Research Methods in Africana Studies | Revised Edition

by Serie McDougal III (Author)
Textbook XX, 408 Pages

Table Of Content

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Speak to the Posterity

The discipline of Africana Studies’ activist-intellectual tradition goes back as far as classical African civilizations such as ancient Kemet (Egypt). As Karenga (2010) explains, the Sesh, was expected to use knowledge and skill to serve the people by doing maat in the form of “insuring justice, caring for the vulnerable and the environment, respecting persons as bearers of dignity and divinity, and working for future generations.” (p. 8) The administration of ancient Egyptian civilization was carried out with the assistance of the Sesh, who experienced decades of rigorous training consisting of:

1. schooling in the village school at a very early age;

2. the study of classical literature, which they undertook in their twelfth year;

3. instruction in reading and writing complex texts. In addition, they received instruction in various medu neter (hieroglyphs) that required the ability to draw with a pen. (Obenga, 2007)

The Sesh’s command of writing was essential in making Kemet the most highly organized and prosperous state in the ancient world. In addition to mastering the skill of writing, the Sesh was expected to master the highest standards of beauty and deep thought (Hilliard, 1998). The Sesh was not an ← ix | x → individual who was concerned with personal advancement, but instead was concerned with immortality. The discipline of the Sesh was writing in accordance with the precepts of Maat—truth and justice. In addition to truth and justice, Maat is the ancient Kemetic divine principle that represents the proper ordering and construction of the individual, society, and the universe. The ancient Kemetic sage Ptah Hotep, in his book of wise instruction, proclaimed:

Ptah Hotep’s proclamation charges one to produce enduring knowledge. Like Ptah Hotep’s wise instructions, the sacred duty of the Sesh was to speak to posterity or future generations. This goal was to be accomplished by producing writing and deep thought that was in accord with Maat. These sacred writings would endure for generations because of their truth and high standards.

Tehuti, the “Divine Tongue”

In ancient Kemet, Tehuti was the ancient neter (deity) who was the father of the written language and the patron of the Sesh. Tehuti is credited with the invention of the medu neter, the world’s oldest writing system. The name Tehu is an ancient Kemetic term meaning to measure in relation to the moon. Tehuti, or the divine tongue, was the personification of deep thought emerging from knowledge and wisdom. Most of the ancient Kemetic neter (deities) are represented by one or more animals. Tehuti is often represented by the head of an ibis or stork-like bird. He is also depicted holding a scroll and papyrus, which are symbols of the Sesh. Like the Sesh and Tehuti, the scholar in Africana Studies is charged with producing knowledge of the highest standards of deep thought that will be of benefit to future generations of people of African descent, the larger society, and the universe. This goal is achieved by the systematic study of the lived experiences and prospects of people of African descent. ← x | xi →

The Problem

What is a problem? In the context of conducting research in the social sciences, a “problem” doesn’t always have to indicate a negative situation. A problem exists whenever there is a gap between a present condition and a better condition. The role of the Sesh was to aid society in closing the distance between the two; such is also the role of the scholar in Africana Studies. The imperfection of the human condition ensures the constant presence of problems that must be addressed, and the scholar-activist in Africana Studies stands at the ready. How does a scholar-activist approach problems? W. E. B. Du Bois once said that “true lovers of humanity can only hold higher the pure ideals of science, and continue to insist that if we would solve a problem we must study it” (Du Bois, 1898, p. 23). This book attempts to help sharpen the necessary skills for the process of studying and solving problems that arise in the lived experiences of people of African descent. Mastering the information in the pages of this book does not require that the reader possess any tremendous amount of prior knowledge on the topic of research methods. All you must have to become a great researcher in general and in the context of the Africana experience is:

This text is not written for the reader as simply a consumer of information or as a student; it is written for the reader as an active agent in his or her society and as a thinking person in the world.

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This text is dedicated to my mother, my father, my sister, my people, and the discipline of Africana Studies. Without them nothing I have ever accomplished would have been possible. Thank you mom, for teaching me resilience and that anything is possible. Thank you dad, for teaching me to be disciplined and strategic. Thank you big sister for always being supportive, for being the most multitalented person I have ever known, and for always helping me to think of things from a different perspective. A special thanks to my close friends: Orron Marshall, for being my best example of free thought; Michael Tillotson, for being my best example of relentless work and aggressive scholarship; Paul Easterling, for being my best example of a decolonized imagination; Crystal Guillory, for being my best example of victorious consciousness, and Justin Gammage, for being my best example of what a principled scholar should be. Thank you all for being the warrior scholars that you are and for always helping me sharpen my tools of analysis; steel sharpens steel. A special thanks to my mentors: Rev. John W. Brazil, for being a third parent and educator to me; Marc McConney, for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself; Daniel Johnson, for teaching me how to organize in the institutional setting; Marcia Sutherland, for teaching me what it means to be a scholar; Sonja Peterson-Lewis, for teaching me what research is all about; ← xiii | xiv → Molefi Asante, for teaching me what an academic discipline truly is and how to be a professional; Ama Mazama, for teaching me centeredness; Dorothy Tsuruta, for teaching me how to be a mentor to students; and Rochelle Brock, for taking an interest in my work. A special thanks to Dr. Wade Nobles and Dr. Oba T’Shaka for being mentors and helping me to sharpen my critical thinking with their wisdom and their constant availability and accessibility. A special thanks to Natalie Lewis for her constant motivation and encouragement. A special thanks to Ms. Sureshi Maduka Jayawardene for her unwavering encouragement and for helping me through every step of the editorial process. A special thanks to all of my former and current students for their challenging questions and comments. Last, thanks to my creator and my ancestors for helping me to do my best to honor you through my work

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This new edition is primarily influenced by the perspective of graduate and undergraduate students in Africana Studies. This book remains a useful tool for professionals in the discipline. The approach to this new edition was guided by two main objectives-namely, to make the text relevant to more Africana Studies scholars, and to add studies that are particularly representative of the principles of Africana Studies in innovative methods of data collection and analysis. Due to extension of research methods into the world of the internet and new developments in information technology, some new methods of data collection have been added. New Africana Studies theories have been added to guide approaches to subjects that were not previously represented, such as political economy, spirituality, and Black men’s studies. Some of the content of the chapters have been reordered so that they are more lucid.

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Chapter 1: There is a new section on nomothetic and ideographic approaches to research. This was done to help budding researchers gain a greater appreciation for the importance and utility of identifying broad patterns across many cases or people as well as gaining in-depth knowledge of individual cases or people. New examples are also added to illustrate this point in a way that is consistent with the principles of Africana Studies.

Chapter 2: This is one of the most critical chapters in the entire text because it is meant to provide researchers with some sense of the way Africana Studies approaches investigation. This is done through a non-comprehensive sampling of theoretical and paradigmatic frameworks designed, specifically, to approach studying peoples of African descent. To make the sampling of theoretical and paradigmatic frameworks relevant to a greater range of interests, African American Male Theory, Virtue Theory, and the Black Political Economy Paradigm were added.

Chapter 4: A section on mixed methods research has been added to this section. Given that more and more research involves multiple methods of data collection and analysis, this chapter has been added to provide clear instructions on how multiple methods can be used strategically and implemented ← xvii | xviii → in a systematic way that serves the research question. Moreover, a section on trend studies was added to expand the range of approaches to doing longitudinal research, which is well suited for exploring causation and how phenomena develop over time. New studies have been added to illustrate how trend studies and other approaches in the chapter can be used to conduct research, particularly involving people of African descent.

Chapter 5: Added to this chapter is a new table (Table 5.1), designed to guide careful evaluation of publications in the literature review process. The purpose of this table is to help researchers identify the key components of studies on their topics as they go about evaluating research that has already been done. There is also an expanded section on hypothesis testing.

Chapter 6: A large section on cultural validity was added to this chapter. This section explains the systematic reproduction of research that is culturally bias. It also explains the many ways and stages that cultural validity enters the research process. Most importantly, this section presents cultural relevance as a question of validity. It also explains how to go about ensuring cultural validity at multiple levels of the research process.

Chapter 7: A section on the specific challenges of sampling people of African descent has been added to this chapter. Solutions to these challenges are also proposed so that studies can be conducted to capture more variability in Black thought and behavior.

Chapter 8: Multiple sections have been added to this chapter. Sections on material and visual culture have been added to this chapter to expand the range of topics that can be pursued using non-reactive methods. The visual and material sections may be particularly useful for those interested in artistic, historiographic, and anthropological topics. A section has been added on compositional interpretation, a method particularly suited for researchers doing art history. The section on the problem of missing data has been expanded in light of increasing awareness of the lack of accurate data on the extra-judicial police shootings of African Americans. A section on Africana historiography has been added to highlight the unique challenges historians of people of African descent are confronted with and solutions to those challenges. Multiple new examples have been added to illustrate the use of historiography with Africana peoples. A section on Africana archival research has also been added, with descriptions of the unique challenges researchers are confronted with when doing archival research involving people of African descent. ← xviii | xix →

Chapter 10: Some research in this chapter has been updated to reflect more current data on African Americans.

Chapter 12: This chapter has multiple new sections. The section on ethnography has been significantly expanded. An essential component of ethnography, a new section on analysis of cultural documents, with examples, has been added. There is also a new section on critical ethnography, which is consistent with the critical quality of Africana Studies research in general. The critical ethnography section provides guidelines and examples for how to conduct critical ethnography with samples of people of African descent. There is a new section on visual ethnography, with examples of how to employ this technique with Africana population samples. This section is particularly useful for research that involves photography, hypermedia, motion pictures, the internet, digital media, or virtual reality. A new section on virtual ethnography has been added for researchers interested in studies that involve cultures in cyberspace. A new section on autoethnography has been added to incorporate growing schools of thought in research that embrace a more reflective posture toward research.

Chapter 13: This chapter has a new section on geographic information systems. The purpose of this section is to encourage students to be more knowledgeable of methods of using quantitative data to describe social-spatial relationships.

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… the limits of knowledge in any field have never been set and no one has ever reached them.

—Ptah Hotep (cited in Hilliard, Williams, & Damali, 1987)

As long as there is room to improve the society in which we live, research will be necessary. In professional and educational settings, people are advised or required to learn methods of research. Some wonder why research methods are relevant to them, especially if they do not intend to pursue a profession that requires them to conduct research. They often ask what is meant by the word “research” and why they should learn it. This chapter first explains the relationship between research methods and Africana Studies. Second, it explains some of the most common ways of knowing and the most common errors that occur during the process of investigation. Third, this chapter identifies the best ways of avoiding common roadblocks to critical thought in scientific research. Once researchers understand the techniques of engaging in systematic research, they must begin to engage in the process of explaining variation in human thought and behavior. This chapter describes the means of explaining variation and causality in scientific research. The following sections explore some of these basic concerns. ← 1 | 2 →

What Is Meant by “Research”?

In the 25th century B.C., the African philosopher Ptah Hotep spoke of the limitless nature of knowledge. Training in scientific research is meant to prepare people for the endless pursuit of knowledge. This is of critical importance because knowledge is necessary for advancing society; thus it is relevant to enhancing the lived experiences of people of African descent. Research is something that most people are already intimately familiar with. In this book you will be gaining a deeper understanding of things you already understand to some degree, and a more complex knowledge of things that you already know to some extent. This notion of familiarity is not meant to give readers a false sense of prior knowledge; however, people should not be led to think that research methods are something totally foreign to them. They are a part of our nature. We all engage in research to some degree. The difference is that in this book you will be introduced to research in a much more deliberate, formal, and systematic way. Scientific Research has to be distinguished from casual, everyday research. Scientific research refers to systematic investigation; it involves the discovery, explanation, and description of a subject or topic. People engage in different forms of casual research on a daily basis. For example, we may need to find out the details of a new mobile phone to see if it has our desired features before making a purchase. We may need to find directions to the hotel at which we have a dinner engagement by calling and questioning some of the people we expect to be there. Before purchasing a new computer we examine those at a computer store to identify the one that works best for us. These are all forms of casual research. What happens if these forms of casual research turn out to be wrong or mistaken in any way? We might buy the wrong phone, be late to dinner, or buy a keyboard that is uncomfortable for the wrist.

Clearly, in casual research there are consequences for mistakes that we must correct or learn to live with. However, for scientific researchers, research must be systematic and methodical as opposed to casual. Being systematic and methodical is necessary because when engaging in study about social problems that affect people’s lives in an instrumental way, the stakes are much higher than what is at stake in, for instance, being late to dinner. Social research contends with issues such as unemployment, academic achievement, housing discrimination, and police brutality. The greater the problems and challenges that researchers investigate, the greater the consequences of error. In many cases Africana scholar-activists are conducting research that directly or indirectly leads to saving lives, improving people’s overall well-being, or changing ← 2 | 3 → the way people think about critical issues. Africana Studies,1 by definition, is designed to contribute to the emancipation of people of African descent and humanity by virtue of that contribution. Therefore, mistakes that are affordable in casual everyday research are hardly so in Africana Studies research. For these reasons, researchers of phenomena in the Africana world must be prepared with an adequate knowledge of scientific research.

Why Learn Research Methods?

The world is increasingly centered on information—having access to it and the ability to understand and produce it. Therefore, it is critically important to have a basic knowledge of the science of research. One of the goals of learning research methods is to equip people with the skills to carry out their own research. Learning research methods also gives people the ability to interpret, evaluate, and critique research produced by others.

The purpose of textbooks on research methods is to introduce readers to the tools and techniques for studying problems or social conditions. Within the discipline of Africana Studies, studying problems prepares researchers to formulate data-driven, reliable conclusions about the problems and challenges faced by people of African descent. Moreover, such information helps scholars formulate data-driven, evidence-based solutions to those problems. After reading a text on research methods, you should be familiar with the processes of scientific research. You should be familiar with every step in the process from formulating a research question, systematically stating the problem, reviewing the literature, collecting and analyzing the data, applying theory, and drawing conclusions. The study of research methods prepares people to produce practical research that will benefit the African world and sustain the utilitarian relevance of Africana Studies in the everyday lives of people of African descent. It is likely that no matter what profession you pursue or are currently in, you will be required to evaluate information and make choices based on the assessment of information. Knowledge of research methods provides people with an awareness of methods of collecting and processing information that will help prepare them to make informed decisions. Accurate and reliable information is the key to making effective decisions. Training in research methods teaches people how to judge the value and quality of data or information necessary for making critical choices. Access to information is expanding, and this makes the ability to evaluate the quality of information all the more critical. ← 3 | 4 →

Africana Studies Domain Theory

By definition, Africana Studies is the critical and systematic study of the thought and practice of people of African descent in their past and present unfolding (Karenga, 2002). Beyond its definition, every discipline has a domain of inquiry: for example, political phenomena for political science and psychological phenomena for psychology. The domain of inquiry refers to the specific aspects, subsets, or dimensions of reality on which a discipline focuses its thought. The term “Africana” is the label that represents Africana Studies’ domain of inquiry. “Africana” is a term that refers to African phenomena. It is an umbrella term that refers to people, geography, and culture (Carr, 2007). Carr (2007) explains that Africana refers to people of African descent and African-descended communities wherever they are found globally. Geographically, Africana refers to the study of Africa as well as any physical space occupied by African-descended peoples. Culturally, Africana refers to the study of the concepts, practices, materials, and cultural products that African-descended people have created to live and interact with themselves, others, and their environments inside and outside of the African continent (Carr, 2007). Africana Studies’ domain of inquiry is the African world. The African world stretches beyond time, space, political boundaries, and continental shores. Africana Studies is relevant everywhere in the universe that African influence can be detected and studied.

One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. … This generation, especially of our people, has a burden, more so than any other time in history. The most important thing we can learn today is think for ourselves.

—Malcolm X

Much of what human beings know is based on agreement and belief, and very little of it is based on direct experience or personal discovery (Babbie, 2007). In our fast-paced lives we do not always have the time to discover everything for ourselves or learn everything through personal experience. Fortunately, we don’t have to take dangerous drugs to learn how they might affect our bodies, stick our hands into fire to learn that it burns the skin, or drink poisonous liquids to know that doing so can kill us. Various methods of knowing keep each generation from having to “reinvent the wheel.” However, because every method of knowing has its flaws and drawbacks, science must assume the burden of finding the most reliable and transparent means of knowing. ← 4 | 5 → Let’s explore some common ways of knowing and the roadblocks to reasoning embedded within them.

Common Ways of Knowing


Tradition is a common way of knowing. Traditional knowledge is based on custom, ritual, and habit. It is transgenerational and passed down from generation to generation. Tradition ties people together. People of a common culture accept certain knowledge about how the world works. This accepted knowledge varies from culture to culture. Traditional knowledge is considered the common knowledge accepted by the group. Traditions contain truths, which makes them continuously relevant. However, society has a tendency to accept traditions simply because they have been practiced or accepted for a long time and not because they make sense. Can you think of any examples? Here is one: Many people traditionally believe that the two-parent nuclear family model consisting of a married male and a female in a sexual relationship is the most stable and effective family model. This traditional belief carries with it certain truths, given that in the United States single-parent households are more likely to be poorer and have fewer resources. This is especially significant because 48% of African American families are headed by single mothers, compared to 16% for Whites and 27% for Hispanics (Fields, 2003).

The drawbacks of traditions stem from their very strengths. Sometimes people follow traditions neither because they understand them nor because they are the most logical, but because they are just the way things have always been done or what people have always believed. Traditions develop over long periods of time as people develop patterns of thinking and behavior. Therefore, they can become resistant to change even when newer understandings emerge or information is discovered that contradicts the traditional beliefs (Imagine yourself questioning something that “everybody knows”). Just accepting traditional assumptions and beliefs in totality without inquiry or question can present a barrier to social progress or the continuous advance of knowledge. It is problematic when we accept things without being critical or without fully understanding them, simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done things.” One of the basic requirements of a social scientist is the courage to test assumptions. After all, it was once tradition for African Americans to enter some White-owned establishments through the back door, because ← 5 | 6 → Whites treated Black people as if they were inferior. To advance knowledge and society, traditions must always be subject to scrutiny.

Take, for example, the belief that the two-parent nuclear family model is superior to the single-parent family and other family structures. Despite this traditional belief, there is current research that indicates that it is not always the case that two parents are better than one (Trammel, Newhart, Willis, & Johnson, 2008). Recent studies indicate that non-traditional fathers and non-custodial fathers can be more effective parents than resident fathers (Dubowitz, Lane, Greif, Jensen, & Lamb, 2006). Moreover, same-sex relationships are changing the demographic makeup of family structures. This research suggests that emphasis should be placed on the quality of relationships within families and not just household composition.

