Written by Sureshi Jayawardene and Serie McDougal
“African American mothers are dying at three to four times the rate of non-Hispanic white mothers, and infants born to African American mothers are dying at twice the rate as infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers.” This is a statement made in the Center for American Progress’s (CAP) recent report exploring the high rates of infant and maternal deaths among African Americans. Although some have suggested that the problem could be explained by Black mothers’ greater likelihood of being poor and less educated compared to White women, they found that this trend remained true across socioeconomic and education levels. Whatever their backgrounds, all African American mothers share experiences of racial and gender discrimination, which recent research shows, induces stress that can affect infant and maternal mortality. Even with notable Black women like Erica Garner and Serena Williams, pregnancy-related complications played a role in their own health. In Garner’s case, the two heart attacks she suffered after the birth of her son in August 2017 ultimately took her life at the end of that year. For the relatively powerful, healthy, and wealthy Serena Williams, while her pregnancy itself was easy, her daughter was born by emergency C-section because Williams’s heart-rate fell dramatically low.
Currently, maternal and infant mortality rates in the US represent a significant racial disparity. This racial gap has been consistent since the government and hospitals began collecting this data more than 100 years ago. According to CAP, in more than 50 years, not much has changed. It is the higher rates of preterm births and low birth weights among African American women that drives this gap.
CAP discusses how the typical risk factors such as physical health, socioeconomic status, prenatal care, and maternal health on their own are insufficient to explain the high incidence of the high rates of infant and maternal death among African Americans. Turning their attention to the role that racism plays in these outcomes, CAP concludes that chronic exposure especially during sensitive periods in early development can better explain these rates for African Americans. There are distinct developmental trajectories that set African American women apart from other racial groups, especially non-Hispanic Whites. According to CAP, “the social and economic forces of institutional racism set African American and non-Hispanic white women on distinct life tracks, with long-term consequences for their health and the health of their future children.” Some of these developmental setbacks experienced by African American families compared to non-Hispanic White families include:
The “life course perspective” is a necessary and important intervention in this area of research because the experience of systematic racism produces profound and lifelong effects for African American families. The relationship between racism and the life span can also be explained using data for Black immigrant women—from the Caribbean and the African continent—who arrive in the US as adults and experience better birth outcomes than native-born African American women. For native-born African Americans, the continuous experience of racism can lead them to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (emotional stress, physical harm, and fear) (Evans, Hemmings, Burkhalter, & Lacy, 2016). Racism can cause African Americans to evaluate themselves negatively based on externally imposed standards which can lead to depression. African American women must face gendered racism targeted at them because they are Black women. Experiencing this stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and hypertension. Physiologically, it can increase cortisone levels in a pregnant mother, which can: trigger labor and/or cause inflammation restricting blood flow to the placenta and stunting infant growth (Carpenter, 2017). According to Carpenter (2017) it is not just racial stress experienced during pregnancy, “stress throughout the span of a woman’s life can prompt biological changes that affect the health of her future children. Stress can disrupt immune, vascular, metabolic, and endocrine systems, and cause cells to age more quickly” (p.14).
Addressing this problem requires moving beyond a deficit approach that focusses almost exclusively on Black women’s health choices and behaviors and genetic factors. Advocacy movements such as Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the National Birth Equity Collaborative are making strides in raising public awareness through racial and reproductive justice campaigns. Despite these efforts, there needs to be more research that uncovers better data on Black women’s health disparities alongside more continuous, systematic reviews of maternal and infant death. CAP suggests comprehensive, nationwide data collection on maternal deaths and complications, research that substantiates the mother’s health before, during, and between pregnancies, data sets that include information about environmental and social risk factors, assessment and analyses on the impact of overt and covert racism on toxic stress, research that identifies best practices and effective interventions for improving the quality and safety of maternity care, and research to identify effective interventions for addressing social determinants of health disparities. We at Afrometrics support these recommendations and add that what is needed is a culturally relevant research program that not only examines more critically the role that racism plays throughout the life span, but also accounts for the specific cultural values and needs of African American mothers.
Carpenter, Z. (2017). “Black births matter.” The Nation, 304(7), 12-16.
Evans, A. M., Hemmings, C., Burkhalter, C., & Lacy, V. (2016). “Responding to race related trauma: counseling and research recommendations to promote post- Traumatic growth when counseling African American males.” Journal of Counselor Preparation & Supervision, 8(1), 78- 103.
Lambert, S., Robinson, W., & Ialongo, N. (2014). “The role of socially prescribed perfectionism in the link between perceived racial discrimination and African American adolescents’ depressive symptoms.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 42(4), 577-587.
Written by Serie McDougal
Having just celebrated Kwanzaa, it is rewarding to reflect on what the Nguzo Saba (seven principles of Kwanzaa) have offered to ceremonies and rituals for peoples of African descent. Beyond the week-long Kwanzaa holiday itself, the Nguzo Saba provides a value structure for Black schools, businesses, social services, and most especially rites of passage.
Belgrave, Allison, Wilson & Tademy (2011) developed a cultural enrichment program for Black boys called “Brothers of Ujima.” The third principles of the Nguzo Saba, Ujima is the Kiswahili word which means collective work and responsibility. The purpose of the “Brothers of Ujima” program is to take a strengths-based approach to Black male development by enhancing positive aspects of their selves and identities such as self-esteem, ethnic identity, pro-social behaviors, and positive development. Furthermore, the program seeks to reduce negative behaviors.
