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Playing with Anger: Engaging the emotional Lives of Black boys in schools. Howard C. Stevenson, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Chair Applied Psychology and Human Development Division Graduate School of Education University of Pennsylvania

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playing with anger engaging the emotional lives of black boys in schools

Playing with Anger:Engaging the emotional Lives of Black boys in schools

Howard C. Stevenson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Chair

Applied Psychology and Human Development Division

Graduate School of Education

University of Pennsylvania

Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

September 12, 2008

  • What is the Lion’s Story?
  • What theories undergird intervention with Black boys?
    • What dynamics undergird Black male emotional life?
      • Boys Not Men; Catch 33, Hypervulnerability & Hypermasculinity
  • What is the PLAAY Project and what did we learn?
  • What are the strategies for engaging emotional lives of Black Boys?
  • What’s Your Story?
lion s story
Lion’s Story

“The Lion’s Story will Never Be Known As Long as the Hunter is the One to Tell It”

African proverb

lion s story ingredients for staff training
Lion’s Story ingredients for Staff Training
  • Racial Socialization Experience?
    • What I was told about race and race relations and black people while I was growing up?
  • Racial Identity Development?
    • How have I made meaning of the
      • social construction of racism/poverty and
      • cultural history of my ethnic group in my personal and professional life?
  • Racial Interactions?
    • What story, lens, images do I bring in my interactions with Black boys and girls? (6p news; Pied piper)
    • How I manage my emotional engagement with others around race?
How do depression and stress impact youth of color in ways that may be distinct and relevant for an examination into psychic harm? 
  • Perceived Discrimination exposure leads to
    • increased behavioral difficulties and depression symptoms (Brody et al, 2006; Nyborg & Curry, 2003)
    • Stereotype threat & underperformance (Steele and Aronson, 1995;) but also potential for learning (Nussbaum & Steele, 2007); microaggessions (Sue, 2007)
    • Depression/stress is underdiagnosed in youth of color
  • Emotionally nurturing and supportive strategies can mitigate this negative impact of perceived discrimination (Brody et al., 2006)
  • Racial/ethnic socialization is our way to assess and intervene to buffer racism experience (Stevenson, 2003; Stevenson, et al, 1997)
racism subtle blatant affects functioning
Racism, subtle & blatant affects functioning
  • Subtle or ambivalent prejudice can lead to more emotional distress than blatant prejudice (Salvatore & Shelton, 2007; Harrell & colleagues)
    • Predominantly White independent schools fear “R” word (Arrington & Stevenson, 2006);
    • Niceness isn’t kindness; Black male attrition
  • Racism awareness promotes stigma consciousness and helps youth of color prepare for overt prejudice
racial socialization well being
Racial socialization & Well Being
  • Positive relationships with
    • Self esteem (Davis & Stevenson, 2006)
    • Overall resiliency (Miller, 1999)
    • Academic achievement (Bowman & Howard, 1985; Sanders, 1997)
  • Inverse relationships with
    • Fighting (Stevenson et al., 2002; 2003)
    • Lethargy, Low Self-Esteem (Davis & Stevenson, 2006)
  • Mediates the impact of
    • racism experiences on adverse outcomes
      • Cognitive difficulties (Caughy et al., 2006; Coard et al, In Press)
      • Depressive symptoms (Coard et al, In Press)
      • Behavioral Difficulties
    • Urban Stress (Miller, 1999)
theories that undergird culturally relevant interventions for black boys
Theories that undergird culturally relevant interventions for black boys