Traditional beliefs can be very effective, but when they are accepted without question they can lead to broad overgeneralizations and misguided advocacy. Reliance on traditional beliefs can lead one to label a family as dysfunctional because of its structure and not the quality of its functioning. What happens if a social worker accepts without question traditional beliefs about two-parent families or the belief that low marriage rates are due to lack of value of marriage? What happens when social programs for low-income parents are designed to promote family values among the poor, when lack of values is not their primary dilemma? This is the danger of tradition as a primary source of knowledge. In fact, recent studies suggest that the belief that low-income fathers place less value on marriage and family values than their peers at other income levels is actually an overgeneralization, and that in fact they place just as much value on marriage, family, and parenthood as their higher-income peers (Edin & Kefalas, 2005; Waller & Plotnick, 2001). Keep in mind that it was once a traditional belief that the earth was the center of the universe—and flat. The researcher must have the courage to question assumptions and beliefs that are widely accepted and taken for granted, especially when they are not entirely accurate. As Franz Fanon stated in his classic book Black Skin, White Masks, “My final prayer: O my body, always make me a man who questions!” (Fanon, 1952, p. 232).


What we believe can be based in large part on the authority of the information provider or information source. Imagine that someone tells you that ← 6 | 7 → cobalt, a super alloy found in abundance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, does not melt until it reaches more than 2723° F. Are you more likely to believe your physics professor, who has a degree in geology and mining engineering, or a person you just met on the subway on the way home from work? You would probably choose the physics professor because of that person’s position of authority or status. The professor most likely had to meet certain criteria before being hired to teach, such as having earned a degree in physics. One of children’s first sources of knowledge is their very own authority figure: a parent. Authority becomes a source of knowledge when people rely on the knowledge of persons they recognize as having a grasp on some aspect of reality. When people accept information as true, they generally do so based on the authority of the information provider. If someone occupies a special status, people often consider that person’s information legitimate—which is good, because that is the purpose of specialization and expertise. Specialization is one of the primary reasons for increased production in countries. Experts carry out important functions in given fields such as psychology, education, banking, engineering, and construction.

Among many people of African descent, elderly persons are traditionally given a great deal of respect as authority figures based on the wisdom they have accumulated over the course of their lives. Because African Americans have a tendency to describe themselves as religious or spiritual (Barna Group, 2005), it is important to make note of the fact that they often place emphasis on the authority of religious leaders as sources of knowledge. In many African countries, people place lots of credibility on traditional healers as sources of knowledge. But people don’t rely on them simply because of tradition. Traditional healers are trained for many years and have to be tested; they have to prove themselves, and they have to be accurate. But what happens when they are not? What are the drawbacks to authority figures as sources of knowledge? Have you ever heard the phrase “Certification doesn’t always mean qualification?” This statement means that just because people hold specialized degrees or occupy a certain specialized job or status doesn’t mean that they always know what they are talking about. In certain infamous cases, individuals in positions of authority have been able to get away with inaccurate and superficial knowledge simply because their powers of persuasion attracted followers and they thereby gained positions of authority. Take, for example, the case of the religious leader Jim Jones, who led over 900 of his followers to mass suicide in Guyana, South America, in 1978. He told them that by committing suicide they would ensure their transition into paradise, and many people believed ← 7 | 8 → him. Sometimes persons with specialized knowledge can hide their ignorance by using professional jargon. For example, if you know nothing about cars, you consult a mechanic about why your engine is making noise. You expect the mechanic to give you a reliable explanation for the problems with your engine. However, a mechanic who is baffed by the sounds coming from your engine might hide that fact by speaking in specialized mechanical jargon to convince you to accept what you are being told.

Authority as a source of knowledge is something that has to be critically analyzed. Oppressed people and underrepresented racial groups must be aware of how this challenge relates to them. For example, African Americans have been chronically underrepresented in professional, managerial positions in American business, just as women are underrepresented as chief executive offcers (CEOs). In addition, diversity training and culture-specific knowledge are still scarce in the curricula of American universities. For example, a Black person who seeks psychological counseling still cannot be certain that her clinical psychologist is familiar with the best practices of the Association of Black Psychology, because such competence is not presently required by the American Psychological Association. Parents of an African American son cannot be certain that their son’s teacher is familiar with African American learning styles or teaching methodologies found to be generally more effective with African American males; such knowledge is not universally required for accreditation in institutions of higher education. Consequently, African Americans cannot be certain that individuals in positions of authority are knowledgeable about the unique needs and interests of the Black community. This deficiency brings attention to issues related to institutionalized racism and lack of cultural competence and sensitivity training in education.

There is also the issue of those persons in positions of authority who speak outside of their fields of knowledge. An example is Andrew Fraser, an associate professor of law from Macquarie University in Australia, who railed against allowing people of African descent to migrate to Australia with his infamous message that “Those of African background had lower levels of intelligence than White people, and were criminally inclined” (Limb, 2005). Fraser exploited his background in law to make racist claims. Unfortunately, some people do accept as true what individuals like Fraser have to say on the basis of their professional credentials. There are clearly positives and negatives to tradition and authority as sources of knowledge. Authority as a source of knowledge is highly valuable, but it must be constantly questioned because, like all sources of knowledge, it has its drawbacks. ← 8 | 9 →

Common Sense

What is called common sense or conventional wisdom can also be a major source of knowledge. Common sense represents the conventional wisdom of a people based on their common experiences. One of the problems with conventional wisdom is that it can be inaccurate and contradictory. For example, many people accept as correct the conventional wisdom of the saying “birds of a feather flock together” while also accepting the phrase “opposites attract.” The problem with conventional wisdom is that it is applied broadly to many different aspects of human thought and behavior, often not in a very rigorous or systematic way. People have to interrogate the so-called common sense beliefs and assumptions that they hold and be cautious when applying them to social issues. One of the hallmarks of a good researcher is the willingness to question the things that people often take for granted. Doing so may not make you the most popular person in the room, but it will get you into the habit of becoming a careful consumer of information. Because so much of the history and experiences of people of African descent has been misunderstood by laypersons and scholars, it is important to be critical of conventional wisdom.

News and Media

Presently, the news media is a major source of knowledge for billions of people worldwide. The Internet makes information instantly available to more people than ever before. News media foster the immediate formation of world opinion about various topics and issues. But what is the quality of such information? Scientific research can be compared to the journalism that goes into the news media. Journalists gather fragments of information, draw conclusions based on those pieces of information, and come up with new ones every day and send them to presses. Reporters weave those bits of information into incomplete stories, or newsbytes, just to keep up with the fast pace of news reporting. People read news sources because they, too, are working at a fast pace and need sound bites of information to keep up with what is going on in the world—the latest oil spill, earthquake, hurricane, playoffs, elections, and more. Because reporting can lack the rigor of a long scientific research investigation, news media can suffer from some information inaccuracies. ← 9 | 10 → This can become problematic because people make important decisions based on information provided by the news media. As rapper Andre 3000 creatively expresses it, the media can be a powerful force that can replace critical thought if its information is accepted uncritically.

Scientific researchers take a much more systematic approach. They commit more time and resources to the process of investigation, so they do not have to jump to conclusions like the average news service or the general population. Ideally, scientific research benefits from accuracy, precision, a systematic approach, trained observers, forethought, and planning. African Americans are overrepresented in the media as perpetrators of crime, despite the fact that arrest and crime victimization data indicate that the typical criminal in the United States is White (Walker, Spohn, & Delone, 2012). Media distortions have serious consequences such as perpetuating racial stereotypes about crime, victimization, and public policy. Let’s explore some of the major roadblocks to critical thought.

Analytical Misjudgments and Roadblocks to Critical Thought

I realized that evidently the social scientist could not sit apart and study in vacuo, neither on the other hand, could he work fast and furiously simply by intuition and emotion, without seeking in the midst of action, the ordered knowledge which research and tireless observation might give him.

—W. E. B. Du Bois (Du Bois, 1944, pp. 56–57)

It is necessary to discuss some of the common mistakes made by human beings in their attempt to understand the world around them through tireless research and observation. Without an accurate understanding of the roadblocks to critical thought, it is diffcult to properly engage in systematic research. However, as a systematic researcher, you will often have to swim upstream against the currents of baseless opinions, assumptions, and conjecture that Du Bois speaks of. These roadblocks to critical thought are the cobwebs of casual thinking. Let’s clear some of those cobwebs away so that we can prepare for more scientific inquiry.


Don’t let your mouth write a check that your tail can’t cash.

—Bo Diddley ← 10 | 11 →

As a researcher, you must not (to loosely quote Bo Diddley, one of the pioneers of rock and roll) make a claim your evidence cannot support. One of the most common roadblocks to critical thought is overgeneralization. Overgeneralizing involves drawing blanket conclusions about those who were not part of your research population. For example, imagine that you want to know how many of your fellow students want your university to start a College of Ethnic Studies. You decide to conduct a research investigation in which you find that most of the students on your campus are in favor of starting such a college. Moreover, you think this new College of Ethnic Studies should be modeled on the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, the only one in the country. You decide to present the results of your study to the U.S. Department of Education. In your report you declare that the majority of college students in the United States are in favor of starting Colleges of Ethnic Studies. Oops! You have just made an error in inquiry called an overgeneralization. You have assumed that because the majority of students at your campus are in favor of starting a College of Ethnic Studies, students across the country feel the same way. Your mistake is generalizing beyond the population your research involved or speaking beyond your evidence. The solution to this error in inquiry involves three things. First, remember to stick to drawing conclusions about the population involved in your research. Second, increase your population size—the more people you sample, the more people you can draw conclusions about. Third, repeat your research on different populations. Every time you repeat your study and gain similar results, your conclusions become more dependable. If you are interested in making generalizations about college students across the country, then you need to select a sample population that includes students from across the country.

Scientific research must constantly reveal overgeneralizations because they can be harmful in very practical ways. If a researcher were to conduct investigations into the development of breast cancer in women in New York by using a sample population of White women, it would be important for that researcher to avoid generalizing the conclusions about breast cancer to all women in New York regardless of race. Why? Breast cancer does not behave the same in all women regardless of race. In fact, research shows that Black women are more likely than White women to develop breast cancer tumors that are resistant to hormone-based treatments, which means they must be treated differently (Stewart, 2007). In this case, knowledge of the specifics and the avoidance of overgeneralization may save lives. Breast cancer is also a ← 11 | 12 → case that demonstrates that sometimes treating people equitably doesn’t mean treating them exactly the same.

In the 1960s, one of the problems that Black psychologists identified with the American Psychological Association (APA) was its practice of designing standardized achievement and intelligence tests that had been normed on populations of White students and using them to measure the intelligence and knowledge of Black students. One of the mistakes Black psychologists accused the American Psychological Association of making was overgeneralization. The APA was in the habit of designing tests that successfully measured the intelligence of and predicted academic success of White students and expecting those same tests to accurately do the same for Black students, despite cultural and socioeconomic differences. The advocacy of organizations such as the Association of Black Psychologists led to the removal of culturally loaded items and other biases from many tests. Overgeneralization has been a fundamental feature of Eurocentrism, or placing European culture and ideals at the center of all thought and behavior and imposing Western culture and ideology on other non-European-descended peoples. Eurocentrism involves the assumption that what the White world defines as modern is the default definition of modernity for all people. When operating from a Eurocentric perspective, it is diffcult to avoid making overgeneralizations. It is the job of a critical researcher to avoid this kind of hegemony and ethnic chauvinism in reasoning.

Selective Observation

In many cases, selective observation occurs when, in the research process, people acknowledge only things that are consistent with their preconceptions. When researchers approach situations and observe facts selectively, they are more likely to engage in poor thinking and subsequently reach false conclusions even without doing so consciously. Imagine, for example, that you are interested in conducting research on school violence by observing classroom behavior. If you are of the preconception that African Americans are more likely to be violent, you could be more apt to notice the Black students who engage in violent behavior and ignore or pay less attention to those who are behaving peacefully. Or, you might be less likely to notice White, Chinese ← 12 | 13 → American, Japanese American, and Mexican American students who are also behaving violently. This is how selective observation manifests itself and confounds or confuses the validity or truthfulness of well-intentioned research. To avoid making selective observations, it is important to review the relevant literature (existing research) on your topic before you conduct your own research. By reviewing the literature you will discover previous research on your topic that may disconfirm your preconceptions, give you a broader perspective, and provide you with background and context on your topic. In addition, it is impossible for you to purge yourself of all of your biases. If you can’t get rid of them, then turn them into strengths by using them to improve your research. It is important to be conscious of your biases and to consciously look for observations that disconfirm your preconceptions. Researchers’ biases can harm them only if they allow them to lead to obstinacy or the inability to admit when their preconceptions have been contradicted or proven wrong. If researchers have a preconception that children of single mothers will have poor academic performance, then they need to make a conscious effort to test their preconceptions by looking for instances in which those same children may perform highly and consciously guard against ignoring them.

Inaccurate Observations

Inaccurate observations in research occur when you simply misrecord the facts or data. Inevitably you will face a situation where you have been on the phone with someone and thought they said something that was merely similar to what they actually said. You thought your teacher said a paper was due on October 15th when he or she actually said it was the due on the 17th. You thought the traffc light was green, or at least that’s what you told the offcer. What was the person who was standing next to you in the grocery store line wearing on the first day of class? If you truly had to answer that question you might misremember the color of his pants, or the type of top he had on. This is okay in everyday casual observance, but you must guard against this kind of mistake in empirical (systematic) research. To do so, you must be sure to take a more systematic and deliberate approach. For example, if you went to the first day of class deliberately trying to take note of what the person sitting next to you wore, you would probably do a much better job in recounting it later on. What’s more, you might even create a chart to make sure that you systematically record the person’s shoes, top, pants, hat, and earring(s). ← 13 | 14 →

To observe problem behavior in school classrooms, Schrank and Woodcock (2002) developed a classroom observational form for the purpose of observing classroom behavior in a systematic way. Their observational form includes a chart that lists different types of problem behaviors such as inattentive, overactive, impulsive, uncooperative, anxious, withdrawn, and aggressive, and a section for “other” inappropriate behavior. In addition, their chart includes a range of times so that they can take note of just how long each student was engaged in any of those problem behaviors. This is a systematic and deliberate approach that guards against selective observation. If the researchers go into classrooms to observe classroom behavior without some idea about the specific things to look for, then they run the risk of making scattered observations. Guard against inaccurate observations by being systematic and deliberate about what you intend to observe.

Vested Interests: Shaping the evidence around the conclusions instead of shaping the conclusions around the evidence.

Researchers have a vested interest when they will benefit personally from a certain outcome. This presents a problem when researchers allow the vested interests they have in certain research conclusions or outcomes to influence the accuracy of their research. When researchers are influenced by a vested interest, they are compelled to violate the ethics of research in order to ultimately come to a conclusion that confirms their preconceptions or preferred outcomes. Vested interest is the problem of shaping the evidence around the conclusions instead of shaping the conclusions around the evidence.

Researchers often decide to make their research conclusions consistent with their own prejudices and preconceptions. For example, a researcher may design a financial literacy workshop for members of a poor, inner-city community. To demonstrate that the financial literacy workshop was successful, the researcher may desire to show an increase in the financial literacy of the majority of the community members who participated in the financial literacy workshop. To do so, the researcher may give the participants a financial literacy test at the beginning of the research project and again at the end to identify any increase in the financial literacy levels of the participants. But what if the tests indicate that the majority of the participants’ financial literacy scores did not show any significant improvement as a result of the workshop? Those who have conducted this research are now at an ethical crossroads. The ethical course is to report the truth (the workshop was ineffective), even if it does not reflect favorably upon the effectiveness of the financial literacy workshop. However, some would unethically choose to allow vested interests to shape their research ← 14 | 15 → by falsely reporting increases in the financial literacy levels of the participants. They may fill out the correct answers of several financial literacy tests and replace the low-scoring tests with high-scoring tests, making the financial literacy workshop appear to have been more successful than it actually was. This is the vested interest problem, and it confounds the validity of research. Avoid the vested interest problem by being true to the ethics of good research.

Illogical Reasoning

Illogical reasoning refers to ways of thinking that are not based on any systematic or critical judgment. During the early 19th century, some White social scientists believed that enslaved African people who either attempted to escape or escaped from slavery were suffering from a mental illness. Samuel Cartwright, who was known as a psychologist of the slave, labeled slaves who escaped as mentally ill; specifically, he called their illness drapetomania, the “flight from home” disease (Kambon, 1999a). This conclusion wasn’t based on any science or logic. It was supported because it justified racism, the status quo, and existing power relations in America. This is a case of illogical reasoning that justified White supremacy. To avoid illogical reasoning it is important to be intentionally logical and to ground current research in previous scientific research. Scientific research avoids many of these roadblocks to critical thought by being deliberately systematic, logical, transparent, and evidence based. However, even scientific research can be wrong. Although scientific research does its best to eliminate as much risk of error in inquiry and roadblocks to rational reasoning as possible, one must not believe that science can eliminate all error.

Mistakes in Racial/Cultural Reasoning

It is indeed no accident that in this society the subjects of social and psychological studies are in some capacity the powerless. It is, in fact, the powerful who study the powerless. Social scientists of all disciplines have traditionally occupied positions of economic, political and psychological superiority over the people they select to study. In a very real sense, the position of the social scientist is similar to that of the colonial master and his subject people.

—Wade Nobles (2006, p. 123)

Because so much of the history of social science has been the study of the powerless by the powerful, researchers must be cautious of engaging in scientific colonialism, which occurs when the center of gravity for the acquisition ← 15 | 16 → of knowledge about a people is located outside of that people’s lived reality (Galtung, 1967). Nobles (2006) explains that scientific colonialism can leave a researcher conceptually incarcerated or capable only of using non-African concepts, ideas, and perspectives to study people of African descent. There are several common misleading approaches and assumptions that have historically been made and continue to be made in the process of researching people of African descent. Several mistakes in racial/cultural reasoning as they relate to people of African descent are transubstantive error (Nobles, 2006), the hierarchical comparative analysis problem, the fallacy of homogeneity, the problem of the orientation/solution deprivation cycle, ethnologic ahistoricism, the disregarding social regularities reaction, and self-censorship.

