Believing that “black is beautiful,” an important mantra of self-acceptance and self-love, could pay major dividends in school, a new study finds.
An article in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education focuses on a new study from Sheretta Butler-Barnes, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, which finds that young black women with “strong racial identity” are more likely to be academically engaged, curious and persistent.
The survey looked at 733 black middle and high school girls in “three socio-economically school districts in the Midwest,” according to the JBHE.
The study, “Promoting Resilience Among African American Girls: Racial Identity as a Protective Factor,” was published on the Child Development journal website and found that feeling positive about being black, along with feeling supported by their schools, correlated with the girls’ greater academic motivation.
Researchers also found that feeling good about your racial identity could act as a buffer for students in “hostile or negative” academic environments.
“Persons of color who have unhealthy racial identity beliefs tend to perform lower in school and have more symptoms of depression,” Butler-Barnes noted.
“We found that feeling positive about being Black, and feeling support and belonging at school, may be especially important for African-American girls’ classroom engagement and curiosity,” Butler-Barnes added. “Feeling connected to the school may also work together with racial identity attitudes to improve academic outcomes.”
That study’s findings appear to support another recent study, from the University of Washington, which found that cultivating pride in black culture and identity led one group of girls at a Seattle-area middle school to express greater confidence. More than that, both the girls and their teachers reported a stronger connection to their school and greater involvement.
As the University of Washington website notes, the participants in the study took a 12-week course that combined mindfulness teachings with a cultural-enrichment curriculum. Not only did the girls identify more strongly with their black heritage, but their positive feelings toward other black people also increased significantly.
This cultural pride translated to stronger “humanist” beliefs among the girls—“a belief that they fit in with people of all races, that their racial heritage has value in society and that their race should not exclude them from being part of the larger community,”according to the UW website.
The study’s author, Janine Jones, who heads UW’s psychology program, notes that “there are a lot of girls who check out in school when they feel like they’re not seen, not understood or invested in by school personnel. There are a lot of negative perceptions of African-Americans, and the perception they receive is that it’s not a good thing to be black.”
Jones continued: “We may think it’s easier to avoid it than to address it. But if we start addressing oppression by countering it with the humanness of who these kids are, we’re more likely to keep them engaged and feeling a sense of belonging.”