Graves & Aston (2018) investigated the intervention. They determined that the 14-week program was grounded in the Nguzo Saba. The format involves organizing the boys into Jamaas (Kiswahili for families). Wazees, or respected elders, who are mentors and members of the facilitation team are selected to facilitate each jamaa. The curriculum is divided into 14 sessions designed to achieve the following objectives:
The Impact of “Brothers of Ujima”
Qualitative analyses based only on observation of the program and interviews with the parents of boys who had participated in the program suggest that the boys formed positive fatherly relationships with the group leaders; the boys felt open enough to voluntarily share their school successes and failures with groups leaders; the physical activities they engaged in taught them self-discipline, and; mothers spoke of how the program changed their sons’ lives (Belgrave & Brevard, 2015). A different examination of the program in a school setting investigated the effects of the “Brothers of Ujima” program on a group of boys labeled “at-risk” and referred to the program for a documented need for emotional and behavioral support (Graves & Aston, 2018). The investigators measured how the program specifically impacted the boys’ internalization of Afrocentric values (i.e. principles of the Nguzo Saba), their resilience, and their sense of racial identity (the degree to which an individual feels a connection with and an attachment to their racial group based on a common history and shared values). The results showed that the program actually increased the boys’ Afrocentric values but had no significant effect on their racial identities or senses of resiliency. The authors speculate that this may be due to the fact that the results were based on the boys’ self-reported evaluations of the impact of the program.
Critical Evaluation of “Brothers of Ujima”
The initial evaluation of “Brothers of Ujima” was limited because it was only based on observation and interviews with parents instead of a pretest and posttest experimental design. The program would benefit greatly from some quantitative evaluation, with larger populations, building on the qualitative work that has already been done. Another concern that arises from the curriculum is its seeming lack of explicit focus on boyhood, manhood, or masculinity, which are important elements in development for boys. This may be a possible missed opportunity for how “Brothers of Ujima” has been implemented. Graves & Aston’s (2018) study of “Brothers of Ujima” was done in a school setting on a group of students who had been referred due to disciplinary problems such as suspension and expulsions. This may signal another problem at the level of program implementation. If “Brothers of Ujima” is targeted at groups of males who are exhibiting problem behaviors, this goes against one of the tenets of the program’s original design which is to organize the boys into diverse groups of Black males to enhance their exposure. This is an example of how deficit thinking can be used in otherwise African centered programming. Black males exhibiting problem behavior in some areas of their lives can benefit from Black males who are not, and vice versa. Those who are excelling in school can benefit from rites of passage as much as those who are not, but most importantly they can benefit from one another. However, the “Brothers of Ujima” program is among the most promising rites of passage programs available that have been exposed to some level of empirical evaluation. This is truly a testament to the creators of the program and their desire for improvement and embrace of critical assessment.
Belgrave, F. & Brevard, J. (2015). African American Boys: Identity, Culture, and Development. New York: Springer.
Belgrave, F. Z., & Allison, K. W. (2014). African American psychology: From Africa to America. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.
Belgrave, F. Z., Allison, K. W., Wilson, J., & Tademy, R. (2011). Brothers of Ujima: A cultural enrichment program to empower adolescent African American males. Champaign: Research Press.
Graves, S., & Aston, C. (2018). A mixed‐methods study of a social-emotional curriculum for Black male success: A school‐based pilot study of the Brothers of Ujima. Psychology in the Schools, 55(1), 76-84.
Written by Serie McDougal
Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta, Ditomasso (2014) conducted a study examining the extent to which Black boys are perceived as children compared to other boys. They found that Black boys were perceived as older and less innocent compared to White same age peers. Building on the study about Black males, Epstein, Blake & Gonzalez (2017) recently published a study adults’ views of Black girls as less-innocent and adult-like compared to White girls.
The study consistent of an innocence questionnaire measuring adultification applied to White girls and one to Black girls. Three-hundred-and-twenty-six participants were randomly assigned to a questionnaire about their perceptions of Black girls or White girls. The results indicated that Black girls were perceived as developmentally older, needing less nurturing, needing less protecting, needing less support, more knowledgeable about sex and adult topics compared to White girls. The authors explain the implications of these results in the context of how they affect how Black girls are treated in the education and criminal justice systems.
When Black girls are seen by school officials as older and less in need of support, this may explain why they experience disproportionate school disciplining because they are viewed as more culpable for their actions leading to more harsh punishments. School disciplining such as suspensions can increase the likelihood of arrest and dropping out of school The authors apply the same logic to (Epstein, Blake & Gonzalez (2017). The authors also explain that this ideology influences the disproportionate treatment of Black girls referred to law enforcement; particularly more harsh punishments in the juvenile justice system. The authors admit that the study doesn’t go as far as it could in explaining the implications.