Transubstantive Error

When researchers do not respect or give adequate weight to the cultural perspective of the people being studied, they are prone to committing what Nobles (2006) calls the transubstantive error. According to Nobles (2006), transubstantive error occurs when a researcher uses the cultural substance of one ethnic group to define, explain, and interpret the cultural substance of another group. Both historically and presently, the thought and behavior of African American people have been examined and judged from a Eurocentric perspective. It is the responsibility of the researcher to ask first how the people being studied define themselves on their own terms and in their own cultural context. For example, in their study of conceptualizations of intelligence among the Luo people of Kenya, Grigorenko and colleagues (2001) studied how the Luo define intelligence on their own terms. Had they simply taken traditionally Western notions of intelligence and applied them to the Luo people to see how they measured up, they would have ignored the cultural definitions of the Luo people and committed the transubstantive error. Instead, they found that Luo understandings of intelligence go beyond the traditionally Western tendency to associate intelligence with cognitive functioning (mental processes, including knowing, perceiving, and remembering). They learned Luo concepts such as rieko, luoro, paro, and winjo, which refer to skill, competence, communalism, creativity, strategic capability, knowledge of traditional wisdom, and judgment. Had they committed the transubstantive error, they would never have learned of Luo understandings of intelligence. They would only have learned how the Luo look in the light of Western definitions of intelligence. The transubstantive error is closely related to the hierarchical comparative analysis problem. ← 16 | 17 →

Hierarchical Comparative Analysis Problem

Comparative studies date back to the late 18th and 19th centuries when European anthropologists conducted a series of comparative studies that contrasted the physical attributes of Black and White people, looking at characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, skull size, skull shape, facial structure, and posture. In these comparative studies, the differences were always found to favor Whites, and the implication always went far beyond the physiological. For example, physical differences were said to account for intelligence, lack of intelligence, superiority, and inferiority. This tendency is demonstrated clearly in the legacy of scholarship in American psychology. As Belgrave and Allison (2006) state:

A large percentage of studies done in American psychology have focused on differences between African Americans and Whites. During the 1st part of the 20th century, most of the research conducted on African Americans involved comparative studies that contrasted African Americans and Whites on individual difference traits (Guthrie, 1976. This focus on differences led to African Americans being viewed as having deficits on many psychological characteristics. (p. 10)

When researchers fail to use culturally specific methods of analysis, there is a tendency to use comparative analysis. When researchers use the comparative approach, it is easy to accept the doctrine of cultural monism. Comparative analyses are known for identifying behavioral differences. However, while differences may indicate cultural pluralism or cultural diversity, those differences are often interpreted as evidence of deviance or deficiency. The major weakness of the comparative model is that sometimes researchers end up identifying one cultural set of norms as superior and another as inferior. These analyses have the tendency to give meaning to the thoughts and behaviors of one cultural group based on how similar or different they are from another cultural group. Comparative analysis can be rich in identifying and appreciating cultural difference and diversity. However, the benefits of comparative analysis can be spoiled by the tendency to add a hierarchical element.

The problem with the race-comparative paradigm is not with the comparative method itself, but rather with the user(s) of the method. Many scholars who have used the comparative method have had the tendency to equate the differences they discover with inferiority or inadequacy. In scholarship that has used the comparative paradigm, there has been a tendency to equate the characteristics of those who hold a greater share of power with what it means to be standard, ideal, and normative. Therefore, there has been a tendency to equate the characteristics of those who prove to be different with inferiority ← 17 | 18 → and consequently to evaluate them negatively (McLoyd, 1991). According to McLoyd (1991), the comparative paradigm can produce an intellectual foreclosure that positions difference as an end in itself, as opposed to seeking out the cause of difference. When social problems are framed as being caused by difference from the norm, the solution can easily be understood as assimilating to the norm. For example, A is wrong because it is different from B; therefore, A must become more like B. One of the noted shortcomings of the race-comparative paradigm is that, when used exclusively or heavily relied upon, little if anything can be learned about variation and dynamism within the African American population itself, because emphasis is placed on difference between races rather than within them.

Fallacy of Homogeneity

Another error in racial/cultural reasoning is the fallacy of homogeneity (Stanfield, 1989), which refers to the assumption that all people of African descent are the same. This assumption, usually latent in some social scientific research, ignores the fact that all people of African descent—African Americans, for example—are extremely diverse. As Belgrave and Allison (2006) assert, African Americans are male, female, young, old, Baptist, Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, rich, middle class, and poor. This fallacy is also evident in the tendency of researchers to overwhelmingly focus their investigations on low-income African Americans and African Americans in urban areas and to generalize their findings to all African Americans (Belgrave & Allison, 2006). This is a fallacious approach to investigation, given that most people of African descent are not poor (National Urban League, 2010). This phenomenon will be explained further in the next section.

Problem Orientation/Solution Deprivation

Prejudice and racism are embedded into the social fabric of America in ways that are individual, institutional, intentional, and unintentional. They may vary in the forms they take, but their most consistent, constant, unswerving feature is their outcome. Scholars and researchers are not immune to their influences. In the research context, the problem orientation manifests itself in the tendency for researchers to focus on underachievement, calamity, depravity, deficiency, and failure when researching people of African descent. This problematic orientation does not emerge in a vacuum; it is a manifestation of the deficiency ← 18 | 19 → paradigm. The deficiency paradigm is an approach to studying peoples of African descent that we will explore further in the following chapter. The consequence of the focus on under-achievement is that Black children in advanced placement or those who are simply performing above average are an under-researched population. The focus on family dysfunction leaves healthy Black family functioning an under-researched phenomenon. Overwhelming focus on uninvolved fathers leaves the nurturing Black father an invisible reality in the research world. Research guided by this orientation tends to leave solutions under-researched. However, the problem is embedded within the orientation itself: the tendency to focus on problems creates a poverty of solutions. Why? Why do solutions escape the researcher guided by the problem orientation? Simple: they were not looking for solutions to begin with. The consequences of under-researched Black success, healthy functioning, high achievement, wealth, and agency is a lack of knowledge about how healthy families function, how community organizations successfully create change, the reasons why high-achieving students are successful, and so on. Researchers avoid this mistake by being self-critical and asking themselves whether or not they are taking a balanced approach to studying the lived experiences of Black people.

Ethnologic Ahistoricism

One of the most common limitations of research about people of African descent is ahistorical analysis. Ethnologic ahistoricism occurs when researchers engage in the study of a racial or ethnic group at a single point in time without placing their findings into historical context. When the contemporary conditions of a people are not placed into historical context, research can be very fragmented. Such research may be descriptive but lacking in explanation. Connecting the past with the present helps researchers to provide an understanding of how present conditions developed and how the past is still unfolding. A lack of historical context can lead to analytical misjudgments such as the problem of orientation/solution deprivation and deficit thinking. For example, an ahistorical analysis of the present conditions of the African American family might lead a researcher to conclude that African American families suffer from multiple dysfunctions as a result of their own internal inadequacies. Such an analysis might never explain the role that slavery, segregation, migration, economic events, changes in welfare policy, and institutional racism played in fostering family dysfunction. This error is avoided by reviewing past literature and historically situating research subjects. ← 19 | 20 →

Disregarding Social Regularities Reaction

Among other tasks, social scientists identify pattern in human thought and behavior. Identifying those patterns helps social scientists identify variation in thought and behavior. Then they go about attempting to explain those patterns. Failure to recognize these patterns is a problem for the researcher. This problem is the opposite of the fallacy of homogeneity, it is the problem of disregarding social regularities. Black people have often been stereotyped such that certain qualities have been presumed to apply to all members of Black populations based on no scientific evidence. One hasty, yet understandable, reaction to this is the dogmatic focus on individuality and turning a blind eye to social regularity. Yes, everyone is an individual, but this doesn’t exempt them from commonality with others in some respects. This problem is important to recognize because, in the effort to establish and proclaim the diversity among people of African descent, some scholars can fail to see the commonalities—patterns of thinking and acting—that represent cultural cohesion among people of African descent. In other cases, scholars might make a false equivalency between the identification of social regularities and claims to universality. For example, the exceptionally high level of importance that African Americans tend to place on spirituality and religiosity, is a prominent feature of African American culture (Liu, 2009). Another feature of African American culture, is the relatively small percentage of African Americans who do not. This is a statement about a pattern of belief among African Americans. It is not an essentialist claim that all African Americans are spiritual or religious, or that there are no Black atheists. Indeed, it is an empirical reality, and recognizing it, will help expand services such as mental health counseling to African Americans. Because they have observed this pattern of behavior, mental health professionals are recognizing that creating partnerships with faith communities, they can provide make mental health counseling more accessible to African Americans, a relatively underserved population.

One must be careful not to preclude the absence of social regularities among people of African descent without bothering to establish the presence or absence of social regularities. For example, there are many different ethnic groups on the African continent, but their common patterns become apparent after studying them. There are African Americans of different income levels, educational levels, and religions, but their commonalities become apparent after examination. Amid all of the diversity and uniqueness among different people of African descent, there are social regularities, patterns of thinking, and behavior. Social regularities are what culture is based on. Identifying the ← 20 | 21 → differences and commonalities between people can be the pretext for collective action. However, assuming the absence of such social regularities, or falsely interpreting them as claims to universality, would not allow the researcher the benefit of appreciating the commonalities that constitute African American, Afro Cuban, and Afro Brazilian culture. Such precluding represents an abandonment of the scientific method. This is an accepted exception to the rule that researchers must examine the facts before drawing conclusions.

This assumption of the absence of commonality would also disallow the researcher from recognizing and acting on what research tells us about the learning styles that are most commonly found among African American students, the counseling techniques that have proven more effective in treating psychological distress among many African Americans, or the child-rearing techniques that have generally proven more effective with Black children than children of other races and ethnicities (Belgrave & Allison, 2006). These patterns in thinking and behavior allow service providers to better serve Black populations. They never represent absolutes, but social scientists rarely discover any absolutes. They study patterns in thinking and acting, not absolutes in human thinking and acting. Remember that social scientists primarily look for social regularities and seek to explain variation in human thinking and acting. The diversity that exists among African Americans only complements the fact that there are patterns of thought and behavior that are more commonly found among people of African descent.

This is different from overgeneralizing, which declares that all members of a group think or act in the same way. The social scientist has to be able to make the distinction between overgeneralizing and recognizing patterns. Recognizing patterns of thought and behavior should not lead one to assume that all people of African descent are the same. Similarly, recognizing the uniqueness and diversity among people of African descent should not lead one to ignore their commonalities. If it does, you might “miss the forest for the trees,” as the age-old proverb goes.

Self-Censorship: The Dirty Laundry Quandary

The moral agency to be truthful maintains the integrity of the researcher and his or her research. Africana Studies research is meant to be conducted in the ← 21 | 22 → service of the people, and this necessitates the ability to deal honestly in the world of information. The researcher must always be willing to report truth whether or not it is interpreted to reflect positively or negatively upon the researcher(s), the research participant(s), society’s institutions, or society’s power holders. Unwillingness to do so will lead one down the slippery slope of roadblocks to critical thought and reinforcement of the status quo. Such self-censorship does no service to the masses. In addition to the mistakes in racial cultural reasoning, the next chapter discusses an additional two: the inferiority paradigm and the cultural deficit paradigm.

Now that you are familiar with these errors in different types of human inquiry, you have to apply them. Now that you know the principles of systematic thought, you have to think about one of the major preoccupations of social scientists. This preoccupation is the ever-present need to explain variation in human thought and behavior. Social scientists of all sorts attempt to account for such variation. They believe that if they can gain a greater understanding of human attitudes and actions, they can take steps toward improving people’s lived experiences. This variation we speak of can be accounted for by explaining the relationship between different variables. This section explains what variables are and how to explain the relationship between them.


Why do people’s attitudes about race vary? Why do people’s test scores vary? Why do people’s behaviors vary? There are many possible answers to these questions. How do you go about explaining this variance? Let’s begin by explaining exactly what the term “variables” means. Simply put, things are called variables because they vary. Because of the inherent problems in defining a word using the word itself, we cannot stop there. A variable is a concept (trait or characteristic) with two or more categories or attributes. Research cases can vary based on the categories they belong to. Skiba, Michael, and Carroll Nardo (2000) conducted an investigation that found that Black public school students were more likely to be expelled from school than their White peers for committing the same infractions. In this case, whether or not students were expelled from school varied based on those students’ races. One variable in question in this study is “race”. Race is a variable because it is a characteristic with two or more categories. Rate of suspension is a variable because it varies based on race (Exhibit 1.1). In this case, race is a variable ← 22 | 23 → with as many categories as there are racial distinctions. What if we wanted to know whether there was any variation in the suspension or expulsion of Black students who committed disciplinary infractions based on their gender? For example, were Black males more likely to be suspended or expelled than their Black female peers? Our new variable is gender/sex. If gender is a variable, then what are its attributes? The attributes of gender are typically presented as male and female, but should also include transgender and gender queer. With this variable, we can determine whether or not Black students’ suspension or expulsion rates vary based on their gender.

Exhibit 1.1.

← 23 | 24 →

For the purposes of research, variables are classified as either independent or dependent. The independent variable (IV) is known as the predictor variable or the causal variable because it determines changes in the dependent variable (DV). The dependent variable is affected by or dependent upon the independent variable. Put another way, changes in the dependent variable(s) are a result of changes in the independent variable(s). If, for example, we are trying to determine why Black students have higher suspension and expulsion rates than their White peers, our dependent variable would be student suspension rates and student expulsion rates. Why? Because these variables are dependent variables (suspension rates and expulsion rates), as they vary based on race. Race is the independent variable because it has an effect on student suspension rates.

Research has shown that African Americans have the highest rate of cigarette smoking in Illinois by race (Simmons, 2009). Right away we know that the rate of cigarette smoking among Illinois residents varies based on race. But what are the independent and dependent variable(s)? The dependent variable is the rate of cigarette smoking. But the rate of cigarette smoking among Illinois residents varies based on something. Whatever that something is, it is going to be the independent variable because it is having an effect on the dependent variable (rate of cigarette smoking). In this case, the independent variable is race. Also remember that there can be more than one independent or dependent variable. It was also found that the rate of smoking varied based on age (Simmons, 2009). Now we have a new variable: age. Among adults, males smoked more than females. Among high school students, females smoked more than males. It was also found that the poor and less educated smoked at higher rates. Care to identify the new variables? What are they? If you are tempted to say “less education,” “lack of education,” or “poor,” you are on the right track, but you are stating these new variables in an unbalanced or biased way. Instead of identifying the variable as “less educated,” state it as “level of education”—which could be low, moderate, or high based on an individual’s highest earned degree. Instead of identifying the variable as “poor” or “poverty,” state it as “level of income.” The two variables, then, are level of education and level of income. Note that each of these variables is related to stress. However, by examining the relationship between the independent and dependent variables, we have a much better understanding of how that relationship works and the other factors that are involved. Often people relieve stress by smoking. Remember, you state the variable instead ← 24 | 25 → of one of its attributes. When you state the variable as “level of income” and “level of education,” it is clear that these variables can vary because they can have different levels.

Although independent and dependent variables are two of the most important types of variables, they are not the only ones. An intervening variable (IV) helps to further explain the relationship between the independent and the dependent variables. An intervening variable is defined as “the variable, which is determined by the independent variable but influences the dependent variable, and is often diffcult to manipulate or measure” (Bless, Higson-Smith, & Kagee, 2006, p. 183). The intervening variable comes from the independent variable and also influences the variation in the dependent variable. For example, as we know, the independent variable, level of income, influences the dependent variable, rate of cigarette smoking. However, stress level is an intervening variable that is a function of the independent variable, and it also influences the dependent variable. Poverty may cause stress, which in turn may compel a person to attempt to relieve the stress by smoking cigarettes. Let’s take another example. Imagine that you conduct a study in which you divide your city into districts. You discover that the greater the number of full-service grocery stores available in a district, the less likely those district residents are to experience strokes, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Conversely, you discover that the lower the number of full-service grocery stores in a district, the more likely residents are to experience higher rates of stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. What is or are your independent variable(s)? Your independent variable is number of grocery stores. What about your dependent variable(s)? Your dependent variables are the incidence of stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes among city residents. You understand that the majority of your city’s African American residents are living in those communities with the fewest full-service supermarkets, and the greatest number of corner stores lacking fresh foods. Now comes a very critical moment. What are you going to do with this information? You remember that one of the major objectives of Africana Studies is the emancipation of the African community. You are going to organize the residents of your city, inform your district leader, supermarket brands, the National Black Farmers Association, and other city offcials. But wait! How are you going to explain this variation in incidence of stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes? Why do they vary based on the number of full-service supermarkets in city districts? To do this you need to identify the intervening variable(s). Can you think of any? Try ← 25 | 26 → consumption of fresh produce (fruits and vegetables). A University of North Carolina study found that predominantly Black neighborhoods’ consumption of fresh produce increased 32% for every additional supermarket in the neighborhood (Duenwald, 2002). So your intervening variable is consumption of fresh produce, which is a function of the availability of full-service grocery stores. Your dependent variables are rates of stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. This is important to know because you may run into some detractors who will attempt to argue that we all have access to fresh produce, and the people who don’t eat it don’t do so because they choose not to. However, you will be in a position to explain the relationship between your independent and dependent variables and try to influence changes in public policy in your neighborhood that may save lives. Kudos to you. You are a model scholavist (scholar-activist); you are to be commended. Additionally, you did it with your knowledge of independent and dependent variables!


Discussions about the relationship between variables are incomplete when they do not include the role of causation. A cause is an event or a factor that produces a change in another variable. Simply put, a cause is something that produces a change or an effect in the world (Remler & Van Ryzin, 2011). However, it is important to establish the fact that just because there is a relationship between two or more variables does not mean that one is the cause of the other; relationships don’t establish cause and effect. Not every time someone declares that they have discovered a cause have they truly discovered one. Sometimes two or more phenomena may occur together, but this doesn’t mean that one is caused by the other—they may simply be related. For example, when the number of part-time faculty working at a university decreases, there may be a simultaneous decrease in the number of racially/ethnically underrepresented students attending that university. Does this mean that a decrease in the number of part-time faculty working at a university causes enrollment to go down for students of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups? It is tempting to answer “yes,” isn’t it? But the answer is “No.” There is no causal relationship here—only a relationship, and a relationship can only imply that there may be a cause. Such implications must be subjected to more scrutiny before one can establish causation.

Here are the three major criteria for establishing causation: ← 26 | 27 →

No Spurious Variables: Finally, in order to establish a relationship between two or more variables as causal, one must make sure that there are no spurious variables responsible for the occurrence of both independent and dependent variables. A spurious variable is a variable that is the cause of both the independent and dependent variables. For example, what if we discover that a third variable is responsible for both the firing of part-time teachers and decreases in enrollment for students of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups? Consider that some universities respond to budget cuts both by firing part-time professors and raising admissions requirements. By raising admissions standards, it is possible that low-income students who are ← 27 | 28 → disproportionately students who belong to underrepresented racial/ethnic groups may be denied entry, thus decreasing the number of such students enrolled. Here is another classic example: One might attempt to establish a relationship between ice cream sales and drowning (Babbie, 2001). As ice cream sales increase, there is typically an increase in instances of people drowning. There is a relationship between these two variables (ice cream sales and drowning). However, that relationship is spurious and not causal because of the existence of a third variable (the spurious variable): temperature. Temperature is a variable that is responsible for both ice cream sales and drowning. People drown because, as temperatures get hotter, more people go swimming and are thus more likely to drown. As the temperature increases, people are also more likely to eat ice cream because it is a cold food that offsets the temperature. Thus ice cream sales will increase.

It was noted earlier that level of education is related to the rate of cigarette smoking. It is an inverse relationship, meaning that as levels of education increase, the rate of cigarette smoking decreases. But what steps might we have to take to establish that education causes cigarette smoking to decrease? First, we have to establish temporal order, which means that we have to establish that people’s rates of cigarette smoking decrease after they have earned higher levels of education. Second, we must establish an empirical association, which means that as people’s levels of education increase, their smoking rates decrease. Finally, we must find out whether or not there is a spurious variable that explains both levels of education and smoking rates.

