The Urban Review

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 513–540 | Cite as

Understanding Black Male Mathematics High Achievers from the Inside Out: Internal Risk and Protective Factors in High School

  • Ebony O. McGeeEmail author
  • F. Alvin PearmanII


The gendered and racialized narrative of Black male adolescents in urban spaces is one often fraught with deficit-based assumptions and presuppositions about their abilities, competencies, and proclivities with regard to schooling in general and mathematics in particular. Yet despite these conventional beliefs, compounded by the dearth of Black male representation in many STEM-related careers, there remain Black male adolescents who, during their high school years, nevertheless achieve a high degree of mathematical success. This study endeavors to unpack the internal, interrelated processes and strategies through which a cohort of 13 high-achieving, Black male high school students develop positive mathematical, social, racial, and gendered identities. Drawing on narrative analysis, we utilized semi-structured interviews to identify and explore how internal protective and risk factors operated in their lives. Results identify not only several coping strategies, beliefs, practices, and habits that foster positive mathematical identity trajectories for our respondents, but also several internal challenges that Black male adolescents must successfully negotiate both in- and out-of-school throughout the attainment process. We also discuss how these findings relate to in-school practices that might promote and sustain Black male achievement in high school mathematics.


Resilience Black males High school Internal factors Mathematics Agency 


  1. Berry, R. Q. (2008). Access to upper-level mathematics: The stories of successful African American middle school boys. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 39, 464–488.Google Scholar
  2. Brandenburger, A., & Nalebuff, B. (2011). Co-opetition: A revolutionary mindset that combines competition and cooperation. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, A. L. (2011). Same old stories: The black male in social science and educational literature, 1930s to the present. Teachers College Record, 113(9), 2047–2079.Google Scholar
  4. Cortazzi, M. (1993). Narrative analysis. London: Routledge Falmer.Google Scholar
  5. Cross, W. E., & Vandiver, B. J. (2001). Nigrescence theory and measurement: Introducing the cross racial identity scale (CRIS). In J. G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. A. Suzuki, & C. M. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Delpit, L. (2012). Multiplication is for white people: Raising expectations for other people’s children. New York, NY: The New Press.Google Scholar
  7. Ferguson, A. (2001). Bad boys: Public schools in the making of Black masculinity. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  8. Fries-Britt, S., & Griffin, K. (2007). The black box: How high achieving blacks resist stereotypes about black American. Journal of College Student Development, 48(5), 509–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Harris, F., Palmer, R. T., & Struve, L. E. (2011). “Cool posing” on campus: A qualitative study of masculinities and gender expression among Black men at private research institution. Journal of Negro Education, 80(1), 47–62.Google Scholar
  10. Howard, L. C. (2012). Performing masculinity: Adolescent African American boys’ response to gender scripting. Men’s Studies Press, 6(1), 97–115.Google Scholar
  11. Hunter, S. (2010). What a white shame: Race, gender, and white shame in the relational economy of primary health care organizations in England. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 17(4), 450–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hunter, A. G., & Davis, J. E. (1994). Hidden voices of Black men: The meaning, structure, and complexity of manhood. Journal of Black Studies, 25(1), 20–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ladson-Billings, G. (1998). Just what is critical race theory doing in a nice field like education? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11, 7–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Majors, R., & Billson, J. M. (1993). Cool pose: The dilemmas of Black manhood in America. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  15. Malone, K. R., & Barabino, G. (2009). Narrations of race in STEM research settings: Identity formation and its discontents. Science Education, 93(3), 485–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Marsh, K., Chaney, C., & Jones, D. (2012). The strengths of high-achieving Black high school students in a racially diverse setting. The Journal of Negro Education, 81(1), 39–51.Google Scholar
  17. Martin, D. B. (2006). Mathematics learning and participation as racialized forms of experience: African American parents speak on the struggle for mathematics literacy. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 8(3), 197–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Martin, D. (2009). Researching race in mathematics education. Teachers College Record, 111(2), 295–338.Google Scholar
  19. Martin, D., Gholson, M., & Leonard, J. (2011). Mathematics as gatekeeper: Power and privilege in the production of knowledge. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 3(2), 12–24.Google Scholar