The implications of this study are much more far reaching that the education and criminal justice systems that the authors mention. If Black girls are removed from their child development trajectory and presumed more adultlike compared to their peers, this is likely to have implications on how they are treated in the healthcare system, religious institutions, ROTC, parenting, social welfare policy, and in the media to name a few. This methodologically sound article can be built upon with implicit bias studies and experimental designs which are better suited to establish causation on comparison to the questionnaire approach that was used. Moreover, the National Association of Black Social Workers and the National Association of Black Psychologists and similar organizations are well suited to developed counseling practices, intervention strategies, and suggested parenting practices to preempt and prepare Black girls to maintain their confidence, and to be successful and protected in hostile environments that remove the normal societal protections afforded to children. Lastly, the discipline of Africana Studies is in a key position to take the lead in the development of the current body of research on Black girlhood. This critical work is already underway by emerging young scholars like Ms. Jewell L. Bachelor who recently completed the study: Reclaiming Black girlhood: An exploration into sexual identity and femininity. The development of a body of research will provide practitioners with the data necessary to guide effective practices to mitigate the effects on the dehumanization that Black girls face.
Bachelor, J. L. (2016). Reclaiming Black girlhood: An exploration into sexual identity and
femininity. San Francisco State University, Master’s Thesis.
Epstein. R., Blake, J.J. & Gonzalez, T. (2017). Girlhood interrupted: The erasure of Black girls’ childhood. Georgetown Law: Center on Poverty and inequality.
Goff, P., Jackson, M., Di Leone, B., Culotta, C., Ditomasso, N. (2014). The essence of innocence: Consequences of dehumanizing Black children. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 106(4), 526-545.
Healing, from an Afrocentric perspective, is the effort to maintain a state of balance between physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of reality. My question is, where do the politics of herb fit? Today several states in the U.S. allow both recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, including: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Even more, allow medicinal use of marijuana. What role does marijuana use play in the healing of Black men from racism? A new 2017 study investigated the relationship between the experience of discrimination and marijuana use among adult Black men (Parker, Benjamin, Archibald & Thorpe, 2017). Why? Because Black males report experiencing more chronic and acute racial discrimination throughout their lives than Black women (Parker, Benjamin, Archibald & Thorpe, 2017). Moreover, they have begun to have their first experiences with marijuana smoking earlier in life. The researchers used survey data from 1,271 Black men who participated in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL) from 2009.
Black male participants reported how often they smoked marijuana. To make the survey more interesting, the researchers measured two kinds of experiences with racism: everyday racism and major racism. Everyday Racism was measured by having the men complete the Everyday Discrimination Scale, which asked the men about a) being treated with less courtesy than others; b) being treated with less respect than others; c) receiving poorer services than others; d) being treated as if they are not smart by others; e) others being afraid of them; f) being perceived as dishonest by others; g) people acting like they were better than them; h) denied a loan; i) feeling threatened or harassed; j) being followed in stores more than others.
The researchers measured Major Racism by having the men answer questions about whether they were ever unfairly a) fired; b) not hired; c) denied promotion; d) treated/abused by the police; e) discouraged from continuing education; f) prevented from moving into a neighborhood; g) neighbors made life difficult; h) denied a loan; i) received poor service from a repairman.
The results showed that experiencing everyday racism was not associated with marijuana use. However, major discrimination was associated with marijuana use. The more the men experienced major discrimination the more they reported smoking marijuana. The men who reported smoking marijuana the most (every day in the last 12 months), had a decreased risk of experiencing major discrimination. But what does this mean? According to the authors, everyday discrimination is commonly related to increased marijuana use among non-Black ethnic groups. However, it may be that because Black men have more experienced with discrimination, they have become accustomed to these experiences and are not as affected. The authors explain that major discrimination was probably associated with increased marijuana use among Black men because it has a major effect on their livelihoods, their abilities to be providers, and their connectedness to society’s institutions. The authors argue that smoking marijuana may have been a way of escaping or alleviating the negative emotions associated with major discrimination.
One finding that almost goes unaddressed in this study is the fact that men who reported smoking marijuana the most (every day in the last 12 months), had a decreased risk of experiencing major discrimination. Perhaps, future research might explore why. Nevertheless, there are a range of possible reasons, including social withdrawal from institutions where major racism may occur to a change of perspective or outlook. The study also does not consider competing explanations for the relationship between major discrimination and marijuana use, like a rejection of social norms that make both discrimination and the rejection of marijuana normal. Although the researchers, Parker, Benjamin, Archibald & Thorpe (2017), suggest that the marijuana is used to escape or alleviate the negative emotions due to discrimination, could marijuana facilitate much more though? After all, no human behavior is inherently deviant, it only acquires that label in relation to a set of social norms. But whose norms? More and more today, marijuana is being seen as a treatment and less a form of deviance. However, people of African descent have recognized the healing properties of many herbs long before this more recent revolution in “established western medicine”. The healing traditions of many African ethnic groups included those who were herbalists and made use of mixtures of stems, seeds, roots, and leaves instilled with spiritual power for the purpose of restoring balance and harmony (Osanyin among the Yoruba and Inyanga among the Zulu). During slavery, Black people in the South regularly went to conjurers and root-workers who provided them with health services grounded in the use of spiritual power and herbal treatment (Savitt, 1987). Given that informal group healing making use of marijuana is not uncommon, what role might it play in formal healing interventions. People find different ways of making sense of racist experiences and dealing with the stress that may come from those experiences. Utsey, Adams & Bolden (2000) define Africultrual coping as “as an effort to maintain a sense of harmony and balance within the physical, metaphysical, collective/communal, and spiritual/psychological realms of existence” (p.197).