In addition to spurious relationships, researchers must also be aware of reverse causation and simultaneity bias (Remler & Van Ryzin, 2011) in studying relationships between variables. Reverse causation refers to instances when the perceived independent variable is actually caused by the perceived dependent variable. For example, one may assert that a low level of education may cause one to have a low income level, when it may be possible that it is the reverse—that it is income level that affects level of education. Simultaneity bias refers to the fact that sometimes when someone asserts the existence of a causal relationship between variables, it may be the case that there is a causal relationship between the variables in both directions (Remler & Van Ryzin, 2011). For example, it could be the case that increases in levels of education affect income increases, while increases in income also influence the acquisition of higher education.

Various studies show that students who own library cards read more and perform better on standardized language arts tests (e.g., Whitehead, 2004). So it is not surprising to find some educational leaders attempting to boost academic performance by distributing library cards to all students, as the ← 28 | 29 → minister of education did in New Brunswick, Canada (Communications in New Brunswick, 2004). We are tempted to hope that ownership of a library card itself causes kids to read more. However, reverse causation is quite likely in this case: the kids who already read a lot are the ones with the library cards. There could be common causes at work, too, such as parents who value and encourage their children to read and own a library card.

Being knowledgeable of the intervening and spurious variables—as well as reverse causation, simultaneity bias, and the criteria for causation—complicates the relationship between variables. However, knowledge of these complexities gives you a more accurate and complete understanding of complex social relationships. With better understanding, researchers can make more evidence-based recommendations for solving social problems and making social change. Relationships between variables can be used to improve communities. However, those relationships must be explained. There are several approaches to doing so.

Nomothetic and Idiographic Approaches

Sometimes it is useful to explain a phenomenon by providing a detailed look into a single case, and other times it is helpful to identify common characteristics of multiple cases. The nomothetic perspective examines patterns and relationships between variables across a population. The idiographic perspective involves an in-depth examination of one individual, singular, unique case. Conducting a survey of an entire math class’s knowledge of algebra at the end of a semester might reveal to you what information most students had a strong grasp of. However, an in-depth investigation of one of the student who did not do so well, may reveal to you what went wrong for that particular student, and could be true for others. Greulich, Al Otaiba, Schatschneider, Wanzek, and Ortiz (2014) combined nomothetic and idiographic methods to study the effects of an early literacy intervention on first grade students with reading disabilities. From a nomothetic perspective they attempted to learn which initial language and literacy skills predicted adequate and inadequate responses to the literacy intervention across all of the students. However, from an idiographic qualitative approach, the attempted to identify observable differences in the engagement and avoidant behaviors and emotions of those who had inadequate responses to the intervention. The nomothetic approach revealed that skills such as fluency, word identification, and phonological awareness predicted responsiveness to the literacy intervention. The ← 29 | 30 → idiographic approach revealed three engagement/avoidant behaviors among those with inadequate responses to the intervention: physical, verbal, and interaction. Some inadequate responders used physical avoidance by standing up and moving around, although, they found that some who stood up and moved around were actually engaged and did well. Inadequate responders sometimes engaged in verbal avoidance. The idiographic observation of individual students revealed that some students who blurted answers out might be misinterpreted as impulsive and avoidant, while they were simply excited to have had the answers. Lastly, both adequate and inadequate responders engaged in positive (i.e. asking a question or asking for help) and negative interaction (i.e. talking to peers during instruction), but inadequate responders only engaged in negative interaction. Taking a nomothetic approach allowed them to identify a set of skills that predict success among many students, but the idiographic observations of inadequate responders revealed important things that will influence future intervention strategies. For example, future interventions are advised by this study not to interpret certain verbal and physical behaviors as avoidant or disruptive. The idiographic approach revealed that some students were simply expressing their excitement about knowledge and remained focused despite their behaviors.

Key Terms

Africana Studies

Dependent Variable

Domain of Inquiry



Independent Variable

Intervening Variable

Inverse Relationship



Research Methods

Scientific Colonialism

Scientific Research

Spurious Variable

Variable ← 30 | 31 →

Thinking about Science

Activity 1

Activity 2

Activity 3

Activity 4

Activity 5


1. The term “Africana Studies” will be used throughout this book as synonymous with “African American Studies,” “Afro American Studies,” “Pan-African Studies,” “Black Studies,” and “Africology.”

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In scientific research, several epistemological tools such as concepts, theories, and paradigms moderate the relationship between the knowing subject and its object. For oppressed people and their descendants, it is important that the intellectual tools guiding the relationship between them and who or what they study is culturally relevant and emancipatory. Methodology is the aspect of research that contains the paradigms, theories, concepts, and methods that shape approaches to study and social intervention. These items are explored in this chapter. First the chapter explains the components of methodology in the research process. Second, it explains the unique paradigms, theories, and models in Africana Studies and how they are used to guide research and explain social phenomena. Third, it explains different types of theory and how they are used in the research process. Let’s begin by discussing methodology.


The difference between the words method and methodology is more than just the three syllables. As mentioned earlier, a research method is a tool of data collection. Methodology includes but goes beyond a researcher’s choice of a method of data collection. Africana Studies is sometimes referred to as ← 33 | 34 → multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary. This author asserts that the discipline is unidisciplinary and has multiple dimensions. What distinguishes Africana Studies from other disciplines is primarily its approach to study and its purpose. That unique approach is defined by unique concepts, theories, and paradigms. Given that Africana Studies has its own concepts, theories, and paradigms, it is its own discipline and not a derivative of other disciplines. Africana Studies is multidimensional because it applies its concepts, theories, and paradigms to the African experience through multiple subject areas.

Any group of people can be the subject of study or the object of study. Any scholar can study any people he or she pleases: African Americans, Asian Americans, Nigerians, or any other people. However, even if two different researchers study the same group of people, it is not guaranteed that they will reach the same conclusions, and often they may not reach the same conclusions because they didn’t follow the same methodology. It is the methodology you are guided by that determines what assumptions you make, your choice of a research method, what questions you ask, what questions you don’t ask, what theories you use to make sense out of what you find, or—maybe more importantly—your reasons for engaging in research in the first place. Although the two terms must be recognized for their unique meaning, methods can never be divorced from methodology. Methods allow the researcher to collect data, but methodology combines methods with the paradigms, assumptions, theories, concepts, and ideas that give life, interpretation, and meaning to data. Let us explain the major components of methodology: paradigms and theories.


In science the conceptual universe takes the form of paradigms which, technically speaking, serve as formalized frameworks that guide descriptions, explanations and evaluations of the empirical world. A paradigm is an instrument for knowing. At the center of the conceptual universe lies a core set of ideas which gives the conceptual universe, which in turn not only determines the people’s perception of human capabilities, but also guides the development of new human inventions. How a people define and classify both regular and irregular patterns of social interactions, behavior and development is determined by this conceptual universe. It defines and determines the meaning and purpose of human relationships and experiences.

—Nobles (2006, p. 202)

All research methods are derived from a particular paradigm or grand theory (Mazama, 2003). Moreover, all academic disciplines have at least one ← 34 | 35 → paradigm that guides their development of theories and their conduct of research (Kershaw, 2003).

A paradigm is a general way of understanding and approaching knowledge about the world. Paradigms guide a researcher through the experience of acquiring knowledge. A paradigm can also be described, in a practical sense, as a systematic arrangement of explanations and ideas that guide policy and action (Kuhn, 1970). Paradigms are different from theories in the sense that they are larger in scope and cover larger domains of inquiry and areas of human thought and behavior. Dominant paradigms are diffcult to displace once they become popular and institutionalized. However, they often serve the interest of a few and must be challenged in order for other explanations to emerge. The existence of multiple paradigms creates a healthy tension in the academic world; however, they ultimately emerge from praxis and can have oppressive or life-affrming, real-world consequences. There are two paradigms in particular that have been applied to people of African descent by scholars in Western science that continue today: the inferiority paradigm and the cultural deprivation paradigm.

Inferiority Paradigm

According to Parham, Ajamu, and White (2011), the inferiority paradigm typifies a framework of analysis that characterizes Black people as inferior based on inadequate genetics and/or heredity. The inferiority paradigm asserts that the substandard social behavior and mental conditions of people of African descent can be explained by their inferior genetic inheritance. A long line of notable European scholars has adopted and continues to adopt this line of reasoning. Linnaeus (1735) asserted that Black people were inferior by nature, possessing qualities such as “capriciousness,” “negligence,” “slowness,” and “cunning.” Galton (1869), father of the eugenics movement, argued in Hereditary Genius that the average Negro was significantly intellectually inferior to the average White person. G. Stanley Hall (1905), the founding father of the American Psychological Association (APA), provided his professional opinion that Africans in Africa and in the United States were profoundly lazy and prone to theft and hypersexuality. Lewis Terman (1916), a pioneer of intelligence testing, claimed that African Americans were inherently less intelligent than Whites, incapable of abstract thinking, and should be segregated and given special educational instruction. Noted psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1950) claimed that sexual repression among Americans was ← 35 | 36 → due to their living in such close proximity to lower races such as Negroes. American psychologist Arthur Jenson (1969) asserted the genetic intellectual inferiority of Black people. In 2007, the eminent biologist James D. Watson, who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, asserted that people of African descent are not as intelligent as people of European descent (Dean, 2007). These scholars and many more like them represent a tradition, a paradigmatic train of thought that seeks to explain the thinking, behavior, and social conditions of people of African descent by proclaiming their inherent inferiority. These assertions of inferiority locate the nature of social problems within the individual. By doing so, attention is shifted away from the impact of environmental and social conditions on human thought and behavior.

Cultural Deficit Paradigm

The cultural deficit paradigm is known similarly by phrases such as cultural disadvantage, cultural deficit, and cultural deprivation theory, which posit that African Americans experience social dilemmas based primarily on their own internal failures. According to Parham and colleagues (2011), the cultural deficit paradigm is different from the inferiority paradigm in that its proponents cite environmental factors instead of heredity as the source of presumed Black deficiencies. For example, deficit modeling is demonstrated in the idea that African American children experience failure in school because the socialization they receive at home does not provide them with cultural interactions that foster intellectual development. According to the 1964 Conference on Education and Cultural Deprivation held at the University of Chicago, culturally deprived children are described as follows: “We refer to this group as culturally disadvantaged or deprived because we believe the roots of their problem may in large part be traced to their experiences in homes which do not transmit the cultural patterns necessary for the types of learning characteristic of the schools and the larger society” (Banks & McGee-Banks, 2004, p. 18). Some social scientists of the 1960s developed the “culture of poverty” concept, which is part of the cultural deficit paradigm (Banks & McGee-Banks, 2004). The cultural deprivation paradigm became popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It essentially asserts that African American culture is deficient because the values, beliefs, and behaviors it transmits are different from those of Whites (Durodoye & Hildreth, 1995). In the 1960s and 1970s, the cultural deprivation paradigm dominated the discourse to the ← 36 | 37 → extent that it was diffcult for other explanations to be recognized (Banks & McGee-Banks, 2004). Parham and fellow researchers (2011) explain that the basic assumptions of the cultural deficit paradigm are that White, middle-class values hold that Black people suffer from their underexposure to dominant values, that Black people carry no sophisticated culture from Africa, and that they are in need of cultural enrichment.

Cultural Difference Paradigm

The cultural deprivation paradigm was challenged by the cultural difference paradigm, which gained popularity in the 1980s. Those who advanced the cultural difference paradigm asserted that the culture of Black and other peoples should be considered in understanding their thinking, behavior, and social conditions. According to Parham et al. (2011), this paradigm assumes that thinking and behavior can only be described as appropriate or inappropriate within their own cultural context. Based on this paradigm, each culture has its strengths and limitations, and those who study or work with different populations require cultural awareness and competence. J. A. Banks (1993) argues that cultural difference is being challenged today by the cultural deprivation paradigm, as evidenced by the frequent use of the term “at risk” to describe children who are, in many ways, different. Banks and McGee-Banks (2004) state:

Banks and McGee-Banks (2004) add that the focus on cultural deficits prevents educators from recognizing students’ unique strengths and prevents them from looking at the structural changes that need to be made in both schools and society (Banks & McGee-Banks, 2004). Boykin (2000) uses the term “placed at risk” to describe students who are suffering socially and academically because it denotes children whose needs have not received the proper social attention. This stands in contrast to referring to children as “at risk,” which connotes that the child has an affiction or less-than-optimal functioning that ← 37 | 38 → is the source of underachievement, although that may not be the case. Eggen and Kauchak (2003) refer to students placed at risk as “those in danger of failing to complete their education with the skills necessary to survive in modern society” (p. 44). They state that students placed at risk are in greater need of support, structure, and motivation. The “placed at risk” frame does not make the a priori assumption that the deficiency originates in the person, their family, or culture. This historic and contemporary lens through which the African American experience has been framed informs how African American experiences are framed in the contemporary political arena.

Colonial Paradigm

The colonial paradigm is a lens for understanding the exploitation and underdevelopment of Black communities (Staples, 1976). Based on the colonial model, there are two distinct groups: the dominant group and the subordinate group. In the colonial context, the dominant group maintains dominance and control over those with less power. Those with power use the full institutional apparatus of the state to maintain power (King, 2010a). The colonial model focuses primarily on the colonial condition as the interaction among race, ethnicity, and class-based oppression in addition to other forms of oppression. One of the basic assumptions of the colonial paradigm is that the colonized are pressured to abandon their own cultural values and adopt the values of dominant groups. This occurs because the colonized are exposed to the asymmetric power balance in the colonial condition. In using the colonial model, social problems that are educational, economic, political, crime related, and health related are understood as being part of the colonial project. The basic characteristics of colonialism (Staples, 1976, p. 13) are that:

As noted above, institutional racism is part and parcel of colonialism. According to Carmichael and Hamilton (1967), Black people are systematically deprived of power in the racialized colonial contexts; thus, “institutional racism is another name for colonialism” (p. 5). Looking through the colonial model, the Black condition can be explained in some part as the consequence ← 38 | 39 → of systematic subjugation. The colonial paradigm positions the revolutionary seizure of power by the colonized as the ultimate solution to colonialism.

Pan-African Paradigm

Theory comes from the lived experiences of communities of human beings. Particularly, Pan-Africanism developed out of the African diasporic community. Pan-Africanism must be understood as distinct from the African diaspora. Pan-Africanism is more of an approach to understanding and advancing the lived experiences of Africa and its diaspora. Pan-Africanism in many ways represents an ideology and a method for liberation as such. Historically and contemporarily, Pan-Africanism has been the driving force behind anti-colonial independence and post-colonial movements in Africa and in the diaspora (Zeleza, 2011). However, it is also a paradigm that can be used to interpret and understand the lived experiences of African communities. Politically and intellectually, Pan-Africanism’s ultimate objectives are the liberation (racially, politically, culturally, and economically) and solidarity among African peoples (on political, cultural, and economic matters) (Zeleza, 2011). Lao-Montes (2007) defines Pan-Africanism as “a world historical movement and ideological framework led by activists and intellectuals seeking to articulate a transnational racial politics of Black self-affrmation and liberation” (p. 311). The application and conceptualization of the Pan-African paradigm has been diverse. Some prefer to focus on certain dimensions of Pan-Africanism, while others focus on multiple dimensions. The different dimensions of Pan-Africanism can be understood as political, cultural, and/or economic. Moreover, Pan-Africanism can be applied in continental and/or diasporic ways. Pan-Africanism can be used to analyze the cultural, political, or economic relationships among continental Africans, African countries, and Africa’s diaspora. Walters (1993) defines Pan-Africanism by its relationships: among African people and among African states; among African states and African diasporic states (including those in the Caribbean); among African states and African-descended peoples (communities) in the diaspora; among African-origin states in the diaspora and African-origin peoples in the diaspora; and among African-origin communities in the diaspora. One of the basic assumptions of Pan-Africanism is that the proper understanding of and liberation of peoples of African descent requires their political, economic, and/or cultural unity. From a Pan-Africanist perspective, people of African descent all over the world share a common heritage, and their social, political, economic, and ← 39 | 40 → cultural advancement requires them to work for their common well-being and interests (Khapoya, 1998).

Exhibit 2.1

Afrocentric Paradigm

Asante (2003a) defines Afrocentricity as a theoretical framework to be used to examine and self-consciously advance African people in every sector of society. According to Mazama (2003), Afrocentricity should function as the meta-paradigm for the discipline of Africana Studies. Afrocentricity means placing African culture, experiences, and ideals at the center of any analysis of African phenomena (Asante, 2003a). The way the Afrocentric scholar thinks about the world is shaped by what Modupe (2003) refers to as Three Pyramidal Elements of Afrocentricity: Grounding, Orientation and Perspective. Grounding refers to knowledge of the history and experience of the African world. Orientation refers to a particular interest in the needs and concerns of people of African descent. Perspective refers to looking at the world in a way that seeks to identify ways to emancipate and empower people of African descent. The basic assumptions of the Afrocentric paradigm are that

There are many key concepts and theoretical frameworks that compose the Afrocentric paradigm, three of which are victorious consciousness, centeredness, and agency. Victorious consciousness refers to knowledge and awareness that African people have been victorious in the past and will be victorious in the future (Modupe, 2003). The assumption behind victorious consciousness is that is it diffcult to engage in self-determining, liberatory behavior if one does not believe that victory is achievable. Centeredness refers to being grounded in the knowledge of the history and culture of African people, and engaging the world from that foundation. Agency refers to playing a self-conscious and active role in shaping one’s own destiny. These key concepts guide the way the researcher explores, explains, and describes the lived experiences of people of African descent.

When looking through the lens of the Afrocentric paradigm given the principles outlined above, one approaches the study of African phenomena in a particular way. Researchers approaching the study of African phenomena using the Afrocentric paradigm must ask themselves several questions. Where does the phenomenon fit within the larger narrative of African history? How is the phenomenon understood within the context of African peoples’ culture(s)? How is it manifested in the unique lived experiences of peoples of African descent? Does the phenomenon enhance or hinder African agency and historical and cultural grounding? How can the phenomenon be approached in a way that promotes African people’s development on their own terms? For example, when looking at the problem of mental health among a people of African descent—for example, Haitian people—through the Afrocentric paradigm, one must ask questions like these: ← 41 | 42 →

Exhibit 2.2

What does it mean to be a problem? (Du Bois, 1997)

The first assumption in the Afrocentric paradigm is that the Black experience is worthy of study. The initial reaction to such an assumption might be surprise. Why would it not be worthy of study? Why would studying the Black experience be a problem? A strange question indeed, but when it is rife in a society, racism has a way of making otherwise obscene prejudgments seem normal. As W. E. B. Du Bois stated many years ago, “being a problem is a strange experience.” Many researchers or scholars of the Black experience have faced the charge that their work is too narrow. Prejudice in the new age has become far more subtle than it was in the past. Sometimes “too narrow” can be the more refined modern corollary to its more candid precursor, “too Black.” The unspoken and often spoken assumption is that the Black experience is only worthy of intellectual pursuit when it is studied alongside the legitimizing presence of White people and/or other racial or ethnic groups seen as more legitimate. The aversive racism laden within this charge may not be apparent to the untrained eye. But as Ladson-Billings (2009) explains, scholars are trained to be specific, precise, and to focus their work, and why should that scientific training be temporarily suspended when it comes to studying the Black experience? In various disciplines, scholars focus on specific populations and subject areas without the charge of being too narrow. The Black experience must be understood first and foremost as worthy of study to avoid this conceptual problem. Otherwise researchers may prevent themselves from conducting important research before they even begin.

