Univ of Texas Prof Says Single Moms to Blame for Black Student Failure

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.

RELATED POSTS:

1. Forget About Superheroes: Single Moms Are the Ones With the Super Powers!
2. When It Comes To the Best Schools, Where Are the Black Students?
3. A Black Mom’s Lament: How Can We Parents Stop Schools From Failing Our Kids?

 

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Denene Millner

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.

14 Comments

  1. It is time for us, African-Americans, to start looking at ourselves. The fact that 70% or so of our children come from a one-parent home and 50% of our young men do not graduate high school is an issue. I don’t just mean mom and dad are divorced and the kids do the weekend shuffle, in most of these cases mom or dad are nowhere to be found. This professor might be wrong, but the sad thing is that we as a people just dismiss it without further research and deep thought. The facts are the facts no matter if they sound racist coming from this guy or just overly critical from a member of the black community (i.e Pres. Obama’s father’s day speech). Maybe if we started to look at this criticism as constructive we could join together and find solutions to some of the problems that are most prevalent among our children.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Of course, there is no denying that when it comes to education, there is devastation in our community and that all-too-many of our children are suffering. But to suggest for even a second that the finger should be pointed solely at single black mothers is absolutely laughable. And deeply disturbing. Because, surely, there are many other factors that feed into the statistics you site. Segregated ill-kept schools? Inadequate teachers? Tying black women to low-wage jobs that make it difficult for a working, single mother to afford extras—time and money—that might help her kid succeed? Absentee fathers and the emotional, physical and psychological toll that takes on a child’s ability to focus and learn? Tests that are written and geared exclusively to helping white middle class children ace them? Lack of education innovation in predominately black schools? Poverty? Hunger? Poor transportation? Lack of or little proper healthcare? Are we really going to deny that these things all, together, make up the terrifying soup of crap that gets heaped on our children, and place ALL blame on the backs of single black mothers? For real? Oh.

  2. Ditto to Angela…but I can see it both ways too. Why is it that someone outside of the race has to portray American Americans as having the issue? As if they are the experts. This topic cannot be discussed in one blog. This is difficult for me to take in. There is a lot more behind why this is such a large and sad issue.

  3. “Because, surely, there are many other factors that feed into the statistics you site. Segregated ill-kept schools? Inadequate teachers? Tying black women to low-wage jobs that make it difficult for a working, single mother to afford extras—time and money—that might help her kid succeed? Absentee fathers and the emotional, physical and psychological toll that takes on a child’s ability to focus and learn? Tests that are written and geared exclusively to helping white middle class children ace them? Lack of education innovation in predominately black schools? Poverty? Hunger? Poor transportation? Lack of or little proper healthcare? Are we really going to deny that these things all, together, make up the terrifying soup of crap that gets heaped on our children, and place ALL blame on the backs of single black mothers? For real? Oh.”

    Of note here is that you won’t presribe any of the “bad” on women. Your not spreading the blame, your covering entirely for women and black people are realizing this isn’t helping. What then are single mothers guilty of? Nothing?

    Absentee fathers are the result of laws denying MOST men any right to their children. Black single mothers and single mothers have abused that privilege immensely and never bring up this sexism which has destroyed the black family and black boys in favor of a disastrous matriarchy promoted by racists white democrats. It’s a positive step away from this dysfunctional detour to call black single mothers on their selfish behavior and I’m glad more women are showing strength in this regard. It is well past time that these truths be discussed openly and without black people reflexively shutting down intellectually.

    P.S. It seems counter-intuitive to support black women who request outrage at this professors words when those same women express the real reason behind this disfunction of black students is black men (absentiism). You mean the same black fathers whose mates didn’t want them around their own children or at the very least disciplining them?

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Brother, of course there is blame enough to spread around. Some of that blame should fall on some single moms who aren’t doing what they need to do to give their kids the right things they need to thrive. But again, I ask: is the problem solely caused and perpetuated by single black mothers? I categorically answer, HELL NO. And I’ll say it all day and deep into the night.

      And I’m not sure if this is the first time you’re reading MyBrownBaby. If it is, welcome! But I encourage you to dig into the posts—five year’s worth—and see where we stand on the importance of the strength, love and support of black fathers. We celebrate them when, it seems, no one else will. That is an act of courage. Slapping an entire group of single black women who are doing their best to raise their children AGAINST ALL ODDS is cowardly.

  4. Denene and Nick: I’m a regular reader of this site and an admirer of the important work that both of you do. But I was slightly troubled by Nick’s response to the professor’s one-sided comments. Certainly the professor’s remark was, as Nick says, sorely lacking in perspective. Placing the statistics in perspective was absolutely necessary. I would have liked, though, for Nick to apply his intellect and wisdom to the astoundingly high rate of black children born into single-parent families. The figure is 72 percent. I’m not a caps lock dude, but…SEVENTY-TWO PERCENT!! We cannot pretend this is not **one of several factors** in the academic underperformance of black children. Yet in his zeal to defend single moms, Nick “makes no attempt to analyze the connection” (to quote, well, Nick).

