Tag Archives: racial identity

Finding My Passion: To Be Young, Gifted, and Black


Welcome to our new blogspace, We’re Psyched!the purpose of this space is for undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs to share engaging topics surrounding new research, current social issues and timely thinkpieces related to women of color in the field.

This post falls under the “Finding My Passion” theme of the blog series.


By Sarah L. Cooke, MEd (School Psychology Doctoral Student, Howard University)


While attending a public-school deemed a “School of Excellence,” I was initially identified as gifted in the third-grade.  After scoring in the 99th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), which is a national standardized test, I was referred for gifted testing and subsequently placed in the gifted program at my school.  I was the only Black student in the program, and always felt as if I did not quite belong in the program.  Being “smart” came naturally for me, and it was something my parents, teachers, and even I recognized at a young age; however, being in this environment was a bit intimidating and created feelings of competition, a fear of failure, and a desire to be perfect.


Although, I questioned my belonging and my social and emotional needs began to change. As a result of participating in the gifted program, I have since realized that my feelings were not unique.  The fact that I was the only Black gifted student in the program speaks to the broader aspect of underrepresentation of certain populations of students.  These special populations of gifted children include, but are not limited to, children who are from cultural, linguistic, low-income and ethnically diverse backgrounds (NAGC, 2011).


Research shows that Black and Latino students are far less likely than their White and Asian peers to be assigned to gifted programs.   According to the U.S. Department of Education, the likelihood of getting assigned to such programs is 66% lower for Black students and 47% lower for Latino students (NCES, 2012).  These statistics are alarming and quite frankly disappointing because gifted students benefit from educational programs aimed to meet their needs and develop their talents, and this indicates that there are certain populations of students whose needs are not being met.


The socioemotional issues that I experienced in my gifted program was also more common than I realized.  Research shows that these underrepresented populations are at higher risk for socioemotional issues than White and Asian populations (Stormont et al., 2001).  In fact, there is an alarming rate of Black students choosing not to participate in gifted programs because of negative peer pressures and racial identity status (Grantham, 2004). Other socioemotional aspects may include heightened awareness, anxiety, perfectionism, stress, issues with peer relationships, and concerns with identity and fit (NAGC, 2014).


Currently, as a PhD student in school psychology, I have found my passion for advocating for diversity in learning as well as promoting relevant and accessible services for all students, particularly gifted students.  Even in research of this population, there seems to be a lack of research surrounding different aspects including definitions of giftedness, identification, and servicing the population.  My personal experiences have helped to develop my passion for determining the services which are most appropriate for this population.  This has proven to be challenging; however, as I pursue a career in psychology, I will continue to support and address the learning needs of all students, including students who are gifted and from underrepresented populations.



Grantham, Tarek C. (2004).  Multicultural mentoring to increase Black male          representation in gifted programs.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 48, 232-245.

National Association for Gifted Children. (2014). Definitions of giftedness. Retrieved from http://www.nagc.org/

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics.  Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012001.pdf

Stormont, M., Stebbins, M. S., & Holliday, G. (2001). Characteristics and educational support needs of underrepresented gifted adolescents. Psychology in the Schools, 38, 413. doi: 10.1002/pits.1030



Sarah Cooke is a third-year doctoral student in the School Psychology program at Howard University. She received a Master of Education from Howard University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Georgia State University. Sarah is currently a member of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), American Psychological Association (APA) Division 16 and National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC). Her research interests include culturally responsive gifted assessment and intervention, advocacy for state-mandated gifted programs and underrepresentation of minorities in gifted education programs. A future goal is to practice as a school psychologist assisting in the understanding of students’ unique strengths and needs while providing effective and culturally appropriate prevention and intervention services.

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“Shall We Dance?” How Parents Can Work Together to Teach Kids About Race

Family dancing together


This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res


By Shawn C. T. Johnson, PhD (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania)




In the world of reality contest shows, are any more fun than those that center around dancing? On shows such as Dancing with the Stars (above), individuals with varying levels of talent pair up with others—sometimes as novice, sometimes advanced—to practice and eventually perform a set routine.  If you have ever watched these shows, you can appreciate the time and effort it takes to get the count right, keep rhythm etc.


As a racial-ethnic socialization (RES) scholar, watching these shows has also gotten me to think about another dance that goes on (and is often unnoticed) for many parents: working together to teach their child how to navigate a racialized world. Unlike faulty steps meaning the difference between staying on a show and going home, the stakes for effectively providing your child with affection, protection, and correction, as Dr. Howard Stevenson describes it, are much higher. Yet, while we often consider racial socialization one of the most critical parenting practices, there is not much that exists to help parents think through how their individual and collective skills, what they bring to the dance, can have important consequences for safeguarding their children physically, mentally, and emotionally.


