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.