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This manuscript was printed in the Journal of African American Men, Volume 1, Issue 2, Fall 1995, p. 37-70.

Educators' and Non-Educators' Perceptions of Black Males: A Survey

Herbert L. Foster

Professor Emeritus

Department of Learning and Instruction

Graduate School of Education

State University of New York at Buffalo


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Data Analysis
Data Reliability



ABSTRACT (back to article links)

People's stereotypical beliefs, feelings, expectations, and fantasies about Black males were investigated. A sample of 3,130 subjects included 1,627 educators and 1,503 non-educators. Subject data were collected related to sex, race, age group, and where adolescent years were spent. Subjects responded to an unobtrusive open-ended survey instrument that asked, "PLEASE LIST BELOW ALL THE STEREOTYPICAL BELIEFS, FEELINGS, EXPECTATIONS, AND FANTASIES THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON HAS ABOUT BLACK MEN." A matrix consisting of 10 categories with 31 sub-categories was developed for data tabulation and analysis. Data were reported in percentages in six matrices related to educator and non-educator stereotypical beliefs about Black males. The six categories reported included athletes, crime, education, attitude, negative personality, and sexual prowess. The results established that there are stereotypical beliefs held by male and female educators and non-educators about Black males. Implications were drawn about the negative stereotypical beliefs about Black males that educators harbored, consciously or unconsciously, that led to a misinterpretation of Black male street corner language and behavior.

INTRODUCTION (back to article links)

Since 1967, reporting has indicated the disproportionate referral and assignment of Black school children -- males in particular -- to special education programs for the mildly handicapped and the emotionally disturbed (Berkowitz, & Rothman 1967; Dunn, 1968; Mackler, 1967). Though a variety of approaches have been undertaken to address and ameliorate the over representation issue (Bailey & Habin, 1980; Greenwood, Preston, & Harris, 1982; Heller, Holtzman, & Messick, 1982; Oakland, 1977; Williams, 1970), the disproportionate assignment of Black students, males in particular, to special education continues (Gottleib, 1985, Weinstein, 1991, U. S. Department, 1994). Parallel to this special education disproportionality is the ongoing disproportional involvement of Black students in school discipline problems, suspensions, and expulsions.

Foster (1974, 1986, 1990a, 1990b) posited that the disproportionate involvement of Black students -- males in particular -- comes about when educators use their conscious or unconscious racist or ethnocentric stereotypical beliefs about Black males to interpret their Black male students' street corner language and behavior. This misinterpretation and misunderstanding, then, is the first step to Black males being disproportionately involved in special education, suspension, and discipline problems.

Abrahams (1963) in Deep Down In The Jungle, and Kochman (1972) in Rappin' and Stylin' out, were two of the first to describe and bring Black male street corner language and behavior from the street corner to the general public. Foster (1974, 1975, 1986; 1990b) then took Black male street corner language and behavior from the street corner, provided a historical context, and described, explained, and discussed Black street corner behavior in relation to what was being played out in the classroom and school. Marotto (1977, 1986) and McIntyre (1991, 1993) have added to the Black street corner-school locus model. In addition, Jackson (1974), Majors (1986, 1992) and Percelay, Ivey, and Dweck (1994) have contributed to the street corner literature. Gates' (1992) Signifying Monkey brought street corner behavior to, as Pat Riley would say, a "higher level" of academic and scholarly notice and acceptance.

Furthermore, according to Foster's model (1974, 1975, 1986, 1990b), there were at least four distinct groups of Black male students in inner-city schools. One group of the four, was the street corner youngster, perhaps three in a class of 30, who brought with him into the classroom his street corner language and behavior. Most often, the street corner male student used his street corner language and behavior -- survival and coping techniques -- that were appropriate for his survival on the street corner, but caused him problems in school. Some of these street corner coping and survival techniques included, playin' the dozens, ribbin', signifyin', woofin', and non-verbal kinesic behaviors. One of the non-verbal kinesic behaviors was a way of walking that, depending upon where you lived and in what section of that place, may have been referred to as ditty boppin', pimp walkin', struttin', or cake walking, for example. One of the aforementioned styles, ditty boppin', will be taken to the next step and used below to develop the purpose and rationale for this study and to help frame the question central to this study.

Ditty boppin', a way of walking, very often causes innumerable problems for the student exhibiting that behavior in school. Those not familiar with ditty boppin' may recall the movie Stir Crazy where Richard Prior tried to teach Gene Wilder how to, "walk bad." I have had many discussions with many regular and special education teachers, who, for reasons they cannot explain, get annoyed, angry, even furious when they see one of their Black male students ditty boppin'. Indeed, when some Black female students paid attention to the male student ditty boppin', the teacher would become even more furious. In Buffalo, New York, "according to some reports, Black male students have been suspended for 'walking in an insolent manner'" (Breinin, 1981).

Additionally, when speaking at a conference of the Council for Exceptional Children a number of years ago, I was told the following story by a White social worker who was familiar with the street corner. He was a Behavior Management Specialist and related what had happened when he attended a staff meeting where placing a 17-year-old Black male student in a highly structured program for the emotionally disturbed was discussed. In reviewing the student's record, he found no mention of any severe acting-out, aggressive, or threatening behavior. What was noted, however, was that the student would walk through the hallways in a "sexually provocative way" (Foster, 1968, 1990). Another story told to me by a White high school teacher who grew up on the streets as a poor youngster and showed a whole different reaction to ditty boppin'. In this case, the teacher laughingly told the Black male student who was ditty boppin' in front of his room, "Hey, this is my corner. I'm the only one allowed to walk like that, here." Also, I heard Marva Collins say that when she sees one of her students walking that way, she asks him, "What is the matter? Is your hip out of joint?" In reviewing the above three anecdotal stories about ditty boppin', it should be noted that the person viewing the behavior puts a personal spin on the behavior that provides him or her with a basis for interpreting the behavior. More to the point is a personal experience that happened to me in the U.S. ARMY.