It is evident that the Afrocentric paradigm always refers to the culture(s) of people of African descent when approaching the study of any African phenomenon, whether it be psychological, political, education, or any other dimension of reality.

African-Centered Behavioral Change Paradigm

The Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture (IAS-BFLC) defines the African-centered behavioral change model (ACBCM) as an intervention paradigm (Nobles, Goddard, & Cavil, 2012). The ACBCM is based on the assumptions that behavioral change comes from individual efforts to balance the forces that influence and shape behavior and that culture is central to behavior and behavioral transformation. Several African-based key concepts are central to the ACBCM: maafa, ma’at, person veneration, and human authenticity (Nobles et al., 2012). The maafa is a symbolic representation of disintegration, dehumanization, and negation. It characterizes the cumulative effect of the systematic physical and spiritual domination and oppression that African people have experienced. The ACBCM looks at health and disease within the context of the recent and historical short- and long-term effects of maafan forces.

Ma’at is an ancient Egyptian concept representing the highest ideal or standard for good character and correct human conduct. Ma’at is composed of three critical elements. First, it is distinguished by the idea that the person and life itself are a part of the supreme creative process. Second, ma’at recognizes life as an interconnected process of human causality. Third, it recognizes the spiritual dimension of the human experience. The ACBCM grounds its notion of health and the ability to change and evolve for the better in the seven cardinal virtues of ma’at (or exemplars of good character): order, balance, harmony, compassion, reciprocity, justice, and truth (Nobles et al., 2012). The African concept of veneration of the person ensures that African people are looked upon as cultural phenomena, with human agency, and as human beings who are repositories of divine energy. The African conception of human authenticity asserts that African people must have a sense of their connection to their own ancestry and that which brought them into being (the divine). Once African people have this authentic core, they will have a sense of essence and the drive to make the proper response to the demands of life (Nobles et al., 2012). According to the ACBCM, behavioral change “occurs through the process of culturization” (Nobles, Goddard, & Gilbert, ← 43 | 44 → 2009, p. 231). Culturization minimizes negative social conditions and maximizes prosocial and life-affrming social conditions. This is accomplished by way of three particular techniques: cultural realignment, cognitive restructuring, and character refinement. Cultural realignment is a process in which African people are realigned with traditional African and African American cultural values. The purpose of doing so is to draw upon this essence in order to enhance their well-being (Nobles et al., 2009). Cognitive restructuring is a process by which people restructure how they think of themselves and the world in which they are located so that they can assume their rightful place. Character refinement is a process by which people adjust their mental and ethical character traits so that they are aligned with their cultural essence. Based on the ACBCM, human service providers must be knowledgeable of the cultural meaning and definitions of persons they intend to help if they are to be successful.

Black Political Economy Paradigm

The Black Political Economy (BPE) Paradigm is designed to describe and explain the key aspects of the contemporary and prospective economic status of African Americans. The BPE paradigm has been shaped by progressive African American economists’ investigation of stratification economics, particularly racial stratification in economic institutions (Anderson & Stewart, 2007). Their investigation of racial stratification reveals how society is organized to achieve acceptable levels of efficiency while maintaining patterns of racial domination in institutions that are critical to the functioning of the U.S. political economy (Anderson & Stewart, 2007). The two major foci of the BPE paradigm are, first, the role of economic forces in intensifying or mitigating conflicts between “racial” groups; and, second, the extent to which economic institutions can be viably organized and operated while accommodating sustained patterns of racial stratification” (Stewart & Coleman, 2005, p. 118). A key distinguishing feature of the BPE paradigm is its treatment of racial identity as a kind of individual and group property with income and wealth generating qualities. Through the lens of the BPE paradigm, race is a produced form of personal identity and its supply and demand are responsive to changes in production costs and budgetary constraints (Stewart & Coleman, 2005). However, individual choice of racial identity does not ensure that an individual will receive social acceptance and recognition. Instead, individual choice may be contradicted by others’ ascriptions of racial identity and their ← 44 | 45 → ascriptions can influence economic opportunities and outcomes (Stewart & Coleman, 2005). The BPE paradigm differs from traditional economic analyses, which de-center race and focus on economic discrimination. According to the BPE paradigm the following key issues must be addressed in any effort to strategize methods for combating racial stratification and inter-group conflict: (1) Intergroup conflict in economics is an endogenous characteristic of social space; (2) groups will forgo income and wealth to protect identity production, due to its value; (3) reductions in inter-group income and wealth disparities will not lead to the erosion of traditional patterns of collective identification; (4) as long as investments in racial identity generate differential economic opportunities and outcomes for different identities, significant racial stratification will persist;; (5) incentivizing inter-group cooperation may reduce negative aspects of interracial contact; (6) more egalitarian distributions of wealth must be a part of any effort to reduce racial conflict (Stewart & Coleman, 2005).

Kawaida Paradigm

The Kawaida Paradigm is a “cultural and social change philosophy which is defined as an ongoing synthesis of the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world” (Karenga, 2010, p. 260). The central concept in Kawaida is culture, “the totality of thought and practice by which a people creates itself, celebrates, sustains and develops itself and introduces itself to history and humanity” (Karenga, 2010, p. 261). Kawaida maintains that the key challenge of Black people is the crisis of culture, specifically, being displaced from their own historical and cultural foundations and being relegated to the margins of European history and culture. The solution to this crisis must begin with a cultural revolution, defined as “the ideological and practical struggle to rescue and reconstruct African culture, break the cultural hegemony of the oppressor over the people, transform persons so that they become self-conscious agents of their own liberation, and aid in the preparation and support of the larger struggle for liberation and a higher level of human life” (Karenga, 2010, pp. 261–262). This revolution requires African people to identify models of excellence in every area of human life, particularly in the seven fundamental areas of culture: history, ethics and spirituality or religion; social change organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production, and ethos. To guide the African liberation struggle, the Kawaida paradigm puts for the Nguzo Saba (seven core values ← 45 | 46 → of the Kawaida paradigm): Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujimaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity), and; Imani (faith).

Literary Pan-Africanism

Literary Pan-Africanism is a paradigm designed to guide the “proper explanation of the content, form, and function of African literary creations” (Temple, 2005, p. 4). Literary Pan-Africanism is a particularly appropriate tool for the analysis of texts in which an author representing one region of Africa and the diaspora writes about a literary character from another region of Africa and the diaspora (Temple, 2006a). Literary Pan-Africanism is meant to ensure that Pan-African literary works are placed in proper historical context and evaluated based on their practical relevance and problem-solving capacity (Temple, 2006b). Works that reflect the paradigm of literary Pan-Africanism possess the following characteristics or qualities (Temple, 2005, p. 4): (1) the text seeks to regenerate relationships between Africans and descendants of the Africans dispersed through the European slave trade; (2) the writer recognizes and nurtures relationships between Africans and African Americans; (3) the philosophy and ideals of the narrative reflect Pan-African ideology; (4) the text uses language reflective of “return”; (5) the author’s approach is Pan-African, Afrocentric, and/or African-centered; and (6) the author usually has spent some time among African American communities in the United States. The primary objective of literary Pan-Africanism is to demonstrate how such works can generate unity among people of African descent through discourse (Temple, 2005).

Sacred Worldview Paradigm

Floyd-Thomas and fellow researchers (2007) position the sacred worldview paradigm as a framework for analyzing and placing the theological tradition of Black churches into historical, cultural, and social perspectives. This sacred worldview paradigm is a point of departure from which Black theologies may be properly understood. Theology is the reflective practice of understanding divine reality and its relationship to creation, the proper order of the universe, and human relationships according to different theological approaches. Floyd-Thomas and collaborators (2007) define a theological tradition as “a sustained, communal reflection on practice, teaching, experience and a ‘handing on’ of ← 46 | 47 → both the wisdom and genius of that communal reflection from generation to generation” (p. 75). The Black theological tradition emerges from the Black sacred worldview, which consists of three sources: sacred inheritance, experience, and scripture (Floyd-Thomas et al., 2007). Sacred inheritance refers to the West African carryovers or religious wisdom, cultural norms, and practices that continue to manifest in African diasporic cultures throughout the western hemisphere. Experience refers to the discrete experience of racial oppression that Black people in the new world have experienced from slavery to segregation, cultural and economic racism, and so on. These unique experiences have influenced the positioning of questions of mercy and justice at the center of African American theological interpretations (Floyd-Thomas et al., 2007). Scripture is the third and last source of the Black sacred worldview, and it refers to the unique ways in which Black people have engaged and interpreted biblical scripture—ways that “validated both their humanity and their quest for freedom” (p. 79). The intersection of these three elements produces the sacred worldview that gives shape to the diversity and commonality in African American religion and culture.

Worldview Paradigms Analysis

Kambon (1999b) designed the worldview paradigm as a conceptual approach to understanding and contextualizing the thoughts, beliefs, values, and action of people of African descent. Kambon (1999b) asserts that whether they’re conscious of it or not, all people operate from some group concept of reality or understanding of what is real, correct, and appropriate. According to Kambon (1999a), each racial/cultural group has its own unique survival thrust or worldview orientation. Survival thrust refers to the collective environmental adaptations people have made in defining their distinct histories and cultural philosophies. Usually people share beliefs, values, and other cultural patterns with their own indigenous cultural reference group. However, when people identify with a cultural group that is not their own indigenous reference group, then they risk operating from a conception of reality that is unnatural. Kambon (1999a) defines appropriate behavior as culturally relative. According to Kambon (1999b), when people think and behave in ways that are consistent with their own indigenous cultural experience, they are behaving appropriately and normally. But when they think and behave in ways that are not, they are behaving inappropriately. Worldview represents the distinct unifying cosmological, ontological, epistemological, and axiological principles ← 47 | 48 → representing a racial-cultural group’s natural cultural or conceptual orientation, outlook, or perspective on and construction of reality. The worldviews paradigm makes the following assumptions about the origin, development, and function of worldview systems:

Every culture generates its own distinct approach to and experience of reality (i.e., indigenous definitional system, philosophy of life, or fundamental/basic assumptions about life, nature, the universe), which we might call its cosmology or worldview. It grows out of their distinct (collective) biogenetic and geo-historical condition in the world.

The worldview system naturally evolves through and reinforces the survival maintenance of the culture; that is, its cumulative-collective approach to survival.

Culture varies such that different racial/ethnic groups generate a different culture that is peculiar to their distinct indigenous shared/collective biogenetic, geo-historical, and experiential-social realities. Thus, culture and worldviews are race-specific phenomena. They are defined and identified by common racial experience (i.e., biogenetic, geo-historical, and environmental condition). This shared culture then defines similarities within a race family and distinguishes between race families.

There are fundamental differences between the African and European worldviews, just as there are fundamental bio-physical differences between the Africans and Europeans. Thus, the African worldview projects the African survival thrust, and the European worldview projects the European survival thrust.

Under normal/natural conditions, Africans (Blacks) operate or function in terms of the African worldview, and Europeans (Whites) operate in terms of the European worldview. Hence, it is normal and natural for Africans and Europeans to represent their own distinct worldview orientations.

Any substantive deviations from these normal/natural relationships or fundamental ontological patterns, therefore, represent unnaturalness, abnormality, or basic cultural disorder as defined by the natural order itself (Kambon, 1999b).

The worldview systems fundamentally represent the different cultural realities, which reflect the distinct approaches that Africans utilize in conceptualizing, organizing, and experiencing reality. These basic assumptions further emphasize that worldview orientation is the index of normality in the ← 48 | 49 → psychological functioning and behavior of race-cultural families. According to Kambon (1999a), the adoption of any basic deviations from the indigenous worldview orientation within a race-culture that results from forced intervention/cultural oppression by an external culture is abnormal and a form of basic cultural disorder.

Four of the most critical components of worldview are identified as cosmology, epistemology, ontology, and axiology. These four components make up the philosophical structure of the worldview construct and the manner in which it defines cultural reality indigenous to the racial/cultural group, which it identifies. Cosmology refers to the structure of reality from a particular racial/cultural perspective or experience. African cosmology is characterized as an interconnected and interdependent edifice; all things in the universe are interconnected and independent, all originating from the Supreme Being, and therefore all in possession of the Supreme Being. The ontological aspect refers to the essence or essential nature of reality based on a particular racial/cultural experience. According to African ontology, spirit is the basis for nature, existence in the universe, and it is this spirit or force provided by the Supreme Being that endows all things. Axiology is the study of values. African axiology is based on harmony with nature, cooperation, and communalism. The epistemological aspect of worldview refers to the method of knowing and understanding reality based on a particular racial/cultural experience. A race or cultural group’s epistemology explains how that group approaches knowledge acquisition. African epistemology emphasizes affective cognitive synthesis as the way of knowing reality, as well as through symbolic imagery. Affect refers to the feeling self, the emotive self engaged in experiencing phenomena holistically (physically, spiritually, and mentally), or putting one’s self into the experience and not separating one’s self from the totality of the phenomena (Moore, 1996). African epistemology is a sociocentric (collective, interactive) way of learning. With all of its components, worldview determines the meaning we attach to the events in our day-to-day existence; it informs our definitions, concepts, values, and beliefs. Worldview determines how people perceive and respond to various phenomena that characterize the ongoing process of everyday existence within a culture.

Positivist Paradigm

Quantitative science has been associated with Eurocentricity and racism due in part to its close association with positivism. Positivism is a term that ← 49 | 50 → was coined by August Comte to refer to “the empirical study of phenomena” (Vogt, 1999, p. 217). Positivism applies the principles of research in the natural sciences to the study of social phenomena. Positivism grew out of a rejection of much of the knowledge that accrued from religion and metaphysics. This paradigm identifies society as a phenomenon that can be studied scientifically. Positivism asserted that science should involve the use of the five senses instead of belief alone. It is a reductionist philosophy in that its intention is to reduce ideas and social phenomena into small categories and variables that can be measured. Numeric measures are central to positivist social scientific research. The paradigm asserts that ideas, emotions, morality, and other human qualities can be studied quantitatively (Vogt, 1999). But, alas, positivism is not a method; it is a paradigm. It is a way of viewing the world that favors quantification.

Paradigms are not research methods; they are a part of research methodologies. The Afrocentric paradigm is in conflict with certain aspects of the positivist paradigm. Afrocentricity rejects the idea that all valid knowledge is external (Akbar, 1994) and that human beings are fundamentally material. From an Afrocentric perspective, reality is, in fact, fundamentally spirit. However, this does not take away from the Afrocentric social scientist’s responsibility to learn how to scientifically measure material reality, which is fundamentally perceived as the manifestation of spirit. Afrocentricity also rejects the idea that research is or should be value neutral.

Conflict Paradigm

Conflict paradigm is a conceptual framework that sees society as an arena of inequality that creates conflict (Macionis, 1999). It looks at how access to social resources such as education, power, and privilege are distributed inequitably based on variables such as social class, race, ethnicity, gender, and age. Its assumption is that the social structure always benefits some people while depriving others. From this perspective, those who have access to greater power and privilege tend to shape society in a way that maintains their power and deprives others. Through this paradigm society is viewed as an arena in which there is a constant attempt to dominate others and avoid being dominated themselves (Babbie, 2001). Karl Marx focused on the struggle between classes and the distribution of economic resources among different classes of society (Macionis, 1999). For example, a conflict analysis might point out the fact that school perpetuates inequality because ← 50 | 51 → it reproduces structural inequality in each new generation through the practice of ability grouping in the form of college preparatory classes and lower tracks for students with lower test scores. This is because ability groups tend to have very little transition from lower to higher tracks, meaning people usually remain in their tracks. There is a relationship between students’ family incomes, and their academic achievement levels such that the higher a student’s family income, the more likely he or she is to have higher academic achievement, and the lower the family income, the more likely he or she is to have lower academic achievement. Therefore, school actually reinforces and reproduces the social inequality that those students entered school with. Once they graduate with different levels of knowledge and different qualities of education, they will have different levels of access to higher education and employment. According to the conflict paradigm, when those students become parents, their income levels will affect the quality of education they can afford for their children, thus reproducing the cycle of social inequality.

Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism is a paradigm that sees society as a system whose parts work together to promote overall social stability and solidarity. It sees society as an organism in which every part contributes to the functioning of the whole. The paradigm was designed to create stability during a time of social change, and it assumes that all elements of society are interdependent. It looks at patterns in human thought and behavior to see how they contribute to the overall functioning of society. For example, there is a distinction between two kinds of social functions: manifest and latent functions. Manifest functions are the recognized and intended consequences of a social pattern (Macionis, 1999). Latent functions are the unrecognized and unintended consequences that promote social solidarity and structure (Macionis, 1999). The manifest function of higher education is to provide citizens with skills and knowledge to do jobs and to perform meaningful functions for society. Its latent or unintended function is that it brings people of similar social backgrounds, similar interests, and ambitions into contact with one another. While at universities, people develop bonds in the form of friendships and relationships that may last a lifetime. Higher education also keeps millions of people out of the labor force, where it’s unlikely they would all find jobs, and keeps them paying until they finish. ← 51 | 52 →

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism is a paradigm that sees society as the product of the meaning created through everyday interactions between individuals. From this perspective society is basically the shared meaning and shared reality that people create as they interact with one another. For example, beauty is something that is negotiated as people interact with one another in different cultures and environments all over the globe. As people interact with one another, they discover what is attractive and unattractive about themselves to others and to themselves. As a result, there are many similarities and differences in what is perceived as attractive body types, complexions, facial structures, and so forth. According to Charles Horton Cooly, as human beings we construct a self-concept as we observe the reactions of people around us (Babbie, 2001). If people around us treat us like thugs, then we conclude we are thuggish; if people around us treat us as intelligent, we conclude we are intelligent. We do this by imagining how others think and feel about us, and in the process we create meaning.


An oppressed group’s experiences may put its members in a position to see things differently, but their lack of control over the ideological apparatuses of society makes expressing a self-defined standpoint more difficult.

