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Adolescents' Perceptions of Opportunities in the U.S. South: Postracial Mirage or Reality in the New Black Mecca?

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3

Jerome E. Morris, University of Georgia & Urban Education at University of Missouri – St. Louis
Sara E. Woodruff, Mathematica Policy Research


The scholarly community has eagerly assessed adults' perspectives on race and opportunity in the “postracial” era. Noticeably absent are studies that probe youths' perceptions of social and educational opportunity within this era, given the relationship between education and upward mobility, and the symbolism embodied in Obama's 2008 election as the first African-American president of the United States. This paper uses data drawn from a four-year longitudinal study that examined the educational experiences of Black adolescents in Metro Atlanta, Georgia—referred to as the “New Black Mecca.” Interview data from a subset of 75 Black adolescents participating in an ethnographic study, and 1,329 surveys from a racially diverse group of adolescents across three different high schools, capture: (a) how Black adolescents embraced meritocratic notions of opportunity—while inheriting a social awareness of race-based opportunities, (b) Black adolescents' use of destigmatization strategies to thwart prejudice, and (c) the protective role a predominantly Black suburban context plays in mitigating the effects of day-to-day encounters with racial discrimination.