Talking the talk, walking the walk : Black children’s understanding of race and racism

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Keadija C. Wiley (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Stephanie Irby Coard

Abstract: Children in the United States live in a highly racialized society and, as a result, acquire an awareness of race at an early age, eventually developing an understanding of racism (Quintana, 2008). Understanding race and racism is especially relevant for Black children, given their marginalized status in the U.S. and the likelihood that they will encounter racial discrimination before the age of ten (Brody et al., 2006; Johnson, 2022). Traditionally, parents have been viewed as the primary socializers for the knowledge that Black children gain around issues of race (Hughes et al., 2006); however, the U.S.’s long history with racism, the current socio-political context, and other socializing forces (e.g., peers, other adults, media) are undoubtedly contributing to Black children’s understanding of race and racism. Therefore, this study aimed to explore Black children’s understanding of race and racism, how other socializing agents contribute to this understanding, and the ways in which this understanding may show up when faced with a scenario that describes a potentially discriminatory experience. Qualitative data were collected from a sample of ten Black children (M=10.9 years) and one of their parents using semi-structured interviews and an observational task. In the interviews, children were queried about topics such as how they define race and racism, what these mean to them, how they have engaged in conversations with others, and their media exposure around issues of race. The observational task aimed to capture children’s understanding of race and racism from five-minute discussions with their parent after hearing two scenarios of discrimination experiences that were described in contexts such as school or a grocery store. Using a modified grounded theory approach to data analysis, findings highlighted the various understandings of race and racism that Black children have and how different socializing agents, especially media (television and social media), have contributed to this understanding. This knowledge, which varied among children, ranged from a quite limited to a more complex and nuanced understanding; and children reported this knowledge base was developed based primarily on conversations with parents and peers, but notably, also due to exposure from social media sites such as TikTok and YouTube. Further, findings highlighted the observed differences in Black children’s knowledge of racism when presented with covert versus overt racial discrimination scenarios. These findings spoke to potential age-related cognitive differences among the children in the sample. Taken together, these findings suggest a contextually relevant framework for Black children’s understanding of race and racism. Insight into Black children’s knowledge around race and racism offer valuable information to practitioners and policymakers during a time when knowledge of race and racism in children has become highly politicized.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2023
Black early Adolescents, Race, Racial Understanding, Racism, Understanding
Children, Black
Race awareness in children
Child psychology

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