As an 18-year-old Jewish male from Brooklyn, New York, I enlisted in the Regular Army at the end of WWII. I took my basic training at Camp Crowder, Missouri, and on pay day, I noticed about five fellow GIs whom I did not know, walking around me and looking me over. At first I didn't think anything about what was going on. Finally, however, when their behavior persisted for a few pay days, I asked what they were looking for. To my surprise, they told me they were looking for my tail and horns. Apparently, where they lived, in Texas and Oklahoma, they had never seen a Jew, before. Accordingly, because they knew I was Jewish and they had heard that Jews had horns and a tail, they were actually looking for my horns and tail. They were, it seems, trying to figure out how I was hiding my tail in my uniform, and my horns under my fatigue hat. Consequently, their behavior and expectations of me were based on their stereotypical beliefs about what Jews looked like. I would love to know what they wrote home about me.

As was noted above, there are a disproportionate number of Black students, males in particular, referred and assigned to special education, involved in discipline problems, and suspended from school. Foster (1974, 1986, 1990) has maintained that this disproportionality comes about when educators use their conscious or unconscious racist or ethnocentric stereotypical beliefs about Black males to interpret their Black male students' street corner language and behavior. Therefore, the following questions were central to this study.

1. What are the stereotypical beliefs, feelings, expectations, or fantasies that people have about Black males?

2. What are the differences between the stereotypical beliefs, feelings, expectations, or fantasies that educators and non-educators have about Black males?

GENDER AND SOCIAL CLASS (back to article links)

In our schools, in particular, males who are lower SES and males who are Black are endangered species. Hollingshead's (1949) classic study Elmtown's Youth: The Impact of Social Class On Adolescents described the unequal administration of discipline resulting from the dynamics of the social class system in an all-White, middle-western corn-belt community's high school. He described the social class divisions and noted that there was a very strong association between the position of a student's family in the adult social class system structure and his peer group reputation. Indeed, Hollingshead also reported on how the social class divisions resulted in distinctions in how the school's social class structure operated as well as how those distinctions influenced teaching and learning, grades, the administration and granting of awards, and, in particular, discipline.

According to Sexton (1969), in our schools, boys have fewer escape valves and are under more pressure to conform than are girls. Furthermore, the very institutions that rear them -- school and home --feminize them and keep them dependent rather than help them to grow into positive manhood. Additional earlier studies found boys more often than girls identified as emotionally disturbed (McCaffrey & Cummings, 1969; Quay, Morse & Cutler, 1966; Werry & Quay, 1969, 1971). Children, particularly boys, from lower SES families were at far greater risk of being identified as emotionally disturbed or behaviorally disordered than those children from high SES families (Mackler, 1967; McDermott, 1965; White & Charry, 1966).

A number of researchers have found that males are disproportionately identified as behaviorally disordered or emotionally disturbed. For example, Algozzine (1979), Kelly, Bullock, and Dykes (1977), and Cullinan, Epstein, and Kauffman (1984) reported boys more likely than girls to be perceived by school personnel and teachers as troublesome and identified as emotionally disturbed. Additionally, Rich (1977) reported school personnel having low tolerance for aggressive or acting out behavior that is often displayed by males from minority groups, and children from lower socio-economic levels (Kauffman, 1981),

Schofield (1964), in a related study, reported an investigation where he asked psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers about the ideal client he or she would like to work with. Interestingly, the psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers wanted to work with clients who were (a) youthful, (b) attractive, (c) verbal, (d) intelligent, and (e) successful - YAVIS clients. Perhaps, Schofield's findings ought to be generalized to school staffs who also, apparently, have problems relating to and working with the so-called lower SES, non-YAVIS students.

A study of emotionally-handicapped elementary students in a semi-rural school district, found that emotionally-handicapped students were generally male and from low SES environments. It was noted also that disproportionate numbers of low SES students who were bused from their home schools to schools with higher SES were, most often, placed in programs for the emotionally handicapped (Clark, 1985).

According to Wagner (1991), data indicated a lower disproportionate number of female students identified as emotionally disturbed while there was a high proportion of male students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds being recommended for programs for the emotionally disturbed . Additionally, data from The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) indicated that of all secondary students with disabilities, 68.5 % were males. Furthermore, 76.4 % of the students classified as severely emotionally disturbed were males, which was the highest proportion of male to female in any disability category (Marder & Cox, 1991). In addition, Foster (1986, 1990) reported that in suburban and rural areas, the lower socio-economic male greaser students were being assigned to special education, similar to the urban, inner-city Black, male, street corner student. Shaywitz (1990) found boys more likely to be improperly diagnosed as having a reading disability because of the referral bias related to their perceived disruptive behavior. According to Warren (1987, p. 12) a "disturbing reality" in the New York City Public Schools is that the disproportionate numbers of special education students come from low SES families and from ethnic minorities.

Gottlieb (1985), in a study of special education in the New York City Public Schools, found that Black children are disproportionately recommended for placement in special education classes for the emotionally disturbed. Indeed, Gottlieb found that the teacher's referral reporting about a student's behavior, not what the committee on the handicapped reported, provided the bulk of the classification data that determined the student's placement in special education classes. Additionally, Gottlieb (personal communication) found that many teachers saw Black males as overly aggressive. Weinstein (1991), in a study of a suburban school district found that "white students as a group were more likely to be referred for academic difficulties than were African American and Latino students. African American students were more likely to be referred for behavior problems than were the other two groups" (p. 30).

EXPULSION, DISCIPLINE, and SUSPENSION (back to article links)

Three of the earlier reports on school desegregation, discipline problems, and suspensions were published by the Southern Regional Council and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (1973), the Children's Defense Fund (1974) , and The United States Commission on Civil Rights (1976). According to the Southern Regional Council and the Robert F. Kennedy memorial, the Council began to accumulate reports of an increasing rate of suspension and expulsions of Black youths, and in-school discrimination primarily against Black students, nationally and in the South. As the reports continued, The Southern Regional Council organized to collect the facts, and was motivated because of the appreciation that future economic opportunity and personal growth of school-aged students were endangered by such practice. In the Introduction to their report, they pointed out that their report focused on "those pushouts who are the victims of racial discrimination or arbitrary actions of school authorities" (p. viii).

