John Uzo Ogbu Essay

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John Uzo Ogbu was an anthropology professor known for his theories on race and intelligence and their relationship to academic and economic achievement. Born in the village of Umudomi in the Onicha Government Area of Nigeria, he taught at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1970 until his death in 2003.

Ogbu’s pivotal work was regarding “voluntary and involuntary minority” groups. Obgu observed that minority groups who are academically successful in spite of discrimination are characterized as “voluntary minorities” (immigrants who chose to come to the United States) versus “involuntary” or “caste-like” minorities (born in the United States). He believed that “involuntary minorities” often adopt an “oppositional identity” to the mainstream culture, which inhibits their ability to navigate through dominant economic and academic systems. He also examined the historical treatment of these minorities in society at large in both social and economic domains as well as in education.

In 1996, Ogbu played a role in the debate about the use of African American vernacular English. At the time, he was a member of a task force on African American education in Oakland. He observed that the “standard” or “proper” English required in the classroom differed from Black vernacular English spoken at home and outside school and encouraged the teaching of Ebonics as a way to help African American students transition to traditional English.

Some of his works include “Black-American Students and the Academic Racial Stratification in the United States: Why Inequality Persists” (2002), and “Understanding the School Performance of Urban Blacks: Some Essential Background Knowledge” (1997).


  1. Ogbu, J. (1978). Minority education and caste: The American system in cross-cultural perspective. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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