So You Think You Can Dance?


Individually, it may be important for each parent to consider their styles and comfort around talking to their children about race. For example, one parent’s experiences with racial discrimination may make them more or less committed to preparing their children for potentially similar experiences. For another parent, they may still be carrying forward the messages that they were taught about race as a child, and these messages may inform how they plan to talk about race. Even experiences such as where parents’ grew up can impact how they think about race and the importance of teaching lessons to their children. So it is crucial to ask your co-parenting partner to share thoughts and feelings on race and RES.


It Takes Two…


giphy (1)


In addition to what each parent brings to the dance floor independently, how well parents work together impacts how successfully they can teach their children about race. Have you ever seen two capable dancers stumble through a routine? Oftentimes it has to do with a lack of communication. The most seamless routines are often found when communication is open and frequent. For RES, like dancing, this can mean using verbal or non-verbal means to let your partner know where you are going.


Another element of effectively navigating RES may center on discussions of role-taking or leads. Have you discussed who might be the one to teach your child what to do if they get stopped by the police, or is called a racial slur?


No Parking on The Dance Floor




Even once parents are able to work together to get into a groove that includes mutual understanding and open communication, it is important to also take a look at what is going on in you and your child’s world. Very skilled dancers may still find it difficult to be successful on a dance floor that is too crowded, and communication may become difficult if the music is too loud. Does the neighborhood or school your child inhabits make having these conversations more critical? How do the current political climate and exposure to social media change the ways in which your maneuver? How do other important people—grandparents, stepparents, and fictive kin— fit in with how we are teaching our children about race?


While RES unfortunately does not come with an instructional dance guide, and there may not be just the “right moves”, working together to teach your children about race is achievable. Share experiences and perspectives on race; support one another in co-creating an approach to talking about race; and accommodate one another when disagreements about how to proceed inevitably arise.


So tonight, perhaps after watching the latest episode of DWTS, you can pull up APA’s RESilience Parent Tip Tool, and ask your co-parent, “Can we have this dance?”




Shawn C. T. Jones, PhD, is a National Science Foundation SBE Postdoctoral Fellow in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Currently, Shawn works with Dr. Howard Stevenson in the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), which centers on applied research to promote racial literacy and empower families as a means of reducing the deleterious impact of race-related stress. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a Child and Family emphasis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Child Clinical Psychology Pre-doctoral intern at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. During his time at UNC, Shawn was both a Ford Foundation Predoctoral and Dissertation Fellow. Shawn also holds a Master of Health Science in Mental from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (2010) and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University (2008).

Dr. Jones endeavors to impact the psychosocial wellbeing of Black youth and their families by: a) exploring mechanisms undergirding culturally-relevant protective and promotive factors; b) translating basic research into interventions that harness the unique strengths of the Black experience; and c) disseminating this research to be consumed, critiqued and enhanced by the communities the work intends to serve. Clinically, Dr. Jones is committed to the provision of culturally-informed child, couple and family therapy and assessment. Finally, Dr. Jones is passionate about eliminating racial health disparities, particularly those related to mental health services, which he sees as obtainable through stigma-reduction and mental health literacy interventions.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnic identity, parenting, parenting tips, racial and ethnic socialization, racial discrimination, racial identity, racial socialization, resilience

3 Essential Tips to Help All Kids to Embrace Their Race and Ethnicity


This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res


By Chelsea Derlan, PhD (Asst. Professor of Developmental Psychology, Arizona State University)


In their daily lives, children receive many direct and subtle messages involving their racial-ethnic background from others:


“But how can he be your dad? You don’t match.”


“You should put on sunscreen because you don’t want to get too dark.”


“I always thought Black people couldn’t swim. You act White though, maybe that’s it.”


Although we cannot control every interaction our child has with others, what we can do is build up positive messages that influence the effect these interactions have on them. For example, what if we had engaged in racial-ethnic socialization (RES) that involved the following messages:


“You are such a perfect mix of mine and your fathers’ cultures.”


“You have beautiful brown skin. I love how you get darker in the sun.”


“Your ancestors are Black kings and queens. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

The RES we provide can have profound effects on our children’s well-being. Here are a few tips:


1. RES is important for all children.

It is important that we talk about race-ethnicity with children – all children. A recent ethnic-racial identity intervention study provided an opportunity for teenagers to explore their culture and develop a clearer sense of what their ethnicity-race meant to them. Participating had positive effects on youth from all racial-ethnic backgrounds.

