Deliberate and Unintended

Parents use a variety of strategies to promote children's racial pride, to teach them about their culture and history, and to prepare them for potential encounters with racial prejudice and discrimination. These emanate from parents' race-related values, their goals for their children, and their views of skills and competencies children will need to be successful in the larger society. Many messages, such as those we have described thus far, are communicated intentionally as part of a well-defined socialization agenda. Less formally recognized, and less often attended to empirically, are the ranges of "unintended messages" to children that convey parents' attitudes, values, and perspectives about race. It is not hard to imagine the range of forms such messages might take. A family is driving through an urban poor neighborhood and utters a snide remark about the (usually Black or Latino) residents' lifestyles. A Mexican parent warns his teenage son to "be careful" as he is leaving to run an errand in a White neighborhood. Children are likely to learn a great deal from these sorts of inadvertent communications about race or race relations, which may or may not be directed at them but, nevertheless, transmit information regarding their parents' attitudes, values, or views. Even parents who have clear intentions regarding the racial/ethnic attitudes, values, and orientations they wish to instill in their children racial/ethnic socialization may unwittingly transmit race-related messages to children.

Subtle and unintended messages rarely have been the focus of empirical studies, in part, because labor intensive methods such as ethnography or structured observations are required to assess them. For knowledge about racial/ethnic socialization processes to move forward, however, researchers need to grapple more so than they have with strategies for capturing these sorts of messages. Almost certainly, parents' responses to everyday occurrences sometimes contain racial messages, and such responses are quite likely to take on meaning in children's worldviews. As explained by Appelgate and colleagues (Appelgate, Burleson, & Delia, 1992) parents transmit to children an interpretive logic, or, a generalized orientation that guides children's assessment and management of situations. Boykin and Toms' (1985) also suggested that racial attitudes, values, and behaviors often are passed on to children by way of "cultural motifs" that are largely invisible to parents but are displayed to children in a "consistent, persistent, and enduring fashion" (p. 42). These cultural motifs typically are not accompanied by directives or imperatives from parents to learn but simply are absorbed by children and provide a basis for their "behavioral negotiations with the world." Thus, research that explores these elusive types of messages would be an important contribution our understanding of racial/ethnic socialization processes.

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