Racial Socialization and Racial Identity: Can They Promote Resiliency for African American Adolescents?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Although there is a rich body of research on resiliency, much of the literature fails to include minority youths or does not take into consideration their distinctive racial and environmental circumstances. Additionally, limited attention has been given to protective factors that are unique to nonmajority populations. This article posits that racial socialization and racial identity protect urban African American adolescents against some of the harmful effects of a discriminatory environment. These factors are hypothesized to influence academic achievement--an indicator of resiliency that has been used in many studies. A theoretical framework is provided that combines character development in a hostile environment, bicultural identity, and urban stress models. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

While the concept of resiliency and factors that promote it have received considerable attention in the social science literature, far fewer studies have examined the development of resiliency among members of racial minorities. This paper addresses the need to expand the concept of resiliency to include protective factors unique to African American adolescents, specifically racial socialization and racial identity.

First, racial socialization and racial identity are presented as protective factors for urban African American adolescents. Peters (1985) and Stevenson (1994, 1995) have posited that racial socialization can act as a buffer against negative racial messages in the environment. Arroyo and Zigler (1995) have found that racial identity facilitates the development of competencies among African American adolescents. It is argued here that protective factors unique to nonmajority populations must be considered when assessing group strengths.

Second, a theoretical framework undergirding this argument is provided. This theoretical perspective takes into account the distinctive environmental conditions of African Americans. A better understanding of resiliency and associated factors is thereby achieved.

Educational achievement has long been considered as signifying resiliency among adolescents. However, limited attention has been given to the factors that promote educational achievement among urban adolescents (Barbarin, 1993; Bowman & Howard, 1985), even though the literature is replete with deficit-based discussions on the factors contributing to educational failure. The relationship of racial socialization and racial identity to the educational involvement and academic achievement of African American adolescents is thus discussed.

Finally, directions for future research and service delivery are presented.

RESILIENCY

Although environmental disadvantage and stress can lead to behavioral and psychological problems among children (Luthar & Zigler, 1991), there are those who overcome these difficulties to become well-adjusted adults (Garbarino, Dubrow, Kostelny, & Pardo, 1992; Luthar & Zigler, 1991; Safyer, 1994). This positive adaptation despite negative environmental circumstances is referred to as resiliency. Research into resiliency has focused on protective factors that enable an individual to adapt successfully to the environment, notwithstanding challenging or threatening circumstances (Garmezy, 1991; Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990). Whereas initial research centered on the absence of psychopathology among those experiencing negative life events, the current focus is toward understanding the process of resiliency (Smith & Prior, 1995).

Resiliency may include an array of abilities or attributes. Referred to as the "positive pole" (Rutter, 1987, p. 316), "unusually good adaptation" (Beardslee, 1989, p. 267), "positive psychological adjustment" (Smith & Prior, 1995, p. 173), success in meeting developmental tasks or social expectations (Luthar & Zigler, 1991), and the ability to "thrive, mature, and increase competence" (Gordon, 1995, p. …