Society broadly defines acceptable educational behavior in terms of majority class morals and values. These values may have merit as standards for all and sometimes they may not, but when they are unfairly applied, they may then become weapons with which to reject and banish by suspension or expulsion many students who--due to a variety of reasons including lack of stimulation from educators--do not fit traditional criteria for achievement, who cannot or will not conform to the sometimes parochial values of school administrators. Among these are rising numbers of restless White and Black youth who question society's values , and Blacks who offend the status quo when brought into a White school majority or any school setting where the values of White middle-class society dominate. Thus a new category of classroom exile is created-- the pushout, the student who through discriminatory treatment is excluded from school, or else is so alienated by the hostility of the school environment that he or she leaves. (pp. vii-viii)

The Council, through the use of field reports, intensively examined the causes of expulsions and suspensions in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas. In addition, the pushout problem was examined in the states of North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Some of the data they reported included the fact that in Little Rock secondary schools in 1978-79 with little desegregation, there were 1,329 suspensions, including 829 Black students. Though Blacks made up 28% of the student population, they accounted for 62.4% of the total of student suspensions. The following year, with considerable faculty desegregation but little student desegregation, suspensions rose to 1,643 students, of whom 1,136 or 68.1% were Black. In the 1971-72 school year, with a high school Black population at 33.4% and 42.1% in the junior highs, the first year of major of desegregation, 79% of those suspended were Black. In the separate North Little Rock school district in 1971-72, two years after secondary school desegregation, secondary school enrollment was about 20% Black. That school year, 611 Blacks were suspended as compared with 574 Whites.

According to one administrator in Louisiana, when they first began to desegregate the schools in 1969 in St. Landry Parish, Blacks outnumbered Whites in suspension three to one. In Columbia, Georgia, an official of the Urban League indicated that he had tabulated 6,000 suspensions in visits to some of the junior and senior high schools. In the 1971-72 school year in the Chatham County (Savannah) School District, suspensions were between 5,000 and 6,000 and between 3,000 and 4,000 through the early spring of 1972-73. An administrator conceded that about 60% or 70% of the suspensions were Black students. The above is but a sampling of the suspension data reported by the Southern Regional Council and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial.

The Children's Defense Fund reported that although no students are immune from suspension, Black children were suspended twice the rate of any other ethnic group. Furthermore, reporting on Office of Civil Rights data, the CDF reported that though Black children amounted to 27.1% of the school children, Black students represented 42.3% of suspended children who could be racially identified. In their own data collecting, CDF reported that on the secondary level, 12.8% of the Black students were suspended as compared with 4.1% of the White students, a rate of Black students being suspended three times as often as White students.

In 1976, The United States Commission on Civil Rights (1976) issued a report Fulfilling The Letter And Spirit Of The Law where, for the first time in one of their reports, a section was devoted to "Discipline In Desegregated Schools." Following that report, The Commission never issued another report that contained a section devoted to discipline information in desegregated schools. It seems to me that The Commission made this omission because the data presented was so devastatingly negative. Indeed, note this from The Commission report.

Minority parents in most desegregated school districts are seriously concerned that a higher proportion of minority youngsters are subject to disciplinary measures, primarily suspensions and expulsions, than white students. The disproportion is most evident in statistics on student suspensions. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare reported the following facts based on an analysis of its 1973 school desegregation survey:

*** minority students are being kept out of school as a disciplinary measure more frequently and for longer periods of time than non minority students.

***the frequency of expulsions and suspensions of black, Spanish-surnamed, Asian American, and Native American-Indian students is nearly twice that of white students. The average length of a suspension is nearly a day more for a minority student than for a white students. (p. 142)

Some of the data included the Hillsborough County, Florida school district where, during 1970-71, the year before desegregation, 4, 805 students were suspended. The following year, the first year of desegregation, 8,598 students were suspended. During the 1973-74 school year, 10,149 students which was almost 10% of the district's student population were suspended. About half of those suspended were minority students who were only 20% of the school enrollment. Hillsborough County school officials argued that minority students were suspended because they disobeyed the rules, not because of discrimination.

In Denver, Colorado, during the first four months of desegregation, 3,844 students were suspended, of whom 2,748 were minority students. On the junior high school level, 73% of those suspended were minority students who comprised only 45% of the junior high school student population. In Prince George's County schools, in the three months following desegregation, 46% of the students suspended were Black. The Black students suspended comprised about 25% of the student population.

According to the Quality Education For Minorities Project (1990), Black students are discriminated against in our schools. Indeed, in the United States, though Black students made up but 16% of our students, Black students amounted to 31% of all corporal punishment cases, and 25% of all student suspensions. In New York State in a Report on Student Suspension Data that highlighted statewide suspension data from 1991-92 (Walton, 1993), it was reported that suspension rates for Blacks were usually higher than for White students. Also, most suspensions took place at the middle and high school levels. Data indicated that Black males were suspended at a rate almost two times the rate for White males. Excluding New York State's big five cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, New York, and Yonkers) , Black males were suspended at a rate over three times greater than the rate for White males. Furthermore, in the big five cities, Black males were suspended at a rate greater than two times the rate for White males. In percentage terms, Black males made of 40% of those suspended in the big five cities, while White males made up 10% of the suspensions. .

According to a report from the Milwaukee Public Schools (African, 1990), The Milwaukee Public Schools is third among cities in the nation in suspending more Black than White students from school. Indeed, between 1978 and 1985, 94.4% of all students expelled from the Milwaukee Public Schools were Black. In relation to Black males, in the 1989-1990 school year, 49.36 of all the Black male students were suspended though they comprised only 27.6% of the citywide student population.

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District in Ohio (Evans & Karberg, 1991) experienced a tremendous change in the racial make-up of the community, and, for whatever reason, garnered big discipline problems related to Black students in -- particular, Black male students. The district's Black student population increased from 7.9% in 1971 to 62.5% in 1990.