As caregivers, we can set up similar opportunities by providing a space for our children to ask questions, process, and learn. Given our unique histories and everyday realities, we will want to tailor messages based on our children’s specific culture and experiences. For example, we might choose to prepare children for bias they may encounter, highlight stories of their ancestors, or build pride in their appearance. For ideas and activities, check out 25 mini-films for exploring race-ethnicity.


2. It is never too early to start.

Caregivers often wonder when it is the right time to begin RES. The answer is that it is never too early to start. Research tells us that by kindergarten, many children already know what their race-ethnicity is, and use race-ethnicity as a way to understand themselves and others. We know that when caregivers engage in RES it has positive effects on children’s academics, behavior, and language skills.

An important thing to keep in mind is to craft messages so they make sense to children based on their age and level of understanding. Very young children tend to focus on the parts of culture that they can see, such as skin tone and hair. For example, with Black children, you might start with books or videos that highlight how all hair is good hair, skin comes in lots of wonderful shades, or that feature Black boys and Black girls as main characters. Sometimes it is easiest to simply start talking, and other times it is helpful to read a book or watch a video, and then build a conversation afterwards.


3. Don’t give up!

Despite our most dedicated efforts, there will be times when children question and/or disagree with our teachings.

I came across an article in which a mother wrote about a time when her daughter said: “Mommy, I don’t want to be Black like you.” After talking to her daughter she realized that

“… it wasn’t that my daughter didn’t want to be Black, she was simply struggling to deal with her perception and understanding of who she is. Realistically, I know how the world will view her, and I can’t shield her from it. What I can do is make sure she knows who she is, that she is loved, and that she loves herself, fully.”

Although times like these can be discouraging, we can’t give up. We have to listen, and remember that the ways our children are understanding and interpreting their experiences may not always match our own.


RES is a process that involves many lessons over time. As children have different experiences, new things will pop up. Our goal is to create a support system so they know there is someone they can go to who will talk and/or listen. It is about planting those positive seeds for them that they can water when they need to. It is an opportunity for us to show our children love and compassion, to help them understand themselves, and to prepare for a better tomorrow with our children today!


Learn more:

Start healthy conversations about race/ethnicity with your kids today. Download APA’s RESilience Parent Tip Tool




Chelsea Derlan, PhD, is an assistant professor of developmental psychology at Arizona State University. Broadly, her work examines how risk factors (e.g., discrimination) and resilience factors (e.g., cultural socialization) inform ethnic-racial minority youths’ positive psychological, academic, and health outcomes. Guided by cultural ecological models, she considers the role of family, school, and other key contexts. Her research is focused in two main areas:

(a) assessing what young children understand and feel about their culture (i.e., ethnic-racial identification), and how this plays a role in development, and

(b) examining the interplay between individual and contextual factors as they inform adolescents’ ethnic-racial identity and adjustment.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnic identity, ethnicity, parenting, race, racial and ethnic socialization, racial identity, resilience, stereotypes, stereotyping

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child: Racial and Ethnic Socialization (RES) Beyond the Curriculum


This is the third in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res.

This post is also featured in our recent “Back to School” blog post series.


By Chynere Best and Noelita Bowman (Doctoral Psychology Students, Howard University)


All parents have probably noticed that raising a child is not only the parent’s job. You are constantly getting input from other family members, friends and teachers. Children spend more than half their day in school so it is safe to say that the school system, and those who work in it, play a huge role in your child’s life. That means that answering tough questions on topics like race and ethnicity is a challenge that teachers will have to face.


Teachers, administrators, and other pertinent staff share the responsibility of educating our youth. In addition to teaching subjects like reading, math, and writing they also help to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. Providing a safe environment includes being able to communicate about race effectively with students.


One way schools can address race and racial socialization is to embed its concept throughout the curriculum and beyond. For example, teachers should work to highlight the ways in which culture impacts our everyday lives. Schools should ensure their curriculum is one that promotes cultural diversity, and inclusivity for all students from different backgrounds. School personnel should ask themselves:


“What can I do to empower my students to embrace diversity?

How can I create an environment that promotes an understanding that different does not mean deficit?

What message(s) am I intentionally or unintentionally sending to my students about race in my classroom?”


Culture at its core is our identity! It influences our values, beliefs, and worries. When schools provide an environment that allows students to discuss differences and engage in perspective taking, they create a climate that is safe and nurturing for all to grow and learn.


In discussing RES outside of the curriculum, here are some sure ways that teachers can facilitate the conversation about RES in school.




