The Role Socioeconomic Class Plays in the Achievement Expectations of Young Black Women

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How Class Differences Determine Achievement Expectations in Young Black Women

In late 1984 when Vanessa L. Williams was forced to resign from the Miss America pageant because of nude photos, I knew that her career was not going to be derailed. I knew furthermore that she was going to achieve greatness in her career. The expectations was that Ms. Williams came from a middle class background and she would achieve great career success despite a temporary detour along the way.

Young Black women from middle and upper-middle socioeconomic backgrounds are expected to achieve great success and affluence. This mantra is indoctrinated in them from infancy. For example, I was expected to attend college and have a professional career. My parents, teachers, and relatives taught me this. Furthermore, Blacks from middle and upper-middle socioeconomic backgrounds are more exposed to positive elements of people achieving academic and career success than blacks from the lower socioeconomic classes.

Young middle-class and upper middle-class Black women are taught to stay in school and not to indulge in any deleterious behavior which would hinder future success. Young middle-class and upper-middle class Black women are also objects of intense, hands on parenting. Their activities are structured among school, church, and cultural activities such as piano lessons, singing lessons, and dancing school among other activities. Black women from middle and upper middle socioeconomic backgrounds do not have unscheduled activities. Their parents usually know what they are doing at all times.

In Black middle-class and upper-middle class families, there is plenty of parent-child interaction which parents and children communicate with each other. Black middle-class and upper-middle class parents usually know what is on their children's minds and vice versa. As a result of this communication between parent and child, the child knows what the parent expects of her and she knows that the parent is genuinely concerned about her.

As a consequence of this intense parent to child contact in Black middle-class and upper middle-class families, daughters are less likely to indulge in deleterious behavior and are not likely to have teen-age pregnancies and other pathologies which is prevalent in the Black lower-class community. Pathologies of this sort are severely frowned upon in middle-class and upper-middle class Black communities. Young Black women in these socioeconomicl groups are expected to achieve academic and career greatness.

Now let us look at the Black lower-class community. Young Black women born into lower socioeconomic communities are stigmatized. They are not expected to achieve by the parents, peers, and teachers. Black lower-class parents neither often have time nor the inclination to talk to their daughters. Often, young Black women in lower class households often act as surrogate parents, raising their younger siblings with little or no time to themselves. They are not taught to dream and achieve by their parents because their parents did not achieve anything of significance themselves. So this pathology is passed down to the daughter. Oftentimes, young Black lower-class women become pregnant to escape their harsh lower-class environment and to get away from the parental environment.

Usually the young Black lower-class woman who is pregnant goes into a worse environment than from which she escaped. As a result of her early pregnancies, she usually end up on public assistance or in a low-paying dead end job. The young Black lower-class woman is usually in a no-win situation in life.

There are little or no options left to her to better herself academically and economically as there are no such viable models of such in lower-class Black communities. Furthermore, with the burgeoning socioeconomic crisis at the present time, there is a one to a million chance that a young Black lower-class woman will ever achieve middle-class status or better as jobs now require a combination of advanced computer skills and a college education which she often does not possess. A young Black woman born into the lower class usually remains lower-class.

Societal expectations mandate that young middle-class and upper middle-class Black women achieve great academic, career, and intellectual success. Conversely, young Black lower-class women receive expectations that they cannot and/or unable to achieve worthwhile academic, career, and intellectual success. Young Black lower-class women are taught to settle for a hands-to-month existence and no more. Young Black lower-class women are clearly taught to fail and to expect nothing other than poverty, a dead end job, and/or to scratch out a very meager existence.

To summarize, young Black women received tacit and spoken messages regarding success and achievement regarding their respective social class. Besides social class playing an integral part, other influences play a role. The immediate family environment is not the only cultural nucleus that relay such messages to young Black women. Other sociocultural factors such as other family members, the peer group, neighborhood environment, and other authority figures voice their expectations. All these factors and variables play a crucial part determing whether a young Black woman will succeed or fail.

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