Racial Socialization: Feelings to Actions


"It is through interactions with others, especially parents, that children and youth gain insight regarding their racial heritage and learn to assume, resist, or negotiate the statuses associated with racial group membership. An important question is how parents of multiracial youth prepare them. . ." (Rollins and Hunter, 2013).

How do you perceive the term "socialization?" For me, it is the process of developing the skills necessary to interact productively in society. For biracial families, "Racial socialization is,” acquiring the behaviors or attitudes of an ethnic group, also becomes a component of socialization. As referenced in the quote, children turn to their parents for guidance with the issues that are associated with their racial heritage. Therefore, it is critical, that as a parent, you are aware of the importance of racial socialization in your child’s development. The following are two studies that recently addressed this issue.

"Racial socialization of Biracial Youth: Maternal Messages and Approaches to Address Discrimination," (Rollins and Hunter, 2013) studied racial influences and the different racial socialization practices in biracial families. They classified three types of socialization: self-development socialization, egalitarian socialization and silence socialization. Self-development socialization stresses the importance of the individual and self-identity. Egalitarian socialization promotes equality of everyone in all groups. Silence socialization refers to not providing any type of racial socialization.

The study interviewed biracial families to see what approaches to racial socialization were most prominent and effective. They found there were three prominent approaches of handling racial socialization: protective, promotive, and passive. Protective racial socialization refers to preparing children for discrimination and strengthening their racial identity. Promotive racial socialization refers to strengthening the child’s sense of identity and self. Passive racial socialization refers to the parents remaining silent and not discussing the possibility of future discrimination.

While there are different approaches, the study indicated that racial socialization is critical in the development of the child’s racial identity to be better prepared for possible discrimination or racism. The study emphasizes that it is important for parents to have an understanding of how their child’s experiences, environment, and social position can impact how he/she reacts to any discrimination that might be experienced.

The second study, "Cultural Socialization in Families with adopted Korean Adolescents: A Mixed-method, mixed-informant study," interviewed parents and adopted teenagers from Korea and addressed issues of race and ethnicity. Nine families acknowledged the impact of racial/ethnicity differences, six families said that there was no impact on the family and fifteen families disagreed on the impact. (Kim, 2013). The study also looked at the level of parental engagement with the adolescents concerning cultural socialization. It was interesting to note, that the adolescents viewed it at much lower level than the parents.

Cultural socialization DOES have a big impact in the child’s personal development. To ensure that your child has a positive racial identity and positive racial socialization, you as a parent should:

  1. Acknowledge the existence of racism and discrimination.
  2. Provide your child with appropriate responses if discrimination should ever occur.
  3. Prepare the child for discrimination

"When parents provide cultural experiences and talk about race and ethnicity, they help biracial youth sift through society’s inconsistent, confusing, and prejudicial messages about race. Open communication fosters racial awareness, reduces inconsistent messages, minimizes ambiguity, increases familial interactions, buffers youth from stereotypes threat effects, and decreases the effects of conflicting messages" (Rollins and Hunter 2013).

Photo Credit: Ashok Saravaan .Ay

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