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?

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  • CaramelBeauty

    Wrong!!!!!!!!!! I don’t know where you went to school, but in my college blacks and whites intermingled all the time. And they went after the same positions the whites went after. There were even quite a few math and science majors in the black community at my college. You need to stop with the generalizations!!!!!!!!

    Nowadays, black kids nor white kids want anything to do with math and science. Very few major in those disciplines. I am not sure why, maybe because schools in America are “dumbing” kids down. When it comes to math and science, other countries are way ahead of the U.S.

  • EbonyLolita

    I am a firm believer that as Blacks/AA not matter WHERE we come from we need to STOP looking for inclusion. Start your own business!!! Network amongst YOUR OWN who are just as progressives as you if not more so. Whites segregate themselves. They keep the Blacks around that they want around. If you wait for someone to give you scraps you’ll always be waiting. STEM programs were not pushed on me & I want to one of the best schools in NYC!! Personally I was not interested in it. Now if I ever have a child that is I will push to get them into summer programs, internships & connections where THEY can foster independence in that field. Blacks have always faced a glass ceiling when dealing w/whites. That should not cause us to stop pursuing our dreams, but I think it’s time for us to pursue the dreams to benefit US as a whole & not YT!!

    • Chrissy

      I agree 100% with this advice!

  • Ravi

    I’m fairly sure that our tendency to “self-segregate” has very little to do with the lack of high paying jobs for African-Americans in any sector. If that were the case then why are Asians and men dominating STEM jobs? Are women guilty of “self-segregating” also? No, I’m pretty sure it’s the academic achievement gap. We get crushed in the math and science classrooms compared to white and Asian students and this clearly impacts the number of jobs we hold in related fields.

  • Racism to Blame, Not Affinity Groups, for Lack of Minorities in Tech – http://bit.ly/GNZcaH

  • Pamela

    The first thing blacks need to do is get rid of the concept and phrase “acting white” and “trying to be white.” That’s the biggest thing that keeps them out of the science, math and tech majors in college in the first place. They have this attitude that being smart, good at math or science, and good at school in general are “acting white” which is a BAD thing to them. I’m Native American. If I go to Chinatown for some herbal medicinal plants does that make me “trying to be Chinese”? No, among Native Americans we don’t have concepts like that or an attitude like that. We also don’t have this notion that being good at math or science or taking Latin in high school and being college- or Ivy-League bound are “acting white” or “trying to be white.” So if they’d stop THAT in the first place, nip that attitude in the bud, things would turn around for them. That would get them out of the ghetto mentality altogether but it has to start at the ROOT of the problem: the notion that certain ways of life and fields of study are “white” and “for whites only.” It’s a whole lifestyle problem that only manifests itself in college and beyond.