The Congruence Perspective

The racial identity-context congruence perspective is a theory to explain why being strongly connected to your group is related to academic success for some African American youth and not others. Contrary to media representations, research has shown that African American youth are more successful when they feel good about being Black. Yet the research often misses the role of the setting that should be most closely related to youths’ achievement: the school.

Figure illustrating congruence interaction

The congruence perspective predicts that when students perceive a climate that is supportive of their Black identity, then having a strong Black identity will be positively associated with motivation–they will feel more connected to those around them, more appreciated, and enjoy school and academics more. On the other hand, when students perceive an unsupportive climate, the strongly identified students will be less connected to those around them and be less motivated. We’ve found support for the congruence perspective in several studies in different samples, from high school students to college students across the country. The figure illustrates our finding in high school students (Byrd & Chavous, 2011).

The racial identity-context congruence perspective has two domains: significance and affect. The significance domain is associated with centrality, or how important one’s racial group membership is to the individual. For those whose race is very important to them, the aspects of the school climate that are going to be most important for their motivation are whether the school acknowledges the importance of race. Multiculturalism is a perspective that celebrates all races and cultures, so schools that advocate this perspective rather than colorblindness will better support high central youth.

The other domain is associated with private regard, or how positively one feels about being African American. For those who have positive feelings about their race, the most important aspects of the school are going to be those where Black students feel valued. This means they perceive that they are treated fairly across race, that they are not discriminated against, and that their culture is perceived as good and valuable. In general, schools that are more supportive of diversity and multiculturalism will do a better job of supporting the identities of African American youth whose race is important to them.

For more on the racial identity-context congruence perspective:

Byrd, C.M., & Chavous, T.M. (2011). Racial identity, school racial climate, and school intrinsic motivation among African American youth: The importance of person–context congruence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21, 849-860. (PDF)

Byrd, C.M., & Chavous, T.M. (2012). The congruence between African American students’ racial identity beliefs and their academic climates: Implications for academic motivation and achievement. In J.M. Sullivan & A.M. Esmail (Eds.), African American Identity: Racial and Cultural Dimensions of the Black Experience (p.345-369). Lanham: Lexington Books. (PDF)

Byrd, C.M., & Chavous, T. (April, 2013). Racial identity-context congruence in predominantly White and predominantly Black settings. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (PDF)