COLUMBUS, Ohio — Walking through a predominantly white neighborhood can be a harrowing experience for a young black male, leaving them feeling less safe than they would in a more diverse or predominantly black setting, a study by researchers at The Ohio State University suggests.
The research confirmed the hypothesis that young black males expect more scrutiny, surveillance, and direct targeting when entering whiter neighborhoods.
“Part of the experience for black kids is having to leave their home neighborhoods to go to places that might not be as welcoming,” says Christopher Browning, lead author of the study and professor of sociology at the university, in a release. “They are typically going to places with amenities like restaurants and movie theaters that may not be available in their neighborhoods. And these places are probably going to be whiter than the places they live.”
In all, 506 black youths in Franklin County, Ohio ages 11 to 17 participated in the survey. They were each given a GPS tracking app that monitored the various locations they visited. Participants were also sent a survey five times each day for a week and asked to rate how safe they felt wherever they were in that moment.
The results revealed that the neighborhoods visited by the youths were, on average, 13% more white than their home neighborhoods. The authors also found that African-American boys felt less safe in areas that were only modestly more white than the places where they spent most of their time.
“It doesn’t have to be a majority white neighborhood for African American boys to feel more threatened,” says Browning. “It just has to be more white than what they typically encounter.”
Boys also felt less safe in areas that were notably poorer than places they typically visited.
The researchers studied black female youths as well, and found that girls didn’t feel significantly less safe in whiter neighborhoods.
“We’ve seen a lot of stories in the media lately about the police being called on black people going about their business in white areas,” says Browning. “This may help explain why black youth felt more threatened in parts of town where they were exposed to more white people.”
The findings were the same for the boys who took part in the study regardless of the neighborhood where they lived.
“Even black boys who were regularly exposed to integrated neighborhoods felt less safe when they went to white-dominated areas,” adds Browning.
The study was presented at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.