CYC-Online 38 MARCH 2002
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A Novel Characteristic of Role Model Choice by Black Male College Students

Clara Jones

While investigating relational (social) self-concept in Black male college students, we recorded a characteristic of role model choice that may not have been reported previously. We studied a sample of 113 Black males from 18 to 29 years of age attending a historically Black southern college. Extending the work of Yancey et al. (2002), we investigated the relationship between choice of role models and each subject's judgment of his own attractiveness and the attractiveness of one of three female standards: a light-skinned standard, a medium-skinned standard, and a dark-skinned standard. Each subject's skin color was judged on the same scale by one of two investigators. Consistent with “impression management" theory (e.g., Murnighan et al., 2001), we hypothesized that males' responses would maximize positive presentation of self. The purpose of the present communication is to report that, in addition to the three categories of role model identified by Yancey et al. (2002: no role model, a role model known personally to the subject, and a role model not known personally to the subject, most often a media figure), 13 (12%) of our sample reported themselves as their own role model. To our knowledge, this is a novel finding.

Of particular interest, perhaps, to those serving youth, including youth at risk, is our finding that subjects reporting themselves as their own role model were proportionately and significantly less likely to be light-skinned males. Celious & Oyserman (2001) point out that research documents that, in general, light-skinned American Blacks are advantaged compared to their darker-skinned counterparts with respect to education, income, and socioeconomic status. It is possible, then, that our light-skinned subjects are more likely to have larger, stronger, and more cohesive networks of social support and, thus, are more likely to have role models outside themselves and that our darker-skinned sub-sample choosing themselves as a role model is more likely to have more restricted, weaker, or less cohesive social networks and supports.

Further, subjects reporting themselves as a role model were significantly less likely to rate the dark-skinned female standard as “most attractive." These results support the view that this sub-sample rejects or ovoids those Black females most debilitated by distinctions of skin color (Celious & Oyserman, 2001).

Finally, subjects reporting themselves as a role model were proportionately more likely to rate themselves “very attractive" and less likely to rate themselves “attractive" than subjects in the entire sample. These findings may indicate that, if, as suggested above, males choosing themselves as their own role model have less reliable and/or extensive social networks and supports than males having role models external to self, a “very attractive" self-rating might indicate a higher degree of self-sufficiency and independence compared to some of their peers.

These preliminary results support the view that identification of role models in young Black men may correlate with positive or negative outcomes, as shown by Yancey et al. (2002). The potential significance of the present findings is that a previously undocumented category of role model--self--may correlate with restricted, weaker, or less cohesive social networks or supports. Future research is required to support our findings and to investigate their import, if replicated.

Possible implications for policy are:


Celious, A., & Oyserman, D. (2001). Race from the inside: An emerging heterogeneous race model. Journal of Social issues, 57, 149-166.

Miller, D.B. (1999). Racial socialization and racial identity: Can they promote resiliency for African-American Adolescents

Murnighan, J.K., Oesch, J.M., Pillutla, M.M. (2001). Player types and self impression management in dictatorship games: two experiments. Games and Economic Behaviour, 37, 388-414.

YaYancey, A.K., Siegel, J.M., McDaniel, K.L. (2002). Role models, ethnic identity, and health risk behaviors in urban adolescents. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 156, 55-61.

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