There are four primary components of Africultural coping: cognitive/emotional debriefing is an adaptive reaction that African Americans use to manage perceived environmental stress, such as discussing a racist co-worker with a supervisor, seeking out someone who might make one laugh and holding out hope that things will get better; spiritual-centered coping methods, like praying, represent African Americans sense of connection to spiritual aspects of the universe; collective coping, grounded in a collectivist value system, is the use of group-centered activities to manage perceived racial stress, like getting a group of family or friends together to discuss; ritual-centered coping involves the use of rituals such as acknowledging the role that ancestors play in life, celebrating events, and honoring religious or spiritual deities. Ritual-centered coping might also involve playing music or lighting candles. Constantine, Donnelly & Myers (2002) found that the more African American adolescents believed that their cultural group was a significant part of their self-concept, the more they were likely to use coping methods such as collective and spiritual-centered coping to deal with stress. What role does spirituality play in Black males use of marijuana? It is important that future research examines how effective integrating marijuana into formal healing interventions for Black males might be.
Constantine, M. , Donnelly, P. , & Myers, L. (2002). Collective self-esteem and africultural coping styles in African American adolescents. Journal of Black Studies, 32(6), 698-710.
Parker, L. , Benjamin, T. , Archibald, P. , & Thorpe, R. (2017). The association between marijuana usage and discrimination among adult black men. American Journal of Men's Health, 11(2), 435-442.
Utsey, S. , Adams, E. , & Bolden, M. (2000). Development and initial validation of the
africultural coping system inventory. Journal of Black Psychology, 26(2), 194.
The Impact of Price Based Health Interventions on the Black Community: Sugar Sweetened Beverage Taxes, Meat Taxes and the Like
Frankly, the Black community must be concerned with obesity because of its painful and often deadly relationship to chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases and its subsequent impact on families and communities. Compared to White Americans, Black people with these conditions are more likely to die because they are less likely to have access to higher quality health care. For the U.S. Government, it is obesity’s $1billion cost to Medicare and Medicaid that has earned it the label, ‘public health crisis’ (Harding, & Lovenheim, 2017). Given politicians’ and the Black community’s differing framings of the problem of obesity: public policy solutions and the wellbeing of the Black community are often misaligned. Let’s contextualize this problem. The prevailing logic of price based intervention passes the test for face validity: raising prices for unhealthy foods should influence people to consume less of those foods, resulting in better overall health (Webber, 2017). However, the impact of these policies has much more complex effects. For instance, Finland raised taxes on sweets by 14% yet, consumptions only decreased marginally. Denmark also increased its taxes with only marginal outcomes (Webber, 2017).
It’s not the snickers, it’s the sugar…okay maybe both!
One thing that policies of the past did not consider is consumer substitution. Consumers often switch to cheaper substitutes when products that are taxed heavily. If a Hawaiian Punch is a bit too much, then a Tahitian Treat or a Shasta may work instead. This is why poor dietary habits and health outcomes remain resilient. Some consumers challenge the laws and even the geography of taxes on their calories. The Danish government found that it was losing money as people began to increase their illegal sale of soft drinks, while others crossed into neighboring countries (Germany and Sweden) to purchase their soda without the high taxes (Webber, 2017). To avoid the substitution problem, Harding & Lovenheim (2017) suggest that misguided product based taxes be replaced by nutrient specific taxes. They hypothesize that a product based tax (i.e. on soda) would be far less effective than a nutrient tax (i.e. a tax on sugar). They propose the creation of nutritional clusters of product types (diet and regular soda, sliced bread and pastries, candy and cookies). Based on their predictive research using Nielson Homescan consumer data, they found that while a product-specific tax on soda may decrease total purchased calories by 4.84% and sugar consumption by 10%, a 20% sugar tax decreases total calories by 18% and sugar by 16%. This would limit the substitution effect.
Price shifts may also have differential impacts within racial populations. Pitt & Bendavid (2017) developed a model to predict the 15-year impact of increases in meat prices. They found that only extreme price increases (greater than 25%) would actually result in reductions in obesity (Pitt & Bendavid, 2017). Additionally, they found that increasing meat prices resulted in higher life expectancies, although the impact was not felt evenly across race. White male and Black females benefited the most. The authors theorize that this is in part because the benefit was greatest among those who were overrepresented among the initially overweight, and the fact that they were more likely to avoid mortality at elevated body mass indexes. Black males benefited the least because more of them shifted into the category of low Body Mass Index (BMI), while their risk for mortality as a group is greater at low BMIs compared to other groups. This research suggests that more targeted interventions be undertaken instead of relying on broad-based product and/or nutrient taxes. This is only part one of a set of articles on this topic, stay tuned.
Harding, M. , & Lovenheim, M. (2017). The effect of prices on nutrition: Comparing the impact of product- and nutrient-specific taxes. Journal of Health Economics, 53, 53-71.
Pitt, A. , & Bendavid, E. (2017). Effect of meat price on race and gender disparities in obesity, mortality and quality of life in the us: A model-based analysis. PLoS One, 12(1).
Webber, P. (2017). Nobody loses fat on sugar taxes-especially governments. The Times and Transcript, March, 7th, p. A.9.
