To Be Gifted, Learning Challenged, and Black

This series on ethnicity and 2e takes a closer look at how twice exceptionality intersects with ethnic stereotypes, often adding another layer of “difference” to students. Also see: "Taming the 'Tiger Mom' Stereotype."

It’s hard enough to be gifted with a learning challenge and be recognized by educators as twice-exceptional. When a layer of racism is added to it, it becomes nearly impossible.

“Unfortunately,” says Dr. Donna Ford of Vanderbilt University, author of several books on diversity and ethnicity, “most teachers are white and female and used to looking at what they perceive to be wrong with black students, particularly black males. They look for deficits and make referrals to special education, but not gifted education.”

African-American students are disproportionately enrolled in special ed classes. Only a small percentage get to go to gifted classes.  The low percentage of cases of identified twice-exceptionality among these students is, according to Ford, “problematic,” and points to the stark difference between equality in access to education and equity in education.

A teacher in a recent study by Renae D. Mayes of Ball State University reports that people have a vision of “what giftedness should look like.” It doesn’t look black.

“What’s called soft racism is often implicit bias,” Ford says. “It’s really hard racism and it’s so detrimental and blinding in terms of teacher expectations of black students. It does a lot of damage.”

Generally, in education, there is a widening achievement gap between black and white students. According to the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 39 percent of whites were considered proficient at eighth grade mathematics versus nine percent of blacks. Th...


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About Stuart Matranga

Stuart Matranga is an author and journalist who has written for Rolling Stone, Maxim, and other magazines. As a teacher, he specializes in students who are reluctant readers. Stuart has extensive experience teaching and working with twice-exceptional students.