African American Inner-city Violence
Rick Wallace, Ph.D.
The Odyssey Project
Addressing African American Inner-city
Violence through Racial Socialization
Dr. Rick Wallace, Ph.D.
2016 Copyright © The Odyssey Project Research Department
Addressing African American Inner-city Violence through Racial Socialization
The multitudinous, enigmatic issues that are plaguing the Black collective have been welldocumented
in books, research, articles and academic papers, and one of the most polarizing
topics is what is commonly referred to by mainstream media as “black on black” crime. While I
have played an integral role in exposing the myth of black on black crime as an exclusive
phenomenon, I must still acknowledge the existence of intraracial hostility and fratricide as a
serious threat to the idea of black empowerment. The fact that the vast majority of violent crimes
against blacks are committed by other blacks is nothing unusual. It is a natural part of the social
construct. People normally commit violent acts against those they are most exposed to within
their enclave. In fact, 84 percent of homicides against Whites are committed by other whites, and
this number is pretty consistent throughout all racial makeups.
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Yet, the problem still remains that Blacks, especially adolescents and young adults are killing
each other at an alarming rate. With the Black male population suffering a major hit from mass
incarceration, we cannot afford the perpetual occurrence of young black males killing one
another — not to mention innocent bystanders.
I have invested a substantial amount of time in understanding the causality of the violence in the
inner city. What I have found is that there are a number of primary elements involved. At the
core, there are common influencers, such as being the victim of violence, witnessing violence,
and urban hassle. Each of these influencers serve to increase the proclivity of African American
adolescent males to become violent. However, there are two elements that are viewed as the
most prevalent influencers — the feeling of being disrespected and the lack of proper racial
socialization (DeGruy, Brennan, & Briggs, 2009). While the manner in which “respect”
influences the development of a prosocial attitude in African American youth is immensely
important, and most likely the most powerful influence in the increased risk of violence, it is the
development of a universal racial socialization process, introduced through a “rite of passage”
model, that will have the greatest initial impact.
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Racial socialization is defined as specific verbal and non-verbal messages that are transmitted to
younger generations for the development of values, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs regarding
the meaning and significance of race and racial stratification, intergroup interactions, and
personal and group identity.
Racial socialization is receiving increased attention in the world of scientific research, primarily
due to the fact that there is growing empirical and pragmatic evidence to support the idea that it
is a protective developmental process, especially when it comes to African American families.
Not only can proper rational socialization of African American males reduce the need to
discipline children, it can also increase the effect of disciplinary action, when it is deemed
necessary (Rodriguez, McKay, & Bannon, 2009).
While racial socialization can enhance the ability of Blacks to effectively parent their children, it
has the capacity to do so much more. Proper racial socialization can prepare children to adjust to
the unique demands associated with being black — helping them develop a positive self-concept.
Additionally, when African American children are faced with discrimination and racism, they
will have the ability to identify with the prosocial attitude and pride of belonging to the Black
race, using this identity as a coping strategy (Boykin & Toms, 1985; Peters, 1985; Ward, 2000).
Theory and research on racial socialization as a part of the parenting process in managing the
behavior of children, and studies focused on behavioral problems have developed separately;
however, recent research has gravitated towards examining how certain aspects of racial
socialization relate to impacting problem behaviors, including violence (Caughy, O'Camp,
Randolf, & Nickerson, 2002; Stenvenson, Herrero-Taylor, Cameron, & Davis, 2002)
Racial socialization is the primary vehicle of cultural transmission for African American families
that are steeped in the tradition of oppressive resistance — involving actions and conversations
that communicate to our children how to survive and thrive with dignity, despite the incessant
hostility by those in their periphery (Stevenson, Davis, & Abdul-Kabir, 2001).
One thing that we have done as a racial group that has limited our effectiveness in preparing our
children, is that we fail to see beyond the surface of the symptomatic issues that plague our
communities. Additionally, we fail to see education as a tool of empowerment. We see the
violence, the dropout rates and higher incarceration rates, but it has become easier for us to
accept the narrative provided to us by the mainstream media than it is to examine them for
ourselves, and to develop solutions that will prove efficacious in achieving the progressive goals
we set. The answers are there, but we cannot holistically address the problem by only seeing the
In essence, the violence that we are experiencing at record levels within our communities are the
results of our failure to properly socialize and educate our children. We have not prepared them
to go out and compete in a world that is innately hostile toward them. We have not created
systems that provide the support necessary for them to thrive without acquiescing to the demands
of those who operate in a dynamic that is antithetical to their survival and success.
It is time that we invest ourselves in effectively engaging our problems, not on the surface, but at
the origin. ~ Dr. Rick Wallace, Ph.D.
Boykin, A., & Toms, F. (1985). Black Child Socialization: A Conceptual Framework. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Caughy, M., O'Camp, P., Randolf, S., & Nickerson, K. (2002). The Influence of Raical
Socialization Practices on the Cognitive and Behavioral Competence of African
American Preschoolers. Journal of Child Development.
DeGruy, J., Brennan, E. M., & Briggs, H. E. (2009). The African American Adolescence
Respect Scale: The Measure of Prosocial Attitude. The University of Portland, 1-3.
Peters, M. (1985). Ethnic Socialization of Young Black Children. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage
Rodriguez, J., McKay, M. M., & Bannon, W. M. (2009). The Role of Racial Socialization in
Relation to Parenting Practices and Youth Behavior: An Exploratory Analysis. National
Institute of Health.
Stenvenson, H., Herrero-Taylor, T., Cameron, R., & Davis, G. (2002). Mitigating Instigation:
Cultural Phenomenological Influences of Anger and Fighting Among "Big-Boned" and
"Baby-faced" African American Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
Stevenson, H., Davis, G., & Abdul-Kabir, S. (2001). Stickin to, Watchin Over and Gettin With:
An African American Parent's Guide to Discipline. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.
Ward, J. (2000). The Skin We're In: Teaching Our Teens to be Emotionally Strong, Socially
Smart and Spiritually Connected. New York: Simon and Schuster.