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  • Writer's pictureRyon McDermott

New Research Summary: How do stereotypes influence Black fathers?

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

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We sat down with Dr. Shauna Cooper (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill) to talk about her new study published in our flagship journal, The Psychology of Men and Masculinities. Dr. Cooper and her coauthors examined the relationships between awareness of racial stereotypes and Black fathers' engagement and identity. This important work addresses critical gaps in the fatherhood literature, and we encourage you all to check it out.

Cooper, S. M., Smith, N. A., Burnett, M., McBride, M., & Supple, A. (2021). Stereotype awareness and Black fathers’ paternal engagement: At the nexus of racial and fathering identities. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 22(3), 443–454.

What were the research questions you were answering with this study?

Studies have shown that there is a ‘public lens’ of Black fatherhood. Societal images and representations of Black fathers have been overwhelmingly negative, despite empirical data indicating their involvement, presence, and contribution in the lives of their children. Research has also indicated that these stereotypes are salient for Black fathers as they transition into and navigate fatherhood.

For this study, we wanted to better understand how awareness of stereotypes, specific to Black fathering (vs. being a Black man, more generally) shape identity and parenting. So, this investigation had 2 primary goals. First, we wanted to examine how Black fathers’ awareness of stereotypes about Black fathers might be related to their parenting behaviors.

The impetus for the second goal was the need to understand how fathers view themselves at the nexus of their general fathering identity and their identity as a Black father. Previous studies have often looked at these separately. But, our investigation examined how awareness of stereotypes about Black fathers were related to their ‘Black fathering’ identities as well as how these ‘Black fathering’ identities were associated with parenting behaviors--communicative support, home and school involvement.

What are some of the key findings of this study?

One key finding of this study is that, while awareness of stereotypes about Black fathers were not directly related to paternal engagement, we found that this stereotype awareness was associated with ‘Black fathering identity’—that is their personally held beliefs about Black fathers and their perceptions of others’ views about Black fathers. In turn, these beliefs were related to parental engagement.

Looking at specific pathways, fathers who reported greater awareness of these racialized stereotype about Black fathers had more positive personal beliefs about Black fathers. This was a somewhat surprising finding, and clearly more work is needed in this area. However, this does potentially suggest that fathers may be resisting against these negative stereotypes by cultivating and supporting their own positive identities

Additionally, we found some evidence that fathers’ residential context may influence the strength of these relationships. For instance, in comparison to residential fathers, the relationship between fathers’ personal beliefs about Black fathers and engagement was stronger for non-residential fathers.

What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?

Our study situates Black fathers’ parenting within their racialized contexts. It is unfortunate that these stereotypes about Black fathers remain quite salient, particularly for non-residential fathers. This investigation highlights the processes through which Black fathers’ awareness of stereotypes about Black fathers, more generally, can shape their own identity as Black fathers. Further, we saw important linkages to paternal engagement.

We have seen some of these processes play out in our day-to-day lives, particularly on social media. Our investigation is one of the first to examine among a diverse sample of Black fathers.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

I see this work as part of a continued process to understand how racialized experiences and contexts shape the parenting context for Black men, including their own fathering-specific identities. One important area is refinement of existing measurement that reflects the lived experiences of Black fathers. Also, we know that there is a ‘public lens’ of Black fatherhood. These broader social perceptions and messaging have implications for identity and parenting. We have begun to expand this work to examine how social media may be a stressor or coping tool for Black fathers.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

Much of my work has examined, not just parenting impacts children’s development; but, how parents’ own lived experiences, stories, and contexts shape their own well-being and parenting strategies. For Black parents, we know that their racialized contexts have implications for their own mental health AND family processes.

For Black fathers, that hasn’t always been shown from a strengths-based perspective. My goals have always been to reflect these experiences as they unfold for Black fathers and be attentive to the diversity of their experiences.

Shauna M. Cooper, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience

Equity Fellow, Urban Institute, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, Office of Race Equity Research Associate Editor, Child Development Director, Strengths, Assets, & Resilience (StAR) Lab University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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