What have social scientists studied and learned, particularly in the last decade, about how communications have impacted achievement of black males, and could impact it for the better? The Opportunity Agenda has worked to create a summary work of what is known and what is not known in this area.
To view the original research and data created by Topos Partnership with The Opportunity Agenda, click here.
This social science review centers on the topic of how communications in the broadest sense impacts black male achievement. It is no exaggeration to say that tens (or hundreds) of thousands of pages have been written on the topic over the course of several generations. This review is intended to offer communicators on related issues, who come to the review with a wide range of different backgrounds and depth of knowledge on the topic, a digestible overview. What have social scientists studied and learned, particularly in the last decade, about how communications have impacted achievement of black males, and could impact it for the better? A range of longer reviews, including book-length studies, are available and have informed this piece — but The Opportunity Agenda would like to offer its colleagues and the field a user-friendly summary that captures the essence of what is known, and what is not known, in a very usable format.
What is known is often discouraging, as a wide range of studies, analyses, and bodies of evidence point to persistent and destructive biases regarding the public image of black males, and ongoing forces that perpetuate the creation of these images. Equally frustrating is the fact that these patterns, while often very familiar to insiders, are more or less invisible to the general public, and seem implausible or exaggerated to them even when pointed out (an observation based on the authors’ own research experience on related topics). Other problems widely known to insiders but mostly “invisible” to the public at large include the well-documented and nearly universal tendency of Americans to have unconscious patterns of bias against African Americans in general and black males in particular, as well as the psychological and sociological costs that these patterns exact on black males. In short, it seems very important that the nature of these patterns of images, their causes, their effects, and their potential antidotes, should in some sense be available “out there.”
The review focuses on the core problem as social scientists have described it — including aspects that are more robustly or more thinly addressed in the literature — as well as a discussion of some of the more troubling dilemmas and dynamics that confront communicators.
Where possible, this review also points out the “good news” in the literature, including psychology experiments that look at tasks and contexts that can reduce bias. Despite the lack of “silver bullets,” the literature does offer some useful lessons that can guide communicators’ efforts going forward.
Please note that the social science literature review is just one piece of a larger effort. It is intended to provide communicators with an overview of what is known (or not known) about the topic via the social sciences, and to inform future stages of the project; it is those later stages that will focus more on action steps going forward.