Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Sociology

First Advisor

Tukufu Zuberi

Abstract

The image of the “criminal” black male is one that shapes the social experiences of black males in U.S. society. The racialized and gendered representation of black males as criminal, primarily through the depiction of the “thug,” functions to justify various forms of social marginalization including disproportionate school suspension, mass incarceration, and even death. Research and policy often describe the source of these problems as a product of black males’ culturally deviant behaviors, and thus, minimize the role of race and racism in producing these outcomes. Thus, social and educational discourse frequently depict black males as the source of their own problems, rather than that they face social problems that stem from racism, capitalism, and other structural factors. The racialized depiction of black males is often thought of as something that exclusively shapes the social lives of black male adolescents and adults. However, my dissertation undertakes the importance task of understanding if and how this image might be evident even as early as early childhood. I do so through an examination of teacher perceptions and practices related to school discipline. My data come from two sources: the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten Class of 2010, and two years of ethnographic observations following a group of students from kindergarten through first-grade within a diverse elementary school. The study finds that (1) teachers perceive that black boys exhibit more problem behaviors than their non-black peers, after controlling for student, teacher, and school characteristics, including past behavior; (2) teachers take racialized approaches to discipline with similar behaving black boys and white boys; and (3) in comparison to non-black boys who exhibit similar levels of problem behaviors, teachers are more likely to contact the parents of black boys about behavior problems. Although the prevailing literature portrays that black boys are free from the constraints of racism in early childhood, this dissertation suggests that anti-black racism does indeed shape the earliest school experiences of black boys. The findings of this dissertation speak to theories that suggest that schools play a socializing role in society. It appears that black boys’ earliest school experiences are socializing them into a society that depicts them as problems and treats them as such.

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