.
Despite going to school with many “really brilliant black students,” Beasley–who is biracial–thought it was odd that none of them were involved in the tech sector. This discovery led to research, which then became her book.
So what’s keeping more African-Americans from entering these industries? According to Beasley, it all boils down to self-segregation. Beasley says ethnic themed dorms and organizations hinder black students from entering high-paying fields.
“There’s a danger in completely segregating yourself. When black students only interact with each other it really inhibits the information they’re getting, “she explains. “White students are getting advice from their parents and summer jobs through their connections. If you’re limiting the number of times you’re spending with white people, you’re also limiting the types of information you have available to you.”
So what’s Beasley’s advice to black students?
“Black students need to learn to interact with white people and have some amount of comfort with them and I don’t think that’s asking a lot,” she explains. “I’ll say freely that black students face lots and lots of racial antagonism on campus, but that’s not the only thing they’re going to encounter, and that’s not the only type of white person they’re going to encounter on or off campus.”
While black students–like all students–need to network with those from every field, I don’t necessarily think “self-segregation” is the main issue.
I don’t buy the argument that what’s keeping black folks out of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers is the fact that they are scared off because these fields are dominated by white and Asian men. Perhaps what’s keeping black folks out of these career fields is a school system that offers inadequate math and science education and companies that need to do a better job requiting diverse candidates.
What do you think? Are black folks “self-segregating” themselves out of higher paying careers?