Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Role of Racial Socialization in Promoting the Academic Expectations of African American Adolescents: Realities in a Posi-Brown Era

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Role of Racial Socialization in Promoting the Academic Expectations of African American Adolescents: Realities in a Posi-Brown Era

Article excerpt

In 1954, the landmark ruling of Brown v. the Board of Education fulfilled the educational wishes of generations of African American parents, the right to an education for their children (Spencer, 2005, 2008). The legal right to equal educational opportunities for their child was the minimum expectation of parents celebrated by parents. The seminal findings from research that served an important role in the decision process of the Supreme Court were the famous 'doll study' by African American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark (see Clark & Clark, 1950). Their research findings were used as evidence to the Court of the negative psychological impact of segregated school systems.

Throughout history on this continent, African American parents consistently held high expectations for the education of their children. As documented in a classic work by Carter G. Woodson (1919), he demonstrated that throughout the period of enslavement, where an enslaved African was legally forbidden to read and being caught reading the basis for vicious physical punishments-African Americans found a way to 'get an education.' The famous former slave Frederick Douglass also wrote in his autobiography that although separated from his mother at a young age, he found creative ways to fulfill his mother's dream-to read (Douglass, 2004).The families and community of freed slaves continued to find ways to achieve an education despite Jim Crow segregation and centuries of terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, more recent scholarship emphasizes how the legacies associated with Jim Crow segregation still exist under different mechanisms. For example, Alexander (2012) argued that the last two decades have influenced a "New Jim Crow" in which legalized segregation has been replaced with a penal system associated with unjust incarceration outcomes, especially for African American males. Heilig and Holme (2013) highlighted how current school segregation in Texas is reminiscent of former Jim Crow laws in that Latino/a and African American students are exposed to the most challenging school contexts and they have the least amount of institutional supports.

During the Jim Crow era, African American parents used specific socialization strategies to prepare their children to deal with the realities of discrimination and racism (Spencer, 1982). Moving forward Black parents recognized that despite the legal gains, Black children still required additional protective childrearing techniques that are called, 'racial socialization' (Spencer, 1982, 2006). These racial socialization mechanisms acknowledged that race was and still is a social construct associated with a hierarchy of institutional racism. However, as Spencer highlighted by focusing on normal human development processes (1982, 2006, 2008), socialization is connected to normal child development (i.e., understanding children's cognitive capacities to understand social phenomena) as well as ecological contexts. For example, parents must use protective factors to socialize children until children get old enough to understand concepts such as institutional racism and discriminatory practices.

Sixty years post Brown; modem African American parents continue to socialize their children to fight new forms of modem racism and discrimination within the school system and the larger community. The educational achievement gap for African American and Hispanic students, as manifested by their lower high school graduation rates is at alarmingly high rates relative to White students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). Additionally, African Americans and Hispanics continue to be less likely to enroll in college immediately after high school than both White and Asian Americans (Hayes, Cunningham, & Coursealt, 2006; Trusty, 2002). Spencer (2005) highlighted:

The Supreme Court's Brown ruling, in striking down segregation, was supposed to create educational opportunities for African Americans that might then access given normal human developmental processes, effective competence, motivation (see deCharms, 1968, White, 1959), and achievement orientation. …

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