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Racial Discrimination and Delinquent Behavior among Black American Youth: A Dynamic, Within-person Approach

Understanding how the various manifestations of racism in contemporary U.S. society impact developmental outcomes for Black youth remains an important research endeavor. A growing body of research indicates that interpersonal racial discrimination is a risk factor for ...

Published onDec 05, 2023
Racial Discrimination and Delinquent Behavior among Black American Youth: A Dynamic, Within-person Approach
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Abstract

Understanding how the various manifestations of racism in contemporary U.S. society impact developmental outcomes for Black youth remains an important research endeavor. A growing body of research indicates that interpersonal racial discrimination is a risk factor for delinquent behavior among Black youth. However, most studies that have explored the relationship between discrimination and delinquency have focused on between-person differences (e.g., youth who experience more discrimination engage in more delinquent behavior compared to youth who experience less discrimination). There is a lack of research examining whether experiencing a change in exposure to racial discrimination predicts change in youth’s own delinquency over time (within-person effects). Moreover, few studies have investigated whether youth’s vulnerability to the criminogenic effects of racial discrimination vary over time. Applying insights from the life course perspective, the current study addressed these gaps by analyzing whether individual changes in racial discrimination predict subsequent changes in delinquency and the extent to which these relations vary in magnitude from late childhood to middle adolescence. I utilized three waves of data from a community sample of 889 Black youth and employed a random intercept cross-lagged panel model (RI-CLPM), a novel statistical model that partials out stable between-person differences and permits a test of directional associations between variables as they unfold within individuals over time. Findings revealed that within-person increases in racial discrimination predicted subsequent within-person increases in delinquency, controlling for stable between-person differences and prior within-person increases in delinquency. There was no evidence that changes in delinquent behavior predicted individual change in reports of racial discrimination, ruling out the alternative explanation that youth’s problem behaviors precede or prompt racial discrimination. The results also indicated that there were no significant differences in the magnitude of the lagged relations between discrimination and delinquency over the course of the study period, which suggests that youth are similarly vulnerable to the criminogenic effects of discrimination in late childhood and early adolescence. Overall, this study offers rigorous evidence of the criminogenic effects of anti-Black discrimination for Black youth and highlights the need for large-scale and comprehensive efforts to reduce racial discrimination in society.

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