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Black-Latinx Friendship Stability and Intergroup Attitudes across Middle School

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Consistent with contact theory (Allport, 1954), past research demonstrates robust links between cross-ethnic friendships and prejudice reduction, though effects are weaker for ethnic minorities than for majority or dominant group members (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005). These asymmetric findings beg the question of the generalizability of contact theory beyond the minority-White binary, particularly in light of the growing diversity of the American school-age population (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). In the current study, we focus on friendship between Black and Latinx middle school students in California, where Latinx youth comprise over half of public school students (California Department of Education, 2018). We presume that interpersonal relationships can “generalize” into group-level attitudes via two mechanisms: 1) the number of unique cross-ethnic friendships and 2) the stability of such ties across three years.

Participants for the current study (N=1,914; 52% girls, 76% Latinx) were drawn from a large, longitudinal study of adolescent development in 26 ethnically diverse California middle schools. Data was collected in the fall of sixth grade, and every spring thereafter, through eighth grade. Students self-reported the names of “good friends” in their grade (unlimited nominations) and intergroup attitudes. Self-reported ethnicity was used to code specific Black-Latinx dyads. Given (outgoing) nominations to the target out-group were coded across all time points and summed to determine the number of unique friendships. Friendship stability was determined by assessing if a particular individual was nominated at least twice from sixth grade spring to eighth grade spring.

Black youth had significantly more Latinx friends than Latinx youth had Black friends, but this relationship was largely accounted for by target out-group size. Black youth also endorsed more positive attitudes about Latinx peers than Latinx youth did about Black peers, t(1847)=4.60, p<.001. However, all youth endorsed significantly more positive attitudes by the spring of eighth grade than were reported at baseline, t(1815)=13.27, p<.001. Controlling for participant sex, baseline attitudes, and in-group and target out-group size at school, two-level multilevel analyses (students nested within schools) revealed that the number (b=0.07, p<.01) and stability (b=0.16, p<.05) of unique cross-ethnic friendships were positively associated with Black and Latinx youths’ attitudes toward the target out-group. Out-group size was negatively associated with attitudes.

Consistent with our hypothesis, both the number and stability of unique interminority friendships predicted more positive attitudes toward the target out-group. However, the negative association between out-group size and intergroup attitudes was unexpected. It may be that as target out-group size increases, individuals may increasingly perceive members of that group as a threat. Further analyses will explore out-group size as a moderator of the association between cross-ethnic friendships and prejudice. Future research should examine the impacts of other contextual factors (e.g., school norms regarding friendship, societal ideologies), across interminority friendships more broadly. In a political climate marked by rises in racism and discrimination (Costello, 2016), these findings have long-term implications for facilitating collective action and solidarity-building, insofar as such actions have important consequences for the mental health of marginalized youth (Wexler, DiFluvio, & Burke, 2009).


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