—Patricia Hill Collins (2009, p. 44)

Theory is a part of what distinguishes one discipline from another, what gives it its unique lens of analysis. But what is theory? No doubt you have heard someone say the words, “I’ve got a theory,” followed by their explanation of how they suspect that some aspect of the world works. After all, theories are interrelated sets of propositions that seek to explain some aspect of reality. Theories begin to develop when people make observations about the society or world around them (Bless, Higson-Smith, & Kagee, 2006). Sometimes out of curiosity and other times out of obligation, people attempt to scientifically verify their observations, and when they do they discover facts or valid information. Facts are the cornerstone of knowledge (Bless et al., 2006). Theory seeks to explain how some facts relate to others by providing elaborate explanations. A theory seeks to explain the relationships between a set of concepts. Concepts are abstract ideas that enable one to categorize data (Vogt, 1999). Concepts are the components of theories, and, taken together, they explain ← 52 | 53 → some aspect of reality. In scientific research, researchers must make systematic observations and test those observations to ultimately develop a theory. This is important because, in science, theories gain strength and validity the more they have been tested and verified. One can have confidence in a theory the more it has been validated by research. Theories seek to clarify some aspect of reality by explaining the relationship between concepts. Theories explain observed patterns and regularities and why those regularities occur. Can you think of any social regularities or patterns of thinking and acting that theory could help us to explain?

Let us take, for example, some patterns of behavior among African Americans. African Americans are in part characterized by their tendency to have an extended conceptualization of “family.” African Americans have a greater-than-average likelihood of living in households with both biologically and non-biologically related individuals considered to be family members or “fictive kin.” African American households have a greater tendency to be composed of multiple generations of family members and extended family members. They also have a tendency to engage in more religious activity compared to White Americans. African Americans typically attend church more often, spend more time at church, report praying more often, and self-report reading the Bible more often than the average American (Barna Group, 2005). These are some interesting patterns in human behavior. But beyond knowing this information to be true, how do we explain the existence of these behaviors?

Applying Theory to Social Phenomena

Triple Quandary Theory

Boykin (2000) has developed a theory that helps to explain patterns of behavior among African Americans. According to the triple quandary theory, there are three key concepts that represent the three distinct realms of African American culture: mainstream, “minority,” and Afro-cultural (Boykin, 2000). Mainstream experience refers to beliefs, values, and behavioral styles that are consistent with those of most people who live in the United States. Minority experience refers to coping strategies and defense mechanisms used by “minorities” to live in an oppressive social environment. Afro-cultural experience refers to the link between contemporary people of African descent and traditional African cultural patterns of thinking and behavior. Allen and Boykin (1992 ← 53 | 54 → state that there are nine interrelated dimensions of African American culture: (1) spirituality—a vitalistic rather than mechanistic approach to life; (2) harmony—the belief that humans and nature are harmoniously conjoined; (3) movement expressiveness—an emphasis on the interweaving of movement, rhythm, percussiveness, music, and dance; (4) verve—the special receptiveness to relatively high levels of sensate stimulation; (5) affect—an emphasis on emotion and feelings; (6) communalism—a commitment to social connectedness where social bonds transcend individual privileges; (7) expressive individualism—the cultivation of a distinctive personality or proclivity toward spontaneity of behavior; (8) orality—a preference for oral/aural modalities of communication; and (9) social time perspective—an orientation in which time is treated as passing through a social space rather than a material one (Boykin, 2000). How might one explain the tendency for African Americans to have an extended conceptualization of family, or to live in multigenerational households? The triple quandary theory is designed to explain African American culture. How might it explain the African American extended family concept? As a minority member in the American context, one has to contend with the fact that the mainstream cultural conceptualization of the family is the traditionally European-derived “nuclear family” model, consisting of a man and woman in a sexual relationship and their child(ren). The oppressive conditions that are a part of the minority experience also impact the family. For example, the declining economic viability of Black males contributes to the “non-nuclear” African American family structure. For some African American families, living in multi-generational households is influenced by the lack of affordable housing. What Boykin and Cunningham (2002) refer to as the Afro-cultural dimension highlights the influence of West African culture on African American behavior. In this case, West African conceptualizations of the family unit were much larger than the nuclear family model of the Western world. The African family unit consisted of aunts and uncles living in the same compound, with almost as much parental authority as biological parents. West African family units often consisted of families with a common lineage—lineages of a common clan and clans of a common ethnic group. All of these factors coming from Boykin’s (2000) triple quandary theory attempt to explain why African Americans have a conceptualization of family that is different from the typical American perception of family structure.

How can the triple quandary theory be used to explain the religiosity of African Americans? One of the major components of West African culture was spirituality (Boykin, 2000). The dominant religion in mainstream ← 54 | 55 → American culture is Christianity (Barna Group, 2005). As a part of their minority experience, African American people have endured a unique form of oppression in the American context. African people were frequently forced to abandon their spiritual beliefs and forbidden to practice their traditional spiritual systems in the North American system of chattel slavery. In addition, their enslavers’ primary religion was Christianity, which in many cases was the only religion African Americans were allowed to practice without punishment (Belgrave & Allison, 2006). The above-mentioned factors demonstrate how the minority, mainstream, and Afro-cultural experiences influence African American religious behavior. Let’s look at three non-race/ethnic specific theories (motivation theory, multiple intelligence theory, and teacher expectations theory) to see what they might offer in the way of explaining African American patterns of behavior along with the triple quandary theory.

Motivation Theory

African American children have been found to perform better academically when they are in cooperative learning (structured group work) contexts (Boykin & Cunningham, 2002). There are several theories that help to explain this behavior, one of which is motivation theory. Most classrooms operate on the teacher-student model in which all the students have to compete with one another to interact with the teacher. Furthermore, they have to concern themselves with the teacher’s discretion and approval of their answers or comments as right, wrong, appropriate, or inappropriate. Because of this competition and stress, some students decide not to participate. However, according to motivation theory, students working in groups of other students in a well-structured way can reduce competition to speak and provide students more opportunities to be directly involved in the learning process (Slavin, 1995). Based on motivation theory, this approach to learning can motivate more students to learn. Using motivation theory, one might say that some African American students’ likelihood of learning in cooperative settings could be explained by the increased learning opportunities made available to them by way of group learning. Theories don’t always do a complete job of explaining social phenomena. For example, motivation theory does not quite explain why so many studies show that African American students have a tendency to respond more positively to cooperative learning than their White classmates (Boykin & Cunningham, 2002). Perhaps triple quandary theory can help to explain this. ← 55 | 56 →

Cooperative learning also incorporates three of the nine interrelated dimensions of African culture articulated by Boykin and Cunningham (2002). Communalism, a dimension of African cultural style (Boykin & Cunningham, 2002), represents a commitment to social connectedness in which social bonds transcend individual privileges. Orality is a necessary condition for cooperative learning because it facilitates the social interaction and communication necessary to make cooperative learning successful. Affect, an aspect of African cultural style (Boykin & Cunningham, 2002), represents an emphasis on emotion and feelings. Relatedness refers to students’ need to feel connected to others in a social environment and to feel worthy and capable of love and respect (Eggen & Kauchak, 2003). Relatedness can be enhanced through cooperative learning because social interaction is likely to be less competitive. These unique cultural characteristics that many African Americans possess must also be considered in accounting for stylistic preferences of Black students compared to their White counterparts. As you can see, it is sometimes necessary to combine race-specific and ethnic-specific theory with non-race-specific and non-ethnic-specific theory in order to create holistic explanations of social thought and behavior.

Multiple Intelligence Theory

According to Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory (Gardner, 1983), a non-race-specific and non-ethnic-specific theory, the traditional approach to conceptualizing intelligence is misguided because there is more than just one kind of intelligence. According to Gardner (1983), there are eight different areas, including linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and naturalistic intelligence. Gardner (1983) explains that educators should acknowledge the multiple areas of intelligence by creating classrooms that tap into the intellectual strengths of more students. Using Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, one might be able to explain more about African American students’ increased academic achievement in cooperative learning environments. Multiple intelligence theory could explain why African American students may be more likely to rely upon interpersonal or social and interactive intelligence than some of their counterparts. Moreover, the fact that they perform better academically in cooperative learning settings may be because the cooperative learning simply allows them to use their culturally influenced intellectual strengths to master new information. ← 56 | 57 →

Teacher Expectations Theory

Tracking is the practice of placing students into course streams that differentiate the kind and amount of content to which they will have access. Tracking continues today even in the face of serious questions as to whether or not it serves its intended purpose. According to Oakes (1995), Black and Latino students who have similar grades as their White and Asian counterparts are less likely to be assigned to advanced placement (AP) courses. Are there any theories that can help to explain this damaging social regularity? Teacher expectations theory can be used to explain part of the academic underachievement of youth who belong to racially/ethnically underrepresented groups. Eggen and Kauchak (2003) define teacher expectations as “the attitudes and beliefs that teachers hold about students’ abilities to learn which influence student achievement” (p. 35). The theory holds that these expectations may have a powerfully positive effect on students’ learning—and, unfortunately, an equally powerful negative effect. Lowered teacher expectations have a negative effect on the achievement of African American students in particular (Oakes, 1995). Eggen and Kauchak (2003) state that teachers tend to treat students they perceive as high achievers better than those they perceive as having lower ability by under-serving them in the following four key areas: (1) emotional support, (2) teacher effort and demands, (3) questioning, and (4) feedback and evaluation. The cumulative effect of such differential treatment can be devastating to students perceived by the teacher as having lower ability. Here we have another example of a theory helping to explain a social regularity. Teacher expectations theory explains how teacher expectations affect student performance and teachers’ student perceptions, both of which are likely to affect decisions to recommend students for advanced placement courses.

Two Cradle Theory

International studies of human values find many people from African countries to be very collectivist in their social attitudes compared to Western European countries (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). Moreover, the country in Africa with the highest scores on measures of individualism is South Africa, which happens to be the country in Africa with the largest population of White people (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). Is there a social theory that attempts to explain this social pattern? Diop’s two cradle theory (Diop, 1989; Wobogo, 1976) ← 57 | 58 → explains the unique patterns of thought and behaviors that developed in the early civilizations of European and African antiquity. During human evolution, different ecologies developed in different geographical locations, and as people adjusted and interacted with their material environment, they developed unique forms of social relationships with one another and their environments. According to Diop (1989), unique patterns of behavior, thought, and systems of belief developed. Diop (1989) asserts that the Southern or African Cradle in the Nile Valley of Northeast Africa was the first cradle of civilization to develop. This Southern or African cradle was characterized by its warm climate, seasonal flooding, and material environment, which was generally supportive of human habitation. According to Diop (1989), the ecology of the Southern Cradle developed in human beings’ cultural characteristics such as: matrilineal family structure, communal-collective value orientations, congenial non-racial social relations, and sedentary behavior (Kambon, 1999a). The Northern Cradle—Europe—is characterized by its colder climate, semi-glacial environment, shorter growing season, and competition for resources (Kambon, 1999a). The two cradle theory might explain the general differences in social orientation between African and European people’s social attitudes. According to the theory, the origin of African collectivism and European individualism is in part explained by the unique physical environments out of which their cultures developed during the early evolution of human civilizations.

When researching people of African descent it is important to make use of theories that purposefully speak to their own unique experience. It is the due diligence of the researcher to identify theories, concepts, paradigms, and ideas that speak to the unique aspects of the lived experience of the people being studied. Doing so helps guard against many of the roadblocks to critical thought and racial cultural reasoning that we have already discussed. There are many theories dedicated to helping to explain the different dimensions of the lived experiences of people of African descent. Below are descriptions of a few of them. The descriptions are necessarily brief. If you are interested in using any of the following theories for your own research, you should seek fuller explanations of them, since providing such depth is beyond the scope of this text.

African American Family Functioning Model

Mandara and Murray (2002) developed the African American family functioning model based on empirical research. This research was aimed at identifying ← 58 | 59 → different family functioning types among African Americans. The African American family functioning model meets the need for an approach to the study of African American family functioning that respects the common and unique sociopolitical, racial, and cultural experiences of African American families. Designed to study the quality of family functioning, Mandara and Murray’s (2002) model is a typology of family functioning that facilitates the examination of different interactive variables within and between different family types. The typology examines the relationship between variables such as religiosity, disciplinary strategies, educational expectations, child behavior, self-esteem, African self-consciousness, racial identity, personality, and demographic characteristics within and across different family types. The typology consists of three family types: Cohesive-Authoritative, Conflict-Authoritarian, and Defensive-Neglectful. The Cohesive-Authoritative type is characterized by high levels of family cohesion, expressiveness, and authoritative disciplinary practices (Mandara & Murray, 2002). The Cohesive-Authoritative family type is also characterized by parents placing a moderate level of emphasis on moral and religious socialization, engaging in high levels of proactive racial socialization and low levels of defensive racial socialization, and less authoritarian and neglectful disciplinary practices than the other two groups. Parents in these families have relatively higher levels of education compared to the other two types. The Conflict-Authoritarian type is characterized by high levels of internal conflict, overbearing authoritarian disciplining, and lack of concern and commitment toward family members (Mandara & Murray, 2002). The Conflict-Authoritarian family type places emphasis on academic achievement but not intellectual stimulation. This family type engages in religious-oriented socialization and a moderate level of racial socialization. Parents in the conflict-authoritarian family type have moderate levels of education, and their children obey less than those in the Cohesive-Authoritarian type. The Defensive-Neglectful family type is characterized by high levels of defensive racial socialization (teaching children to dislike other racial groups), low levels of empowering socialization (teaching children to be proud of their heritage), high levels of neglectful parenting, high levels of authoritarian disciplining, low levels of religious and moral socialization compared to the other two family types, and a low incidence of emotional expressions of nurturing and support (Mandara & Murray, 2002). These families have lower levels of education and income than the other two family types. Children who have less intellectual independence and disobey more than children in the other family types also characterize the defensive-neglectful family type. ← 59 | 60 → Overall, the model is an empirically grounded tool for understanding African American family functioning and predicting social-psychological outcomes.

African American Male Theory (AAMT)

Bush and Bush’s (2013) African American male theory is an approach to studying the lives of Black men and boys by “drawing on and accounting for pre- and post-enslavement experiences” (p. 6). It is also meant to be a framework to guide practical work with African American boys and men. There are six basic tenants of AAMT. First, the individual and collective experiences, behaviors, outcomes, events, phenomena, and trajectory of African American boys and men’s lives are best analyzed using an ecological systems approach. AAMT builds on the five dimensions of the ecological systems theory (mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, chronosystem, and microsystem). Differently, AAMT divides the microsystem into two categories: the inner microsystem and the outer microsystem. The inner microsystem involves a person’s biology, personality, perceptions, and beliefs, while the outer microsystem, involves the impact of family, peers, neighborhood, and school environments. AAMT adds a sixth dimension, called the subsystem, which includes the influence of spirit, collective will, collective unconscious, and archetypes. The second tenant of AAMT, is the recognition that there is something unique about the experience of being both Black and male. This recognition hilights the unique contributions that African American males make and have made to humanity. Moreover, it is critical for carrying out effective social services to African American males. The third tenant of AAMT is that there is a continuity of pre-colonial African culture(s), consciousness, and biology that influence the experiences of African American boys and men. According to Bush and Bush (2013) failure to account for the persistent influence of African culture on African American males, leads to faulty analysis. The fourth tenant of AAMT is the understanding that African American boys and men are resilient and resistant. This component allows the study of African American men and boys to include how they are and have been resilient and self-determining despite hegemony, without focusing exclusively on deficiency and oppression. The fifth tenant of AAMT, is recognition that race and racism combined with classism and sexism have a profound impact on every aspect of the lives of African American men and boys. Lastly, the sixth tenant of AAMT is recognition that the focus and purpose of study and programs concerning African American boys and men should be the pursuit of social justice. ← 60 | 61 →

African Self-Consciousness Theory

According to Kambon (1999a), Western models for assessing personality are rooted in the history and cultures of people of European descent and are thus inappropriate for assessing the personalities of people of African descent. In fact, when personality models that are products of Western science are applied to people of African descent, they can be misleading. At worst they may result in mischaracterizations and distortions of African reality. Kambon (1999a) proposes African self-consciousness theory as a framework for analyzing the personalities of people of African descent. There are two basic assumptions in African self-consciousness theory. The first assumption is that the Black personality structure is definitively African at its core. However, Kambon (1999a) notes that not every Black person will exhibit African cultural characteristics to the same degree and in the same way based on his or her unique social environment, experience, and exposure. The second assumption is that exposure to European culture and racial oppression has only affected the conscious-level expression of the Black personality. According to Kambon (1999a), African self-extension orientation is the core of the Black personality. African self-extension orientation is the unconscious expression of the African worldview, defined as spirituality by Kambon (1999a). African self-consciousness is the conscious-level expression of the African worldview. Unlike African self-extension orientation, African self-consciousness is subject to change and influence because of exposure to foreign culture and racial/cultural oppression. There are four basic components of African self-consciousness:

When these elements are present and strong, the Black personality is healthy. For example, research (Pierre & Mahalik, 2005) has indicated that African self-consciousness is related to Black male self-esteem such that as African self-consciousness scores increase, so do Black males’ self-esteem scores. According to Kambon (1999a), African self-consciousness can be nurtured ← 61 | 62 → and supported or blocked and suffocated based on the presence or absence of institutions, networks, practices, and organizations that promote a culturally supportive environment.

Africana Critical Theory

Africana critical theory is “theory critical of domination and discrimination in classical and contemporary, continental and Diasporan African life worlds and lived experiences” (Rabaka, 2006, p. 133). In addition to critiquing domination, Africana critical theory also critiques anti-imperialistic theory and practice (Rabaka, 2002). The theory draws upon the intellectual and political legacy of historic and contemporary African radicals and revolutionaries as they relate to key questions posed by multiple forms of domination such as racism, sexism, capitalism, and colonialism that have and continue to influence society (Rabaka, 2006). Rabaka (2002) explains that Africana critical theory is interested in how the thought processes and lived experiences of African people (1) have been affected and influenced, corrupted and conditioned by imperialism and the invasion and interruption of African history, culture and society, politics, economics, language, religion, familial structures, aesthetics, and axiology; and (2) may be used to critique domination and discrimination and provide a basis for theory and praxis in the interest of liberation. Moreover, Africana critical theory is a critical theory, given that its primary purpose is to identify solutions to the most pressing sociopolitical problems faced by African people. Although it is often overlooked, Africana critical theory emphasizes African continental and diasporan contributions to critical theory (Rabaka, 2006). Africana critical theory is a thought tradition that promotes social activism and political practice geared toward advancing society by identifying (1) what needs to be changed, (2) what strategies and tactics might be most useful in transformative efforts, and (3) which agents and agencies could potentially carry out the transformation (Rabaka, 2006).

