African American Male Adolescents' Preferences in Responding to Racial Discrimination: Effects of Ethnic Identity and Situational Influences

By Wakefield, William D.; Hudley, Cynthia | Adolescence, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

African American Male Adolescents' Preferences in Responding to Racial Discrimination: Effects of Ethnic Identity and Situational Influences


Wakefield, William D., Hudley, Cynthia, Adolescence


Not long into this century, ethnic minority residents in all major urban centers will equal or outnumber their European American counterparts (Gardner, 1996). Further, communities across America, both urban and suburban, are already far less likely to represent ethnic or racial enclaves than was once true. Legally mandated desegregation and an expanding economy have created communities that, while still typically rigidly segregated by economic class, are increasingly racially and ethnically diverse (Educational Research Service, 1995; U.S. Census Bureau, 1990a). Increased ethnic diversity means that members of local communities must now regularly interact across racial and ethnic lines in their daily lives. Such increases in inter-ethnic contact also provide increased opportunities for discrimination.

Racial discrimination, or the active behavioral expression of racism, is defined here as denying members of certain racial groups equal access to scarce and valued resources (Cashmore, 1996; Pincus, 1996), both material and social. This definition can easily be applied to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity as well. While all racial and ethnic minorities continue to be frequent targets of discrimination (Hacker, 1992; Sigelman & Welch, 1991), African Americans tend to experience the highest rates of discrimination from all ethnic groups (Gary, 1995; Mont-Reynaud, Ritter, & Chen, 1990). Moreover, young people in particular often confront racial or ethnic discrimination as part of their daily lives (Phinney & Chavira, 1995; Wakefield, 1998; Wakefield & Hudley, 1997). For example, Black college students were turned away from a familiar chain restaurant by white employees who told them that the restaurant was closed, but white students entering after that interaction were seated and served (Los Angeles Times, 1993a). Another restaurant chain has been repeatedly cited for requiring Black adolescents to pre-pay for their orders and subjecting them to extremely long waits not experienced by white customers (Los Angeles Times, 1993b).

Cultural Pluralism and Relations in Schools

Multicultural or culturally pluralistic settings are often considered a panacea for the development of positive racial and ethnic relations. Yet the reality of discrimination is often overlooked when considering the benefits of culturally diverse communities. Cultural pluralism is defined as a pattern of social relations in which groups that are distinct from each other in a great many respects share a common set of institutions and some aspects of a common culture (Cashmore, 1996; Pincus, 1996). Cultural pluralism occurs when various ethnic groups' cultures are equally valued and coexist in the context of a larger society. In contrast, when cultures are unequally valued, ethnic and racial discrimination are often directed toward members of low-status groups (Brown, 1995). Currently in the United States, true cultural pluralism rarely, if ever, exists. Therefore it is unsurprising that legal desegregation and the creation of integrated or multicultural environments are unable to bring about an end to racial and ethnic discrimination.

School settings are an especially revealing context for understanding interactions among groups. Although many schools have become more ethnically diverse over time, they typically remain divided. Prior research (Feagin & Sikes, 1994) has found that university students tend to self-segregate by ethnic group into cliques and enclaves. Less research has investigated this phenomenon in middle schools and high schools; however, self-segregation exists in these settings as well (Braddock, Dawkins, & Wilson, 1995; Tatum, 1997). Research revisiting Allport's (1954) contact hypothesis consistently suggests that simple contact between members of different ethnic groups often leads to negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors directed to outgroup members (Stephan, 1987). Thus, the act of desegregating schools may have created yet another context in which young people may encounter racial and ethnic discrimination. …

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