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Feeling Powerless Linked to Violence Among Young Black Men

Feeling Powerless Linked to Violence Among Young Black Men

A new study identifies a critical factor that appears to influence young black men and teens who are most likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence.

Investigators from North Carolina State University and Palo Alto University discovered the young men at risk are often those who feel that they have the least power to effect social change. The passive perception of social rank highlights the importance of ensuring that young black men do not feel alienated by society and social programs.

“We wanted to address stereotypes associating young black men with violence,” said Dr.¬†Elan Hope, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State and co-author of a paper on the work.

“We wanted to explore both the extent to which black men are victims or perpetrators of violence and which factors are related to this behavior. For example, do patterns of exposure to violence exist for different groups of young black men?

“Ultimately, we want to identify points of intervention where we can make a positive difference in the lives of these young men,” Hope said.

“That has ramifications for both policy development and clinical treatment. How can we address the institutional biases that these young men are so keenly aware of? How can counselors or social workers intervene effectively?”

The paper is published online in the Journal of Black Psychology.

For the study, researchers looked at nationally representative survey data on 287 black male adolescents and young men between the ages of 15 and 25. The data was collected as part of the Black Youth Project’s 2005 Youth Culture Survey.

Upon data analysis, the researchers found that survey participants tended to fall into one of four groups.

The largest group, including 54.7 percent of participants, consisted of “low victim-perpetrators.” Young men in this group were exposed to very little violence either as victims or perpetrators. “On average, this group consisted of people who may have seen or been in a fight once in the past year,” Hope said.

The second largest group, at 25.4 percent, was labeled “precautionary victim-perpetrators.” They were more likely than most survey participants to carry a weapon at least once a week or know someone who did, but were not more likely to get into fights.

Third, at 12.9 percent, were “high victim-perpetrators,” who reported carrying weapons and threatening people with weapons weekly, fighting almost weekly, and being injured several times in the last year.

The last group, “injurious victim-perpetrators,” made up only seven percent of survey respondents and were distinguished as being injured almost monthly, but were no more likely to carry or threaten people with weapons than other participants.

Investigators found that young men who fell into the “high victim-perpetrator” group were also the young men who felt the most disenfranchised — they had experienced the most racial discrimination, were most aware of institutional discrimination, had the most experiences with the criminal justice system as both victims and suspects, and were the most cynical about politics.

The “precautionary victim-perpetrator” group was also very aware of institutional discrimination and was very politically cynical.

“In short, these are people who feel they do not have an equal opportunity in everything from education to the justice system, and they don’t feel they have any power to change the status quo,” Hope said.¬†“These are clearly issues that are strongly associated with high-risk behavior.

“This highlights the need to include young black men in policy development in a very real way,” he said. “We need to find ways to bring these people into the process of governance, and give them meaningful opportunities to be heard and to make a difference.

“We’d like to get an opportunity to explore the effectiveness of programs that work with young black men to help them navigate issues related to institutional discrimination and give them the tools they need to feel empowered to effect change.”

Source: North Carolina State University/EurekAlert

Feeling Powerless Linked to Violence Among Young Black Men

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Feeling Powerless Linked to Violence Among Young Black Men. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 22 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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