Project Title: Learning about race in the home: The racial socialization practices of white parents
What, and how, do white parents teach their children about being white in America? Though whites are the majority racial group in the United States, very little is known about how they racially socialize their children. Most of the racial socialization literature has examined the socialization experiences of non-white parents. This gap in the literature is problematic because it legitimates the idea that only “only non-whites “have” race” (Burton et al., 2010: 453).
The few white racial socialization studies that do exist provide us with an incomplete understanding of the process by which white parents teach their children about race. Almost all of this research focuses on the explicit racial socialization efforts of middle class parents. These studies examine what middle class parents say to their children about race, but not what they do, perhaps unconsciously, to facilitate or hinder the development of a white racial identity. As Giddens (1993) reminds us, examining practice is as important as examining beliefs because it is through practice that individuals help to create and sustain social structures.
Within this small body of literature, social factors, such as an individual’s class status and the racial composition of the neighborhood of residence, have also been overlooked. Because prior research has focused exclusively on middle class parents, it is impossible to discern what role, if any, class status has on the racial socialization practices of white parents. Additionally, scholars have not sought to understand how growing up in a white-segregated vs. a multiracial neighborhood might affect the racial socialization efforts of white parents. Bonilla-Silva et al. (2006) argue that coming of age in a segregated-white neighborhood helps to produce a “white habitus” that conditions white racial tastes, beliefs, and behaviors; however, no empirical research exists that examines the influence of neighborhood racial composition on white parents’ racial socialization practices.
To fill these gaps in the literature, the proposed project will investigate the explicit and implicit racial socialization practices of middle and lower class whites who live in either a white-segregated or a multiracial neighborhood. The significance of this study is four-fold. First, by examining explicit and implicit forms of racial socialization, I will identify parental practices that appear non-racial, but may have racialized consequences for the racial identity development of white Americans. Second, by examining how middle and lower class white parents racially socialize their children, my findings will illuminate class-based variation. Third, study findings will provide scholars insight as to whether proximity to non-whites (i.e. racial contact) impacts the racial socialization practices of white parents. Finally, by understanding better how white racial identity is created in the home, my results may help scholars reimagine how racial inequality is reproduced in other institutional settings.