Educational Leadership


Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: A Critical Examination of the Conceptualization of Black Racial Identity in Education

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SAGE Publications


The role that racial identity plays in the well-being, educational achievement, and life outcomes of Black youth has received tremendous attention from the early post-slavery years right up until today, and remains a surprisingly contested area of study. We call for the examination of why images of Black racial identity as “damaged” and “dangerous” persist despite scores of studies that demonstrate otherwise. Despite a proliferation of theories suggesting a “damaged” Black psyche and suspicion about its value to Black youth, we find the history of research about Black racial identity reveals robust and consistent evidence that Black racial identity is linked to a broad range of positive outcomes from measures of well-being—including greater resilience, coping with discrimination, higher academic performance, greater commitment to education, and improved educational outcomes on a number of measures. Given this, we question why Black identity has been so controversial and why, 150 years after the end of legalized Black slavery, theories suggesting the “danger” of Black racial identity still hold so much power with both lay and professional audiences.