During the first semester of the 1989-90 school year, 330 students were suspended from the high school. Two hundred seven of those suspended were Black males as compared with 22 White males suspended during the same first semester. Ninety-one Black females and six White females were suspended, also. Accordingly, 90% of all students suspended during the first semester of the 1989-90 school year were Black. The numbers were very similar to the first semester of the 1988-89 school year when 426 students were suspended. Of the 426 suspended, 294 were Black males and 104 were Black females.

Hence, 93% of those suspended the first semester of the 1988-89 school year were Black. In the area of expulsions, during the first semester of the 1988-89 school year, 34 of the 42 students expelled were Black. During 1989-90 school year, 13 students were expelled and all were Black. During the first semester of the 1988-89 school year, the eight students expelled from the middle school were Black. During the 1989-90 school year, of the 194 students suspended from the middle school, 193 were Black. Though there were no expulsions from the elementary schools in the 1989-90 school year, during the first semester of the 1989-90 school year, of 35 students suspended, 34 were Black. In the discussion included in the report, it was pointed out that most Commission members felt the school's discipline policy as written was fair and not discriminatory. However, it was also pointed out that, "in implementation there are sometimes differences" (p. 14).

Innumerable school districts have published reports related to the over representation of Black males in special education, expulsions, and in suspensions. The following two quotations, though a bit lengthy, reflect the feelings expressed by many of those involved, as to how these differences in referrals, reporting, and implementation of rules and standards are handled and viewed.

Some teachers, students and parents complain that there is too much enforcement of rules, and a disproportionate number of those disciplined are Black males. Records show that this condition has continued over the past ten years, and apparently can not be explained solely as discrimination. We are at the same time satisfied that some suspensions or expulsions might be eliminated through a better understanding of the self-image of the young black male. It appears that, with minor exceptions, the discipline is warranted and consistent with the charge (Evans & Karberg, 1991, p. 14).

In so many schools, there appear to be ongoing clashes between Black and White students and between students and school personnel. This excerpt from Gordon and Musser's (1990) preliminary report typifies the negative atmosphere and relations that continue in many schools:

Black students overwhelmingly reported the most problems with facilitating positive relationships with the school staff. Racism was always attributed to the problems with White teaches and apathy was attributed to their difficulty with other Black staff members. These students agreed the most with the point that Black boys were treated far worse than anyone else in school. They were less likely to be chosen for honors classes than Black girls, were less likely to be encouraged by their teachers and were most likely to get in trouble. One Black girl said that she thought the school 'put all of the Black boys under a microscope' because they expected these students to be engaging in criminal activities. Black students felt that teachers perceived enthusiastic or energetic White students as assertive and independent, yet in Black students, and especially Black boys, this was taken as a behavior problem and as a threat. They felt that many times their teachers were surprised that Black students had intelligent things to say in class. Black students complained that some of the dress code regulations were directed specifically for them. The banning of hats and hooded sweatshirts, certain Black pride t-shirts, beepers, and low-slung pants was seen as abusive by Black students and unnecessary. Students gave many accounts of disciplinary situations in which Black students repeatedly received harsher punishment. They also were frustrated when they or other successful Black students did not receive the recognition that White students enjoyed. The result of these experiences often left angry, frustrated, defensive and sometimes defeated spirits. (pp. 50-51).

SPECIAL EDUCATION (back to article links)

The literature is replete with research, anecdotal, U. S. Department of Education, state, and school district reports that spoke to the over representation of Black and minority students, in general, and Black male students, in particular, in programs for the mildly handicapped, the behaviorally disordered, and the emotionally disturbed. Indeed, despite all the reports and protestations, the over representation continues (Beattie, 1985; Department, 1991; Gottleib, 1985; Greenwood, Preston, & Harris, 1982; Heller, Holtzman, & Messick, 1982; Manni, Winikur, & Keller 1980; Prince George's, 1990, 1993; Study, 1988; Superintendent's, 1987; Task, 1986; U.S. Department of Education, 1994).

Some of the specific over representation was included, for example, in a United States Department of Education report (1986 Civil Rights Survey) which found that Black children were over represented in programs for the behaviorally disordered since they comprised 16% of the total school enrollment but 27% of those assigned to programs for the behaviorally disordered. The Connecticut Department of Education (1987) reported Black students made up 11% of the statewide enrollment but 20.5% of those identified as emotionally disturbed. Indeed, overall, 5% of all Black students were identified as emotionally disturbed while 2.6% of White students were so identified. Clark's (1985) investigation of emotionally handicapped students in Duval County, Florida, found that the typical student, if male, is aggressive, talks back, and is Black, and enters special education in the first grade.

Wood, Johnson, and Jenkins (1986) in a 1985 study of special education in New York City that highlighted the over representation of Black students in BED programs, also uncovered discrimination in placement patterns. Black students represented 52% and 65% respectively of BED students in residential treatment programs and day schools. At that time, though Black students amounted to 37% of the total public school population, they accounted for 53% to 56% of the students in programs for the emotionally handicapped in junior high and elementary schools (NYC Commission on Special Education, 1985). Conditions related to Black students in special education in New York City appear not to have improved during the 1989-1990 school year. According to a report by the Advocates for Children in New York (1992, p. 83), "African-American students continued to represent a disproportionately large number of initial referrals to special education during the school year 1989-1990." Indeed, in 17 districts, the number of Black students initially referred for special education surpassed the percentage of Black students in the general education population by 5%. Knitzer, Steinberg, and Fleisch (1990) found in several local and state districts a disproportionate number of Black students assigned to classes for the severely emotionally disturbed. In 1983 in New York City, for example, Black children comprised 56% of the population in programs for the emotionally disturbed although they made up only 37% of the school population. Furthermore, in New York City, from 1985 to 1990 Black male students in special education programs jumped 5% while White males in special education decreased by 14%.

The Minnesota Department of Education (1989) reported a 300% over representation of Native American students in BED programs, and a 400% over representation of Black students in BED programs. In a study of teacher perceptions, Kelly, Bullock, and Dykes (1977) reported that teachers were twice as likely to mark Black students as being emotionally disturbed as they were to mark White students as being emotionally disturbed. Further indication of the over representation is contained in a report on Black male achievement from the Prince George's County Public Schools (Superintendent's, 1990) where African-American male students comprised 33% of the total student body but comprised 47% of those receiving special education services.

