Culture, Violence, and African American Youths
Homicide is the leading cause of death among African American males aged 10 to 24 in the United States, according to 2009 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2010, the CDC found that among homicide victims in that age group, 84% were killed with a firearm.
The city of Chicago has experienced a shocking increase in youth violence, particularly among African American and Hispanic populations. In the period of 2008 to 2009, 32 children attending Chicago public schools were killed. In 2009 to 2010, 27 Chicago public school students died due to violence, according to the Loyola Public Interest Law Reporter.
While youths killed by violence is a national crisis with no easy solution, it has had a particularly negative effect on Chicago’s inner city population. Because the victims and perpetrators of the violence are so young, schools have suffered as much as families and communities when it comes to the losses.
When violence occurs in a school setting, social workers are among the first called to respond. While a good deal of professional literature exists on the subject of violence, more is needed in the particular area of youth violence, specifically more literature addressing the unique challenges confronting social workers who provide crisis counseling to African American youths in urban school settings. The assessment of survival, racial inequity, the “no-snitch” rule, and culture are critical factors that impact African American youths’ perceptions of their ability to resolve crises and live healthy, productive lives. Awareness of these factors can shape an intervention and help lay a foundation for further assistance.
Moving Toward More Effective Service Delivery
Survival belief recognizes immediate needs and does not consider long-term needs. This short-range view may impact African American youths’ decision to engage in or refrain from violent acts. School social workers must recognize that peer relations and experiences in the community often determine survival belief. Some African American youths have experienced their community’s failure to protect them and have taken the initiative to survive on their own without adult intervention.
Social workers must acknowledge this behavior and use it to better assist youths in practicing nonviolent strategies to cope with confrontation and aggression.
Disparities in services in African American communities may limit the opportunities some youths have to make better decisions about self-protection and violence. Impoverished communities shape the dismal perception some African American youths have regarding quality of life and the level of control they have over their actions. Some African American males believe they have been perceived as the cause of society’s ills and dehumanized as ruthless. These beliefs narrowly define them and may inadvertently connect them to violence.
African American youths are aware that racial inequity can shut the door to dreams and aspirations. The pain, anger, and frustration that racial inequity spawn may be seen in the form of a sense of futility and impulsive behavior. It is vital that social workers feel comfortable enough around these youths so they can help them reveal the beliefs behind their actions and help them move past the issues that may potentially lead to acts of violence.
Mistrust and the No-Snitch Rule
Culture and Crisis Intervention
“Swagger” is the term used by many African American youths to describe the cool persona. Language, clothing, and walk exemplify swagger, and some African American youths live and define their existence based on how their swagger is perceived by peers. A strong emphasis is placed on being able to appear fearless. The cool persona can affect a social worker’s ability to provide effective service delivery and hinder youths from interacting comfortably with the crisis workers.
Creating Crisis Services that Work
— Jo Ann Burson Preston, PhD, ACSW, teaches at True Social Justice Academy, an alternative high school, and has been a school social worker in the Chicago public school system.
— Loretta Young Wright, EdD, LCSW, is a school social worker and former principal in the Chicago public school system.