The Deadly Challenges of Raising African American Boys: Navigating the Controlling Image of the “Thug”

Dawn Marie Dow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations


Through 60 in-depth interviews with African American middle- and upper-middle-class mothers, this article examines how the controlling image of the “thug” influences the concerns these mothers have for their sons and how they parent their sons in light of those concerns. Participants were principally concerned with preventing their sons from being perceived as criminals, protecting their sons’ physical safety, and ensuring they did not enact the “thug,” a form of subordinate masculinity. Although this image is associated with strength and toughness, participants believed it made their sons vulnerable in various social contexts. They used four strategies to navigate the challenges they and their sons confronted related to the thug image. Two of these strategies—experience and environment management—were directed at managing characteristics of their sons’ regular social interactions—and two—image and emotion management—were directed at managing their sons’ appearance. By examining parenting practices, this research illuminates the strategies mothers use to prepare their sons to address gendered racism through managing the expression of their masculinity, racial identity, and class status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-188
Number of pages28
JournalGender and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • adolescent/children
  • emotions
  • men/masculinity
  • mothering
  • race, gender, and class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Gender Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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