Africana Womanism

Africana womanism is a theoretical construct designed for the study of Africana women and the liberation of all people of African descent. Hudson-Weems (1994) explains that “Africana” refers to the ethnic identity of the women under consideration, and “Womanism” identifies their unique ← 62 | 63 → sex and humanity. The key priorities of Africana womanism are womanhood, family, and community. The theory is grounded in the prerequisite that any study or attempt to advance Africana women must begin with African cultural assumptions. A study of Africana women must also identify the unique experiences, struggles, needs, and desires of Africana women (Hudson-Weems, 1994). Africana womanism accepts that any approach to the study and liberation of Africana women must be grounded in the unique historical truths and sociopolitical circumstances of Africana women, and must prioritize Black women’s own criteria for assessing their thoughts and actions (Hudson-Weems, 1994). Hudson-Weems (1994) explains that Africana womanism takes an approach to addressing problems related to Africana men within the context of African culture. Africana womanism also distinguishes itself by its assertion that racism is primary and more central to the marginalization that Black women experience than sexism or gender issues. In fact, for African womanists, racism and classism intersect with but transcend sex discrimination in the lives of Africana women. For Africana womanism, confusion on this point can lead to misguided attempts at liberation. Approaches to study using Africana womanism must consider the fact that Africana womanism is less about the ultimate goal of liberating a single gender and more about the liberation of an entire people. Moreover, Africana womanism’s defining characteristics are self-identification, self-definition, family centeredness, collaboration and compatibility with men, flexibility, sisterhood, strength, respect, authenticity, spirituality, respect for elders, adaptability, ambition, mothering, and nurturing.

Africanity Model

The Africanity model is a theoretical approach designed to guide both the study of African American families and research applications and projects for the advancement of Black family life. The Africanity model places the principles that determine the basic nature of African American families at the center of its analysis of Black family life. One of the basic assumptions of the Africanity model is that the Black family cannot be understood unless it is studied in a way that respects the special dignity and value of being Black (Nobles, Goddard, Cavil, & George, 1987). According to Nobles and fellow researchers (1987), the African American family can only be understood if it is “conceptualized, studied and evaluated in terms of its own intrinsic definition” (p. 4). Based on the Africanity model, the African American family ← 63 | 64 → must be understood as a system embedded in a Euro-American cultural context, but which derives its primary identity, characteristics, and definition from its African nature. The African American family is not homogeneous or monolithic. African American families are diverse, but amid that diversity are cultural themes that constitute their identity or what Nobles and colleagues (1987) refer to as their Africanity. According to the Africanity model, the African American family is African in its nature; therefore the model itself is based on the African worldview as manifested in contemporary African American life. Nobles et al. (1987) define the African American family as “a particular set of biological, spiritual, physical and behavioral patterns and/or dynamics as a distinguishable entity, as defined by the traditional and contemporary African worldview” (p. 5). The ultimate function of the Africanity model is that it explains how the African worldview manifests itself in contemporary African American families and how it is affected by contemporary social factors such as racism and economic conditions. The model also explains how such knowledge can be used to make African American families and communities viable institutions for growth and development (Nobles et al., 1987).

African Feminism

African feminism is a manifestation of the need to ensure the survival and resistance to oppression for African people (Steady, 1992). African feminism pays particular attention to the unique experiences of African women shaped by race, class, gender, and their own unique culture(s), as well as other differences and commonalities. Mekgwe (2003) explains that African feminism “Takes care to delineate those concerns that are particular to the African situation. It also questions features of traditional African cultures without denigrating them, understanding that these might be viewed differently by the different classes of women” (p. 7). African feminism takes a Pan-African perspective of Africana women, examining both the linkages and unique expressions and experiences of African/Black women on the African continent and in the African diaspora. African feminism also distinguishes itself by its emphasis on the agency and power of motherhood, the sacred mother-child relationship, and its culturally relative, culturally defined perspectives on non-antagonistic male/female relationships and collective struggle with Black men (Steady, 1992). African feminists both critique dominant narratives that ignore the nuances of African women’s lives and underline the power and agency of Black women’s capacity ← 64 | 65 → to theorize their own lived experiences from their own socially, culturally situated perspectives (Chilisa & Ntseane, 2010; Mekgwe, 2003).


Conceptually, the term Afrolatinidad refers to the unique lived experience of being both Black and Latina/o. Theoretically, Afrolatinidad is based on a set of interrelated presuppositions that seek to explain this lived experience. These basic assumptions are necessary to guide the understanding and explanation of the Afrolatina/o experience. First, Afrolatina/o identity develops as a unique part of the African diaspora in the Latina/o American context (Lao-Montes, 2007). Second, the lived experiences of Afrolatina/os share both commonalities and distinctions from non-Black Latina/os and other African/Black diasporic peoples (Roman & Flores, 2010). Third, to be properly understood, the history, cultures, and experiences of Afrolatina/os must be centered in the intersecting frameworks of the African, Latina/o, and American histories, cultures, and sociopolitical contexts (Lao-Montes, 2007).

Agency Reduction Formation Theory

Agency reduction formation theory is a framework of analysis designed to expose, situate, and explain ideological trends that are intended to compel African Americans to distance themselves from their collective identity. Michael Tillotson (2011) defines an agency reduction formation as “any system of thought that distracts, neutralizes, or reduces the need and desire for assertive collective agency by African Americans” (p. 60). He identifies the struggle against oppression as an organizing principle for African Americans. The threat to this organizing principle is nowhere more clearly found than in a corpus of ideas called the post racial project. According to Tillotson (2011), the uncritical acceptance of ideas such as postmodernism, colorblindness, essentialism, the social construction of race, and assumptions found in victim blaming and race-neutral discourses not only undermines assertive collective struggle but also shapes within African Americans a psychological infrastructure that is resistant to resistance (Tillotson, 2011). Because these ideas are anti-foundational and ignore empirical evidence of the existence of inequality, they must be highlighted, exposed, and translated for what they are so that African Americans can place themselves in a position to advance their collective interests (Tillotson, 2011). ← 65 | 66 →

Anti-Life Forces Model

Akbar (1981) developed the Anti-Life Forces model to classify mental disorders in the African American community. Akbar (1981) conceptualized mental health as being reflected in those behaviors that foster mental growth and awareness. He defined mental health as forces or ideas that threaten awareness and mental growth. There are four classifications of disorders in the model: (1) the alien-self disorder, (2) the anti-self disorder, (3) the self-destructive disorder, and (4) the organic disorder. Alien-self disorders are mental conditions manifested in behaviors that represent a rejection of people’s natural selves and threaten their own well-being. As a consequence of their condition, they have become alien to themselves. Anti-self disorders include the characteristics of alien-self disorders with the addition of overt and covert hostility toward an individual’s group of origin. Self-destructive disorders represent self-defeating attempts to function in a society rife with systemic oppression and inhuman conditions. This condition manifests itself in pimps, drug selling, drug abuse, alcoholism, Black-on-Black homicide, and crime. Organic disorders are manifested as severe mental defectiveness, forms of schizophrenia, and other organic brain disorders. According to Akbar (1981), these disorders are not purely physiological and biochemical, but may also be influenced by social disorder in the form of poverty and other oppressive symptoms.

Black Consciousness Continuum

Milliones (1980) developed a model for explaining the developmental stages of Black consciousness. Milliones’s model was developed based on his review of biographical materials from leaders of the Black consciousness movement during the 1960s and 1970s, including Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, Kwame Ture’, and H. Rap Brown. Milliones’s (1980) model consists of four stages: (1) the preconscious stage, (2) the confrontation stage, (3) the internalization stage, and (4) the integration stage. The preconscious stage is characterized by an acceptance of mainstream ideology, a rejection of Black Nationalism, the internalization of racist stereotypes about African Americans, and a general denigration of Black people. A rejection of mainstream ideology and an acceptance of Black Nationalism and the internalization of a binary associating Black with good and White with evil characterize the confrontation stage. The internalization stage is characterized by comfort and pride in one’s ← 66 | 67 → ethnic identity, deliberate efforts to learn more about one’s culture of origin, and a reduction in anti-White sentiment. Finally, the integration stage is characterized by an openness to working with coalitions of Whites or with philosophically different Blacks around issues of relevance to the Black community. Black consciousness has been found to be related to different aspects of self-concept with therapeutic implications.

Black Existentialism

Black existentialism is a system of thought that deals with problems of existence that emerge from the historical and contemporary lived reality of Black peoples. It includes how Black peoples have dealt with concerns of freedom, anguish, responsibility, embodied agency, sociality, and liberation (Gordon, 2000). For example, Gordon (2005) focuses on Black existentialism that emerges in the Americas. According to Gordon and Gordon (2006), the problems of existence for Blacks in the diaspora stem primarily—but not exclusively—from racialized slavery and anti-Black racism, out of which have emerged a sustained Black concern with liberation, freedom, and the meaning of humanity. Black existentialism is expressed in the Black struggle for freedom but also in Black literature, intellectual thought, and music. Black existentialism is concerned with the diffculties and suffering associated with Black existence and Black peoples’ struggles to overcome those diffculties and assert their humanity. According to Gordon and Gordon (2006), Black existentialism is an important framework in the articulation of the humanity of dominated people, especially in theories of (1) racism and oppression, (2) the power of the life-affrming aspects of Black music, (3) the rigorous and systematic ways of studying Black people, (4) the interdependent relationships between identity and liberation, and (5) the impact of crises of knowledge on the formation of people in each epoch.

Black Feminist Theory

To understand the thought and behavior of Black women, Black feminist theory asserts that one must place the experiences and ideas of Black women at the center of analysis (Collins, 2009). Black feminist theory is a critical social theory meant to be used to theorize about the lived experiences of Black women for their ultimate liberation. Black feminist theory focuses its inquiry on the unique and diverse lived experiences and ideas of Black women for the ← 67 | 68 → purpose of social change. Black women have unique experiences and expressions of womanhood as a consequence of being both Black and women. The intersection or convergence of race, class, gender, and sexuality shape the unique and diverse experiences Black women have with womanhood and patriarchy. Collins (2009) and Gentry, Elifson, and Sterk (2005) identify five key themes that Black feminist theory offers for interpreting the lives of Black women: (1) self-definition and self-validation; (2) the interconnectedness of race, class, gender and sexuality; (3) viewing the experience of Black women as unique—both common and diverse; (4) controlling images constructed for African American women; and (5) structure and agency as a platform for social change.

Black Queer Theory

Black queer theory is an approach to the study of the thought and behavior of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ; also known as LGBTQIA, meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual) Black people and communities. Black queer theory locates the unique racial, historical, cultural backgrounds, and experiences of the Black LGBTQ community at the center of its approach to understanding the thought and behavior of bisexual and same-gender loving people of African descent (Johnson & Henderson, 2005). Black queer theory asserts that these unique racial, historic, and cultural experiences shape how Black people experience and express queerness (Johnson & Henderson, 2005). Black queer theory is based on the assumption that without placing the Black LGBTQ community into its own unique context, intellectual projects will fail to fully understand that community. Moreover, without properly locating Black queer experiences, well-intentioned social movements will be limited. Like other theoretical frameworks in Africana Studies, Black queer theory goes beyond theorizing and is grounded in the idea of producing scholarship to transform systems of privilege, power, and normative status (Cohen, 2005). Black queer theory is grounded in a perspective that privileges the resistance of interlocking and simultaneous oppressions, including but not limited to heteronormativity and heterosexism as they intersect with race, class, and gender (Cohen, 2005). In addition, Black queer theory resists generic homonormative assertions that fail to recognize the unique cultural, historic, and racial specificity of “Black queerness.” Black queer theorists also reject approaches that ignore the multiple and intersecting forms of oppression outside of heterosexism ← 68 | 69 → such as race, class, and gender-based privilege and discrimination within queer communities (Ferguson, 2005). According to Black queer theory, the Black LGBTQ experience cannot be adequately understood or advanced without recognizing how race, class, and gender interact and intersect with sexuality to create unique experiences for Black people and the Black community as a whole.

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory was conceived by a group of legal scholar activists (faculty, students, and activists) (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995). Its purpose is to guide the production of knowledge about race and racism and to guide action geared toward racial equity. There are several basic assumptions of the critical race theory framework: (1) racism is an enduring and integral part of American life; (2) Whites accept and support equality in the form of laws and policies as long they do not diminish the power and privilege to which they are accustomed (this is known as the interest convergence theory); and (3) the historical context of racism influences present social conditions and outcomes. Derrick Bell is considered to be the father of critical race theory, which was inspired by his seminal work Faces at the Bottom of the Well (1992). Critical race theory grows out of the African American intellectual tradition (W. E. B. Du Bois), and the primary unit of analysis of the theory itself has been the African American experience. The theory has since expanded to include the experiences and ideas of other racial/ethnic groups in the form of Latino Critical Race Theory (LatCrit), Asian Critical Race Theory (AsianCrit), and Tribal Critical Race Theory (TribalCrit) (Brayboy, 2006).


Eco-bio-communitarianism is a theoretical framework that examines the relationships among earth, plants, animals, and humans through the lens of an African metaphysical worldview (Tangwa, 2006). Eco-bio-communitarianism is based on the premises that human beings and the natural environment are interdependent, and that human beings and nature are of the same fundamental spirit. Therefore, there is no hard distinction between human beings and the natural environment. According to Godfrey Tangwa (2006), much of the pollution and environmental degradation of the global environment is ← 69 | 70 → a consequence of the misguided use of technology. Tangwa (2006) also argues that African people have contributed to environmental degradation on the African continent and must return to the traditional eco-bio-communitarian approach to the relationships among human society, science, technology, and the environment. He does not romanticize traditional or contemporary Africa, nor does he reject science and technology. Instead, Tangwa (2006) rejects the individualistic, domination-oriented philosophical outlook that drives the use of science and technology. He proposes that traditional Africa’s outlook offers a more cosmically humble, cautious, respectful, and peaceful relationship with nature. Ultimately, Africa’s traditional live and let live eco-spiritual approach to nature offers a more sustainable ethic to guide the use of science and industry for the sake of the African continent and the world (Tangwa, 2006).

Education and Schooling Model

Shujaa (2003) conceptualizes schooling as a means by which society maintains existing power relations and institutional structures. Education, however, is a means for transmitting culture, knowledge, and awareness of the needs and interests of the collective from one generation to the next. The education and schooling model is a theoretical framework for understanding how decision making about education and schooling are influenced by three key factors: a society’s structural conditions, its members’ achievement expectations, and their perceptions about the quality of their lives (Shujaa, 2003). Shujaa (2003) illustrates this process as a series of intersecting circles and bifurcations.

The model consists of four primary bifurcations or key points. Bifurcation one represents any situation in individuals’ lives when they evaluate the quality of their lives as either consistent or inconsistent with their achievement expectations. If individuals’ quality of life—be it prosperous or impoverished—is consistent with their achievement expectations, they are likely to accept the status quo and allow existing power relations to go unchanged. However, individuals’ quality of life or outcomes may also be inconsistent with their achievement expectations. Bifurcation two represents that which individuals attribute their unmet achievement expectations: self or group characteristics or social institutions. Shujaa (2003) explains that maintenance of the existing social order depends upon people attributing their quality of life or life outcomes to their individual characteristics, because it removes stress or culpability from social institutions. However, when life outcomes are attributed to ← 70 | 71 → social conditions, people are more likely to challenge society’s structures and institutions. Bifurcation three represents the idea that “differing interpretations of one’s relationship to the social order are evident in choosing between public school reform and the rejection of public schooling” (Shujaa, 2003, p. 252). The choice of school reform and not fundamental change may involve changes in schooling’s packaging and delivery, but it may reinforce individualistic and materialistic value orientations, which perpetuate existing power relations. In contrast, the rejection of public schooling represents the desire for fundamental change in the schooling process to improve quality of life by home schooling or sending children to independent schools, for example. Finally, bifurcation four represents parents’ decisions to send their children to independent schools for reasons that reinforce the existing social order or for reasons that reflect a desire for fundamental change and the collective advancement of Africana people. According to Shujaa’s (2003) model, some choose to send their children to African-centered independent schools as an alternative means of achieving personal success and individual wealth in spite of social constraints. Others who differentiate between education and schooling send their children to African-centered schools out of a desire to see fundamental change and collective advance for people of African descent. Each component of the model explains factors that influence decisions that people make about schooling and education.

Extended Self Model

Nobles’s (1991) extended self model approaches the African/Black self-concept from the perspective of the African worldview principles of survival of the people and harmony with nature. From this perspective, the African/Black self is an extended self, prioritizing a collective conception of the self instead of an individual conception of the self. This means that individuals can only become conscious of themselves, their responsibility, and identity through others. Using this extended model of self, the individual is perceived as integrally connected to the natural order of the entire universe (interdependence) and tied to the collective well-being of the people (oneness of being). This represents the nature of African people’s self-concept. In addition, deviations from it emerge from living under oppressive conditions. The core components of the extended self model are awareness of self in terms of one’s (1) historical past, (2) historical future (future as reiteration of the past), and (3) individual and group self-concept (Kambon & Bowen-Reid, 2009). ← 71 | 72 →

Holistic/Solutions Framework for Studying African American Families

Hill (1998) presents a theoretical framework for enhancing “knowledge of the status, structure and functioning of African American families” (p. 15). The framework consists of the following dimensions: (1) historical, (2) ecological, (3) cultural, (4) problem identification, and (5) solutions identification. Hill explains that many studies of the Black family are insuffcient as a result of their ahistorical character. A holistic perspective on Black families must look at how their characteristics developed over time. A holistic perspective must also take in an ecological perspective that examines how societal, community, family, and individual-level factors affect the structure and functioning of Black families. Not taking into consideration the impact of multi-level factors leads to a deficit outlook on African American families. According to the framework, it is essential that researchers examine the influences of African-based cultural assets and African American cultural identity on the functioning of African American families. The researcher cannot understand African American family structure and functioning without placing them in cultural context. Culture also provides the researcher with an understanding of the culture-based strengths of African American families. Hill identifies five characteristics that have contributed to the survival, stability, and advancement of Black families: (1) strong achievement orientation, (2) strong work orientation, (3) flexible family roles, (4) strong kinship bonds, and (5) strong religious orientation. Hill (1998) also emphasizes the importance of identifying problems that threaten the advancement of African American family functioning, while identifying multi-level solutions to address those problems that build on and enhance African American cultural strengths.

Invisibility Syndrome

Invisibility syndrome is a conceptual model for understanding the intrapsychic processes, behavioral adaptations, and outcomes of African Americans as they manage experiences of racism (Franklin & Boyd-Franklin, 2000). This model is designed for application to African Americans in general, but to African American males in particular because of the real and perceived relationship between their experiences with racism and the subjective experience of invisibility among them (Franklin & Boyd-Franklin, 2000). Franklin (2004) defines invisibility as “an inner struggle with feelings that one’s talents, ← 72 | 73 → abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism. Conversely, we feel visible when our true talents, abilities, and worth are respected” (p. 4). Franklin (2004) defines invisibility syndrome as a “cluster of debilitating symptoms originating from profound reactions to perceived racial slights that limits the effective utilization of personal resources, the achievement of individual goals, the establishment of positive relationships, the satisfaction of family interactions, and the potential for life satisfaction” (p. 11). According to invisibility theory, the ongoing experience of micro-aggressions (or subtle acts and attitudes that fit a historical pattern of racial disregard) and efforts to manage them have an additive effect that can have harmful psychological and behavioral consequences. The symptoms that may occur as a consequence of invisibility syndrome are (1) frustration; (2) chronic indignation; pervasive discontent and disgruntlement; (4) anger, immobilization, or increasing inability to get things done; (5) questioning one’s worth; (6) disillusionment and confusion; (7) feeling trapped; (8) conflicted racial identity; (9) internalized rage; (10) depression; (11) substance abuse; and (12) loss of hope. According to Franklin (2004), the keys to surviving invisibility and nurturing a sense of personal power are (1) recognition—the power of feeling you are being acknowledged by others; (2) satisfaction—the satisfaction of feeling rewarded for what you do; (3) legitimacy—the feeling that you belong; (4) validation—the power of feeling that others share your views and values; (5) respect—the power of feeling that you are being treated as a person of value and worth; (6) dignity—the power of feeling that you are a person of value and worth; and (7) identity—the power of feeling comfortable with the way you are and with who you are.

