The purpose of this study is to investigate the association between perceptions of social injustice and the civic activities among African American youth. Using a three-phase mixed-method design, we will develop and refine a conceptual model that explains how perceptions of injustice influence a range of civic activities for black youth in urban neighborhoods.
Building on the principles in the youth development tradition as articulated by the National Academy of Science, this study will seek to answer the following questions:
- In the minds of African American youth, what constitutes civic engagement in urban neighborhood settings?
- What are themes in perceptions of injustice and oppression in these settings?
- How are perceptions of injustice and social identity related to civic behavior?
- What can we learn from the perceptions, motives, and experiences young African Americas have in various civic activities to help make civic education more consistent with their historical and lived experience?
This study focuses on aspects of civic engagement that have received relatively little attention in the literature, yet are of particular importance to understanding the civic behavior of urban African American youth. These aspects of civic engagement have been overlooked because little attention has been given to the distinctive historical and cultural experiences of African Americans. In the study, we will examine the implications that two principal themes—culture and injustice—have for African American civic engagement.
Racial identity and experiences of racial injustice can influence civic behavior
While social science research has provided a solid understanding of civic and political behavior for youth, an understanding of how racial and cultural identity shape political engagement and civic behavior for youth remains under-theorized. Despite considerable work in the area of race, ethnicity and political participation empirical research about the influence of race and ethnicity on political behavior has been largely restricted to adult political participation and generally conceptualizes political participation as a function of social class.
Activism is an important response to racial injustice for African American youth.
Activism has been defined as collective behavior that addresses experiences of injustice or disadvantage affecting the collective. Activist behaviors are directed toward change that produces desired results or prevent perceived injustice. Emerging research also suggests that activism promotes positive developmental outcomes, such as leadership skills, sense of agency, hope and optimism, academic engagement.
Few schools and civic organizations offer pathways for youth to address racism, sexism and other forms of social injustice in their lives.
Pathways to activism are rarely available to low-income African American youth. Most programs focus on conventional forms of civic engagement such as volunteering, or other forms community service. Research also suggests that urban youth of color have less faith in conventional forms of civic engagement and may be more likely to participate in civic life in ways that go unrecognized by social science researchers.
We need to better understand what factors contribute or inhibit activist behaviors that address racial injustice.
In order to advance the field, we need a more nuanced understanding of that factors that influence activism among African American youth. Social scientists agree that the study of civic behavior in general, and activism in particular remains largely unsubstantiated and lacks a strong empirical basis, especially with respect to ethnic and minority populations.
Principal Investigator: Shawn Ginwright, PhD