Though there has also been a literature on suggestions for intervening and preventing the problem of over representation, the problem persists (Heller, Holtzman, & Messick, 1982; Maheady, Towne, Algozzine, Mercer, & Ysseldyke, 1983). The latest and 16th Annual Report to Congress (U. S. Department of Education, 1994) on the implementation of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reported data from the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (1993) that found "the proportion of Black students identified as having SED is also greater than their representation in the general population" (p. 113). Indeed, more specifically, Black and White students represented respectively 16% and 68% of the school-age students. Reporting of NLTS data found Black students representing 25% of all students reported as seriously emotionally disturbed while White students made up 67% and Hispanics 6% (Marder & Cox, 1991).

RACE AND ETHNIC STEREOTYPING (back to article links)

According to Smith (1990), despite decades of governmental programs and advances in civil rights, studies related to changes in the stereotypes, or the images that people have towards ethnic groups are nearly completely missing from the considerable research related to changes in racial tolerance. The General Social Survey Project (Smith, 1990), researched through personal interviews (a) the "images" that people have about Whites, Blacks, Asian American, Hispanic Americans, and Southern Whites, and (b) whether the images that people possess about ethnic groups influence additional behaviors and attitudes toward the groups. The study did not differentiate between males and females in the groups studied. To achieve their goal of researching the following six characteristics, an instrument was developed with questions to which respondents were asked to rate the question on a seven-point scale.

The six characteristics researched were wealth, work ethic, violence, intelligence, dependency, and patriotism. Sexuality and athletics were not researched. Results related to this study (Smith, 1990; Archie, 1991, Whites, 1991) found that the respondents saw (a) ethnic groups differing the most on class-related attributes; and (b) with the exception of patriotism, non-Blacks rated Blacks significantly lower on the remaining dimensions than Blacks rated themselves. More specifically, Whites: (a) 53.2% rated Blacks as less intelligent, (b) 56.1% rated Blacks as more violence prone, (c) 77.7% rated Blacks as likely to prefer living on welfare, and (d) 62.2% saw Blacks as being lazier.

Additional reporting was related to out-group and in-group ratings. Indeed, in-group members consistently rated themselves higher than did the out-group members. Non-Blacks, in fact, rated Blacks significantly lower on each of the five character dimensions, except for patriotism, than Blacks rated themselves. The difference, routinely, was quite large. For example, 56.7% of the non-Blacks rated Blacks less intelligent than Whites, while only 29.6% of the Blacks rated themselves as less intelligent than Whites.

Sniderman and Piazza (1993) explored the politics of race in the 1980's and the 1990's by analyzing a number of large-scale public opinion surveys, three national and two regional, conducted by other researchers, as well as surveys conducted by themselves. Much of their experimental survey research was conducted with computer-assisted interviews. Neither others' surveys that they researched nor their surveys differentiated between males and females. Their research found that controversy over race took a new slant. Indeed, "To treat the politics of race as though it is only about race and not about politics misrepresents the nature of contemporary disagreements over the issues of race" (p. 5). Their study, according to them, represented an endeavor to report clearly what Americans are now differing over and why.

Furthermore, Sniderman and Piazza found that one of the causes of Whites perceiving Blacks as being more violent was prejudice. However, they also found that Whites, as well as numbers of Blacks, felt Blacks were more violent because of feelings garnered from the mass media as well as from personal experiences. Their most important finding, though, related to politics.

Indeed, if one lesson from our findings deserves more emphasis than any other, it is this: although the fact and shame of racial inequality is irremediably part of our past, what can and will be done about the continuing problem of race is not foreordained. It depends instead on how both political leaders and the larger public combine to make collective choices; it depends, that is to say, on politics. Each side can attract significantly more citizens to its cause. Or--by its political tactics and symbolic assertions--repel them. (p. 11)

In looking at what can be learned beyond their actual data, they held that their findings point in a number of directions in relation to race.

But our results are not of a piece because life is not of a piece, and so we shall argue above all for the need to think anew about the problem of race in American life, to see it as it is now and not as it was a generation ago, to recognize and to respect its complexities and ironies. (p. 12)

While being aware of the aforementioned, Sniderman and Piazza listed the nine principal findings of their study. Of their nine principal findings, three were most related to my study.

Notwithstanding the cliché that whites will not openly endorse negative racial stereotypes for fear of appearing to be racist, large numbers of them--rarely less than one in every five and sometimes as many as one out of every two--agree with frankly negative characterizations of blacks, particularly characterizations of blacks as irresponsible and as failing to work hard and to make a genuine effort to deal with their problems on their own. (p.12)

Racism--whether defined in terms of negative characterizations of blacks, of opposition to policies to assist blacks, or of the practice of racial double standards in judgments of who is entitled to government assistance--is not built-in to core American values. Contrary to recent claims that racism is now stimulated by traditional American values, a quite different set of values is at work--not individualist but authoritarian. (p.12)

Contrary to the common suggestion that formal schooling teaches people primarily the socially desirable thing to say, education is the institution in contemporary American society that contributes most powerfully to establishing genuine racial tolerance, and its contribution not only shapes how whites feel toward blacks but their willingness to treat them the same as whites. (13)

Prejudice no longer dominates the reactions of white Americans, leading them to reject across-the-board public policies designed to assist blacks. Prejudice still helps sustain negative characterizations of blacks, but, paradoxically, its impact on the political thinking of whites is strongest where it has been least remarked (on issues of social welfare) and weakest where it has been most emphasized (on questions of affirmative action). (p. 13)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the positions that whites take on issues of race are pliable to a degree never suspected. Substantial numbers--on some issues as many as four in every ten--can be talked out of the position they have taken by relatively weak counter-arguments, affirmative action not surprisingly being a major exception. And since preferences are pliable on both sides of racial issues, majorities can be assembled either in favor of or in opposition to many public policies aimed to assist blacks. Our future is not fixed by our past. (13-14)


Method (back to article links)

Subjects. There were 3,130 subjects divided into two groups. One group consisted of 1,627 educators. The second group consisted of 1,503 non-educators. For data- reporting purposes, the educator and non-educator groups were further divided into the following groups: White, Black, and NBPOC (Non-Black People of Color): Asian Pacific American, Hispanic, Native American, and Other, and male and female.

