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“He didn’t learn that from me!”: (In)Congruency between White Parents’ and Children’s Racial Attitudes

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

Integrative Statement

Although it is presumed that children learn their racial attitudes (at least in part) from their parents (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001), for White families in the United States, studies suggest that parental and child racial attitudes are uncorrelated (Aboud & Doyle, 1996; Pahlke et al., 2012). In fact, some White parents who report egalitarian racial attitudes are shocked to learn that their children have negative attitudes towards racial minorities and believe their parents share these negative attitudes (Vittrup, 2018). The lack of correlation between White children’s and parents’ racial attitudes and the inaccuracy of predicting one another’s racial attitudes likely stems from the fact that White families rarely engage in racial socialization (i.e., discussions about race; Brown et al., 2007; Hagerman, 2013). Thus, among White families who do engage in racial socialization, (1) are parents’ racial attitudes associated with those of their children, and (2) can these parents and children accurately predict each others’ racial attitudes?
To examine these questions, we recruited White parents who enrolled their K-8th grade children in a school that is explicitly committed to racial social justice, and thus were likely to engage in racial socialization. Parent-child dyads (N=45; Parent age: M=45.10, SD=5.47, range=33-56 years; Child age: M=10.01, SD=2.77, range=6-15 years) completed a survey about their own racial attitudes and their predictions about the other person’s racial attitudes (0=negative attitudes - 100=very positive attitudes). Parents also completed a one-hour structured interview about their racial socialization practices.
As shown in row 5 of Table1, there are no significant correlations between actual attitudes. Parents do not have a good sense of the racial attitudes of their children, and vice versa (rows 1 vs 2 and rows 3 vs 4). Parents expected their children to have overwhelmingly positive feelings towards all groups, yet children’s actual reported attitudes were much lower. In contrast, children expected their parents to have moderate feelings towards all groups, whereas parents’ actual reported attitudes were much higher. Parents’ perceptions of their child’s racial attitudes were not significantly related to children’s self-reported attitudes, though it is noteworthy that the associations with White/European Americans were in a negative direction compared to associations with other groups (row 6). Finally, children’s perceptions of their parent’s racial attitudes were moderately and positively correlated with their parents’ self-reported attitudes for all groups except for White/European Americans, though only for attitudes towards Black/African Americans were the correlations significant (row 7).
Thus, even among a sample of White families selected for theoretically high rates of racial socialization, parents’ and children’s racial attitudes (overall) are not associated with one another, and parents and children cannot accurately predict one-another’s racial attitudes. Preliminary analyses from parent interviews, however, demonstrates that although all parents in the sample believe it is important to talk about race, there is variability in how much parents actually discuss race with their children. Additional analyses will examine whether there are sub-groups of families (i.e., those who actually talk about race) for whom parent and child attitudes are associated with one another.


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