Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism


The article in question, Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism was written by Samuel Getachew for the New York Times magazine and published on June 29, 2021. The article discusses the 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. Getachew highlights the disparity between the successes of particular black people and their contemporaries. In terms of academic success, the author states a large inequality in treatment and outcome is still present, disallowing many young talented black people from finding success.

Getachew is concerned with the media portrayal of black people’s success as an exception, as the systematic issues plaguing their communities continue to be ignored. He argues that while black people have many opportunities to prove themselves to society or secure a good education, equally, many artificial limitations exist that limit their potential (Getachew, 2021). He highlights a lack of perceived belonging and a set of conditions that favor white people. The concerns of Getachew are visibly justified as these elements may directly impact the motivation of students. Therefore, the article is a valuable approach to engaging people and causing change within society through peaceful means.

Evidence and Counter Evidence

The author’s main point in this discussion is that the number of black people succeeding in academia is so low that it is considered an exception, not a rule. The situation becomes a problem when contrasted with the lack of attention or support black students receive. Most of the points Getachew brings up are supported by his experience and stories from his community, Oakland. First, he talks about the Paideia program, which he describes as a major contributor to his and many other people’s academic success. However, the author notes that not many black people enroll in the program. Even though a quarter of the students are representatives of the black community, only a couple of program attendees besides himself were black.

The writer sees this as a result of a number of problems, one 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 (2021) says. 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 unwelcoming environment and acts as a source of exclusion.

The considerations of Getachew are solid in the sense that they represent a valid point of concern for educational facilities across the US and perhaps the globe. The sense of exclusion is a dangerous construct within society. Numerous research was done analyzing the disproportionate and racialized disciplinary measures across public schools in the United States. The research by Wilson et al. (2020) indicated a direct correlation between such punitive measures and the likelihood of engaging in criminal activity. At the same time, research by Juvonen et al. (2018) emphasized the positive effect of diversity on students’ well-being, mainly the enhanced sense of security and diminished vulnerability associated with loneliness and victimization. Therefore, the narrative of Getachew may indirectly point to the effect of disproportionality on academic performance and the chance of successfully attending a prestigious higher educational institution.

There are additional 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. Thus, the students could be discouraged from even attempting the pursuit of advanced programs from the same feeling of alienation.

However, it is difficult to evaluate the scope of institutionalized racism via the article provided. It could be considered that Getachew may have misinterpreted the personal unwillingness of the students with the oppression in consideration of the course. The article does not mention any direct obstacles that prevent students of color from applying for the program. This point could be considered as the counterargument to the claim of Getachew. The importance of personal responsibility and a desire to succeed in students’ progression is undeniable. 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 and acquiring any potential recommendations and approvals needed. From this perspective, black people’s success and ability to be well-educated depends only on their willingness and rigor in that endeavor.

Nevertheless, these assertions provide a weak objection to the structural disparity mentioned by Getachew. The importance of belonging within the school environment and the sense of security are crucial for developing motivation. Therefore, a counter objection could be made that without establishing proper mechanisms that would ensure the engagement of minority students, it would be difficult to expect a natural strive for success. As a result, it is difficult to argue that the problem of motivation could be the most influential. However, since Getachew did not mention any attempts from the school faculty to engage students in potentially determinant activities such as the Paideia program, it might be necessary to investigate the professional attitude of the faculty.

Language Use

The author mainly relies on evocative and emotional language, which is used to connect with his audience and sound convincing. The author used quotations, metaphors, and repetitions to make his piece more compelling. Simultaneously, the phrase “black people” is often emphasized to reflect an attitude toward racial disparities. Furthermore, the author employs the metaphor “a hometown hero” to stress the significance of his colleague’s accomplishments and create a point for discussion. Despite these methods of persuasion, the author remains straightforward and freely expresses his opinion to the reader. The paper’s main thesis is narrated from the perspective of the author. The author utilizes the perspective of a person disillusioned with the education system. It is evident from the lines: “the familiar fanfare once again failed to acknowledge the challenges that Black students — including Mr. Muhammad and I — continue to face” (Getachew, 2021). This sentiment is evoked throughout the rest of the paper, where various examples about Oakland are given to display the problem from the view of regular students.

Credibility Paragraph

As a source of information and personal experience, the author can be considered comparatively credible. Despite his young age, he can be considered an established and acclaimed writer. He knows how to properly weave a narrative together while engaging his audience and translating the message across the entirety of the text, and the article exemplifies it. 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 establishing his professional roots and recognizing 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, demonstrates engaging, convincing, and well-structured craftsmanship. The arguments outlined are based on the individual experiences of black people in Oakland and some of the specific educational issues present in Oakland Technical High School. However, they raise numerous questions about its structural organization and inevitably point to the need to investigate public schools across the state in detail to evaluate the engagement attempts of the faculty and the presence of racialized disparity in participation in advanced programs. The author demonstrates a glimpse at the differences between opportunities and chances given to black and white students and a culture of exceptionalism created by the disparity.


Getachew, S. (2021, June 29). Black valedictorians and the toxic trope of black exceptionalism. The New York Times. Web.

Juvonen, J., Kogachi, K., & Graham, S. (2018). When and how do students benefit from ethnic diversity in middle school?. Child development, 89(4), 1268-1282. Web.

Wilson, M. A. F., Yull, D. G., & Massey, S. G. (2020). Race and the politics of educational exclusion: explaining the persistence of disproportionate disciplinary practices in an urban school district. Race Ethnicity and Education, 23(1), 134-157. Web.

Cite this paper

Select style


ChalkyPapers. (2022, November 1). Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism. Retrieved from


ChalkyPapers. (2022, November 1). Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism.

Work Cited

"Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism." ChalkyPapers, 1 Nov. 2022,


ChalkyPapers. (2022) 'Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism'. 1 November.


ChalkyPapers. 2022. "Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism." November 1, 2022.

1. ChalkyPapers. "Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism." November 1, 2022.


ChalkyPapers. "Black Valedictorians and the Toxic Trope of Black Exceptionalism." November 1, 2022.