Racial Socialization, Sociopolitical Empowerment, Transactional Stress Coping

racial socialization revised stevenson bentley adams 2007
Racial Socialization Revised Stevenson, Bentley, & Adams, 2007
  • Transmission and acquisition of empowering or diminishing beliefs, knowledge, interactions, and styles regarding
    • the social construction of racial hierarchy (dealing w/ whiteness)
    • the cultural & intergenerational historical and contemporary storytelling and coping of one’s ethnic group
    • Lion’s Story
purpose and functions of racial ethnic cultural socialization recs
Purpose and Functions of Racial, Ethnic, & Cultural Socialization (RECS)-
  • Cross, 1991- Identity & Socialization
  • as Protection
    • Protect one’s meaning making from insults/bias/discrimination
  • as Being
    • Affirm one’s right to exist, self-define and assert Blackness
  • as Appraisal
  • as Agency
    • Propel one’s coping toward talent identification & development in multiple contexts
    • Launching and Springboarding to other Politics
    • Application of RECs to achievement and striving and survivals
    • Toward critical consciousness thinking and behaving
      • Competence = reflection plus activism
assumptions of racial socialization processes
Assumptions of Racial Socialization Processes
  • Both cultural empowerment and diminishment interactions and reactions to Black cultural style affect socialization & Identity thru peers, society, community, & family
  • Without RS across the lifespan, African American youth are vulnerable to maladjustment;
developing knowledge of and appreciation for black cultural style
Developing knowledge of and appreciation for Black cultural style
  • Style or stylings:
    • “conscious or unconscious manipulation of language or mannerisms to influence favorably the hearers of a message” (Asante, 1987; p. 39).
    • “… those crucial therapeutic moments when African Americans display and look for signs from the therapist that the therapeutic context provides a safe environment that allows for full cultural expression of emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and movements. It is therapists’ ability to understand the significance of African American culture, history, and experience that provide meaning and context for clients’ behaviors and interactions.” (Stevenson, et al., 2005; p. 4)
style matters
“Style Matters”

How do teachers, authority figures, & society react to Black cultural style?

what dynamics undergird black male emotional life
What dynamics undergird Black male emotional life?

“Boys Not Men”; Missed, Dissed, & Pissed; Hypervulnerabilty and Hypermasculinity; Catch 33

major qualitative findings of plaay
Major Qualitative Findings of PLAAY
  • Boys not Men
    • Adolescent development rarely applied to black male behavior in schools
    • Wonderment-Full range of childhood desires, strivings, expressions- “feeling aroused by something strange and surprising”
    • Hypervulnerable in Hypermasculine World
major qualitative findings of plaay boys not men pt 2
Major Qualitative Findings of PLAAY-Boys not Men, pt 2
  • Patrol and Control strategies are costly
    • Correction at expense of Affection & Protection
    • Distrust of Boys toward Authorities
      • Boys are “Missed, Dissed, & Pissed”
  • Cultural Relevance Matters
    • Engage cultural stylings of Black youth as tools for healing & as tools for reconnecting them to school and achievement
catch 33


Racism as systemic, historic, routine, unpredictable, serendipitous, and emotionally debilitating

just damned scenarios

Just Damned Scenarios

Suspensions and Expulsions of African American Youth

from education on lockdown schoolhouse to jailhouse advancement project 2005
From “Education on Lockdown: Schoolhouse to Jailhouse,”Advancement Project, 2005
  • Zero Tolerance applies “Broken Windows” Theory
  • Result is 2 types of profiling
    • Zero-tolerance- targets small-time offenders
    • Racial- targets youth of color based on stereotypes
  • “the data shows that Black and Latino students are more likely than their White peers to be arrested in school, regardless of the demographics of the school’s enrollment.”
  • “Researchers conclude racial disparities cannot be accounted for by the SES of students. “
  • No “evidence that Black and Latino students misbehave more than their White peers.
prek left behind expulsion rates in state prek systems gilliam 2005 yale child study center
PreK Left Behind- Expulsion Rates in State PreK Systems- (Gilliam, 2005, Yale Child Study Center)
  • “Prekindergarten students are being expelled at a higher rate than K-12 students. (Expulsion is defined as complete & permanent removal of a student from an entire education system.)”
  • African American preschoolers are twice as likely to be expelled as white or Latino children and five times as likely as Asian Americans (Dobbs, 2005; Gilliam, 2005)
  • Pattern of risk for expulsion with African-American students K-12 (Holzman, 2004).
  • Pattern is suggestive of disproportionate control and punitive actions taken by authority figures that consciously and/or unconsciously may be egregious overreactions driven by their biased expectations and fears of these youth
how do we manage catch 33
How do we Manage Catch-33?
  • Racial, Ethnic, & Cultural Counter-Socialization Skills
    • To manage the stress of public humiliation
    • To reject definitions of Self from paradigms that demonize
    • To counteract in Contexts that see you only as a Problem
      • Reappraising Stress as Challenge, not Threat and Asserting Knowledge
  • Critical Consciousness in 3 categories of self-knowledge
    • Transcendent/Divine
      • Spiritual and Worldview self-knowledge/wisdom
      • What do I know about my Creator and my World?
    • Affective-symbolic –Cultural/Other Self-knowledge/wisdom
      • What Do I Know about my People?
    • Phenomenological-Personal Style self-knowledge/wisdom
      • What Do I Know about My Self?
plaay goals dynamics and strategies to building relationships
PLAAY Goals, Dynamics, and Strategies to Building Relationships
  • Dynamics- Nihilism
    • Hypervulnerability
    • Hypermasculinity
    • Hopelessness
  • Goal- Cultural Attunement
    • Cultural attunement/relationship-building
    • Cultural style appreciation/engagement
    • Racial/Ethnic/Cultural socialization teaching
  • Strategies- Love
    • Affection
    • Correction
    • Protection
plaay preventing long term anger and aggression in youth
PLAAY -Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth
  • TEAM -Basketball
    • Teaching Empowerment through Athletic Movement
    • Intervening with Emotion during Play
  • CPR- Cultural Pride Reinforcement
      • Anti-Violence Cultural Socialization Curriculum
  • MAAR- Martial Arts Anger Reduction
  • COPE -Community Outreach through Parent Empowerment
  • ROPE- Rites of Passage Empowerment
in the moment skills
In-the-moment skills
  • Cultural Relevance
    • Engages with and integrates cultural style, movement, & communication during “in-the-moment” interventions on court, hallway, etc
    • Uses own personal style to influence others
    • Black barbershop passionate argument-style to CPR sessions
    • Target cultural knowledge & academic stress management
maar key aspects
MAAR-Key aspects
  • Self-defense (physical and mental)
  • “Testing Limitations” increases frustration tolerance
  • Internal self- & anger-awareness & control
  • Awareness of body control & balance
  • “Heart” - courage to face oneself (Bell, 1998)
  • Focus, breathing, moving meditation