Written by Sureshi M. Jayawardene
A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology this month reveals a correlation between the physical size of Black men and the disproportionate police targeting of unarmed Black men. Wilson, Hugenberg, and Rule’s (2017) study showed that people generally have a racially biased perception that Black males are bigger (i.e., taller, heavier, and more muscular) and more physically threatening (i.e., stronger and more capable of causing harm) compared to similarly sized young White men. Such perceptions are central to conversations about police violence in the Black community. We know that racism and White supremacy are the culprits for the violence of policing, but how can we better explain the systematic and sustained patterns of police officers’ force decisions? What real, hard evidence can we bring forward to overhaul the current system of policing so that our loved ones are not moving targets? One dimension of police altercations in the Black community that always functions to incriminate the dead—and often unarmed—Black youth and justify the police officer’s decision to use force (not just one time but multiple times) is the victim’s physical size and formidability. Wilson et al (2017) hypothesized that the stereotypes that Black men are “physically threatening,” “less innocent,” and “physically superhuman” likely creates conditions that prompt perceivers to demonstrate racially biased perceptions of Black men’s physical size and overall formidability.
Biased Formidability Judgment
In this study, Wilson et al (2017) conducted a series of experiments with over 950 online participants across the United States who were shown a number of color photographs of White and Black male faces who were of equal height and weight. Study participants were then asked to estimate the weight, strength, height, and overall muscularity of the individuals in the images. The researchers found that the estimations were “consistently biased” evidenced by claims that judged Black men to be larger, stronger, and more muscular than their White counterparts, although they were the same size and build. Study participants also expressed that Black men had a greater capacity to cause harm in a hypothetical altercation. Furthermore, and rather distressingly, participants also believed that law enforcement would be more justified in using force to subdue Black men even in situations where they were unarmed.
In one experiment, participants were shown identically sized bodies which were either labelled Black or White. Participants were more likely to describe the Black bodies as heavier and taller. In another experiment, this size bias was especially evident for men whose facial features were more stereotypically “Black,” i.e., Black men with darker skin and facial characteristics that were more “African.” These images elicited more biased size perceptions despite these men being the same size as their lighter skinned counterparts with less stereotypical facial features.
Noteworthy in these findings is that even study participants who identified as Black displayed this racial bias. However, key to this finding is that while Black participants judged young Black men to be more muscular than their White counterparts, they did not assess them to be more inclined to cause harm or to be more deserving of force.
Research for Social Change
Black communities nationwide are intimately familiar with the disproportionate and gratuitous police violence Black men, women and transpersons are routinely subjected to. Across geographies and generations, Black people know this all too well. Many experience repeated trauma with word of each police killing. Often, this reality of Black death is so close to home that we do not need research to support it. However, this new study demonstrates one dimension of the possible cause between disproportionate police targeting and racial bias within law enforcement as a system. In other words, Wilson et al (2017) provide us evidence that may explain one contributing factor of police officers’ decisions to shoot an unarmed Black man.
Limitations and What’s Needed Next
Although this study illustrates the relationship between misperceptions of Black men’s size, threat, and the use of force, the researchers did not simulate real-world threat scenarios such as those Black youth and police officers find themselves in. Wilson et al (2017) note that further research into whether and how this bias operates in potentially lethal situation as well as other real-world police interactions is necessary. Moreover, the study participants were also not exclusively representatives of law enforcement agencies, which means that more research needs to be done to empirically establish the relationship between racially biased perceptions about Black males’ size, their proclivities for causing harm, and the use of force in this specific context so that real, effective, and sustainable solutions can be formulated.
Wilson, J.P., Hugenberg, K., and Rule, N. (2017). Racial bias in judgments of physical size and formidability: From size to threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000092
Written by Serie McDougal
In a country that has done little to gain the faith of Black males, what role does trust play in the formation of Black manhood in the American context? T. Elon Dancy (2012) interviewed 24 African American males at 12 different universities about the intersections of manhood and the college experience. One of the things that Dancy (2012) identified is the different ways that his respondents defined manhood in the context of their college experience. Dancy (2012) discovered three elements of manhood based on his interviews: 1) self-expectation; 2) relationships and responsibilities, and 3) worldviews and life philosophies.
Self-expectation represents the emphasis that the young men placed on manhood as being self-determining, responsible, being a real or authentic version of one’s self, being leaders, and being able to balance sensitivity and strength. Relationships and responsibilities represent the young men’s association of manhood with being provider and protectors of women and children and being examples for their younger siblings and relatives. Worldviews and philosophies refer to the men’s association of manhood with being spiritual, having a certain level of skepticism or mistrust of Whites, embracing African American and African culture, and serving and supporting the Black community. The third theme, worldviews and philosophies, is evidence that some college-age Black males defined manhood in a way that includes having a distrust for Whites. This phenomenon is called “cultural mistrust” in the mental health arena. Given the degree to which African Americans are stereotyped and subjected to institutional racism, Ridley (1989) regards this a healthy mistrust. This interpretation of mistrust as healthy allows Blacks to protect themselves from racist experiences that may be harmful to their self-esteem. More recent research suggests that trust may be related to the educational phenomenon called disidentification.
