Before I started college, I was under the impression that African Americans are less intellectually-capable than White Americans. This stereotype was based on the observation that most entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are White Americans and the same is true on Wall Street and in other professions with the exception of sports. Even though White Americans are the largest racial group in America, their representation in leadership positions as compared to African Americans is far greater than what their relative population ratios would suggest. As I started college and got more opportunities to interact with African Americans and observe their academic performance, I realized that my initial perception was ill-founded. African Americans are not under-represented in leadership positions across professions because they are intellectually inferior to White Americans but due to racial prejudice that limits academic and professional opportunities as well as the effects of historical discrimination.
As I took classes in college, I soon realized that African American students would do at least as well in academics as the average person from other races including White Americans. This puzzled me because it went against the conventional idea I had all along. Thus, I started interacting more with African American students, many of whom are now good friends of mine. They gradually helped me unravel the mystery and convinced me that their under-representation in leadership positions across professions was in no way a fair representation of their intellectual capabilities.
My African American friend pointed out that one’s economic and family background has a great influence on the probability of going to college as well as having a head start in career. They stated that African Americans have only recently gained rights as compared to White Americans that have been a privileged race throughout America’s history. It is not uncommon to meet baby boomers among African Americans today whose parents lived under racial segregation and could not even attend high school. Thus, many African Americans had to start from the scratch and while African Americans have made a significant progress, it takes time to reverse the effects of centuries of racial discrimination.
My African American friends have also pointed out the presence of glass ceiling in Corporate America which limits professional opportunities for certain groups including those from minority groups. My friends have pointed out that women as a group serve as good analogy. More women are now graduating from colleges than men yet men continue to dominate America’s board rooms. This is because men tend to prefer those from their own gender and similarly, African Americans have sometimes trouble breaking into leadership positions because people tend to prefer those from their own racial group.
Discussions with African American friends have opened up my mind and made me more aware of the biases that may still be present in my thinking. I have also observed that there are indeed more African American leaders across professions including Fortune 500 companies than there were even few decades ago. It is not a reasonable assumption that African Americans as a group have experienced sudden jump in intellectual capabilities over the last few decades. Thus, the most plausible explanation is that the society has improved over time and the availability of more opportunities has allowed African American leaders to demonstrate their potential. I now understand that lack of African American leaders across professions has less to do with the racial group’s intellectual capabilities and more with the lack of professional leadership opportunities available to them.