    Single black moms are absolutely not to “blame” for the fact that, on average, black students perform worse in school than white children. This situation is clearly the result of many longstanding problems. But there are strong correlations between being an unmarried parent and being poor. And then there are strong correlations between low income and low academic performance. Let’s connect those dots.

    I know that black women, and black people in general, have long been blamed for problems that have many other actors. I know that nobody wants to help black children more than the Millner-Chiles Media Machine. Which is why I urge you to confront this “72 Percent” issue with the compassion, context and insight that you rightfully find lacking in other places.

    With love and respect,

    Jesse

    • Come on, Jess. We write about the problems plaguing single mothers all the time—and in fact I wrote an ENTIRE BOOK about the need for fathers to step up and take responsibility for their offspring. 290 pages. So maybe I could have gone in a little more in the piece about single parenthood certainly being a factor in the black achievement gap, but I decided to take it in a different direction precisely because I wanted to shine the focus in other places. Like a simple algebraic equation, if indeed ALL CAPS 72 PERCENT of black kids are being raised by single parents, then by definition we have millions of black kids being raised by single parents who are doing well in school. Yes, having a struggling single mom as the head of the house isn’t going to make the job of school success easier, and in many cases will make it more difficult, but if that fact is being overcome by literally millions of black kids every day, then it would be disingenuous for us to elevate it to the top of the list of reasons why black kids fail—not when we see so many more directly relevant obstacles that black kids must overcome to achieve success. And it was especially galling and appalling for this analysis to be coming from an institution that was such a visible representative of the mainstream’s position that it’s acceptable to create inferior institutions for children of color and then pretend a generation later that we are surprised they aren’t achieving at the same level as others—and then somehow finger single mothers as the culprit. Huh? Really? Single mothers, and not all the things Denene lists above? So yes, maybe I could have put in another line castigating black men for not doing their job, if that would have made folks happy, but then let’s keep it real and not pretend that depositing a father in these households will solve the problem without talking about why the father isn’t there—likely because bro’man doesn’t have a job and a viable means to support his family. In other words, an analysis on a subject so nuanced and important just by necessity needs to go deeper than single moms. With love and respect.

  5. Why do these people keep acting like all single parents are the same? I’m a African-American, college-educated, “single mother” who co-parents with my son’s father, who does not live in our home, but is very active in our son’s life. My son’s father is self-employed, and operates his own business. My son and I live in a multi-generational home that includes his maternal grandparents, both who are college-graduates, and retired professionals. Instead of attenpting to lump all single-parent households together, I think there needs to more discussion raising the bar when it comes to teaching our children about character and morality. Also, there needs to be a complete overhaul of our education system, especially when it comes to education Black boys. Boys and girls are not the same, and they do not face the same issues, and as such we need to develop educational and mentoring programs that address those issues…and quit blaming everything on “Mama”.

  6. Oh dear. No. 1 – if you are the exception to the rule, no one is referring to you when we talk about the trials on single mothers. We are talking about the majority, not the exception. I come rely understand that there are many overarching obstacles in our community that prevent an overwhelming number of black children from succeeding academically. But I still think that most of the responsibility should be placed on the parent. I know that most parents, regardless of economic status, want the best for their children, however, I see a lot of parents taking a passive role in their children’s education and pointing the finger at the school system. I’ve seen too much poor parenting to want to rally against this man who is pointing out a correlation between low income mothers and poor academic performance of their children. I’ve seen too many people in poverty who are making no effort to change their situation. It is a sad sad situation that makes me nervous for the future of the black community.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      I take particular issue with your suggestion that the “majority” of black single mothers don’t care about their children’s education and take a passive role in it. I also take issue with your suggestion that every black single mother in poverty is not trying to change their situation. My God, stereotype much? Yes, absolutely, black folk need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but good Lord, how can that happen if they do not have the boots? And quite frankly, I don’t think the previous poster is the “exception.” At all. Just as you claim to see what you see in your own community, my view from my community is vastly different. It’s time we stopped stereotyping our own, and contributed to real solutions.

  7. Systematically blacks are disadvantaged in every way! Why is it that we can name the financial, educational, employment disadvantages but we always leave out the emotional, mental and social perspective disadvantages we’ve suffered. Look, if one race of people spend hundreds of years being torn down, at some point SOME OF THEM will become socially adapted to the tear down. We see it everyday. No mother that realizes how important education is would allow their child to be left behind in school, but due to the circumstances, some mothers “don’t” realize what’s happening. Why? because they were raised with the same torn down mentality and lack of exposure. Debate is fine, but action is DIVINE! If you as a black person are not involved in some way SOCIALLY to impact our future and stand in the gap where others perspective may be skewed the wrong direction, then what you say here is simply for debate value. Get involved, stand in the gap, be something to somebody where it matters…their future. As my grandma would say everybody don’t get everything you got. We have to realize that some folks just don’t have it to give so they don’t and their children suffer and not intentionally. I am the proud product of a single parent home and it was my MOTHER’S stress on the importance of good grades that made me succeed. It’s not the quantity of the parents it’s the quality of the parents.

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