What does it mean to be young, Black and male? In what ways do Black male youths accommodate and resist the social stereotypes of their demographic? And how does this shape Black boys' development of their own identity, and who they become?
Rogers, a research assistant professor at UW College of Education, studies how cultural stereotypes shape adolescents' understanding of themselves and what they can achieve in their lives.
By examining youths' understanding of racial and gender stereotypes Rogers aims to discover ways to help children make sense of the inequalities they see around them.
Her work is giving insights on how to foster healthy identity development in children, to enable them to achieve their fullest potential.
"Children are constantly taking in information from people around them, and the things we say and don't say make an impact on how they figure out where they fit in the world," Rogers said. "When we make assumptions – 'He's so smart kid for a Black kid' or 'He's so emotional for a boy' – this makes an impact, it shapes how kids figure out who they are."
In Rogers' study, the teenagers expressed variations on three general themes:
- "The exceptions" – boys who sought to challenge racial stereotypes by being an “exception” to the stereotype and separating themselves from other Black people.
- "The resisters" – who stood out from their peers as being more likely to see stereotypes as a system of oppression that undermines an entire group, that is, Black people, rather than individuals.
- "The accommodators" – who showed little resistance to and even seemed to perpetuate stereotypes such as the "tough Black male." The accommodators didn't necessarily believe the stereotypes, but rather than rejecting them they tried to repurpose them in order to survive.
One of the implications from Rogers' study is that adolescents need more outlets for talking about race and gender stereotypes.
"Youths are thinking about these things, even if they aren't saying anything. They see inequalities all the time – but where do they have a chance to process that?" Rogers said. "Educators and parents have a role in helping them respond to stereotypes. Kids are willing and want to resist negative stereotypes, but they often don't have the space or support to do so."
Read the full story about Rogers' recent study on the I-LABS website.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications
Onnie Rogers, Research Assistant Professor