  20. Maton, K. I., Hrabowski, F. A., I. I. I., & Greif, G. L. (1998). Preparing the way: A qualitative study of high-achieving African American males and the role of the family. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(4), 639–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McGee, E. O. (2013). Threatened and placed at risk: High achieving African American Males in urban high schools. Urban Review, 45(4), 448–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McGee, E. O., & Pearman, L. A. (2014). Risk and projective factors in mathematically talented Black male students: Snapshots from K through eighth grade. Urban Education., 49(4), 363–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McGee, E. O., & Pearman, F. A. (in preparation). Contextual resilience and the ecology of black male mathematics achievement.Google Scholar
  24. McGlamery, S., & Mitchell, C. T. (2000). Recruitment and retention of African American males in high school mathematics. Journal of African American Men, 4(4), 73–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Milner, H. R. (2010). Start where you are, but don’t stay there. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Neal, M. A. (2002). Soul babies: Black popular culture and the post-soul aesthetic. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Neal, M. A. (2006). New black man. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Noguera, P. (2005). School reform and second generation discrimination: Toward the development of bias-free and equitable schools. Journal Race Relations, 30(3), 30–33.Google Scholar
  29. Noguera, P. (2008). The trouble with black boys…and other reflections on race, equity, and the future of public education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  30. Omar, A. R. (2011). Masculinity and the acceptance of violence: A study of social construction (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (Order No. 1496326, The University of Iowa).Google Scholar
  31. Reis, S. M., Colbert, R. D., & Hébert, T. P. (2004). Understanding resilience in diverse, talented students in an urban high school. Roeper Review, 27(2), 110–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Riessman, C. K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Sabochik, K. (2010). Changing the equation in STEM education. Retrieved January 7, 2014 from
  34. Seaton, E. K., Caldwell, C. H., Sellers, R. M., & Jackson, J. S. (2010). An intersectional approach for understanding perceived discrimination and psychological well-being among African American and Caribbean Black youth. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Spencer, M. B. (1999). Social and cultural influences on school adjustment: The application of an identity-focused cultural ecological perspective. Educational Psychologist, 34(1), 43–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Spencer, M. B. (2006). Phenomenology and ecological systems theory: Development of diverse groups. In R. Lerner & W. Damon (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (6th ed., Vol. 3, pp. 829–893). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  37. Spencer, M. B. (2008). Phenomenology and ecological systems theory: Development of diverse groups. In W. Damon & R. Lemer (Eds.), Child and adolescent development: An advanced course (pp. 696–735). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  38. Spencer, M. B. (2011). American identity: Impact of youths’ differential experiences in society on their attachment to American ideals. Applied Developmental Science, 15(2), 61–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Spencer, M. B., Fegley, S., Harpalani, V., & Seaton, G. (2004). Understanding hypermasculinity in context: A theory-driven analysis of urban adolescent males’ coping responses. Research in Human Development, 1(4), 229–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Swanson, D. P., Cunningham, M., & Spencer, M. B. (2003). Black males’ structural conditions, achievement patterns, normative needs, and “opportunities”. Urban Education, 38(5), 608–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Terry, C. L., Sr., & McGee, E. O. (2012). “I’ve come too far, I’ve worked too hard!”: Reinforcement of support structures among Black male mathematics students. Journal of Mathematics Education at Teachers College, 3(2), 73–85.Google Scholar
  42. Thomas, D. E., & Stevenson, H. (2009). Gender risks and education: The particular classroom challenges for urban low-income African American boys. Review of Research in Education, 33(1), 160–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thompson, L. R., & Lewis, B. F. (2005). Shooting for the stars: A case study of the mathematics achievement and career attainment of an African American male high school student. The High School Journal, 88(4), 6–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tyson, K., Darity, W., & Castellino, D. R. (2005). It’s not “a black thing”: Understanding the burden of acting white and other dilemmas of high achievement. American Sociological Review, 70(4), 582–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service. (2012). 2012 Volunteering and Civic Life in America. Retrieved from
  46. Varley-Guitierrez, M., Willey, C., & Khisty, L. (2011). (In)equitable schooling and mathematics of marginalized students: Through the voices of urban Latinas/os. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 4(2), 26–43.Google Scholar
  47. Walker, E. N. (2006). Urban high school students’ academic communities and their effects on mathematics success. American Education Research Journal, 43(1), 43–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wright, B. L. (2008). Racial-ethnic identity, academic achievement, and African American males: A review of literature. The Journal of Negro Education, 78(2), 123–134.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Teaching and Learning, Peabody CollegeVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations