Note: This is a guest post by John Michael Lee Jr., PhD., policy director for the Advocacy and Policy Center in the Advocacy, Government Relations and Development unit at the College Board.
When I look at the challenges that are facing young men of color in this country, it would be impossible to explore the problems that exist with young men of color in both high school and college without exploring the concepts of identities and masculinities. Every time I hear the males of color speak as if they are verbally challenged and with the deepest voice possible, I am convinced that traditional male behaviors are a barrier for our these young men. Because traditional male behaviors are not valued in today’s society, these young men are at a serious disadvantage. Many young minority males believe that carrying books or being smart in school will not allow them to be cool in their communities, yet these same concepts of masculinity will ensure that they will not have the skills or behaviors needed to be successful in the larger society.
The development of identities, masculinities and sexualities are social processes that are informed by interactions and environments and can vary greatly by culture. Masculinities can have noticeable influences on the experiences of males in both high school and colleges, and these constructed identities can have an impact on the choices that are made. We sometimes think of masculinity as a natural part of being a male, yet males and masculinities are not two sides of the same coin as masculinities are socially constructed identities. In fact, women can exhibit masculine behaviors and actions that can reinforce hegemonic (or dominant) forms of masculinity currently found in society. Further, there is not one concept of masculinity exhibited by all males, yet there are several masculinities exhibited by many males because masculinity intersects with other identities such as race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, etc.
The concept of “machismo” is consistently used to describe the masculinities that are expressed and expected by Latino males while many focus on the stringent gender roles and expectations that are faced by Asian American men as a part of our culture. These expectations include carrying on the family name, conforming to parental expectations, and focusing on group harmony. One of the constant themes that constantly emerge in the research regarding academic achievement and men of color is the idea that masculinity serves as a barrier for men of color In both high school and college by influencing the decisions that are made and the behavior that exhibited by these men of color.
I keep wondering how do we change or direct males to have masculinities that allow them to function in both their social and cultural contexts locally and in the larger society. I am not interested in telling young men that they should not talk or act a certain way. I am more interested in expanding their concepts of masculinities that will allow them to exhibit forms of masculinities in their appropriate contexts (i.e. Time and place). For Example, I want to tell young men that they can speak however they want around their friends and at home, yet they need to learn to speak standard English in school and the workplace. I also want young men to understand that they can sag their pants when they are in their communities and with their friends, yet that they should never do so in the workplace or in an educational environment. Back in the day, we called this code switching. I am not sure how we relay this important skill to young men of color in a 21st century context, though places such as Urban Prep Academies and Eagle Academy for Young Men have been successful in this endeavor. How do we scale this up to more schools and communities? That is the answer that we must seek.
The opinions expressed in Why Boys Fail are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.