1. Debate:


Debating has long been known to have numerous beneficial outcomes. However, if not initiated and facilitated effectively this exercise can lead to negative outcomes to include divisiveness and entrenched positions. It is critical to have well-trained school personnel lead these types of activities, as they would be more effective in recognizing the different nuances concerning debates. Using debating as an activity in the school is intended to open student’s minds regarding RES.


Effective debates enable participants to gain a broader perspective, promote critical thinking and analysis, and teach research, organization and presentation skills as students must consider all angles of the situation or topic as they build their argument. Furthermore, it encourages teamwork and respect since students must work together to build their case, eloquently express their views and politely consider and refute their opponent’s position.


The school can carry out the debate in various ways. The typical pro versus con positions can be given to discuss topics such as the integration of racially segregated schools in the United States. Past versus present situations can also be incorporated to help students find the connection between their history lessons and present-day situations.


An example of this type of scenario would be “Would Malcolm X have won the presidential election if he ran against President Obama?” Additionally, a multigroup question can be posed. In this case students would be divided into 3-5 groups, each tasked with a different perspective on a prompt. For example, language is a powerful tool used for direct and indirect communication. However, in most schools across the United States, very few languages are taught. A multigroup debate question that addresses language in schools could be “Which, if any, foreign languages should be taught in schools?” Teachers should present a wide range of languages for the groups to consider such as Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Mandarin/Cantonese, and Yoruba.”


2. Multicultural Events and Activities:


Acknowledging racial and ethnic differences can be even more fun and enlightening if we turn it into a celebration. Every culture has their own special holidays which hold varying types of significance whether religious, like the Muslim celebration of Eid Al-Fitr, traditional like the Chinese New Year or historical like Black History Month. One way to achieve this is to incorporate various cultural holidays and celebrations into the school calendar. Students can be a part of this process by suggesting celebrations native to their cultural backgrounds to be included on the calendar. Each group should not be confined to one major holiday or event such as Black History Month. All events should be supervised by a teacher or administrator to ensure that the focus is on appreciation of the specific culture being celebrated.


3. Discussion:


Sometimes addressing issues does not have to be wrapped up in a big event, project or assignment. Oftentimes the teachable moments that occur naturally are the best way to send a powerful message. Teachers should be aware of events that occur in school and society and be willing to address them openly with students. Addressing issues can be as simple as throwing out a question or topic for a student led discussion during lunch or a free period. The goal of these types of activities is to open the door for students to learn about current issues, express their opinions and have more open dialogue with their teachers and peers. Some examples of discussion topics include conversations around hair, skin color and racial stereotypes. It is important to note that someone should be appointed as a moderator for the discussion to ensure that no one person monopolizes the conversation and a level of respect is upheld as people express their views.


Ultimately, the purpose of these suggested activities is to help teachers get more actively involved in RES and to help students be more engaged as they learn about race and ethnicity. Teachers and administrators must be properly trained to carry out the above activities in order for them to be successful. This means being aware of the issues that occur in school and in society, being confident about your ability to address the issues head on and being dedicated to doing so in a way that unites, educates and builds appreciation for others among your students.




Chynere Best is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology Program at Howard University. She serves as the lab coordinator for the Cultural Socialization Lab (CSL), under the supervision of Dr. Debra Roberts, where the research focuses on culture as a buffer to the negative influences of toxic environments. Chynere’s specific research interests concentrate on culture and identity development in adolescents and young adults of African descent. She is originally from Trinidad and Tobago.


Noelita Bowman is pursuing a PhD in school psychology at Howard University. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Hampton University, where she was a summa cum laude graduate. Noelita has interned in several of APA’s offices including the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs in Summer 2017. Noelita’s research and interests include exploring ways to improve the academic achievement and school readiness achievement amongst children of color. Her dissertation focuses on exploring parent and teacher attitudes on school readiness. She believes all children have the capacity to learn, it is the environment in which they function in that alters development in a positive or negative direction.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: academic achievement, back to school, culture, Education, race relations, racial and ethnic socialization, racial identity, racism

Black Pain, Black Joy, and Racist Fear: Supporting Black Children in a Hostile World

African American father and son

This is the second in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res

By Angel Dunbar, PhD (Post-Doctoral Associate, University of Maryland)

On Saturday August 12, 2017, I awoke to images from the night before of dozens of White nationalists marching through the University of Virginia Charlottesville carrying torches and chanting “you will not replace us.”