Settings. The survey was administered to subjects across the United States with some administered in Ontario, Canada. Surveys were administered over a four-year period as part of my talks, workshops, and graduate course work. In a few cases, the surveys were administered to students taking courses taught by others.

Instrumentation. The survey instrument was developed to gather information concerning people's feelings about Black males. Because the subject was considered a taboo subject, an unobtrusive wording was developed as an open ended question: "PLEASE LIST BELOW ALL THE STEREOTYPICAL BELIEFS, FEELINGS, EXPECTATIONS, AND FANTASIES THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON HAS ABOUT BLACK MEN." Two forms, each printed on a different color paper, were prepared and administered. For the educator forms, information included whether the respondent was a teacher, administrator, or guidance counselor, subject taught, teaching level, years of teaching experience, and special education teaching area. For the non-educator respondents, data were gathered as to employment, profession, or student status. Additional data were gathered from both groups as to sex, race, age group, and where adolescent years were spent.

Data Analysis. From the completed forms, 55 forms were examined and 247 responses recorded. In order to provide for data tabulation and analysis, the 247 responses were regrouped under 10 categories (Athletics, Crime, Education, Music, Attitude, Family, Neutral, Negative Personality, Positive Personality, and Sexual Prowess). The responses under each of the 10 categories were reorganized into 31 sub-categories. All the words used for the 31 sub-categories were taken from the comments made by the respondents. The 31 sub-categories had from one word to six words or groups of words in each sub-category. Responses to the question were then assigned to the 31 sub-categories.

Data Reliability. To test for accuracy of entry, 50 completed open-ended responses were randomly selected and checked for reliability by classifying the open-ended responses into the 31 categories. From the aforementioned 50 randomly-selected forms, 25 were randomly selected and the sub-categories checked were compared with the data responses entered on the computer. The data were found to be 95 % accurate which was considered to be acceptable because of the large sample size.

RESULTS (back to article links)

The data reported are from six of the 10 categories in the survey instrument: athletics, crime, education, attitude, negative personality, and sexual prowess. The results from these six categories fit best with the concerns of this research, i.e., gender and social class, expulsion, discipline, and suspension; special education; and race and ethnic stereotyping. Each of the six categories consisted of two to four items for a total of 19 items. All data are reported as percentages. The reported percentages indicate the proportion of respondents making one or more comments for that item. A matrix is used to report the percentage data in each of the six categories. Each matrix contains data from the following groups: educator, non-educator, White educators, Black educators, NBPOC educators (Non-Black people of color: Asian Pacific American, Hispanic, Native American, and Other), White males, Black males, NBPOC males, White females, Black females, and NBPOC females. In some cases, respondents did not report either gender or race. Therefore, sub-categories related to gender and race may not equal the total for that category.



Insert Table 1 about here


It is interesting to note that the reported percentages for all respondents for the categories good at sports in general and good at specific sports are greater than the percentage for superior to Whites. The percentages for Whites, educators, and non-educators are very close, too. However, the percentages reported for Blacks and NBPOC are similar and lower than the percentages reported by Whites, Educators, and Non-Educators.

There is also a big difference in the percentages reported for all groups between males and females. Of particular note are the lower percentages reported by Blacks, as compared for Whites in relation to the sub-categories superior in specific sports and superior to Whites.



Insert Table 2 about here


In the category of criminality, Blacks report higher percentages than Whites. In other words, a higher percentage of Blacks see people having perceptions of them as criminals than do Whites. This difference was also reported in some instances in the work of Sniderman and Piazza (1993). Non-Educators, males and females, though, reported the highest percentages in relation to seeing Blacks as criminals and selling or using d rugs. What is also interesting and consistent with some findings by Sniderman and Piazza (1993), is that Male and Female Black non-educators reported percentages almost double that of male and female Black educators in relation to the sub-categories of criminality and selling or using drugs.



Insert Table 3 About here


In the sub-category less intelligent, interestingly, Blacks have a higher reported percentage of 35.4 % with non-educators next with a percentage of 29.4%. However, in the sub-category of uneducated, Blacks have the smallest reported percentage at 15.0%. In the sub-category of less intelligent, there is a big difference in the percentages reported between non-black people of color at 50.0% as compared with female non-Black people of color at 18%. Also noted are the percentages reported by males and females in the sub-category less intelligent. Here, all groups of males report higher percentages than do all groups of females.



Insert Table 4 about here


In the category of attitude and sub-category of lazy, Blacks have a 10% higher percentage at 60% while Whites are at 50.0%. Educators are also higher at 47.1% as compared with non-educators at 38.1%. Also in the sub-category of lazy, Black male educators with 65.8% are close to Black female educators at 64.9%. Non-Black people of color, though, are slightly higher at 66.7%. Interestingly, in the sub-category of welfare, Whites at 12.7%, educators at 11.4%, and non-educators at 12,8% are fairly close, while Blacks at 6.0% and non-Black people of color at 6.0% are much lower.


Negative Personality

Insert Table 5 about here


In the category of negative personality and the sub-category of belligerent, all groups are fairly close with Blacks low at 8.4%, and non-Black people of color at 10.2%. In the abusive sub-category, Blacks are high at 33.3%, and non-Black people of color at 26.0%. In the other sub-categories, reported percentages are fairly close. In the abusive sub-category, White male educators at 26.5% are close to Black female educators at 26.8% in their perceptions. Meanwhile, Black male educators are at 36.5%, and White female educators are at 29.4%. Male non-Black people of color at 50.0% are the highest in the perception that Black males are abusive.


