Reprinted from the Society for Research on Adolescence
For our third #MustReadMonday, we are very excited to highlight a recent paper by Dr. Adriana Aldana that’s all about how to measure youth anti-racism: Youth Anti-Racist Engagement: Conceptualization, Development, and Validation of an Anti-Racism Action Scale
We sat down with the amazing Dr. Aldana to ask her all our questions about youth anti-racism. Here’s what she had to say!
1. What would you say is the main takeaway of the article?
I would say there are two main points to take away from the article. First, we need to think deeply about how we conceptualize youth engagement in anti-racism. The way that young people are making meaning of their engagement in anti-racism is multi-dimensional and context-specific, and maybe much broader than we previously considered it to be. So, anti-racism can include challenging a friend who is making a racial joke or saying a racial slur, but it also includes young people being involved in community organizations, political campaigns, or connecting with other people to learn about racism. What’s interesting about our article is that it allows for a take on how young people themselves are viewing and making sense of anti-racism.
The second main takeaway for me is the value of incorporating youth perspectives and youth voices in the development of measures that are being designed for research. The paper doesn’t focus a lot on this piece, but I think it’s a very valuable takeaway for us as scholars: when we incorporate youth voices throughout the research process, including in the development of measures that we use, our findings become more developmentally appropriate and meaningful to not only our field, but also to young people themselves.
2. How did the youth in your study come up with the specific behaviors and items?
Initially, we co-created the items with adolescents to measure the effectiveness of a youth intergroup dialogue program. We tasked youth involved to evaluate the program’s ability to motivate youth to take action to address racism. As a result, they reflected on their own ideas about what anti-racism looks like. They came up with 22 items that reflected a range of behaviors they believed youth could engage in to challenge racism and racist structures. After several years of using the measure for program evaluation purposes, we decided to validate the measure with an independent sample of adolescents.
There is a lack of previous work on youths’ ideas of what anti-racism action looks like to them, as well as a lack of anti-racism theoretical frameworks specific to adolescents to build off of. Taking a grounded theory approach, when we analyzed the data, we found that these behaviors fell into three main factors. Interpersonal actions represent behaviors a young person can take in their immediate relational contexts. For example, challenging a family member, a friend, or an adult who might be using a racial joke or slur, defending a friend who’s been a target of racial oppression or discrimination, and even checking themselves. Young people recognize that they have their own racial biases, so they included things like ‘challenged or checked myself before making a racist joke’.
Communal actions shared a common thread of ways that young people come together with others to address racism in school and community settings. In some cases that included things like participating in a leadership group or committee working on issues related to race and racism, trying to take on leadership roles, or joining a club or group focused on anti-racism. Although the actions in the communal action factor may not be overtly political, youth conceptualize these types of activities as a form of anti-racism action. These types of activities may be really important for building their capacity for community involvement.
Finally, political change action was more related to community organizing, investigating social problems in the community, and contacting and communicating with the media.
One of the really interesting takeaways here is that the literature has tended to focus pretty narrowly on political change, critical consciousness, and civic engagement. But what we’ve learned is that when you ask young people how they’re thinking about the ways that they can address racism, they express a much broader conceptualization of anti-racism behaviors and actions. For example, taking steps to learn about racism, or thinking and exploring leadership roles in Student Council. We have to consider that some behaviors, like challenging a friend or family member, may be particularly salient for young people because they have real constraints on how they can get involved in things like formal politics. They can’t run for office or vote; however, young people are still very engaged in anti-racism, and we need to broaden our conceptualization of what anti-racism looks like for young people so that we can really start to capture that in the literature.
3. Do you think that the behaviors identified for young people would be consistent across age groups or consistent over time?
We validated this measure with a large, nationally representative sample of young people, which makes us very confident that psychologists can use this measure with adolescents in their research. While one of the real strengths of this study was our ability to capture youth voices in our survey items, there are two important limitations to using authentic youth language. First, these items might not translate well for adults, or even for adolescents in the future. Most of the adults I know probably wouldn’t describe calling out racist language as “checking someone”, but that’s what real for young people. Also, the language that adolescents use is constantly evolving, so the items we’ve developed may need to be updated in a few years as the specific words we’ve included become a bit outdated.
A second important point to consider is that the specific behaviors that adolescents are engaging in to challenge racism might look quite different than those of adults. In turn, the items that were developed for our measure may not map onto the lived experiences of older people engaging in anti-racism behaviors. Adults have different opportunities to engage in anti-racism that youth simply don’t have access to, like contacting the HR department at their work.
This really highlights why we need to include youth voice in measurement, design, and validation. Anytime we are studying a population, it makes for a much better scholarship to include the ideas, language, and voice of those specific people. If the field of psychology wants to do more to become more diverse and inclusive, we will also need to do more to create more diversity and inclusivity in the language we use in our measures.
4. As parents, guardians, and youth leaders, should we be encouraging youth to diversify the anti-racist behaviors they get involved in?
There are so many ways that we can all be involved in anti-racism. Some of us are going to lean into certain behaviors and roles based on our preferences and skillsets. Not everyone is going to be comfortable standing at the front of the room, leading a march, or calling out powerful actors in society. What’s emphasized by the items that youth came up with is the broad nature of behaviors that all work to challenge and dismantle racism. We should be encouraging all forms of anti-racism.
However, it’s also important to consider that we also lean into certain roles based on what kinds of opportunities and encouragement we receive. Interpersonal action is available to all of us if we see an incident of racism. However, political change action requires structures that provide opportunities for young people. We need to be mindful that we are creating equitable access to these opportunities. For example, not all youth have the same opportunities or encouragement to take on leadership roles, get involved in anti-racism societies or clubs, or take on extra-curriculars in civic engagement. As parents and practitioners, we have to make sure we don’t limit who has access to these positions.
5. What would you say are some of the important next steps of this line of research? How do you see this new measure fitting into future research?
For myself, and for my collaborators on this project, we are very interested in building more investigations into critical race awareness and the role that has in motivating or predicting anti-racist actions. So, one avenue of future research that I’m excited for is delving into which types of opportunity structures foster or nurture youth engagement in anti-racism. On the other hand, what types of societal factors may inhibit youth anti-racism?
The current measure was developed to assess which anti-racism behaviors youth are currently engaging in. I’m very interested in developing the measure further to allow us to investigate not only what youth do but also how comfortable they are engaging in these types of anti-racist behaviors, how commonly they engage in these behaviors, and how likely they are to do so in the future.
Finally, I’m also very interested in building upon this project to assess the various risks and rewards that youth have to navigate when they consider engaging in some of these behaviors. For example, it may be very difficult for an adolescent to challenge an adult in their life that has been using racist language, however, the implications and risks for a young person of colour may be very different than for white youth. We have to consider young people’s positionality when we think about what kinds of anti-racist behaviors youth feel comfortable taking on.
To access the interview with Dr. Aldana, please click here.
To access the research article visit: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40894-019-00113-1.