A great deal of academic research on African American youth examines a phenomenon called academic disidentification. Simply put, academic disidentification occurs when a student’s self-perception is not impacted by their academic performance as it does for most others. For individuals who are academically disidentified, poor academic performance will not impact their self-esteem. Black students have been found to be more likely to academically disidentify compared to other groups. Although academic disidentification develops over time, yet for Black males who disidentify do so more consistently over time compared to Black females. In a new study, McClain & Cokley (2016) explore the reasons why this happens.
The evaluation of teachers is a major component of students’ academic achievement. A component of the teacher-student relationship is teacher trust or students’ trust of their teachers and beliefs that they are benevolent, honest, reliable, open, and competent. McClain and Cokley (2006) recently investigated the roles that teacher trust and gender play in disidentification among 319 college students, who self-identified as Black. They used a trust scale to measure students’ differing levels of trust in their teachers, and an academic self-concept scale to measure higher and lower levels of academic self-concept. The results illustrate that Black males reported significantly lower levels of trust and GPAs compared to Black females. Older males reported higher levels of academic self-concept, while this was not true for females. While older males had lower levels of trust, older females had higher levels of trust. Among Black male and female students, those with high academic self-concept were likely to have higher levels of teacher trust. Moreover, males and females with higher GPAs were likely to have higher levels of trust.
This means that while males developed higher academic self-concepts over time, they also developed lower levels of trust in their teachers. McClain & Cokley (2016) explain that older Black males may be discounting feedback from their teachers. They suggest a lack of teacher trust may explain why there is a weak relationship between Black males’ academic self-concepts and their academic performance. It is also possible that this is because when they distrust their teachers, they attribute their academic outcomes to their teacher’s bias. Besides, their teacher perceptions are out of their hands, which may give them the feeling that their academic fate is also out of their hands (McClain & Cokley, 2016).
Addressing Disidentification and Teacher Trust
To ameliorate the problem of academic disidentification and address issues of teacher trust among Black college students, the authors of this study suggest that teachers need to interrogate their own perceptions of Black males, challenge their racial attitudes, and seek ways to build trust with Black males. However, another important solution lies in an earnest effort at recruiting Black faculty, especially Black male faculty. Compared to their non-Black professors, Black students have found Black professors to be less likely to treat them stereotypically, more likely to have positive beliefs about their academic ability, understand them, be role models for them, and hold them to high standards (Guiffrida, 2005; Tuitt, 2012).
Dancy, T.E. (2012). The brotherhood code: Manhood and masculinity among African American males in college. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Guiffrida, D. (2005). Othermothering as a framework for understanding African American students' definitions of a student-centered faculty. Journal of Higher Education, 76(6), 701-723.
Mcclain, S., & Cokley, K. (2016). Academic disidentification in black college students: The role of teacher trust and gender. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.
Ridley, C. R. (1989). Racism in counseling as an adversive behavioral process. In P. B.
Pedersen, J. G. Draguns, W. J. Lonner, & J.E. Trimble (Eds.), Counseling across cultures
(3rd ed., pp. 55–77). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Tuitt, F. (2012). Black like me. Journal of Black Studies, 43(2), 186-206.
Written by Serie McDougal
Georgetown University’s Center of Education and the Workforce recently produced a report on African American college students’ choices for majors and how those choices affect their earnings. Based on the findings, African Americans students’ choices of majors tend to be concentrated in service oriented academic disciplines. The top ten college majors by percentage of African American degree holders are: 1) Health and Medical Administration Services, 2) Human Services and Community Organization, 3) Social Work, 4) Public Administration, 5) Criminal Justice and Fire Protection, 6) Sociology, 7) Computer and Information Systems, 8) Human Resources and Personnel Management, 9) Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, and 10) Pre-Law and Legal Studies (Carnevale, Fasules, Porter & Landis-Santos, 2016). African American students’ interest in service oriented occupations also means that they are concentrated among the lowest earning jobs because of the lack of value that the U.S. places on service-oriented work. African American students are underrepresented among fast growing and high earning disciplines such as business and engineering majors and other STEM fields (Carnevale, Fasules, Porter & Landis-Santos, 2016). Sometimes called the “caring professions,” human services and community organization, health and medical administration services, and social work, are among the fields that African Americans are most highly represented, yet they rank among the lowest incomes.
As informative as the report is, its conclusion seems to be lacking in context as it suggests that African American students must simply make better choices, major in growing, high earning STEM fields. The implication being that if they majored in fields related to higher earnings, they would experience more financial success and less stress. What about how African American underrepresentation in STEM fields develops. African American youth in K-12 school, often attend under-resourced schools that: 1) are less likely to offer high-level math and science classes, 2) are less likely to offer rigorous high quality math and science courses when they are offered, and 3) more likely to have math and science teachers teaching outside of their fields (Anderson, 2006). The idea that they enter college with a disadvantage regarding their relative levels of preparation for such majors is not lost upon them. Expecting Black students to simply choose STEM fields without addressing these structural inequalities in their pre-secondary schooling experiences is disingenuous at best.
Debunking internalized racism in the form of beliefs that Black people are less capable in scientific fields has its place, as does exposing Black youth to curriculum that fills them with knowledge of their people’s rich scientific heritage. Exposing them to professional mentors in STEM professions as early as middle and high school would offer them concrete examples of the possible in addition to invaluable mentorship. But, one thing is for certain, simply admonishing Black students to make better choices is the symbolic racist counterpart of the institutionally racist structures that disadvantage them before they reach college.
