Academics, self-esteem, and race: A look at the assumptions underlying the Disindentification hypothesis
This correlation study investigated the notion that Blacks sense of worth becomes increasingly disconnected from academic performance to the degree that poor performance in academics can confirm negative stereotypes regarding intellectual ability. This phenomenon, termed disidentification, suggests that Blacks begin schooling with strong identity attachments to academics, but are increasingly likely to detach their self-esteem from such pursuits over time. To test these hypotheses, data regarding Black and White students' self-esteem and GPA in 8th and 10th grades were drawn from the National Education Longitudinal Study. In 8th grade, Black and White students had statistically equivalent GPAs, but GPAs differed significantly by 10th grade. Black students, however, had higher self-esteem than White students in both 8th and 10th grades. The strength of the relation between GPA and self-esteem changed over time and differed somewhat by student sex. For Black boys, the correlation between GPA and self-esteem decreased significantly between 8th and 10th grades, but the correlation increased for White boys. Black girls showed a similar, but not a statistically significant, decreased association, whereas White girls showed no change over time. These results are all consistent with the notion that Black students, specifically Black boys, tend to disidentify from academics over time. Although disidentification can serve to protect self-esteem, it can also undermine motivation and performance in academic domains.