This chant, “you will not replace us,” embodies the perception held by White nationalists that people of color are eminent threats to the continuation of White supremacy. However, this dangerous fear is not limited to self-proclaimed White nationalist. It runs deep within and across various institutions that impact adults and children alike, including the education and justice systems.

Taking in the images from Charlottesville and considering them against the backdrop of other overt and covert displays of racism in recent years, I was reminded of the intense emotionality of racism and its effect on Black children.

I imagine the level of fear it must take for a police officer to shoot a 12-year-old Black child within two seconds of arriving on the scene. I wonder about the level of hatred one must hold to be able to shoot at Black teenagers enjoying music in their car. I recall the anger and pain one feels at not only experiencing racism but also vicariously witnessing and learning about racism. And I consider the constant emotional restraint needed to remain composed so as not to become another victim of racist fear.

Unsurprisingly, parents and caregivers are increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of Black children. Research shows that:

When it seems like Black children are mistreated for expressing anger, fear, joy, or for simply existing, it can be a daunting task to figure out how to best protect them from harm while also allowing them to live and thrive unapologetically. Here are a few things to consider from the research:


Facts of Life


1. Strike a balance

It is reasonable to encourage children to control their emotions (e.g., “don’t get too upset” “don’t react in anger”) and monitor their behavior in certain contexts—such as with teachers and administrators, law enforcement, and unknown adults—in an effort to decrease their chances of being harmed or treated with bias. Research shows that not talking to Black children about racism and what they may witness or experience can actually lead to more distress later, due to the shock of unexpected exposure.

However, excessive suppression of emotions without an outlet can lead to depression, anxiety, acting out, and can even take a toll on cardiovascular health. For balance, caregivers can encourage children to feel comfortable expressing their emotions at home and with close friends and extended family.

Speaking of emotional outlets…

Carefree children running and playing in garden


2. Processing emotions is essential

As adults, experiencing or witnessing racism can be extremely emotionally upsetting. So imagine how overwhelming it must be for children, who are still developing the skill of managing their emotions, to experience or even learn about racism. Research shows that validating and being sensitive to children’s feelings of fear, anger, and sadness helps them learn to effectively cope with these emotions. It also helps to prevent depression, anxiety, and behavior problems.

Validation and sensitivity comes in many forms, including allowing children to express their feelings, comforting them with physical affection and reassuring words, and problem solving with them. Here are some questions you can ask your child the next time he or she is upset by images they see in the media or something that happened to them….

“What happened?”

“Why do you think that happened?”

“How did it make you feel?”

“What can we do to feel better?”

Also check out this blog post by Dr. Riana Anderson about how our own emotional distress to racism can impact these conversations with children.


Close up portrait of a happy little boy smiling

3. Surround children with love and remain joyful

Being discriminated against and learning that others may not like them simply because they are Black can take a toll on children’s sense of self-worth and overall health. Having positive, warm, and supportive relationships both in and outside of the home can buffer against the negative impact of racism.

Such warm and supportive relationships are a constant reminder to children that they have people to turn to and that they are loved, lovable, and have immense value. In addition to everyday love and support, sending children counter messages and positive affirmations about blackness can also boost their confidence and self-esteem.

Despite the violence against Black lives and the accompanying trauma, the Black community continues to persevere and remain joyful. In the words of activist and writer Kleaver Cruz, “Black joy is resistance.” Most importantly, Black joy is healing.



Dr. Angel Dunbar is a postdoctoral associate in the African American Studies Department. Dr. Dunbar completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and her B.A. in psychology and sociology at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Dunbar is a Developmental Scientist whose research focuses on understanding the unique developmental challenges that children of color encounter and the family processes and individual factors that influence positive adaptation in the face of these challenges. Specifically, her program of research addresses the following: (1) the detrimental effects of racial/ethnic discrimination on the social-emotional, psychological, and academic outcomes of children of color, (2) the messages parents relay about race/racism and emotions in an attempt to mitigate these effects, and (3) children’s individual protective factors such as emotional, behavioral, and physiological self-regulation and emotion understanding. Dr. Dunbar’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: African American children, African American youth, black children, children's mental health, racial identity, racial socialization, self-esteem, self-expression

Jury Bias: Can You Argue the Facts When Race Enters the Mix?


By Silvia L. Mazzula, PhD (Asst. Professor of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY)

I’m sure you’ve heard it – only “relevant” facts should be considered in the courtroom. After all, it’s the foundation of the United States’ justice system to create a just and fair trial. Over the past several months, my Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds have overflowed with posts about race and the justice system following grand jury rulings to not indict in the cases involving police killings of unarmed Black men. Some say “facts are facts.”  Others say there was something more.

