“There are many reasons that people become activists on social justice issues, but anyone who is familiar with the civil rights movement of the 1960s could tell you that racism drove activism,” says Elan Hope, corresponding author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.

“However, there has been almost no research on how racism drives activism, especially for young people. There is also little or no research on the extent to which racism is influencing activism right now—and the subject seems both timely and important.”

To explore these issues, the researchers conducted an in-depth survey of 594 Black adolescents from across the United States. The study participants were between the ages of 13 and 18, with a median age of 15.

Study participants were asked about their experiences with three different types of racism—individual, cultural, and institutional—as well as how those experiences affected them.

  • Individual racism includes racist behavior targeting an individual, such as referring to someone as an ethnic slur.
  • Cultural racism is racism that is embedded in cultural norms, such as media representation of negative stereotypes.
  • Institutional racism is often embedded in policies and regulations, and includes racist behaviors and attitudes found in established institutions—such as police questioning a Black person simply for being in a white neighborhood.

The researchers found 84% of study participants had experienced at least some form of racism.

Study participants were also asked a series of questions aimed at assessing the extent to which they perceived inequality in the systems around them; the extent to which they believed they were capable of changing those systems; and the extent to which they had taken action to change the relevant systems. These three factors correlate to critical reflection, critical agency, and critical action, which are the three elements of a social concept called critical consciousness, which aims to explain what is necessary for individuals and communities to seek change in an unjust system.

Read the full article about racism and social justice activism by Matt Shipman at Futurity.