Laissez-Faire Model of Racism

Laissez-faire racism is a theory that explains the evolution of racial attitudes toward African Americans and the persistence of racial inequality. In the post-Civil War period, Jim Crow racism was at its height. African Americans lived mostly in rural Southern areas doing agricultural work. During this period, racial discrimination was formally accepted. Most White Americans were comfortable with the notion of Black inferiority, and scientific explanations of Black people’s inherent biogenetic inferiority were common. However, in the post-World War II era, because of political agency and changes in the position and power of Black people, Jim Crow social structures diminished. The Black population became more socioeconomically heterogeneous and ← 73 | 74 → urbanized. Moreover, overt racism became more socially unacceptable and the country adopted more offcially race neutral policies. Bobo (1999) asserts that this change did not result in an anti-racist society that embraces a popular ideology of egalitarianism and equal worth and treatment of Black people. Instead, racial inequality is now popularly accepted under the ideology of laissez-faire racism, which is based on the following assumptions: (1) the persistent negative stereotyping of African Americans, (2) the tendency to blame African American people for their position in the current condition of socioeconomic racial inequality, and (3) resistance to meaningful policy efforts aimed at ameliorating racist social conditions because such efforts pose a threat to collective White privilege. According to Bobo, laissez-faire racism has emerged as the popular racial belief system during a time when cultural trends reject notions of biological racism and state policy is formally race neutral and committed to anti-discrimination. In spite of this ideology, race-based inequity persists and has worsened in some respects (Bobo, 1999). As the sociocultural climate has changed, and overt Jim Crow racism is no longer essential to maintaining White privilege, laissez-faire racism defends racial inequality in a socially acceptable manner, thus protecting White privilege.

Lens Theory

The Lens model is an African-centered conceptual framework for analyzing Black male-female relationships (Aldridge, 2007). The Lens model offers a holistic approach to studying Black male-female relationships by looking at the effects of the interplay between institutional values and interpersonal factors on the nature and substance of gender relations between Black women and men (Aldridge, 2007). The institutional values component of the model consists of a four-pronged set of dominant American value systems that have a counterproductive effect on Black male-female relationships. The four dominant value systems Aldridge (2007) identifies are capitalism, racism, sexism, and the Judeo-Christian ethic. According to the model, capitalism, with its emphasis on private ownership and pursuit of profit, tends to promote human relationships that are based on ownership and objectification. Racism, too, enforces feelings of superiority and inferiority that influence the intra-personal system and the world system of human organization. Sexism in and of itself implies and imposes unequal and exploitative gender relationships. According to Aldridge (2007), the Judeo-Christian ethic is rooted in a tradition that encourages identification with White male dominance and socioeconomic ← 74 | 75 → realities. The Lens model is composed of four basic factors that influence interpersonal interactions between Black males and females: the scarcity of Black men, differential socialization of Black males and females, sexism and women’s liberation, and modes of interacting. Black male-female relationships are strained by the shortage of Black males as a consequence of many factors, including but not limited to: shorter life expectancy, rates of homicide, drug addiction, and incarceration rates, as well as factors such as low levels of education and income. Aldridge (2007) also points out that Black males are often groomed to assume socially defined male roles that make it diffcult to achieve insight into and empathize with Black females. Sexism and the advent of the women’s liberation movement have had the effect of promoting changes in sex-role socialization and political and economic relationships. Finally, according to Aldridge (2007), healthy Black male-female relationships must grow out of a conscious struggle to change values and larger society.

Location Theory

How does one critique scholarly discourse of African American and non-African American writers and critics from an Afrocentric perspective? For this very purpose Asante (1992b) developed location theory. According to Asante (1992), through the expression of their writing, authors leave their insignia on their written products. Through the signposts and signals writers leave in their work, researchers are able to locate a text. Asante (1992) identifies several elements involved in locating a text: language, attitude and direction. He uses the concept of place to identify the cultural centrality or marginality of the author. Texts produced by authors who have been removed or have removed themselves from cultural Blackness or Africanity are considered either decapitated texts or lynched texts. Decapitated texts refer to texts written by authors who write with no discernible Black/African cultural presence in an attempt to distance themselves from their Black/African cultural identity (1992). The authors of decapitated texts commit to a style of writing that places them outside of their own historical experience. The authors of lynched texts are skilled in literary technique but lack Black/African historical and cultural knowledge. As a result, such authors’ writings have a tendency to reflect Eurocentric perspectives. The author of a lynched text might write a line such as “the warlike natives.” In using such language, it is likely that these authors may be rewarded by Eurocentric institutions when they lack cultural centeredness. A text can be located by the language the author ← 75 | 76 → uses, specifically the words and nuances that serve as signposts in their writing. For example, an author may use words to describe African people such as “macaca,” “Hottentots,” “bushmen,” “Pigmies,” or Native Americans as “wild Indians,” or east Asians as “Orientals,” and so on. Such language and signposts identify an author who lacks cultural consciousness. Attitude, or the author’s predisposition toward a matter, can also be informative in locating a text. One can read a text and get an impression of the writer’s motivational attitudes. Direction can also help in the effort to locate a text. Asante (1992) refers to direction as “the line along which the author’s sentiments, themes and interests lie with reference to the point at which they are aimed” (p. 240). Direction refers to the authors’ ultimate objective or purpose for their writing as indicated through the insignia of their discourse. These concepts help the researcher critique the relationship between the author of literature, the literary work, and people of African descent.

The Multisystems Model

The multisystems model is a theoretical framework designed to guide effective therapy for African American families. However, it is important to recognize that the model has broad-based applicability to all ethnic groups. Boyd-Franklin and Bry (2000) define the multisystems model as “a problem solving approach that helps families with multiple problems to focus and prioritize their issues and that allows clinicians to maximize the effectiveness of their interventions” (p. 226). Based on the assumption that for African Americans to be treated effectively in therapy the clinician must be capable of intervening at multiple levels in multiple systems, the model consists of three main aspects: (1) the treatment process, (2) the multisystem levels; and (3) home-based therapy. The treatment process consists of joining, engaging, assessing, problem solving, and deploying interventions aimed at restructuring and changing family systems (Boyd-Franklin, 2003). The multisystem levels aspect involves the individual, family subsystems, the family household, the extended family, non-blood kin, friends, church and community resources, social service agencies, and other outside systems. Therapist are not required to intervene at each of these levels; however, the model provides them with a framework that would help them to provide treatment successfully at whichever level or levels are relevant to the situation at hand. Finally, home-based therapy is important because offce-based treatment often takes place with the least powerful members in African American families (e.g., young mothers ← 76 | 77 → and children), while powerful family and extended family members who will not come to the offce remain at home. Engaging these family members may have a positive impact on treatment outcomes, while ignoring them might disrupt and weaken the treatment process (Boyd-Franklin, 2003).

Nigrescence Theory

The Cross model of nigrescence (Cross, 1971, 1978) is a theoretical framework for understanding the development and transformation of Black racial identity. The nigrescence model is necessary because racial identity affects the social-psychological well-being of African Americans. Consequently, theories of racial identity are imperative. The word nigrescence itself is a French term that means “to become Black.” The nigrescence theory charts the stages that one experiences in the process of becoming racially conscious or aware. These stages have been measured empirically by instruments such as the self-report Racial Identity Attitude Scale (RIAS). The five stages of the nigrescence model are the pre-encounter stage, the encounter stage, the immersion/emersion stage, the internalization stage, and the internalization/commitment stage. The pre-encounter stage is characterized by an affnity toward Whiteness and shame of Blackness, acceptance of Eurocentric views, anxiety, defensiveness, poor self-esteem, and feelings of inferiority. The encounter stage is characterized by the experience of a racist incident that causes a person to question his or her preconceptions, become conscious of the consequences of Blackness in a racist society, and seek out Black culture. The immersion/emersion stage is characterized by the tendency to glorify Blackness and associate Black with good, while denigrating Whiteness and associating White with bad. This euphoria dies down at the latter end of this stage, which is called emersion. The internalization stage is characterized by the person settling into a new identity without anxiety, defensiveness, and poor self-esteem. At this stage, the individual has a positive sense of Blackness without denigrating Whiteness. In the internalization/commitment stage, the person possesses the same characteristics of the internalization stage with the addition of engaging in social-political advocacy and a commitment to the liberation of Black and other oppressed people.

Nosology of African/Black Personality Disorder

Azibo (1989) developed the nosology of African/Black personality disorder as a diagnostic system for classifying ordered and disordered African/Black ← 77 | 78 → personality functioning. Azibo (1989) defines mental health as manifested by behavior that is aligned with the natural order or the African worldview. Based on the model, people of African descent have mental health when they possess African self-consciousness, meaning they (1) recognize themselves as persons of African descent; (2) prioritizes the needs, interests, and developmental goals of people of African descent; (3) respect and perpetuate all things African; and (4) support standards of conduct that neutralize anti-African forces. When a person is in accord with the African worldview and possesses African self-consciousness, he or she is said to have correct orientation or genetic Blackness plus psychological Blackness. The Azibo (1989) model consists of four categories of disorder: peripheral personality disorder, psychological misorientation, mentacide, and other Black personality disorders. The first category, peripheral personality disorder, represents DSM-type disorders such as neurosis that might affect people of African descent. According to the model, such diagnoses are valid to the extent that they do not contradict the basic assumptions of the African-centered perspective. The second category is the most fundamental psychological disorder for people of African descent according to the nosology: psychological misorientation, or genetic Blackness minus psychological Blackness. Psychological misorientation is a condition in which a person of African descent operates without an Africa-centered belief system. This disorder predisposes people of African descent to other disorders. The third category of the model represents individuals who are suffering from mentacide, which is the deliberate and systematic destruction of an individual or group’s mind. People suffering from mentacide have been stripped of any pro-Black or African orientation. They are often positive about the dominant group and attempt to distance themselves from all things African. The experience of mentacide may also engender peripheral personality disorders. The fourth and last category is other Black personality disorders, which consist of a host of personality dysfunctions that emerge from psychological misorientation and mentacide. Some of these are materialistic depression, personal identity conflict (individualism, WEUSI anxiety), reactionary disorders (psychological burnout, oppression-violence reaction), self-destructive disorders, organic disorders, and theological misorientation.

Nzuri Theory

Nzuri is an Afrocentric theoretical framework that is Pan-African in scope, and its purpose is contextualizing and guiding the understanding of Africana ← 78 | 79 → aesthetic traditions in literary, philosophical, or artistic criticism (Welsh-Asante, 2003). Nzuri theory accepts that beauty and good are synonymous. The theory also perceives the opposite of beauty as ugly, but ugly is not synonymous with bad. Nzuri also builds on the assumption that perceptions and values are complementary entities reflective of culture (Welsh-Asante, 2003). The theory itself consists of seven aspects (method, form, meaning, ethos, function, mode, and motif) that draw upon three ontologically ordered sources. The aspects are the entities that are used in the production of artistic manifestations or projects. Welsh-Asante defines the aspects as follows:

The sources represent the inner core of the nzuri model based on the premise that everything in the universe is imbued with animating energy (ntu, or vital force). Spirit is the invisible metaphysical aspect of the human experience that connects people to divine creativity, ideas, thoughts, and emotions (Welsh-Asante, 2003). Rhythm is essential and speaks to the relationship between elements of the universe as well as human reality. Nzuri theory focuses on how well artists negotiate the rhythm of life in artistic expressions. In its analysis, nzuri theory focuses not just on the process of creating. Creativity is placed in a larger context by examining not simply what has been created, but who evaluates the creation, who does the creating, and in what context it is created. The aspects of the nzuri model are supported by three principles: the oral principle, the ashe principle, and the ehe principle. The oral principle refers to the transmission of art forms through media such as storytelling, song, dance, and literature. The ashe principle refers to the use of the artistic product to affrm one’s culture through reinforcement, enhancement, and retrieval through creative production. The ehe principle ← 79 | 80 → recognizes the role of discovery and renewal in the process of artistic production (by individuals who are new and creative participants). Ultimately, nzuri is a framework that can be used to understand and evaluate African aesthetics.

Phenomenological Variant of the Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST)

PVEST is a conceptual framework for examining the process of normative youth development through the interaction of identity and environmental context (Spencer, 1995). Adding to the ecological perspective, Spencer (1995) emphasizes the self-appraisal and meaning-making processes that youth engage in the context of race, class, and gender-laden environmental contexts or developmental spaces. PVEST consists of five interrelated components that describe the identity development process. The first component is the net vulnerability level, which consists of the balance between risk-contributing factors and risk-protective factors. Risk protective factors consist of characteristics and contexts that serve as supports that positively affect an individual’s development. Risk contributing factors consist of characteristics and contexts that serve as liabilities and could adversely affect an individual’s development. Risk-contributing factors consist of phenomena such as poverty, racial discrimination, or gender discrimination. Such risk-contributing factors could be offset or counterbalanced by risk-protective factors or resources such as cultural capital (Swanson, Spencer, Dell’Angelo, Harpalani, & Spencer, 2002). Situations in which risk-contributing factors outweigh risk-protective factors contribute to an individual’s net vulnerability. The second component is net stress engagement level, which consists of the experiences that challenge or support individuals as they engage risks that threaten their well-being. Youth likely to experience stress in the form of racism, sexism, weight discrimination, class discrimination, puberty, and peer relationships experience care in the form of social supports, racial socialization, and cultural enrichment. An absence or limited amount of such supportive experiences can be dangerous. The third component is the reactive coping methods, which are adaptive or maladaptive coping responses to stress. Harmful reactive coping methods are destructive (changing physical features in response to racism, acting out in school), while adaptive coping (resilience, successful problem-solving skills, self-control) are positive and beneficial. Too much challenge and not enough support at an earlier stage can lead to maladaptive coping. The fourth ← 80 | 81 → component is emergent identities, which refers to “how individuals view themselves within and between their various contexts of development (family, school, and neighborhood)” (Swanson et al., 2002, p. 78). Culture and racial identity, gender identity, individual and peer relationships, and all prior stages shape the identity development of youth. The fifth component, life-stage, specific coping outcomes, refers to the adverse or productive behavioral and attitudinal outcomes as a consequence of stresses, vulnerabilities, supports, and identities. Productive outcomes may be good health, positive racial identity, high self-esteem, and positive relationships. Conversely, adverse outcomes may be drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and poor relationships. According to PVEST, these stages help contextualize and explain youth identity development in a holistic way.

Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome

Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) is a theoretical framework designed to explain the pattern of psychological and behavioral adaptations to the legacy of oppression among African Americans. Leary (2005) defines PTSS as “a condition that exists when a population has experienced multigenerational trauma resulting from centuries of slavery and continues to experience oppression and institutionalized racism today. Added to this condition is a belief (real or imagined) that the benefits of the society in which they live are not accessible to them” (Leary, 2005, p. 121). Leary (2005) places the resulting patterns of behavior into three categories: vacant esteem, ever-present anger, and racist socialization. Vacant esteem is the belief that one’s self has little or no worth as a consequence of the pronouncements of one’s inferiority from three key spheres of influence: society, community, and family. Ever-present anger is the emotional response to a persistent legacy of blocked and frustrated access to goals—in addition to violence, degradation, misrepresentation, societal marginalization, and lack of equal opportunity. Racist socialization is the adoption of racist standards and the slave master’s value system, which holds that all things associated with Whiteness are superior and all things associated with Blackness are inferior. Leary (2005) suggests that PTSS is remediated when Black people know themselves or restore their historical memory, identifying and building on their strengths. Leary (2005) argues that Black people must heal from PTSS by building self-esteem, identifying effective means of redressing mistreatment, and engaging in effective racial socialization. ← 81 | 82 →

Sudarkasa’s Seven R’s Model: Seven Cardinal Values of African Family Life

Sudarkasa’s (1996) use of historiographic analysis resulted in the identification of the basic values and precepts that have maintained self-help and cooperation among West African and African American extended families. Sudarkasa found that key values promoted among African American families were very similar to those that were promoted among West African societies. According to Sudarkasa’s (1996) analysis, these basic African family precepts had been culturally maintained among people of African descent in the American context. The seven values Sudarkasa (1996) identifies are respect, responsibility, restraint, reciprocity, reverence, reason, and reconciliation. According to Sudarkasa (1996), the first two have clearly remained a key feature of African American family values, while the last two (reason and reconciliation) have diminished in importance due to the influence of the U.S. legal system, in many cases replacing traditional African methods of settling disputes among family. The purpose of understanding the seven cardinal values of African family life is twofold: explanation/description and prescription. First, they are essential to explaining how and why African forms of family organization were maintained and exemplified among Africans in the diaspora. Second, they are prescriptive, meaning they can be helpful for African families facing contemporary threats to family structures and communities.

Along with politics, economics, and other social forces, the cardinal values are a force for social change that can guide African peoples’ behavior by returning to traditional African family values. The first value is respect, which African and African American families commanded as a code of conduct that demanded showing deference and honor to all elder persons or persons senior to oneself. Reemphasizing this core precept would help the families of African-descended peoples today. The second value is responsibility. African and African American families traditionally instilled in youth a sense of obligation for supporting one’s kinship network. The third value is reciprocity, or the belief that people’s own well-being is closely related to their giving back to their family and community. The fourth value is restraint, or the understanding that a person must always consider how the decisions he or she makes will impact the well-being of the collective (immediate and extended) family. The fifth value is African people’s characteristic tendency to be spiritual and to honor and find collective empowerment from a higher spiritual power in the universe. The sixth value is reason, or the practice of using rationality, ← 82 | 83 → traditional knowledge, and wisdom to settle disputes. The seventh value is reconciliation, or the importance of forgiveness and compassion in defusing hostility. According to Sudarkasa (1996), these values not only represent the principles that have supported African kinship structures for thousands of years. Their revival is also essential to strengthening African American kinship structures in the present.

Social Systems Approach to the Study of Black Family Life (SSASBFL)


XX, 408
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2017 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XX, 408 pp.

Biographical notes

Serie McDougal III (Author)

Serie McDougal III is Associate Professor in the Department of Africana Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies and Director of the Black Unity Center at San Francisco State University. He is a former chair of the Department of Africana Studies. He received his B.S. in sociology from Loras College, his M.A. in Africana studies from the State University of New York at Albany, and his Ph.D. in African American studies from Temple University. Dr. McDougal is also Co-director of the Afrometrics Research Institute.


Title: Research Methods in Africana Studies | Revised Edition