American Sociological Association

“Once You Go to a White School, You Kind of Adapt”: Black Adolescents and the Racial Classification of Schools

Studies of when youth classify academic achievement in racial terms have focused on the racial classification of behaviors and individuals. However, institutions—including schools—may also be racially classified. Drawing on a comparative interview study, we examine the school contexts that prompt urban black students to classify schools in racial terms. Through Diversify, a busing program, one group of black students attended affluent suburban schools with white-dominated achievement hierarchies (n = 38). Diversify students assigned schools to categories of whiteness or blackness that equated whiteness with achievement and blackness with academic deficiency. Students waitlisted for Diversify (n = 16) attended urban schools without white-dominated achievement hierarchies. These students did not classify schools as white or black, based on academic quality. We assert that scholars may productively conceive of schools, not just individual students, as sites of potential racial classification. Furthermore, the racial classification of schools reinforces antagonism between black students attending ‘‘white’’ and ‘‘black’’ schools and perpetuates harmful racial stereotypes.