Preparation for Bias

We use the term "preparation for bias" to refer to such practices as parents' efforts to promote their children's awareness of racial bias, and to prepare them to cope with prejudice and discrimination. These efforts have also been emphasized as a critical component of racial/ethnic socialization. Several scholars have suggested that enabling children to navigate around racial barriers and to negotiate potentially hostile social interactions are normative parenting tasks within ethnic minority families (Thornton et al., 1990; Fisher et al., 1998; Garcia Coll & Magnuson, 1997; Garcia Coll, Meyer, & Brillon, 1995; Kibria, 1997; Harrison, Wilson, Chan, Buriel, & Pine, 1995).

A number of the studies described in reference to cultural socialization have examined the frequency of socialization about racial prejudice and discrimination (preparation for bias). Such socialization, like cultural socialization, varies widely across samples. In some studies, a majority of African American parents report socialization related to racial barriers (Hughes & Chen, 1997; Phinney & Chavira, 1995). For example, Sanders Thompson (1994) found that 48% to 58% of African American participants recalled parental messages about racial barriers. However, in Bowman and Howard's (1985) study, only 13% of youth described parental messages about racial barriers. Similarly, only 8% of respondents in the National Survey of Black Americans reported messages to their children about racial barriers (Thornton et al., 1990). This suggests that the frequency of these types of messages needs further empirical investigation.

Parents' preparation for bias, like parents' cultural socialization, has been hypothesized to protect children from threats to their self-esteem and well being posed by the race-related stressors they encounter (Spencer, 1983; Spencer & Markstrom Adams, 1990). However, empirical studies regarding the influences of preparation for bias on youth have produced inconsistent results. A few studies have supported the view that preparation for bias serves the sorts of protective functions that scholars have proposed. (Bowman & Howard, 1985; Knight et al., 1993; Spencer, 1983). However, other studies have indicated that children are negatively affected by parental socialization regarding the existence of racial barriers (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Marshall, 1995; Smith, Atkins, & Connell, 2003). For instance, in a study of southern African American fourth-grade children, Smith, Atkins, and Connell (2003) found that children's perceptions of racial barriers significantly predicted lower reading and math scores on the Stanford Achievement Test. Similarly, Marshall (1995) found that African American children's reports of more parental ethnic socialization, in general, were related to lower reading grades among the 9- and 10-year-olds she studied.

In our view, inconsistencies across studies examining the influence on children of parental communications about racial barriers may be due to subtle differences in the structure or content of such communications. Specifically, messages coded as preparation for bias may in fact be what we call promotion of mistrust.

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