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White parents’ racial socialization and late adolescents’ racial attitudes: Motivation and moral reasoning as mediators

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

Integrative Statement

A burgeoning body of literature has begun to explore how White parents’ racial socialization messages are related to their children’s racial attitudes. Research indicates that the majority of White parents are reluctant to discuss race with their children (Katz, 2003; Pahlke et al., 2012), either because they fear that discussions of race and racism will sensitize children to race or because they believe that race is no longer relevant (Vittrup, 2016). Despite the view that avoiding discussions of race will reduce prejudice, research with White families suggests that racemute approaches may lead children to adopt negative attitudes about racial outgroup members (Apfelbaum et al., 2008; Vittrup & Holden, 2011). In the current study, we explore the relations between parental racial socialization strategies (i.e., racemute versus egalitarian strategies) and emerging adults’ racial attitudes.

In order to examine possible mechanisms by which racial socialization influences attitudes, we also investigated two potential mediators of the relations between socialization messages and racial attitudes: motivation to suppress bias and moral orientations. Prior research has found that individuals tend to be motivated to suppress their racial biases; however, they differ in whether their motivation is largely external (i.e., driven by a desire to avoid appearing prejudiced or being judged by others as prejudiced) or internal (i.e., driven by a feeling that prejudiced beliefs are incompatible with one’s own ethical or moral code; Plant & Devine, 1998). We hypothesized that internal motivation to suppress bias (IMS) would mediate the relation between parental racial socialization and emerging adults’ racial attitudes. Consistent with moral foundations theory (Haidt & Graham, 2007), we also hypothesized that fairness/reciprocity moral orientations (i.e., a focus on issues of fairness in questions of morality) would mediate the relation between parental racial socialization and emerging adults’ racial attitudes.

Participants were White late adolescents (N = 114; M = 19.13 years). Participants gave retrospective reports of their parents’ racial socialization practices during their adolescence and also completed measures of their internal and external motivation to suppress bias, moral orientations, and warmth toward racial outgroups.

Results indicated that, consistent with previous research, parental socialization messages were related to participants’ racial attitudes; egalitarian socialization (i.e., teaching children that all races and ethnic groups are equal) was positively related to warmth toward racial outgroups, whereas racemute socialization was negatively related to warmth toward racial outgroups. Using Hayes’s (2013) PROCESS procedure, we also found support for our double mediation models. Consistent with our hypotheses, IMS and fairness/reciprocity orientation mediated both the relation between egalitarian socialization and warmth toward racial outgroups and the relation between racemute socialization and warmth toward racial outgroups.

The results highlight two promising mechanisms through which racial socialization may influence youths’ racial attitudes. Racemute socialization may lead to decreases in IMS and fairness/reciprocity moral orientations, which are both related to more biased racial attitudes. Egalitarian socialization, in contrast, may promote IMS and fairness/reciprocity moral orientations, which in turn contribute to less biased racial attitudes. These results provide further evidence of the potentially damaging effects of racemute socialization approaches.


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