TEAM- Basketball

Play as the medium of expression

  • Basketball is cultural pop game of identity expression
  • African psychology view of movement (Boykin & Toms, 1985)
  • During “play,” frustration tolerance can be expanded
  • Stressful when one can’t meet manhood demands
  • We want to be there before, during and after conflicts occur between kids
cpr cultural pride reinforcement
CPR-Cultural Pride Reinforcement
  • 12 one-hour weekly sessions
  • Cultural Socialization focus
    • Teaching, Acting, Talking
  • Teaching culturally relevant critical consciousness through
    • music, video, hip-hop, role-play, current events
  • Violence alternative, cultural socialization curriculum
  • Culturally relevant atmosphere
    • Black barbershop passion and argument/debate
  • Teaching Targets
    • cultural and historical knowledge
    • academic and educational stress management
    • stigma identification and healthy rebuttal
does cwt plaay training mediate the effects of stress rejection on black youth parent functioning
Does CWT/PLAAY Training mediate the effects of stress/rejection on Black youth/Parent functioning?

Can We Talk?




Achieve ment,


& Racial






you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Plato (427– 347 BC)


Stevenson, H. C. (2004). Boys in men’s clothing: Racial socialization and neighborhood safety as buffers to hypervulnerability in African American adolescent males (pp 59-77). In Niobe Way & Judy Chu, (Eds.) Adolescent boys in context. New York University Press: New York.



Wilks lambda=.934

F (1,72) = 5.05*

Control n =31

PLAAY n =43

implications for plaay
Implications for PLAAY
  • Sensitivity to rejection may serve a protective function.
  • Racial socialization can be protective.
  • Intervention development should
    • Focus on increasing emotional processing and preparation of actual and perceived rejection
    • Focus on explicit racial socialization strategies
  • Failure to apply developmentally appropriate knowledge and accurately understand stereotypes and Black cultural communication dehumanizes, distances, and disrespects Black boys
    • Contributes to disidentification from schooling
    • Missed, Dissed, & Pissed
  • Boys can learn alternative ways to problem solve the challenges of urban street culture
  • Use recreation therapeutically
  • Affinity groups for black males
  • Role play in the groups for dissing in classrooms with teachers
  • Practice skills of assertiveness and voice,
    • Practice, practice, practice;
    • Integrate cultural knowledge
    • Allow students to add cultural style to the skills
  • Do same with teachers
    • Role play moments of student-teacher conflicts
    • Give feedback on developmental and cultural knowledge; different perceptions