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Perceptions of racial socialization in White parent-child dyads

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

Integrative Statement

While parents of color cite racial socialization as an important aspect of parenting, White parents often do not share these same sentiments (Hughes et al., 2006; Pahlke et al., 2012). White parents are often reluctant to discuss race and racism with their children, even in situations that make race or racial bias salient, either because they fear that discussions of race and racism will induce racism or because they believe that race is no longer relevant (Kofkin, Katz, & Downey, 1995). The current study uses a primarily qualitative approach to explore the racial messages parents are sending and whether that differs from messages children report to be receiving.

In contrast with previous studies which have relied primarily on parental reports of socialization, we presented the parent-child dyad with two race-relevant news clips (i.e. NFL kneeling controversy and Confederate statue removal) and asked them to watch and discuss the clips. We then separated parent and child for independent interviews during which we asked what they had discussed, if they had talked about these or other issues before, and how the subject of race may be approached in their household. Participants were White parent-child dyads (N = 10) in midwestern US college towns. Children were between the ages of 10-12. In addition to the observation and interviews, parents and children were also give appropriate racial socialization and racial bias measures.

Consistent with our hypotheses, the data suggests that parental perceptions of their socialization efforts differ from the messages their children are receiving. Although most parents recalled having conversations about race with their children, usually prompted by a lesson or incident at school, the children reported these conversations as lessons about bullying, rather than about race. Though explicitly asked to talk about their experience with race, both parents and children shifted the conversation to discuss other “diversity topics,” such as gender and LGBTQ+ issues.

Additionally, our observation data demonstrated that parents overwhelmingly controlled the dialogue when prompted to “have a conversation about the news clips,” speaking about 70% of the time. While dominating the conversation, parents spoke of discrimination or racial injustice in terms of historical context, failing to connect the news clips to other current events or race-related issues.

The results of this study build on previous research in several important ways. First, the observation demonstrates that by dominating a conversation about race, parents are implicitly teaching their children what should and should not be discussed, by focusing on historical racism and excluding current discrimination. Second, while parents feel they are explicitly discussing race with their White children, the children are perceiving and retaining these as general messages about bullying or acceptance, rather than understanding systemic oppression. This has been a criticism of egalitarian messages, and continues to call for a distinction between egalitarian and colorblind messages. To our knowledge, little research has been done to look at the congruency between messages parents send and those the child perceives, especially with children in our age range.

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