Sexual Prowess

Insert Table 6 about here


In the sexual prowess category, Black percentages in sub-categories -- penis size 28.3%, sex drive 53.0%, rapes 17.0%, and other 21.2% -- are higher that any of the other four groups. In comparing Black and White educators, in the relation to the sub-category penis size, White male educators at 25.8% and Black male educators at 43.9% as compared with White female educators at 17.8% and Black female educators at 21.6%. In the sub-category of sex drive, White male educators 27.9% and Black male educators at 43.9% as compared with White female educators at 29.1% and Black female educators at 60.4%. In relation to the sub-category rape percentages, Black female educators are at 20.1% and White female educators are at 12.4% are at higher percentages than Black male educators at 12.2% and White male educators at 7.8%.

DISCUSSION (back to article links)

In relation to the two questions central to this study, the reported data established that some educators and some non-educators do have stereotypical beliefs, feelings, expectations, or fantasies about Black males. In addition, the percentage data reported in Tables 1-6 established the similarities and differences in stereotypical beliefs, feelings, expectations, or fantasies that some educators, some non-educators, Whites, Blacks, non-Black people of color, males, and females have about Black males.

To investigate people's supposed feelings about Black males, I chose to state the question in what is considered an unobtrusive sentence. Hence, participants were asked to "Please list below all the stereotypical beliefs, feelings, expectations, and fantasies that the average person has about Black men." By asking the participants to list what they thought the "average person" believed, I felt that the respondents would be more prone to respond with comments that may actually represent their beliefs. Without a question, some of the participants are not prejudiced and reported what they thought others felt about Black men. In some cases, however, I believe respondents could not separate their personal feelings from what they thought "the average person felt."

From 50 to 75 non-respondents refused to participate, and in some cases, called me a racist for even considering such a taboo study. Others who refused to participate, wrote that they did not know what the average person felt. In still other examples, some people wrote notes criticizing me for what I was doing. Often, however, when I finished my presentation, the participants who earlier had raised a concern about the question, told me or wrote that they had misjudged what I was doing and noted positive feelings about my presentation.

Without a question, prejudice in relation to Black males is alive in the United States. Indeed, we observed a president of the Untied States allow his staff to use the picture of a Black male murderer, Willie Horton, to be used as a TV ad in his re-election campaign! In Boston, a White man killed his wife and blamed the killing on a Black man. In South Carolina, a White woman drowned her two young sons and reported that a Black man had stolen her car with her two children in it.

Many of the negative stereotypes established in this study have a historical perspective and, in too many cases, are continually reinforced through television, radio, movies, the print media, and even the songs and behavior of rappers, and gangsta' rappers in particular. In addition, Green (1991), studied the depiction of minorities in magazine ads and catalogs for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, and found that although Blacks represented 12% of America, only 3% of all models in the magazines he studied were Black. In addition, where the few minority figures appeared, they were depicted in stereotypical roles such as: children, objects of charity, musicians, athletes, and menial workers. Additional reporting included:

The athlete stereotype was especially noted in magazines like Gentlemen's Quarterly, where 27% of African-Americans were athletes, compared to under 5% of the Whites, and Sports Illustrated, where 68% of blacks in ads were athletes, compared to only 15% of the whites. (p. 3)

In catalogs, African-Americans are usually very light-skinned, and with few exceptions, have straightened, i.e., 'relaxed,' hair. This sends a disturbing message: light skin tones are desirable, dark skin is not; straight hair is desirable, natural hair is not. (p. 6)

How do whites think of blacks? Very often in stereotypical roles. In Ragin v. The New York Times Company, the plaintiffs complained that Times real estate ads either showed no minorities or that 'the few blacks represented are usually depicted as maintenance employees, doormen, entertainers, sports figures, small children or cartoon characters.' This stereotyping pattern, albeit somewhat less rigid, permeates magazine advertising. Our findings mirror what Colfax and Sternberg found in their study of Reader's Digest, Look, Life, and Ladies Home Journal in the 1960s -- African Americans are seen predominantly as celebrities, children, tokens, and as beneficiaries of philanthropy. To these stereotypes we add another: athletes. (p. 13)

A number of researchers have found a direct relationship between attitudes and behaviors (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1970, 1980, 1982; Antonak, R. F., & Livneh, H. 1988; Calder & Ross, 1973; Cooper & Croyle, 1984; Eagly & Himmelfarb, 1978; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1974; Kahle & Berman, 1979). Furthermore, according to Sniderman and Piazza (1993) and Yuker, Block, and Young (1966), people who had negative feelings about certain groups could change their feelings positively, depending upon certain contacts with members of that group. According to Garcia (1981), segregated people develop myths, prejudices, and stereotypes about each other. In addition, conflict can occur when different groups first come into contact. Therefore, how often Blacks and Whites come into contact with one another, and under what conditions, could lead to either positive of negative results. However, the reality for the majority of Black and Whites works against positive relationships.

For example, on February 19, 1968, The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968, March, p. 1)reported their basic conclusion: "Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal." ( And, 21 years later, Massey and Denton (1989) found that the prophecy of The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders had more than come true.

Blacks are ... unique in experiencing multidimensional hypersegregation. ...blacks remain the object of significantly higher levels of Anglo prejudice than Hispanics. Two decades after the 1968 Civil Rights Act, blacks still have not achieved the freedom to live where they want. (p. 373)

The Chicago Community Trust Human Relations Task Force (1989), in reaction to ethnic and racial problems in Chicago, researched the extent, nature, and causes of neighborhood religious, ethnic, and racial tensions existing in Chicago. The Trust's final report highlighted the problems associated with ethnic and racial isolation. Indeed:

The Task Force found a shocking lack of contact between the diverse populations in Chicago....this isolation had bred myths and 'beliefs' that are conspirational, destructive, polarizing, and simply untrue. Racial antagonism appears related directly to this isolation, for in certain communities where contact had been intelligently expanded, the fears diminished sharply.