Maybe… there was. Research tells us that facts not “relevant” to a given case impact jurors’ decisions – these are called extralegal factors and range from personal characteristics like race or gender to how a juror sees others. Scientific data show, for example, Blacks are treated the worst in criminal and civil cases. Studies also show jurors’ biases about race may have something to do with their decisions –that is, their verdict.  Yet, researchers don’t quite agree. For example, some find better outcomes if the jury is made up of people of the same race as the defendant, while others don’t find these racial biases. An emerging area of study on race salience says decisions may be related to how “obvious” racial issues are in trials, not necessarily about race of jurors.

But this work is somewhat limited too.

  • First, studies typically look at socio-demographic race – that is, what someone answers when they are asked for their race.
  • Second, many focus on White jurors’ racial bias, so they don’t know much about jurors of different racial groups.
  • Third, and more importantly, we know very little about what jurors “think” of themselves as racial beings and how this “thinking” impacts their decisions.

People’s subconscious ideas and prejudices about social-demographic race are referred to as racial identity attitudes. It is this “thinking” that impacts how people make sense of the world – regardless of how they answer that “what is your race?” question. For example, you can ask me what race I am, but my answer won’t tell you whether I am racist or not.

How does it enter the courtroom?

We did a study with 210 mock jurors who were African American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or non-Hispanic White (henceforth, White). Participants read a case of workplace discrimination and asked whether the plaintiff (African American) had been discriminated by their employer (no race information provided) and if the facts supported that the plaintiff had suffered emotional distress. We included obvious racial overtones in the case (e.g., plaintiff alleged employer used derogatory racial terms such as “coon” or “spook”).

Most participants found the plaintiff was discriminated and suffered emotional distress. However, it depended on “who” and their “thoughts” about race.

We looked at decisions by juror’s socio-demographic race (that is, the “what is your race?” question):

  • Did the facts support a hostile work environment?

African-American, Hispanic and White jurors said yes. Whites represented the highest proportion. Asian Americans did not agree.

  • Did the facts support the plaintiff suffered emotional distress?

African-American and Asian-American jurors said yes. White mock jurors were the highest proportion of those who did not agree.

White jurors only supported a hostile work environment. Research on race salience suggests Whites may want to appear impartial (that is, not bias) when there are obvious racial overtones in a case.  Our findings seem to support this notion somewhat since they didn’t support both decisions.  Based on a common perception that race is much more important for racial/ethnic minorities, we expected people of color to support the plaintiff in both decisions. However, we found racial bias by minority racial/ethnic groups as well. This is important because most research on jury decisions tends to focus on unequal treatment of Blacks only by Whites.


We also looked at what jurors “think” about race (i.e., their racial identity attitudes) and found three attitudes related to their decisions – don’t forget these are often out of people’s awareness. If you look at the graph, we show what research says is the progression of people’s attitudes with respect to race.


ATTITUDE… in a sentence General Theme FINDINGS:        Hostile Work Environment FINDINGS: Emotional Distress
We are all humans
  • Color-blind mentality
  • Race is not important
  • Denial that racism exists
White – Yes

African-American -less likely to support it

White – Yes
I’m all about my group
  • Idealizing own racial group
  • Rejection of other racial groups
White, Non-Hispanic – less likely to support it Asian-American – Yes

Hispanic – Yes

I accept and value me and others
  • Valuing oneself, and others, as racial beings
  • Resolved conflict related to racial differences
African-American -less likely to support it  

“We are all humans”: We found attitudes that negate the importance of race in people’s lives resulted in African-Americans’ finding that experiences of discrimination are irrelevant or unimportant facts of a case. These attitudes are driven by internalized beliefs about the inferiority of people of color. Therefore, its possible they may have thought the plaintiff deserved the consequences — even being called blatant derogatory terms.  For White jurors, on the other hand, these attitudes resulted in supporting both decisions.  It is possible that these attitudes may help them see that a Black person was harmed by a hostile work environment, whether or not it had anything to do specifically with race.

“I’m all about my ‘racial/cultural’ group”: For people of color, these attitudes sometimes include connecting more with other racial/ethnic minorities and can increase awareness of issues of race. Therefore, it’s possible that Hispanic and Asian-American jurors were more sensitive to see potential for emotional harm – even though they did not think it was a hostile work environment. For White jurors, these attitudes reflect the first step toward questioning notions of supremacy. Maybe immersing themselves in their racial group and beginning the process of questioning supremacy prevented them from seeing that experiences of racial discrimination were relevant or that they can cause emotional distress.


