Voices in Education

What is Black Boy Mattering, and How Can We Realize It Comprehensively in Society and Schools?
Amidst a social climate that universally demands the insignificance, devaluation, and meaninglessness of Black life, how can researchers and educators, instead, (re)imagine learning contexts that compel Black boys to matter abundantly, robustly, or comprehensively?

Inspired by the energy of Black Lives Matter and compelled by the challenges social actors and educators face in valuing Black boys (18 and under) and young men (18–25), my Fall 2019 Harvard Educational Review article, Imagining the Comprehensive Mattering of Black Boys and Young Men in Society and Schools: Toward a New Approach explores how Black boys and young men have mattered within society, PreK–12 schools, and postsecondary institutions. I then imagine how educational stakeholders can create contexts where Black boys and young men can matter comprehensively. But to begin, what is mattering?

Mattering is a relational phenomenon, crucial to individuals forming positive self-concepts. When we matter, others are interested in us, care for our fate, view our lives as significant, and wish to relate to us (Elliot, Kao, & Grant, 2004; Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981). I extend these formulations by embedding my investigation into widespread anti-Blackness and current neoliberalism, as well as by employing historical and contemporary evidence in the research and media, to show how Black boys and young men matter in two ways: marginal mattering and partial mattering. Marginal mattering underscores how Black boys and young men have an assumed relationship to criminality. In PreK–12 schools, for instance, marginal mattering is evidenced when educators render Black boys’ actions and creations dubious and keep them confined to the margins through disparate treatment and disproportional disciplining. When Black boys and young men partially matter to educational stakeholders, they are “selectively loved.” Partial mattering encompasses how they are valued for certain feats that can be celebrated, capitalized on, or commodified (e.g., sports, popular entertainment, even testing arrangements, and so forth.) in ways that leave racism unchallenged.

As a resistance to marginal or partial relational boundaries, comprehensive mattering urges us toward a radically-imagined approach to understanding, interacting with, and conceiving of the fullness of mattering between Black boys and young men and their worlds. But, how can we radically imagine and create contexts in which this group matters comprehensively in liberating, new ways? How can we spur educators and researchers to adopt comprehensive mattering mind-sets and build reimagined projects to dismantle the social requirements that demand predictable, non-robust, limited, and limiting social and school outcomes for Black boys and young men? My hope is that my article begins a discussion aimed toward answering these inquiries.


Elliott, G., Kao, S., & Grant, A. M. (2004). Mattering: Empirical validation of a social-
psychological concept. Self and Identity, 3(4), 339–354. doi:10.1080/13576500444000119

Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health
among adolescents. Research in Community & Mental Health, 2, 163–182.

About the Author: Roderick L. Carey is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware. In addition to researching how schools can create contexts where Black boys and young men matter, Roderick’s other interdisciplinary research focuses on family and school influences on the ways Black and Latino adolescent boys and young men conceptualize and enact elements of their postsecondary futures. His article, “Imagining the Comprehensive Mattering of Black Boys and Young Men in Society and Schools: Toward a New Approach” appears in the Fall 2019 issue of the Harvard Educational Review.