The International Colloquium on Black Males In Education
Hidden Battlegrounds
Dr. Jerlando Jackson — who is also the founder of UW-
Madison’s Wei LAB — is co-founder of The
International Colloquium on Black Males in Education.
being held November 5-8 in Milwaukee.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling

About 10 years ago, a lightbulb went off for Dr. Jerlando Jackson and a colleague who were asked to
write a paper on the underachievement of males across the globe. Jackson had been viewing the work
that he did in a silo in terms of what he thought was a unique U.S. experience. Through writing the
paper, Jackson and his colleague saw the universality of some of the issues that Black males face and
decided to convene a meeting that would bring all of those voices — scholars from across the globe —
together to discuss the issues.

“We set out and reviewed everything written on males globally,” Jackson said. “There were a lot of
interesting things, but one really stood out and it was that the work on African American males or Black
males, depending on the country and the terminology, that the set of issues was very pervasive. It was
surprising to me and him because we’ve always thought about the work we were doing respectively
and how we talk about these challenges in the United States as being pretty endemic to the United
States. These are just the issues that happen here. And it’s very unique to the United States. And other
places don’t really have this. We had that mindset. And then to see that it didn’t matter if it were in
Detroit or London. Some of these issues were just exactly the same whether it was adult males or youth.”

Taking a global approach to the issues that Black males face has often times led to a more global understanding of the role that African Americans have played in
the world and their place in history. The 2018 conference was held in Ireland.

“Ireland became fascinating because last year was the centennial celebration of Frederick Douglass,” Jackson said. “One of the three major places that he had a
global impact on was Ireland. And so Ireland reveres him as much or more than we do. If we think back historically, he was one of our first global ambassadors
before we had the title. He played a very important role from a political perspective where he had advocated on behalf of the U.S. in other countries.”

Holding the conference in Ireland also allowed the conferees to understand the historical relationship between African Americans and Irish experience and how they
shed light on the experience of the other.

“Douglass gave them the analogue that was going on in the United States around race that they have around religion,” Jackson emphasized. “The way they had —
and to some extent today — the breakdown on Protestant and Catholic, they had to come to the reality that race and religion were almost synonymous. If you were
not X, you weren’t considered white. And therefore in a binary context and in a UK context, they have this notion of political blackness, which is binary, white or
black. So in terms of black, you might say that is a person from Asia or another country. But the political blackness, it is binary. If you don’t get to be white because
of your religion, even though your skin is white, then it plays out in very similar ways. So last year’s participants got a treatment to the impact and value of Douglass
in general, but then also unpacked the longstanding, deep-seated relationship
between Ireland and Black America and brought it all the way to when there
was a time in the United States where the Irish and Black Americans lived
together. At one point, one of the dividing aspects between the Democratic
Party and the Republican Party had something to do with some leverages
between the Irish and Blacks. And so this is a long and interesting history.
Even the rudiments of the Ku Klux Klan were traced back to Ireland hillbillies
and William of Orange. It was clearly one of the colloquiums where
participants learned more from attending than they probably would have
otherwise, even about the connection between Black America and Ireland. It
was very fascinating. It would be among the top experiences in my opinion.”

Leaving the silos behind can lead to a broader understanding of national and
international trends. While the issues that Black men face can sometimes be
obvious, they can also be indicators of larger trends. In many ways, the issues
that Black males face make them the canary in the coal mine.

“Your observation is spot on in the sense that what gets lost in this
discussion, in our discussion and most discussions, is that there is a general
decline in male participation in education, particularly post-secondary
education and success even in the workplace,” Jackson said. “But what
sometimes we forget when we talk about this gender gap on our college
campuses where we are at 60-40 going on 70-30, that is largely not being
accounted for by students of color. The overall majority of the 45,000 students
here are not of color. They are white men. So that decline is largely accounted
for by white males going to college less. We, as a nation, have to be attentive
to it. I think two years ago, the University of Texas convened a panel on male
enrollment in higher education. They had four of us and we all had something
different to talk about. They asked me to talk about the overall decline. I shared
with them data from the census bureau and other sources. It outlined how this
decline is overwhelmingly accounted for by what is currently white males. It
intensifies when we add race and ethnicity. Quite frankly, we have a dynamic
we have to think about carefully when it comes to our ability to fulfill our needs
in our workforce.”

While it is always important to pay attention to the details on a micro level, a
broader lens on the national and international levels can create a clarity of
view that places the micro level in perspective as well as lead to more fruitful
discussions about solutions to commonly experienced problems. The
International Colloquium on Black Males In Education is leading the way.