The messages African-American parents and caregivers use to talk to young children about race and racism tend to differ based on social class, a new study finds.
“Our study asked, ‘What should young black children know about race?’ We were particularly interested in the content of ethnic-racial socialization messages among parents of preschool children preparing for the transition to school,” says Fabienne Doucet, associate professor of education at New York University Steinhardt.
“For African American caregivers, race is a fact of life.”
Doucet and colleagues wanted to explore how the intersection of African-American parents’ social class and experiences with racial discrimination play a role in the race-related socialization of young kids. Through narrative interviews with 26 African-American parents and caregivers in Greensboro, North Carolina, the researchers found that 84 percent provided some type of ethnic-racial socialization message to children.
The most common message was egalitarianism (55 percent) although differences emerged between working-class and middle-class parents.
Working-class parents (75 percent) were more likely to use messages of egalitarianism than were their middle-class counterparts (43 percent). By contrast, researchers found messages preparing children for bias among middle-class participants (38 percent), but not working-class participants.
In the stories parents and caregivers shared, working-class participants were less likely to recount instances of racial discrimination (54 percent) than were middle-class participants (86 percent). However, when working-class participants shared personal experiences with racism, all tied them explicitly to the importance of teaching egalitarianism.
“What is interesting is two patterns emerged: first, families favored messages of egalitarianism as opposed to preparing children for bias; second, middle-class participants were more likely to share their racism experiences, talk about ethnic-racial socialization, and draw a connection between the two,” Doucet says.
The findings also suggest that caregivers may have tailored the messages they used to their young children’s developmental stage and capacity to grasp issues like race and racism.
“For African American caregivers, race is a fact of life. At a turning point in their young children’s development, the study’s participants reflected the life lessons they had learned from their experiences, as well as the imagined future into which their children were being launched,” Doucet says.
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Michigan are coauthors of the study published in the Journal of Early Childhood Research.