Saturday, March 31, 2012
When An Opportunity May Not Be An Opportunity
Recently I visited the nation's capitol to attend a symposium on the lack of Minority Males in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The symposium was awesome. After the event, on our way to dinner I became involved in a conversation with a old friend regarding the need for such a symposium. My friend wanted my thoughts on why I thought this was a problem. He wanted to know if I thought this was an issue with the system or if it was an issue with Black people. His question was more focused on Blacks since we are both Black. I want to be clear that I am not diminishing the underrepresentation of other groups that were a part of the discussion of the symposium.
While I am less concerned with who is at fault and more concerned with providing a solution I do understand that it is critical to fully understand a problem before trying to provide solutions. The issue of the lack of Blacks and other "minorities" in STEM is a complex social issue. But let us be clear. It is not NEW. And Black folks are NOT at fault. It is very puzzling to me particularly when it comes to Black folks, that we tend to blame the victim. Why is that? Do we think Blacks do not want to take part in the economic boon that is happening in the country. Are we averse to the way the world is being led by 21st century technology? I was in the middle of trying to familiarize him with the historical factors that have contributed to this gap when he abruptly interrupted and ask the following question:
Do you think the problem is with the system or do you think the problem is with Black people?
The tone of his voice suggested he had already decided who was to blame. He went on to state. “The opportunity is out here and we are not taking advantage of it.” The fact that we are not taking advantage of opportunities that are abundant is not a point that I would argue. But when we get into the reasons as to why we are not taking advantage of these opportunities, ah there is the rub.
Let us ask that question. If there is an opportunity made available to me but I have been conditioned to BELIEVE it is not for me thus I do not pursue the opportunity am I to blame for my behavior? The same argument can be made for girls and math. In fact in can probably be made for all of the under represented groups as it relates to STEM.
Girls are conditioned to believe that “math is not for girls”. This happened in the past and it happens now. This social conditioning is a huge part of the problem and if we are not going to address the conditioning it does not matter how much money is allocated to purchase hardware or wire schools. There needs to be a change in mindset. A change in beliefs. The social conditioning must be removed and replaced with a more empowering mindset.