“I accept and value me, and others”: These attitudes are the most mature of racial identity beliefs. They reflect a person who has come to integrate race and culture into who they are as people, resolved conflict related to racial differences, and able to value themselves as racial beings. We found African-American jurors were less likely to support there was discrimination. It’s possible that they judged the facts of the case based on its merits without including subconscious prejudices related to race.


Take away:

First, most research neglects to examine racial bias of racial/ethnic minority groups. We, however, found racial bias was present among minority jurors as well. Second, looking at the sociodemographic race of jurors (e.g., the “what is your race?” question) doesn’t really tap into racial biases or attitudes. Had we only looked at sociodemographic race, we would not have seen the wide range of decisions within each racial/ethnic group. In other words – race as a social demographic factor would not identify biased jurors.


It seems that decisions from jurors are based on more than just facts.  This finding calls for urgent attention from all of us – it would mean a fair and just criminal justice system is somewhat of a myth.  So what do we do?


What the justice system can do:

Include psychological measures of racial identity “attitudes” to determine juror bias – and use these with all racial groups not just Whites. Theories on racism show people tend to present themselves as fair. So, simply asking jurors if they think they will be unbiased, as with typical legal strategies used to identify racial bias, such as challenge for cause or voir dire, – doesn’t necessarily identify those who may or may not be.


What you can do personally:

 The truth is that racism is everywhere – we all, in one way or another, grew up learning about the ‘good’ vs. the ‘bad’ racial groups. It is our responsibility as people to change the way we have been taught to think about race so that our justice system really is fair and just, and our children can have a better and more just future! Here are some ideas:


1. STOP:

Not all people who look or identify as White are racist. Not all people who identify as a racial/ethnic minority are anti-racist. We need to stop looking at racism as something based on how people look or answer the “what race are you?” question.


Until we stop seeing race as an issue of Whites against Blacks, or all people of color, and start looking at the meaning of race and how we have all been socialized within systems that value whiteness, we cannot move forward.


We need to support discussions about the “meaning of race”. It takes courage to talk about the privileges we’ve been given just because of “how we look”. Let’s support these conversations.


Talking about race, whether you are “perceived to be” the oppressor or the oppressed is taxing to our emotional wellbeing. I, for example, have been feeling so many different emotions with all the current attention to issues of racism in the media. If I, as someone who studies, works and writes about race needs somewhere to talk about my feelings, you may too. It’s ok. And it’s needed!


We want to hear from you – Tell us in the comments:

  1. How do you work to learn about your biases?
  2. How do you invite others to have these difficult talks?



To read original study:  Carter, R.T. & Mazzula, S.L. (2013). Race and racial identity status attitudes: Mock-juror decision-making in race discrimination cases. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 11(3), 196-217.

Carter, R.T., Mazzula, S. L., Victoria, R., Vazquez, R., Hall, S., et al. (2013). Initial Development of the Race-Based Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale: Assessing the Emotional Impact of Racism. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 5(1), 1-9.

Helms, J.E. (1990). Black and White racial identity attitudes: Theory, research, and practice.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Nadal, K., Mazzula, S.L., Rivera, D.R. & Fujii-Doe, W. (2014). Racial Microaggressions and Latina/o Americans: An Analysis of Nativity, Gender, and Ethnicity. Journal of Latina/o Psychology, 2(2), 67-78. doi: 10.1037/lat0000013

Sommers, S. R., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2009).  “Race salience” in juror decision-making: Misconceptions, clarifications, and unanswered questions.  Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 27, 599-609.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2007). http://www.eeoc.gov



Dr. Mazzula is also the Executive Director of the Latina Researchers Network and former President of the Latino Psychological Association of New Jersey. Check out Dr. Mazzula’s previous blog post on how microaggressions affect the Latino community.

Image source: iStockPhoto.comVALIGN=TOP

Filed under: Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: bias, jury bias, race salience, racial bias, racial identity

“But Daddy, Why Was He Shot?”: How to Talk to Children about Race Today

Facts of Life

This is the first in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res


By Riana Anderson, PhD (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania)


Whenever there is news of a criminal’s non-indictment for violence committed against Black people, I run to Facebook to assess the pulse of my friends and colleagues. It’s a phenomenon that started the day after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin. My newsfeed was ablaze with the desperate, despondent, and disastrous beliefs of current and hopeful parents.


“It almost seems irresponsible now to have and raise a child of color in this country.”

“Deeply saddened. Disappointed. What is the message for my sons, cousins…don’t go outside?”

“…I love you and I am scared as you guys get older.”


