Proactive and Reactive Messages

Parents' racial/ethnic socialization messages may emanate from parents' preconceived values, goals, and agendas or they may occur in reaction to discrete events in parent's or children's lives. We conceive of the former type of message as being proactive and the later type of message as reactive. This distinction is important as these two types of messages are likely to have distinct properties. For example, a feature of proactive racial/ethnic socialization messages, whether explicit or implicit, is that they have internally consistent structures and are intimately linked to parents' worldviews and experiences. That is, like anticipatory socialization mechanisms (e.g., Nsamenang & Lamb, 1995), proactive racial/ethnic socialization reflects parents' views of the strengths and competencies their children will need in order to function effectively in their adult social roles. For example, research has found that many African American parents believe their children will inevitably encounter racism and discrimination (e.g., Essed, 1990; Peters, 1981) and these expectations are likely to guide discussions with children that are focused on preparing children for these events. In a similar manner, parents may value diversity and pluralism and therefore engage in proactive efforts to provide multicultural environments for their children such as diverse play groups and schools. Indeed, most parents are likely to simultaneously hold multiple ethnic/racial/ethnic socialization agendas (e.g., encouraging appreciation of diversity and preparing children for racial bias) and thus a range of proactive efforts may be observed within the same individual.

In contrast to proactive racial/ethnic socialization, we conceive of reactive racial/ethnic socialization as that which occurs inadvertently in response to race-related incidents that parents or children have experienced, or in response to children's general queries about racial issues. Whereas proactive racial/ethnic socialization messages are likely to be internally consistent, reactive messages may or may not reflect parents' intentional racial/ethnic socialization agendas because parents' discomfort with or unprepared ness for, discussions that children initiate may result in messages to children that parents did not intend. In light of this, reactive racial/ethnic socialization is characteristically ad hoc and may or may not be a part of a deliberate socialization agenda. Therein, reactive messages are less likely than are proactive messages to form a coherent entity that is consistently reproduced in interactions with children. Notably, these sorts of reactive messages pose particular methodological challenges to researchers, because parents may be unaware of, or unwilling to report, them. For instance, when parents answer survey-type items about their racial/ethnic socialization practices, it seems reasonable to assume that they will reflect on what they intend and hope to communicate to their children more so than on potentially brief exchanges that characterize the sorts of reactive racial/ethnic socialization of interest to us.

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