Anderson, E. (2006). Increasing the success of minority students in science and technology.Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education.
Carnevale, A. P., Fasules, M. L., Porter, A., & Landis-Santos, J. (2016). African Americans: College majors and earnings. Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved December 27, 2016, from
National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) (2016). Indicator 24: STEM Degrees. Retrieved December 26, 2016, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_reg.asp
Written by Sureshi M. Jayawardene
“OASIS: Oldways Africana Soup in Stories” is a collection of Black women’s recipes and life stories, curated by Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans. In collaboration with Sade Anderson and Johnisha Levi, Dr. Evans has compiled an electronically accessible collection of “culturally-informed soup recipes” that help expand our knowledge of Black women’s nutritional practices, knowledge, and wellness. OASIS offers personal vignettes and recipes that “explore identity, geography, health, and self-care.” This recipe book brings together the “20 cooks, chefs, researchers, storytellers, foodies, farmers, nutritionists, historians, activists, food bloggers, and wellness workers” to increase our understanding of Black women’s health and wellness practices. Furthermore, Dr. Evans has taken a sweeping diasporic approach, featuring soup recipes and narratives from Nigeria to Guyana, to Tobago, the Carolinas, and New Mexico. She writes that “soup is a perfect meal that allows us to simmer down” and invites readers to draw inspiration from OASIS to document their own stories and recipes, but also to expand their own wellness menus. Dr. Evans stresses that Black women’s wellness is an afrofuturistic situation and draws on Anna Julia Cooper’s notion of “regeneration”: that we look to the past for wisdom, the interior for strength, and the future for faith and hope.
Dr. Evans herself offers a recipe that forms part of her self-care regimen: Green Chile Chicken Stew! She describes why it is such a staple for her, given her own busy routine and lifestyle.
Green Chile Chicken Stew
Dr. Evans’ recipe for Green Chile Chicken Stew is one of many easy-to-make, nutritious, and culturally grounded modes of exploring and uncovering Black women’s nutritional knowledge and practices.
OASIS can be accessed HERE. Look, download, read the life stories, try out the soups, and help support the important work that Dr. Evans has embarked upon. In a time when nutrition, fitness, and healthy lifestyles are trendy and gaining momentum through social media platforms, OASIS and Dr. Evans’ work is critical for how Black communities approach health and wellness in culturally rooted ways. Combining age-old family recipes that Black women have passed down and newer on-the-go recipes that Black women have created as they have moved through various circumstances provide a unique platform for more Black women to participate in. Whereas physical books face the threat of obsoleting with the high saturation of digital modes of health and wellness, OASIS gives us something tangible with its compilation of Black women’s history, nutritional wisdom and practices, and Black women’s life stories. One of the potential outcomes of OASIS and the individuals involved in this work is that it doesn’t just promote health and wellness among Black women, but encourages us to look deeply at our historical and cultural stores for how to address our nutritional needs, food consumption, and overall wellness and health.
Written by Serie McDougal
A common pattern among pre-colonial African initiation rites of adolescent males involved removing boys from the immediate community to guide them through a series of collective tasks, while under the leadership of older males and elder males. The objectives at this age were above all, educational, often to teach boys discipline, to be courageous, how to deal with fear, to bond with other males, and for older males to take responsibility for their younger peers, and to teach boys to listen to and obey their elders (Mazama, 2009). These communally formed male bonds set the stage for healthy brotherhood between men.
Black Brotherhood in the Antebellum Period
There is not a great deal of literature on brotherhood between Black men during slavery. However, in the recently published text, My Brother Slaves: Friendship, Masculinity, and Resistance in the Antebellum South, Sergio Lussana discusses many aspects of Black manhood during slavery. One of the areas that he focusses on is Black male friendship. Lussana begins with a quote from the formerly enslaved abolitionist, Frederick Douglass:
“For much of the happiness, or absence of misery, with which I passed this year, I am indebted to the genial temper and ardent friendship of my brother slaves. They were every one of them manly, generous, and brave; yes, I say they were brave, and I will add fine looking. It is seldom the lot of any to have truer and better friends that were the slaves in this farm. It was not uncommon to charge slaves with great treachery toward each other, but I must say I never loved, esteemed, or confided in men more than I did in these. They were as true as steel, and no band of brothers could be more loving. There were no mean advantages taken of each other, no tattling, no giving each other ban names to Mr. Freeland, and no elevating one at the expense of the other. We never undertook anything of any importance which was likely to affect each other, without mutual consultation. We were generally a unit, and moved together.” (Douglass & Ruffin, 2001)
Lussana’s (2016) narrative explains that the above testimonial from the Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, is an illustration of the importance that friendship has played in the lives of African American men’s lives throughout the duration of their experience in the American context. Enslaved Black males created their own all male social network and subculture of brotherhood. In these circles recognized their interdependence and formed all male networks of cooperation, masculine identity construction, and resistance (Lussana, 2016). Therefore, they had to form friendships under duress and surveillance. Often, they covertly met with one another to spread news of rebellion, or even drink, gamble, and organize social events (Lussana, 2016). During slavery, Black males’ friendships provided them: “hope, comfort, and relief from the drudgery and horrors of their enslavement” (Lussana, 2016, p.99). Male friendships were critical during slavery, as they trusted one another to share their conspiratorial thoughts and nurture their opposition to slavery. Afterall, running away during slavery was a gendered form of resistance, with the vast majority of escapees being Black males (Lussana, 2016). Trust and loyalty were excessively central to Black male friendships given that the consequences of sharing their thoughts, plans, or generally unsanctioned activities could be fatal. Other males were a buffer against oppression (Lussana, 2016). Henry Brown, a fugitive from enslavement said this about the importance of friendship:
“we love our friends more than White people love theirs, for we risk more to save them from suffering. Many of our number who have escaped from bondage ourselves, have jeopardized our own liberty, in order to release our friends, and sometimes we have been retaken and made slaves again, while endeavoring to rescue our friends from slavery’s iron jaws” (Brown & Ernest, 2008, p.34). Brown adds that:
“A slave’s friends are all he possesses that is of value to him. He cannot read, he has no property, he cannot be a teacher of truth, or a politician; he cannot be very religious, and all that remains to him, aside from the hope of freedom, that ever present deity, forever inspiring him in his most terrible hours of despair, ,is the society of his friends.” (Brown & Ernest, 2008, p.34)
Enslaved parents taught their children to refer to other enslaved Blacks as brother and sister to instill in them the principle that they were a part of a community that was responsible for them and vice versa (Mintz, 2004, p. 26). Enslaved Blacks preferred to refer to one another as ““bro” and “Sis” rather than “nigger”” (Roberts, 1989, p. 181). After slavery, Black male friendships were continued in formal men’s clubs, fraternal lodges, political parties, and businesses. Before enslavement, in African societies there were typically formalized rites of passage that fostered the formation of male friendships, starting in adolescence (Lussana, 2016). Male rituals consisting of learning activities, trials, and tests that they struggled through together were expected to draw them together into lifelong relationships. As Franklin (2004) explains, African American models of friendship are extensions of African manhood rituals and the relationships formed between unrelated African men from of different ethnic groups during slavery. Lussana’s (2016) work challenges the notions that Black men were emasculated, unable to provide for families, or unable to form lasting bonds. This text also makes it clear that Black men did not cease to implement rites and rituals to shape the development of manhood for one another. Perhaps, more critical is that the text makes the point that Black manhood is not only defined by Black men’s relationships to women, but their relationships to their brethren.
Lussana (2016) interrogates many original sources, including autobiographies and other narratives from enslaved Black men and women’s narratives about the enslaved men in their lives. The author explains several aspects of Black men’s experiences with one another including: their work; their leisure activities; their collective resistance with other males; their friendships with one another; and their methods of communicating information and subversive plans with one other across plantations. Different African rites and rituals around manhood are firmly established as a point of reference for Lussana (2016). The author makes strong connections between the interaction between the cultural interactions between African men and those of men of African descent during enslavement. However, his analysis remains primarily focussed on similar behaviors and practices. Here, the author misses an opportunity to highlight the continuities and discontinuities of African worldviews (values, beliefs, and philosophies of manhood) in the American context. These invisible aspects of culture do not receive a great deal of voice in Lussana’s (2016) explanation of the relationships between African manhood on the African continent and in the American antebellum south. This text, remains one of the only explicitly gendered analysis of Black male relationships during slavery. The multidimensionality that Lussana’s analysis offers is a leap in the direction of producing humanizing work on Black men’s lives beyond the culture of poverty and oppression.
Peer friends provide young males with their basic needs for intimacy, belongingness, the development of social skills, and excitement. These relationships provide Black males a safe zone within which they can be themselves (Bonner, 2014). They rebel against social norms, learn and set trends with one another. They are often on the cusp of cultural creation, spurred on by a validation from their peers that they would not get from their elder. For example, Afrika Baby Bambataa of the Jungle Brothers arguably one of most influential hip hop groups said:
"The school talent shows are a tradition. It's just that when we came on the scene, we added something new to the tradition, which was hip hop. Here’s a stage where we could do something that ninety percent of our peers know what we’re doing but our elders don’t. We can get on the mic and we can perform our lyrics and be just stars in the high school." (Ogg, & Upshal, 1999, p. 105)
Today, peer relationships remain critical for Black males. Because peer relationships are usually between equals, they provide a sense of closeness and relatedness that cannot be achieved in parent-child relationships. Although peers may have more short-term influence on peer behavior, parents still have more influence on long term behavior (such as attending college) (Davies & Kandel, 1981; Belgrave & Brevard, 2014). It is critical for parents and young Black men to recognize the heritage of brotherhood and the role that it has played in sustaining Black family and community. It is also important that Black communities draw on Africa rites, and African American rites of passage to construct culturally aligned, institutions, and processes that allow Black males to come together to form bonds around values that advance the agenda of Black collective emancipation.
Brown, H. & Ernest, J. (2008). Narrative of the life of Henry Box Brown, written by himself. University of North Carolina Press.
Douglass, F., Ruffin, G. (2001). The life and times of Frederick Douglass. Scituate, Mass.: Digital Scanning.
Lussana, S. (2016). My brother slaves: Friendship, masculinity, and resistance in the antebellum south. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.
Mazama, A. (2009). Rites of passage. In M.K. Asante & A. Mazama, Encyclopedia of African religion. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE, pp. 570-574.