All parents are concerned for their children’s safety, but parents of color shoulder a particularly challenging burden raising children in a racially charged society. In particular, the messages and behaviors that parents express to their children regarding race are known as Racial/Ethnic Socialization (RES). Much has been written on RES —formal review articles, blogs, more blogs, and even more blogs—but at a time when racial conflict is especially visible via social and mass media, caregivers may be wondering what is best to say to children of color.


Although no magic formula exists for helping children of color get through the racial dynamics of our society, here are a few things that research tells us are useful:


1. Talking is both said and unsaid

You may believe that you have said all the things you want to say to your child, especially the things the research indicates most parents of color say to their children—cultural socialization (or pride), preparation for bias, promotion of distrust, and equality—but have you also noticed what you are not saying to them? If the TV is on and you are full of emotion, do you explain to your child what it is that is making you so scared and frustrated? RES is not just the explicit sharing of messages, it is also implicit—what we don’t say is just as important as what we do say. This is true for actions too – what we do and don’t do both provide models for our children. Children are always watching (and parents thought they had eyes in the back of their head!), so be mindful of what they see and how you explain your actions.


2. You have to start somewhere

Sometimes, parents can be so paralyzed by our own frustrations or fears that it is challenging to talk to our children about race. Some parents may even feel like bringing up race can add to the anxiety that our children feel about racial experiences. On the contrary, the majority of research shows that there are some great benefits to instilling pride and preparing both children and adolescents of color for the bias they will face. Children of color often have better psychological, physiological, and academic outcomes when parents use some combination of pride and preparation. We think of it this way – if a flight attendant prepares passengers for plane crashes, wouldn’t it be just as logical for parents to prepare children for the sting of discriminatory experiences that the majority of Black people report facing throughout their lifetime?


3. Do you understand your own stress?

Just as my peers indicated in their Facebook posts several years ago, a very real fear may exist in communicating with our children about racial encounters. Oftentimes, parents have unresolved stress and trauma ourselves, so asking us to provide assistance for our children can be challenging. Prior to talking to your children, it may be useful to talk to your partner, parent, friend, or therapist about how you feel.

If we as parents are not attuned to our feelings on racial matters, we may be unconsciously communicating our discomfort to our children. Indeed, children who receive more frequent messages of distrust (which can be a generalization from a personal or communicated experience) and/or equality (which may just be avoidance of racial topics for some parents) have less consistent well-being outcomes relative to their peers who receive pride and preparatory messages. Although it is important to start somewhere with our children, we may have to start with ourselves first.


Since very young children can detect differences in race and start to make meaning of those differences, it is important for caregivers to be prepared to have open and honest dialogue about the history, present-day practices, and future hopes for race in our society.


To learn more about APA’s new initiative on racial and ethnic socialization (RES), please visit http://www.apa.org/pi/res and watch the video below:


Questions for you to consider:

  • What are my personal beliefs about racism and discrimination today?
  • How is my child being impacted by the racial climate around him/her?
  • In what ways am I addressing both my and my child’s concerns about race?
  • What resources would help me to feel comfortable and confident in addressing race issue with my child?


Don’t miss our Twitter chat!

Join the conversation! APA will cohost a Twitter chat (#kidstalkrace) on the benefits of parents having healthy conversations on race with kids on July 28, 2017 from 4 to 5 PM (ET): http://vite.io/kidstalkrace

Resilience _KidsTalkRace Flyer 2.png




Riana Anderson, PhD, is a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in the Applied Psychology and Human Development Division (APHD). Her current fellowship is with Dr. Howard Stevenson in the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), which centers on cultural pride, coping and parenting, culturally specific parenting strategies, and other ways of reducing race-related stress. She received her doctorate in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of Virginia and was a Clinical and Community Psychology Pre-doctoral Fellow at Yale University’s School of Medicine. Dr. Anderson graduated from the University of Michigan in 2006 with degrees in Psychology and Political Science. She then taught for 2 years with Teach For America in Atlanta, GA. She has also conducted community based participatory research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and neuropsychological research at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Anderson aims to assist at-risk youth with practical applications of her research and clinical services, as well as through academic instruction and policy recommendations. She strives to improve the psychological outcomes for African American youth through expanded coping strategies, discovery and encouragement of alternative outcomes, culturally and contextually relevant parenting programs, and community building, participation, and collaboration. One of her goals is to create youth centers and interventions that support the mental and physical health— as well as educational goals—of African American youth in urban communities.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnicity, parenting, parenting tips, race, racial bias, racial discrimination, racial identity, racism, resilience