Teens disagree on racial measures

U. TEXAS-AUSTIN (US) — Many white teenagers believe that racial inequality has disappeared in the U.S. and therefore don’t support affirmative action and school desegregation.

African American teenagers, on the other hand, expressed significant support for those policies.

A new study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, reveals differences of opinion within both racial groups on the use of race-conscious policies to promote racial equality.

Among both African Americans and whites, a strong connection exists between respondents’ disapproval of race-conscious policies and the belief that racial inequalities have disappeared in the United States.

Adolescence may be an especially significant stage of cognitive development when racial attitudes begin to take shape, says Rebecca Bigler, professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin.

During this critical stage of development, parents need to have direct conversations about race and racism with their teenagers to increase their understanding of racial disparities in the United States.

“The most common mistake—especially with white parents—is they want their children to believe we live in a society where race doesn’t matter, and they believe that being ‘color mute’ will achieve this goal,” Bigler says.

“Direct conversations at home and in the classroom about prejudice and discrimination can significantly improve children’s attitudes about race.”

For the study, psychologists surveyed 210 high school students between the ages of 14 and 17 about their views on affirmative action and school desegregation.

In a series of studies, African American and white adolescents from diverse economic backgrounds answered questions about their knowledge of the history of racism and perceptions of racial discrimination. They also completed Implicit Association Tests (IAT), in which they reported their reactions to racial groups by associating positive and negative words with images of African American and white faces.

Other key findings include:

  • By age 16, African Americans supported school desegregation and affirmative action programs more strongly than whites.
  • Overall, whites scored higher than African Americans on a short quiz about racism in U.S. history, but were less likely than African Americans to believe that racial inequalities persist.
  • African American respondents who knew more about historical racism were more supportive of an affirmative action policy.
  • IAT scores reflecting racially biased attitudes were significantly higher among whites than African Americans.
  • Whites with unfavorable implicit or unconscious perceptions of African Americans were more likely than their peers to view race-conscious social policies negatively, suggesting the respondents’ negative views of African Americans led them to view racial integration as an unimportant goal.
  • Whites who perceived greater racial disparities in contemporary society—and attributed those disparities to racism—were more supportive of both types of programs than their peers.

Researchers from the College of New Jersey contributed to the study.

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