By NICK CHILES
Lord, I beg of you, please save black parents and the black community from the instant experts who pop up to explain black children or black culture when they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Today’s exhibit A comes courtesy of University of Texas law school and one of its professors, Lino Graglia. Professor Graglia gave an interview to BBC in which he suggested that African Americans and Hispanics are less academically competent than whites because most are raised by single mothers.
Yes, I heard your deep sigh. Yet another clueless expert, piling on single mothers.
“I can hardly imagine a less beneficial or more deleterious experience than to be raised by a single parent,” Graglia said when asked by the interviewer why black students’ academic performance was inferior to whites. “Usually a female, uneducated and without a lot of money.”
Graglia (pictured above) went on the point out that the average black performance on the SAT test is 200 points lower than that for the average white student and that among the black population almost three quarters of children are now born outside of marriage.
When informed of Graglia’s comments, Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, told KUT News that having Graglia present such unsophisticated reasoning on a global stage such as BBC “is really harmful to the university’s international image.” In other words, what the brother was saying is, this is embarrassing to er’body in Texas.
But University of Texas Law School Dean Ward Farnsworth issued a statement saying that while Graglia’s comments do not represent the position of the Law School, he stands by Graglia’s right to discuss his views. In other words, we know we can’t fire him for stupidity, but we would like to point out that he is stupid.
What was strange about Graglia’s appearance on the BBC show, hosted by Gary Younge, who is black, was that he admitted at the start of the interview that he basically didn’t know what he was talking about. If that was my intro on the subject, I might be inclined to tell myself, Hmm, self, maybe you should shut the hell up. But I’m guessing if you’re Lino Graglia, longtime University of Texas law school professor, who has been there long enough to get the fancy title of “A. W. Walker Centennial Chair in Law,” maybe you’re accustomed to spewing whatever comes to your mind, even if you happen to be clueless. After all, who gonna check me, boo?
“To me it’s speculation—it’s no area where I can claim expertise,” Graglia said when Younge asked him why the admission of black students to the University of Texas had fallen off after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it couldn’t consider race in its admissions.
The UT professor’s comments, so lacking in any historical or sociological perspective, brought to mind generations of “race theory,” when white so-called “scientists” used methods as ridiculous as comparing brain size to explain why white people scored higher on the IQ tests created by white people. Graglia makes no attempt to analyze the connection between poverty and SAT performance, or the correlations between poverty and unemployment and academic performance in the black community—you know, the kind of stuff you would expect a university professor to do.
It’s particularly ironic that Graglia’s misguided theories come at a time when the most powerful and one of the most brilliant men in the world, President Barack Obama, is a black man raised by a single mother who didn’t have a lot of money. Oh, but I guess she was a white mother. That must be why Barack is so smart.
Let me point out that the school where Graglia teaches, the University of Texas School of Law, is noteworthy because as recently as 1950 it had a policy in place that barred admission to African-American students. And when the school was sued by Heman Sweatt, a black man who had been refused admission, the response by the state of Texas was almost laughable—the Texas trial court continued the case for six months to allow the state time to create a law school for blacks in Houston, whose creation then allowed the state to say Sweatt had no need to go to UT because he could go to this lovely new school. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1950 Sweatt v. Painter decision that predated Brown v. Board of Education, saw through Texas’ ruse and ruled that UT had to admit Sweatt because the new school—with five professors and 23 students—was not quite on the same level as the UT School of Law.
So here we are, just one or two generations beyond Sweatt, just one or two generations into an American society that has finally acknowledged that black students are entitled to the same quality of education as white students—though “entitled to” still hasn’t been translated into American society actually providing the same quality of education to black students—and we have a white professor at this very same law school actually blaming single mothers for the fact that black students are getting lower scores on a standardized test?
It’s an analysis so ahistorical and illogical that it’s almost laughable. Certainly it’s not the level of argument or reasoning that you would expect to get from a law school professor. I can only hope that Graglia brings a higher level of rigor to areas where he considers himself more of an expert.
But we shouldn’t be surprised that this ignorant commentary flowed from Graglia’s mouth. This is the same professor who in 1997 was rebuked by many of his colleagues when he claimed black and Hispanic cultures “set children up for failure.” He didn’t learn an important lesson in 1997—when it comes to analyzing black and Hispanic, he needs to keep his mouth shut because, as he says about himself, “it’s no area where I can claim expertise.”
This is an exercise that the black community seemingly gets sucked into every year, when a new white face pops up and proclaims himself an instant expert on black history, black culture, black academic performance. How many of these single, poor, uneducated black mothers has Graglia encountered to form an analysis that rests solely on his expectation that they are the reason why black students underperform? Does he think that the children of poor, uneducated, single white mothers inherently have stronger academic skills—or that poor, uneducated, single white mothers are better parents or role models than single black mothers? (We’d like to point out that one-fourth of white students are now raised by single white mothers.)
Has Graglia ever been to the schools that produce these poor black kids—and if he has, how could he ever conclude that the problem rests with the marital status of their mothers, rather than the depressingly inadequate facilities, teachers and administrators that oversee their educations?
Oh, the tangled web that is race-based analysis in America. On behalf of the black community, I have a simple request: When you’re gonna analyze us, at least know what you’re talking about.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.