Black male youth more fearful when visiting whiter neighborhoods

By Jeff Grabmeier
Ohio State News

Young black males feel less safe when they go to neighborhoods with a larger white population than occurs in areas they normally visit, a new study suggests.
Chris Browning

Chris Browning

Researchers gave 506 black youths in Columbus smartphones that tracked their locations for a week and asked the participants to rate how safe they felt (among other questions) five times per day.

Results showed that African American boys felt less safe even in areas that were only modestly more white than where they usually spent time, said TDAI affiliate Christopher Browning, lead author of the study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

“It doesn’t have to be a majority white neighborhood for African American boys to feel more threatened,” Browning said. “It just has to be more white than what they typically encounter.”

When outside their own neighborhoods, black teens in the study visited areas that were, on average, 13 percent more white.

Unlike boys, black girls did not report feeling significantly less safe in whiter areas.

Browning presented the research Aug. 13 in Philadelphia at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The results are consistent with the hypothesis that young black males expect increased scrutiny, surveillance and even direct targeting when they are in white areas, according to Browning.

“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,” he said.

“This may help explain why black youth felt more threatened in parts of town where they were exposed to more white people.”

Data for the study came from the Adolescent Health and Development in Context study, which Browning leads. The AHDC is examining the lives of 1,405 representative youths living in 184 neighborhoods in Franklin County, Ohio. This includes Columbus and its suburbs.

This particular study involved 506 black youths aged 11 to 17 when the study was done from 2014 to 2016. They carried a smartphone with a GPS function that reported their location every 30 seconds. Five times a day they were sent a mini-survey to answer on their phones. By the end of the study, the researchers had collected 7,398 of these surveys.

In one question, participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) if the place they were currently at was a safe place to be.

Participants reported either strongly agreeing or agreeing that they were in a safe place about 91 percent of the time. That makes sense, Browning said, because the teens reported being at home about 71 percent of the time when they received the survey.

Much of the research that examines safety among black youth focuses on the neighborhood they live in. But this research suggests that the immediate neighborhood may not be the most important area to focus on, he said.

What seemed to matter was how the places they visited differed from the areas where they spent most of their time.

Black boys felt less safe when they were in neighborhoods that were significantly poorer than ones they generally frequented, as well as in neighborhoods that were whiter.

“Part of the experience for black kids is having to leave their home neighborhoods to go to places that might not be as welcoming,” Browning said.

“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.”

The findings were similar for African American boys no matter where they lived in the Columbus area.

“Even black boys who were regularly exposed to integrated neighborhoods felt less safe when they went to white-dominated areas,” he said.

Although African American girls in this study didn’t report feeling less safe in whiter areas, Browning said that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t experiencing negative effects.

It may be that there are different features of neighborhoods not picked up in this study, such as the number of men in the immediate vicinity, that may affect whether black girls felt safe in a particular location, he said.

Browning, who is a member of Ohio State’s Institute for Population Research, co-authored the study with Ohio State colleagues Catherine Calder, professor of statistics and a TDAI affiliate; Bethany Boettner, senior research associate at the IPR; Jodi Ford, associate professor of nursing; and Lesley Schneider and Jake Tarrence, graduate students in sociology.

This research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development, and the William T. Grant Foundation.

Share this page
Suggested Articles
Using phone microphones to track potential COVID exposure

Originally written by Laura Arenschield Ohio State News Signals sent and received from cell phone microphones and speakers could help warn people when they have been near someone who...

People try to do right by each other, no matter the motivation, study finds

Article by Laura Arenschield (, Ohio State News. People want to help each other, even when it costs them something, and even when the motivations to help don’t always align,...

Moritz’s Distinguished Lecture to tackle big data governance vs. constitutional rights

Jack Balkin Moritz College of Law will host a Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 27 of one of today’s hottest topics not just in data analytics but in society: balancing the...

Ohio State hosts popular network science conference

With support from the Translational Data Analytics Institute, TDAI affiliates Skyler Cranmer and Janet Box-Steffensmeier from the Department of Political Science, along with Alison Craig, hosted colleagues from nearly 70...

COVID-19 pandemic likely to cause sales tax loss for Ohio municipalities

Most municipalities will lose money because of decreased shopping, study finds COLUMBUS, Ohio — Small municipalities in Ohio that rely on retail sales taxes from apparel, vehicle sales, restaurants and...