Posted on April 15, 2024

Visiting White Parts of Town Make Some Black Kids Feel Less Safe

Jeff Grabmeier, Ohio State News, April 10, 2024

Some Black youth feel less safe when they visit predominantly white areas of their city, a new study in Columbus has found.

And it was those Black kids who spent the most time in white-dominated areas who felt less safe, said Christopher Browning, lead author of the study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

“Familiarity with white neighborhoods doesn’t make Black kids feel more comfortable and safer. In fact, familiarity seems to reveal threats,” Browning said.


The study was published online recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study is one of the first to examine racial differences in how urban youth perceive their safety in real time, Browning said.  Data came from the federally funded Adolescent Health and Development in Context study, which involved 1,405 11- to 17-year-old youths in Columbus.


Researchers classified the youth as being in a white-dominated area if the census-block they were in when they were surveyed was at least 70% non-Hispanic white.


Results showed that youth generally felt safe when they were near their homes – those who were within 30 meters of their home had about a 14% greater probability than others of strongly agreeing they felt safe in the moment.

Not surprisingly, both Black and white youth were less likely to say they felt safe when they were in census blocks that had higher violent crime rates.

But it was the racial differences that were of greatest interest to the researchers.

“When white youth are in white-dominated spaces, they tended to feel a little safer,” said Browning, who is also a member of Ohio State’s Institute for Population Research. “But that’s not the case for Black youth.”


There is the fear of being the victim of racial violence or having a potentially dangerous encounter with police, which, while rare, is always possible, he said.

“But there is also the sense of psychological safety.  We think of it as the sense of trust that Black youth have that they can be themselves and not be at risk of being excluded, which could include anything from microaggressions to outright discrimination,” he said.

This perception of being less safe in white neighborhoods may have real-life health consequences for Black youth. In a study published last year in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, Browning and colleagues measured hair cortisol concentrations in some of the same Black and white youths (690 total) involved in this research. High hair cortisol levels indicate elevated levels of chronic stress.