Abstract: Black and Latinx Youth Organizers' Perceptions of Structural Racial Discrimination in Relation to Gun Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Black and Latinx Youth Organizers' Perceptions of Structural Racial Discrimination in Relation to Gun Violence

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Ahwatukee A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Taylor Reed, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles
Sara Wilf, Graduate Student, University of California, Los Angeles
Victoria Millet, BS, Student Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles
Stephanie Ortiz, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Lowell
Laura Wray-Lake, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Gun violence disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx communities, and youth community organizers have come together to transform their communities and advocate for systemic change. Yet, Black and Latinx community-based organizations have not received as much national media coverage and funding support as nationwide, predominantly white anti-gun violence organizations. Our qualitative study explores young Black and Latinx organizers’ perceptions of how mainstream narratives of gun violence are rooted in structural racial discrimination and influences their anti-gun violence organizing work.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted on phone and Zoom with 17 young people from September to April 2022. Youth identified as Black (60%), Latinx (35%), or Afro-Latinx (5%), were based in the U.S., between the ages of 18-25, and were engaged in anti-gun violence organizing. The sample was 60% female and located in several states across the U.S. Half organized with community-based organizations with majority Black and Latinx peers.

Youth were recruited purposively through social media based on their affiliation with anti-gun violence organizations. The 1-hour interviews explored youth’s motivations to organize, experiences of discrimination within organizing spaces, and their healing process afterwards. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to code the transcripts for core concepts that helped inform overarching themes.

Results: In addition to experiences of everyday racism and gun violence in their communities, youth recognized how racism was evident in media framing of gun violence as an issue impacting white school children. Madeline (she/her, Black) described that “the media kind of wants to portray this narrative that if it's a white child being impacted by gun violence, then we should act on it. But when Black children, Hispanic children... [are] dealing with these issues [daily]... nobody cares... so they don't really pay attention to organizations that are family of people of color.” For Black and Latinx youth, this media framing breathes new life into racist stereotypes, which they must contend with in organizing against gun violence in racially conscious ways to help their communities.

Additionally, youth shared that individuals and communities of color experiencing gun violence are often erased by the media. Josh (he/him, Black) explained, “Most white people didn't care when we were being shot... They just, oh, gang violence... please explain to me what you think gang violence is because my brother wasn't in a gang, my brother was at church... they will put the faces of mass shooting victims and for us... it's not a name, it's not anything else.” Youth encountered structural discrimination within the gun violence organizing community, while continuing to contend with harmful stereotypes about gun violence in their communities.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings amplify young Black and Latinx anti-gun violence organizers’ experiences and frustrations towards the discriminatory media portrayals of gun violence within urban communities of color. They expressed that the disproportionate support given to nationwide anti-gun violence organizations as opposed to community-based organizations has changed their civic engagement. Further analyses will provide insight as to how structural discrimination influences the future organizing work of Black and Latinx youth.