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Why the Myth of Meritocracy Hurts Kids of Color: A new study finds that believing society is fair can lead disadvantaged adolescents to.act out and engage in risky behavior. The Atlantic MELINDA D. ANDERSON JUL 27, 2017 ‘an abana Boarded up building in Chicago that two yearsbefore this photo was taken housed a school thats a smpus ws shuttered in 2013.35 part of arash of school ‘osures that dispropartionstely affected poor black and atin children. sed, This Chi Brighton Par neighborhood threaten race, and rp code can determine accesso jobs, schools, healthy food, and essential services. is isa predominantly Latin community on the southwest side of Chicago. es 2 by poverty, gong violence, (CE raids, and islation—ina city where ince ‘against this backdrop thatthe Chicaga teacher Xian Franinger Barret arrived t the neighborhood's elementary school in 2034. Recognizing te vast economic ond rca inequaltes his students faced, he chose what sore might considera radical approach fr his writing and sciab studies castes, weaving in concepts suchas sm, claim, oppression, and prejudice. Barret said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated naative that society ffir ane equal to address students’ questions and concerns about thelr cutrent conditions, And Brighton Elementary eventh: and eighth-graders quiely put the lessons to work— confronting the schoo! board over inequitable funding, fighting t install 2 playground, and cresting & Classroom lrary focused om black and Latina authors arrett’ personal observation is validated by a newly published stay In the peer-reviewed journal Chi ‘evelopment that finds traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing Inthe American ideal that hard wor and perseverance naturally lea to success show a dedng in self-esteem and an increase in sky behaviors during thelr middle-school years. The research Is considered the first evidence linking preteens’ emationsl and behavioral outcomes to thelr belief in meritocracy, the widely held asertion that individual meriis always rewarded, yor nan adartged poston insect, beng tess ran tht everyone alt getanead they st ted ard enough dost cnate ony conf fo you (oul a fel aad bok foul ade in Godtey ty sul tead ahr ad an ssa professor of ped © paycoloy at He Yerk Univers Start Schoo, bu for those margoaliad by hese economy ely, nd ethaly—eleving the ystern apts n conc wih eas > = ‘and can have negetive consequences. - = ‘ifthe system iefair, why am | 2eeing that everybody who has brown skin isin thls kind offobPVourre — 7, having to thine about that lke you're net a goad, oF your socal group isn’t as 2006," Godtrey sald. “That's the piece » that was tying to eealy get at [by studying] these kids” ‘he findings build ypon a bed a terature an “system ustification"—3 soca-psyehology theory that ~~~ = elias humans ten to defend bolster, or rationalize the status quo ad see overarching sol, economic, and poltical systems 2s goo ar, and leptimate- System justifeation ia dlstintvely << 5g "worian notion, Goes, but on myths use to uty neque, Hk "you jit workchars ‘enough you can pull ourself up by your bootstraps... i's usta matter of mativation and talent and a frit” Yet, as she ad her colleagues cucovered, these bales cen be o labity fr disedvantoged Adolescents once thei identity as@member ofa marginalied group begins 1a ge!—and once they become keenly aware of how institutional discrimination disadvantages them and thei group-— — ‘it yo lneined to beleve that. the system is fir then you're mayke going to accept stereotypes: about youmore easy” a a Researchers measured system-lustyng beliefs among 257 students from an urban, public middle School in Arizona, Allof the students’ falls were identified as low-income, as defined by their ligt fr fre or reduced-price lunches. The vast majarity of the sample—91 percent—were also 1 students of color: Fifty-five percent Latino, 18 percent black 1 percent Native American, and 7 percent other nonuhite youth. ditionally, the area, populated by many immigrant fomlies and chidren, wos expariencing socal ané poltical unrest due to Senate Bill 1070, controversial Arizona aw that ints crigial form eriminalzed undocumented people inthe state Godfrey asked the sinth-graders to rate their endorsement ofthe “American Oream” and system Justifying ideas—namely, that Americas the land of opportunity where everyone who works hard has {A _ avequal chance to sueceed, Youth were then asked to rate themselves on various quate, including ‘heir selesteem, risky behaviors (stayed out all night without your parert’s permission,” “cheated on school tet,” et.) and perceived dlscimination (for example: How often have others suspected you of doing something wrong because of your ethnicity" and “How often have the police hassled you because of your etiricity?") 8 [three points over the course of mide schoo, the youth rated thelr sel-esteem, behavior, and texparience with discrimination. The esults revealed an alarming trajectory. In sbth grade, among students who believed the system i far, sel-esteem was high and risky behavior was ae; by the end > oFceventh grade, these same students reportad lower selPesteem and more risky behaviors—wlth no signficontcfferences based on race, ethnicity, gender, or immigration generation (youth from news arrived immigrant fails and native-born counterparts). what's more for youth who perceWved mare discrimination from an early ag; system justifying balls were associated with lessrisky behavior in sath grade, but with a sharp rise in such behaviors by ‘seventh grade, Godfrey atibutes this spike toa "perfect storm” in which marginalized young people are experiencing more discrimination; beginning to understand the systemic and institutionalize nature = 13 ofthat discrimination; and starting to strongly identity as a member of @ marginalized group, seeing that {roup 9s one thats balng dlcriminated aginst. As for why tls leads to more risky behavior, Godfrey points to research that suggests people whe realy bellove the system is fir internalize stereotypes beleving and acting out faze and negative claims about thee groupmore readily than those who disavow these views Anite eos to atibut the noose ny chavo to devel changes sha bey, == jg “the ecttht the stutent outcomes started high the sh gage andthen ceterorste snget that povchosocialphenomenaare aay, : “do thing that theres this Bement peodle think of me ths way anyway, this must be whol am,” Godirey se, adding thatthe behaviors—things lie stealing nd sneaking out=reflect stereotypes 1 5 perpetuated about youth ot color. "i you're [inlined to believe tar tings are tne way they should be, fad thes the sym is far, then you're maybe going to accept stereatypes about you more easly” — \while the somnple was relatively small, Gocey said the fndlngs are Informative and miror prior ‘eseatch Indeed, previous analyeeshave found that systerjustiying belts re associated with lower 1} seitesteennin black adults and lower grade-point averages for Latino college students—thovgh the same balefspredictes better grades and ess distress for “hgh status” youth. “Las really interested in trying to think of fealy adolescents] as ative agentsin thelr world” Gorey said, “and as people who can understand and interpret their social world ina way that alot of research oven’ recognize.” u 11.5 "We cannat eauivacate when it comes to preparing ou chilren to face injustices. ‘avid Stoval, professor of educational-poliey studies ané Afican American sts t University of 18 inois at Chicago, said the paper is a confirmation of decades of analysis on the education of ‘marginalized and seated youth = 3 “ga0d preliminary pece” that ays the foundation for more ‘academic study of historically disenfranchised adolescents ad thelr motivations, he sid “it young folks see themselves being discriminated against, they ve been tolé that a system i fait, and they experince things that are unfair, they will begin to reject this particular system and engagein {4 behaviors that wil not be to their betterment,” he explained. Stovall si t's critical to guide young people from “defiant eesistance’—detying what theyve learns to be untrue regarding a just and flr system for sll “transformative resetance”—-developing aerial understanding of the Wistorcal context oF US. sodety. Educators, he sald, playa crucial role in this work