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A qualitative exploration of Black mothers’ gendered constructions of their children and their parental involvement

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

Integrative Statement

A growing body of research documents the numerous ways that Black parents conscientiously engage in their children’s educational experiences (Jeynes, 2016). Since conventional forms of parental involvement (PI) have been drawn from White, middle class families, the ways in which families from other racial and cultural backgrounds are involved in schools are often overlooked or ostracized (Cooper, 2009). For example, Black parents have a long history of participating in anti-racist school-based activism to give their children improved educational experiences (Cooper, 2007). Still, these techniques are generally considered oppositional and deviant, rather than an important and understudied form of PI. Further, very little PI scholarship focuses on the bidirectional relationship between parents’ beliefs about their children and the actions they take to support them in school (Hoover-Dempsey, 1997). Specifically, parents’ beliefs about their children’s abilities as students likely influences the nature of their school involvement. Prior research indicates that Black parents’ beliefs are also shaped by the need to socialize and prepare their children to excel within an oppressive society that devalues their racial community (Stevenson, 1995). Further, evidence suggests that Black parents may socialize their daughters and sons in distinct ways given their beliefs about how race and gender will interact to inform their schooling experiences (Thomas & Speight, 1999), and yet, very little research connects PI, parental role construction, and Black parents’ beliefs about race and gender.
We explored these gaps in the current study by integrating critical Black feminism (Collins, 1994) and developmental theories of parental role construction (Hoover-Dempsey, 1997) to explore 72 Black mothers’ beliefs about their anticipated roles in their young children’s schooling. We examined (a) how Black mothers of rising first-graders constructed their children as learners across academic, social, and emotional domains, and (b) whether the ways that Black mothers planned to be involved varied based on their child’s gender. Findings suggest that in addition to conventional forms of PI, mothers’ plans for engagement were linked to their children’s status as racial minorities (i.e., advocating for their children to prevent negative race-related stereotyping and choosing schools that focused on racial inclusion). Finally, while most mothers espoused positive expectations regarding their children’s academic, social, and emotional abilities, mothers of boys tended to believe that their sons would encounter more racialized and gendered discrimination in school compared to mothers of girls, who focused more on their daughter’s independence and resilience. Thus, Black mothers more often discussed the ways they planned to protect their sons from stigmatizing treatment through a form of “vigilant parenting,” (Rowley, Helaire, & Banerjee, 2010) that was not similarly extended to Black girls in the sample. We discuss how such constructions may reproduce racialized gender stereotypes such as the “strong, Black woman” and the “endangered Black male” (Sharp & Ispa, 2009) in ways that undermine student achievement and emotional development.


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