Racial socialization messages in White parents' discussions of current events involving racism: An interview with Dr. Jamie L. Abaied

Many of the current studies examining White parents’ messages to their children about race and racism have focused on children 12 years old or younger. In their recent article, Dr. Jamie L. Abaied and co-authors sought to extend our current knowledge of White parents’ and children’s discussions surrounding racism by instead examining such discussions among parents and teens (i.e., 14- to 17-year-olds).

Dr. Abaied kindly took the time to answer our questions about this article.

1.     What is the main takeaway of your article?

We asked White parents of adolescents ages 14-17 if and how they discuss current events involving racism—such as police brutality toward Black youth—with their adolescents. Twice as many White parents surveyed in May to June 2020 reported talking about racism in the news with their adolescents, as compared to those surveyed in September 2019. However, parents surveyed in 2020 said less in the answers about racism itself—and provided less acknowledgement of the reality of racism, in particular—than White parents surveyed in 2019. Thus, although parents in 2020 were talking more than parents in 2019, they were saying less about racism in the news.

However, in both 2019 and 2020, a subset of parents communicated clear messages about racism. Some acknowledged the reality of racism, whereas others blatantly denied it; importantly, the few parents who openly endorsed racist views also expressed denial that racism is real. Thus, although White parents are clearly capable of communicating positive, color conscious messages about racism, some are encouraging their adolescents to hold inaccurate and harmful beliefs about racism.

2.     What questions does this paper address? Why were these questions important?

We wanted to understand whether the status quo of racial silence in White families is changing as a result of recent racial justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter, as well as increasing news coverage of racial issues. We also wanted to move past prior research, which focuses on children ages 12 and under, to explore racial conversations in White families in adolescence. Given advances in identity and cognitive development, adolescence may be a critical time for parents to help adolescents understand their thoughts and feelings about race and racism. We also wanted to explore the reasons why White parents who do not discuss race with their kids avoid the topic and whether these reasons differed from the reasons offered by White parents of kids 12 and under. Understanding these barriers to discussion is critical to future efforts to increase racial discussions in White families.

3.     What do you wish more people knew about this topic?

One of our most important findings is that, when asked why they did not discuss racial current events with their adolescents, White parents tended to say that it either was not necessary or simply had not come up naturally. This implies a passive, detached relationship with these events. Since the events we asked about included very serious issues, including police violence disproportionately targeting Black youth, it is very striking that White parents felt very little motivation to engage in discussions with their adolescents.

In addition, we include many direct quotes from parents in the manuscript. I encourage readers to look carefully at what parent said in their own words—particularly parents who expressed skepticism about the reality of racism in America. It is important to remember that we did not ask parents to simply state their views of current events. Rather, we asked how they discuss current events involving racism with their adolescents; that means that the quotes in our paper represent views that White parents feel comfortable expressing to their kids.

4.    Are there any papers, videos, blog posts, etc. that you would recommend to readers who are interested in this topic?

This analysis of racial socialization messages among White mothers living in Minneapolis during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 provides an excellent framework for understanding how Whiteness relates to racial socialization messages in White families:

Ferguson, G. M., Eales, L., Gillespie, S., & Leneman, K. (2021). The Whiteness pandemic behind the racism pandemic: Familial Whiteness socialization in Minneapolis following George Floyd’s murder. American Psychologist, 77(3) https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000874

This paper presents new data on a lack of discussion in White families of racial disparities in the impact of COVID—another very critical current event involving racism:

Leneman, K. B., Levasseur-Puhach, S., Gillespie, S., Gomez, I., Nagayama Hall, G. C., & Roos, L.E. (2022). Whiteness in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Who is Talking About Racism With Their Kids? Journal of Family Issues. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X221079328

5.     What are you most excited to see in this field in the future? What questions are you particularly excited to get answers to?

A key task for parenting researchers moving forward is to better understand how White parents are contributing to their children's and adolescents' growing understanding of race and racism. This includes not only understanding of systemic racism and the experiences of BIPOC people, but also White kids' emerging racial identity and understanding of Whiteness more broadly. We need to know more about how White kids are reacting to the messages parents communicate about race and racism, and how those reactions might vary depending on whether or not kids agree with their parents’ racial beliefs and attitudes.

6.     Do you have any other information you would like to add about your study’s findings?

Any folks who work with White adolescents in any capacity should keep in mind that some adolescents are getting very extreme, inaccurate, and damaging messages about racism at home. Such messages may undermine efforts to socialize anti-racism in other contexts (e.g., school, community groups). Finding ways to encourage adolescents to question these messages, keeping in mind that they may be coming from a trusted attachment figure, is critical. Even if adolescents question or disagree with biased racial messages at home, this may create conflict and discord in the family system, and having external support outside the home may be critical to supporting these adolescents’ well-being. On a more positive note, finding ways to incorporate White parents who espouse progressive, color conscious racial beliefs into school- and community-based anti-racism initiatives is likely to be a fruitful approach.


Author bio:

Dr. Abaied received a BA in Psychology from Hamilton College in 2004 and a PhD in Developmental Psychology from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2010. She joined the faculty in the Department of Psychological Science in 2010, where she currently serves as an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies. Her research program focuses on unique challenges that parents face, including parenting youth transitioning to adulthood and discussing challenging topics with kids, such as racism and coping with stress.

Share this post:

Comments on "Racial socialization messages in White parents' discussions of current events involving racism: An interview with Dr. Jamie L. Abaied"

Comments 0-0 of 0

Please login to comment