A new study finds black teens reared to have a higher sense of ethnic pride and awareness are more likely to have far greater academic success. They are also less probable to be vulnerable to the crippling effects of racial discrimination exuded by their peers or even teachers.

Slated to be published in the Journal of Child Development later this fall, the University of Pittsburgh study also concluded that preparing teens for such potential biasness likewise acts as a protective shield and “black children instilled with a proud and sober sense of identity and culture” are undeniably better fortified to overcome such perplexing attacks.

“The research shows that when African American parents use racial socialization— talking to their children or engaging in activities that promote feelings of racial knowledge, pride and connection— it offsets racial discrimination’s potentially negative impact on academic developments,” researchers concluded. “When African American parents instill a proud perspective of race in their sons and daughters, these children are more likely to experience increased academic success.”

Despite a plethora of earlier studies which have concluded that parental racial socialization is beneficial to the mental health of black youth, most have concluded African American students, particularly males, remain at much greater risk for being unfairly disciplined, doled lower grades than they deserve and discouraged from taking advanced level courses, all because of their race.  Heretofore, few researchers have even remotely looked at how such race based daily experiences temper the way youths view or approach their educational prospects.

“Our findings challenge the notion that ‘race blindness’ is a universally ideal parenting approach, especially since previous research has shown that racially conscious parenting strategies at either extreme— either ‘race blindness’ or promoting mistrust of other races— are associated with negative outcomes for African American youth,” said lead author Ming-Te Wang, Pitt assistant professor of psychology in education, who coauthored the study with Harvard’s James P. Huguley.

Formally titled “Parental Racial Socialization as a Moderator of the Effects of Racial Discrimination on Educational Success Among African Adolescents,” the research was funded by a grant provided by the National Institute of child Health and Human Development.

In further contrast to other related studies, Wang and Huguley also focused on the role racial discrimination plays in impacting such varied outcomes as student grade-point averages, long term educational aspirations, the sense of belonging to an institution and cognitive engagement, which is defined as the initiative a student takes in his or her own learning.

From there, the two scholars set out to determine how all those are affected by the variable of parental racial socialization. Using a combination of questionnaires and face-to-face interviews of both students and parents, the study intensely explores the home and school racial experiences of some 630 black high school students from a diverse though mostly black and urban East Coast area.

In yet another twist, researchers included participants from a wide-range of socioeconomic backgrounds instead of solely concentrating on low-income families. The median household income range was $46,000-$50,000, and 40 percent of all parents or guardians had a college degree.

In the end, researchers deemed racial pride to be the most potent component in protecting black teens from the blemishes born of racial discrimination. Of the four aforementioned, potential academic outcomes, data directly finds preparation for such treatment greatly enhances one’s sense of belonging or overcoming all feelings of displacement.

“Our study provides empirical evidence that the longstanding practice in the African American community of cultivating racial pride and preparing children to face racial bias in society should be considered among appropriate and beneficial practices in parenting black children,” said Wang, who plans to conduct the same kind of research with Latino and Asian American teenagers.

In recent times, Wang has garnered unabashed praise for his work including being awarded research-based awards from both the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association. But in the case Parental Racial Socialization study, his findings merely reaffirm issues of basic fairness long voiced by the most fair-minded of equal rights proponents.

In recently announcing he was creating a first-of-its-kind national office to bolster educational prospects of African American students, President Obama stressed the initiative will seek to coordinate the efforts neighborhood communities and federal agencies in ensuring minority students are better prepared from the high school to college to career levels.

“That’s how we make America great,” stressed Obama.  “And that’s why we’re pushing… I want all these young people to be getting a higher education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.”

Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.

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