The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism

A True Psychology of African American Students

by Kevin O. Cokley


More than five million African Americans now hold college degrees.

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Cover image for The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism

November 2014


Pages 131
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Psychology/General

Why do students who belong to racial minority groups—particularly black students—fall short in school performance? This book provides a comprehensive and critical examination of black identity and its implications for black academic achievement and intellectualism.

No other group of students has been more studied, more misunderstood, and more maligned than African American students. The racial gap between White and African American students does exist: a difference of roughly 20 percent in college graduation rates has persisted for more than the past two decades; and since 1988, the racial gap on the reading and mathematics sections of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) has increased from 189 points to 201 points. What are the true sources of these differences?

In this book, psychology professor and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Black Psychology Kevin Cokley, PhD, delves into and challenges the dominant narrative regarding black student achievement by examining the themes of black identity, the role of self-esteem, the hurdles that result in academic difficulties, and the root sources of academic motivation. He proposes a bold alternate narrative that uses black identity as the theoretical framework to examine factors in academic achievement and challenge the widely accepted notion of black anti-intellectualism. This book will be valuable to all educators, especially those at the high school through undergraduate college/university level, as well as counselors associated with academic and community institutions, social service providers, policy makers, clergy and lay staff within the faith-based community, and parents.


  • Uses African American identity as the framework to understand academic achievement and to expose the biases of "deficit thinking" that presumes that under-achievement among black students is related to deficiencies in motivation, intelligence, culture, or socialization
  • Presents information and viewpoints informed by empirical research in a manner that is accessible to general readers and non-specialists
  • Uses personal anecdotes and examples from popular culture to connect with readers and better illustrate the validity of the author's strengths-based approach rather than the conventional deficit-based approach
  • Challenges the idea that black students are inherently anti-intellectual and do not value school as much as their non-black peers
Author Info

Kevin O. Cokley, PhD, is professor of educational psychology and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Black Psychology. His published works include the article "What Do We Know about the Motivation of African American Students? Challenging the 'Anti-Intellectual' Myth" and the chapter "The Impact of Racialized Schools and Racist (Mis)Education on African American Students' Academic Identity" in the book Addressing Racism: Facilitating Cultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings. Cokley holds a doctorate in counseling psychology from Georgia State University.



"Kevin Cokley's The Myth of Black Anti-Intellectualism is an important contribution to our understanding of African American students, their diverse incentives for learning, and the effects of the academic environments in which they learn. Cokley's text accomplishes what few in the field even attempt—it renders black students as full, complex human beings. In a compelling combination of autobiographical journey and scholarly inquiry, Cokley tests multiple hypotheses of identity, race, bias, and achievement to provide a full picture of the complicated educational world black students navigate."—Melissa Harris-Perry, Presidential Endowed Chair in Politics and International Affairs, Wake Forest University; Director, Anna Julia Cooper Center; Host, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry

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