Racial mistrust, perceptions of discrimination, and academic achievement among African American children




Wright, Yamanda Fay

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New evidence suggests that African American children’s mistrust of European American teachers plays a role in sustaining racial achievement gaps. However, racial mistrust may also play a protective role for stigmatized children by facilitating perceptions of discrimination in the event that they encounter racially biased feedback. The present study investigated the relations among African American children’s racial mistrust, perceptions of discrimination, and academic achievement. Participants included 67 elementary school-age children (ages 6-11 years) who completed two lab sessions assessing their mistrust of European American teachers, attributions to discrimination during a mock drawing contest designed to appear racially biased, and semester grades. I predicted that racial mistrust (1) is present among many African American children at the beginning of formal education, (2) predicts perceptions of discrimination, and (3) shows a quadratic relationship to African American children’s academic achievement, such that extreme (very high and very low) levels are associated with negative academic outcomes, whereas moderate levels are associated with positive academic outcomes. Contrary to expectations, results showed that African American children expect European American teachers to be biased in favor of African Americans. Specifically, African American children expect European American teachers to show more warmth than punitiveness across their interactions with African American and European American students, but they expect the warm-punitive differential to be even more pronounced with African American students. In addition, young African American children appear highly unlikely to attribute negative feedback from European American teachers to racial discrimination, even when such a bias appears likely. Finally, neither the expectation of racial bias nor perceptions of racial discrimination predicted African American children’s academic outcomes in this study. The implications and limitations of these findings are discussed in the concluding chapter.




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