The article in question, Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism is written by Samuel Getachew for the New York Times magazine. The article discusses problems of black exceptionalism in connection with education and learning. The author talks about their personal experiences in the education system and its media coverage. In particular, Getachew highlights the disparity between the successes of particular black people and their contemporaries. In terms of academic success, the author states, that a large inequality in treatment and outcome is still present, disallowing many young talented black people from finding success.
Thesis Statement: While the media continues to consider the success of black people as an exception, the systematic issues that plague their communities continue to go ignored. While there are several opportunities for black people to prove themselves to society or secure a good education, several artificial limitations exist that limit the potential of non-white communities. In particular, a lack of perceived belonging and a set of conditions that favor white people can be highlighted.
Evidence and Counter Evidence
The author’s main talking point in this discussion pertains to the fact that the number of black people succeeding in academia is so low that it is considered an exception, not a rule. This becomes the problem when contrasted with the lack of attention or support black students receive. Most of the points Getachew brings up are supported by his examples and stories from his community, Oakland. First, he talks about the Paideia program, which is cited as a major contributor to his, and many other peoples’ academic success. However, the author notes, that not a lot of black people enroll in the program, and despite the population of the college is a quarter black, only a couple of program attendees besides himself were black. This is seen by the writer as a result of several problems, the first of which is a sense of exclusion many black kids face in trying to succeed academically. Being almost fully surrounded by exclusively white people can be discouraging for a person of color, Getachew says. Quote, the article states “since the classes lack diversity, many students of color feel that these courses aren’t ‘for them,’ or feel that they won’t enter a welcoming environment” (Getachew, 2021). The disparity presented in the program creates an unwelcome environment and acts as a source of exclusion in and of itself.
Secondly, there are additionally other limitations that may potentially stop students from applying to the program. One of which is a need for an early application and a recommendation from teachers. As implied by the general message of the text, these requirements, coupled with institutionalized racism and a difference between the success of white and black people additionally place the odds against the latter group.
There are some potential counterarguments to the claims of the author, most of such stemming from personal responsibility and a desire to succeed. One could argue that if a black person strove for success, they would disregard any potential feelings of being excluded and focus on getting a good education, as well as acquiring any potential recommendations and approvals needed. From this perspective, the success and the ability of black people to be well-educated depends only on their willingness and rigor in that endeavor.
In terms of language, the author mainly relies on evocative and emotional language, which is used to connect with his audience and sound convincing. Throughout most of the paper, personal examples are used, talking about other people growing up and studying in Oakland. The author’s academic achievements are used as well, and the story of Akintunde Ahmad is mentioned as well. The main thesis of the paper is said from the perspective of the author himself, a person disillusioned with the education system – “I’d known Mr. Muhammad since he was a freshman, and I was incredibly proud of him. But the familiar fanfare once again failed to acknowledge the challenges that Black students — including Mr. Muhammad and me — continue to face” (Getachew, 2021). This sentiment is evoked throughout the rest of the paper, where various examples about Oakland are given, as a way to display the problem from the view of regular students.
As a source of information and personal experience, the author can be considered comparatively credible. Despite their young age, he can be considered an established and acclaimed writer. Exemplified by the paper itself, he knows how to properly weave a narrative together while engaging his audience and translating the message across the entirety of the text. On the page, Samuel Getachew is credited as “a poet, writer and model from Oakland, Calif. He will attend Yale University in the fall” (Getachew, 2021). This assessment can be seen as both ones establishing his professional roots and giving recognition to his skill as a writer. In the paper itself, he also talks about developing his voice during his education. As a black person in Oakland, the man is intimately familiar with the problems he discusses, enabling him to speak with a sense of authority.
In conclusion, it can be said that the personal narrative of the author, which discusses systematic issues of the American education system is well-made and relatively convincing. The arguments outlined are based on the individual experiences of black people in Oakland, as well as some of the particular educational issues present in Oakland Technical High School. The main arguments are based on the differences between opportunities and chances given to black and white students, as well as a culture of exceptionalism created by the disparity.
Getachew, S. (2021). Black valedictorians and the toxic trope of black exceptionalism. The New York Times. Web.