Scholars Link Racial Identity to Academic Performance


Three of my favorite books on black male students and racial identity formation

If my calculations are correct, I only have to take 5 more courses to complete my coursework for my PhD. Of course there are other hurdles I must traverse. I still have to take my comprehensive exams, complete a research apprenticeship, and if possible publish an article in a scholarly publication. I still have a ways to go. However, I am happy with the progress I have made thus far.

I have a lot of ideas for a dissertation, but at this point in my studies I am interested in black boys and racial identity. More clearly, I am interested in how black males see themselves and how their self-perception affects their grades.

I think I first became interested in this topic when I was working on my MSW. In my third year I came across an article written by Peterson-Lewis and Bratton (2004). The scholars asked 64 African-American high school students what the term “acting black” meant. To their surprise a large number of students said the term meant, “acting ghetto”, “not going to class”, “sagging” and “being violent” Their findings suggested that some students equated blackness with bad behavior. I found myself wondering where such beliefs came from. And, perhaps more importantly, I wondered how these beliefs affected their academic performance. If failing out of school and getting into trouble is synonymous with “acting black” what types of behaviors can be seen as “acting white” (Fordham and Ogbu, 1986)?

Author of The Trouble With Black Boys, Professor Pedro Noguera

All hope is not lost, however. In a study conducted by Graham and Anderson (2008) some black male students felt that it was important to bring home good grades. One student in particular noted, “If (my ancestors) could walk for miles in the cold with dogs attacking them back in the day, I can surely walk to class to learn something to better myself” (p. 493). Clearly, this student was aware of the obstacles and challenges his ancestors faced and felt obligated to succeed. Blackness for him and others in the study was to be equated with strength, resilience and fortitude.

More research needs to be done to understand how racial identity and academic performance are linked. I am not sure if I will write my dissertation on this topic, but I am very interested in learning more about subject.

Selected Bibliography

Boyd-Franklin, N. & Franklin, A. J. & Toussaint, P. (2000). Boys into men: Raising our African American teenage sons. New York: Plume Books.

Daniel-Tatum, B. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race. New York: Basic Books.

Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Black students’ school success: Coping with the “burden of ‘acting white’”. Urban Review, 18(2), 176-206.

Graham, A., & Anderson, K. A. (2008). “I have to be three steps ahead”: Academically gifted African-American male students in an urban high school on the tension between an ethnic and academic identity. Urban Review,

Noguera, P. (2008). The trouble with black boys: And other reflections on race, equity, and the future of public education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Peterson-Lewis, S., & Bratton, L. M. (2004). Perceptions of “acting black” among African American teens: Implications of racial dramaturgy for academic and social achievement. Urban Review, 36(2), 81-100.


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