Accordingly, it believes that increased contact between the races in the neighborhood and in the work place is essential. It must no longer be acceptable for politicians and other leaders, regardless of race or ethnicity, to use racial tensions as a means of personal advancement. Unless the major sources of civic and neighborhood power in Chicago address these fears directly, the continuing isolation of the City's racial components will breed myth and ignorance ripe for exploitation for political mischief. (pp. 19-20)

For urban teachers, the reality of the classroom has not changed very much. For suburban and rural classrooms educators, however, there have been some major changes as classrooms have become more representative of America's pluralistic society. Indeed, a whole new breed of non-Black--trying to be Black--students has developed: wiggers, wannabes, and guidos (Anderson & Leonard, 1988; Athans, 1992; Blumenfeld, 1993; Collison, 93; Hammock & Stage, 1988). These non-Black students have adopted their perception of Black male taboo behavior. They dress, walk, and talk their perception of male Blackness. Indeed, as one Black student commented, "'Why are they trying to be black? ... They have an image that blacks are tough, good at sports and good dancers'" (Blumenfeld, 1992). And, a 15-year-old White suburban student feels, "I act like a black person with the walk and the talk" (Hammock & Stage, 1988).

When Black and non-Black students dress in so-called ghetto fashion--baggy clothing, pants in a bus'n'a'sag, the latest hair style, and walking in ditty bop--fashion, they reinforce in many teachers all the negative stereotypical beliefs about Black males. In particular, this happens often when a teacher has a confrontation with a Black male student. Though the teacher is convinced that he or she does not harbor any prejudiced feelings toward Black students, a teacher/Black male student confrontation can trigger, perhaps unconsciously, the negative stereotypical beliefs that the teacher has managed to keep under control until the incident.

According to a personal poll of school principals, about 10% of their teachers usually recommend students for either disciplinary action or referrals to special education. Indeed, the same teachers who usually refer students for special education usually refer students for disciplinary reasons. Therefore, if any of the 10% of the teachers making these referrals are part of the 28% of the educators who saw Black males as being abusive, or the 8.9% who saw Black males as being belligerent, or the 29.7% who saw Black males as having a negative personality, they could use these negative stereotypical beliefs to interpret their students' language or behavior.

Despite all these problems, without question, there are some administrators, teachers, and professional and non-professional support staff who have the ability to understand and overcome the stereotypes and can relate to their Black students in a positive way. Also, in some cases, real teaching and learning are taking place in classrooms having respectful and caring milieu.

However, most educators are ill-prepared to work with lower SES students, in general, and lower SES Black students, in particular. Educators get very little, if any, help from undergraduate or graduate course work, as well as most in-service education programs intended to help them understand and deal with the Black male stereotypes. Indeed, a recent study of teacher-development programs (Bradley, 1995) investigated how four urban districts, with student populations varying from 9,500 to 124,000, managed professional development. The researchers found that "most professional development activities designed to help them hold little promise for system-wide change" (p. 3). That result is typical of what I have observed.

One of the problems cited in the study is, to a large extent, related to the stereotypes reported in this study. The report found that there was an inclination to use staff-development programs for "political" purposes to deal with issues of ethnicity, language, and race. A related personal experience I had took place a few years ago when I received a call from a suburban high school principal. The central high school had suddenly received a number of Black students who came directly to the school rather than having gone through the district's elementary and middle school.

The principal told me that the new Black male and female students were "hanging around" in the hall against a wall near the main entrance where the school's offices were located, and for which they were referred to as Wallhangers and Wallbangers. In addition, many of the female teachers told him they were uncomfortable and frightened, even terrified of the Black male students. When they were near these Black male students or had them in their class, some of the female teachers said they wanted to "disappear into the wall."

The principal, whom I knew, talked with me about some in-service education to deal with the problem. I told him I would give it some thought and get back to him. I came back with the suggestion that we apply for a small grant to (a) study the climate in the school in relation to the perceived problem; and (b) based on our research, apply for a grant to develop an ongoing in-service help program for the staff. He thought about my suggestion for a few days and came back to me with the suggestion that was implemented.

Through the district's teacher center, a single two-hour in-service session was advertised. About 30 teachers, as I recall, signed up, and I did my schtik for the two hours. To this day, I don't know whether my in-service accomplished anything. However, I was told in glowing terms that (a) "This was our largest teacher center in-service to-date," and (2) "You must have done a great job because everyone returned to your in-service after the break." No mention was ever made about the content or professional behavioral outcomes of my presentation.

One of the contributions of this study, therefore, is in exploring and stating the reality of Black male stereotypes held by educators and non-educators. The Black male stereotypes have been researched for the first time through an open-ended study and reported. The Black male stereotypes that have been barcoding Black males, have now been researched, analyzed, and reported.

Throughout this article, I have posited that the negative Black male stereotypes are, for educators, the inner-meaning context in which the Black student's language and behavior are being interpreted--too often, negatively. Indeed those of us who are continually horrified by the shunting of Black males into special education, or being suspended from school, have a responsibility to educate the teacher educators and in-service educators about the negative Black male stereotypes established and reported in this study. In addition, we should demand programming to help educators deal with any negative Black male stereotypes they may harbor, either consciously or unconsciously. Furthermore, the educators' and non-educators' Black male stereotypical beliefs established by this study provide a new reality for teachers and in-service educators to use. Indeed, the negative Black male stereotypes that have been whispered about have now been confirmed through research. Therefore, teacher educators can no longer claim ignorance of the negative stereotypes and beliefs some educators may harbor.

If undergraduate teacher educators of regular education teachers can help their teachers-to-be to better come to grips with the negative Black male stereotypical beliefs they may be harboring, perhaps special education programs for the emotionally disturbed will become completely down-sized. Helping teachers deal with any negative Black male stereotypes they may have does not mean making teachers feel guilty. Instead, teachers need to be helped to come to grips with these stereotypes, to understand where the stereotypes are coming from, and to replace them with a mind-set of understanding, acceptance, and an expectation and demand for student academic excellence.

On August 28, 1963, I was in Washington, D. C. standing with thousands of others in front of the Washington Monument. I heard an inspiring speech by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Too many of us either have forgotten about his inspirational message or never heard it.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair....

This is our hope ... with this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.... And if American is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring... from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city... to speed up the day when all God's children .... will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last' Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

AUTHOR'S NOTE (back to article links)

I thank Robert Beichner, North Carolina State University, for data entry computer preparation, Jim Lalley, doctoral student, State University of New York at Buffalo, for assistance with data entry and analysis, Tami Tobias for assistance with data entry, and Richard Majors for continual encouragement.

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