A sociologist examines how affluent white children think about race.
Join Linda Olson-Osterlund in a discussion with author and sociologist Margaret Hagerman examining how affluent white children think about race. Call (503) 231-8187 with your comments.
Hagerman (Sociology/Mississippi State Univ.) spent two years immersed with 30 privileged white Midwestern families to produce this timely ethnographic study. “Race shapes the lives of everyone in the United States,” writes the author, “whether people believe this to be true or not.” Her assertion is borne out in these interviews with 36 children (ages 10-13) and their parents, who “design” their kids’ social environments (neighborhoods, schools, etc.), shaping their interactions with and attitudes toward other races. She finds that these children “think about race and class inequality differently” depending on family experiences and daily interactions. Hagerman’s writing is scholarly and sometimes stodgy, but she provides revealing portraits: The Schultz parents think that “if ‘they’ could behave exactly like ‘us,’ we would welcome them”; Victoria and Ryan Chablis believe “current racial inequalities are the fault of people of color”; and the “well-meaning” Norbrooks, who keep their children in public school, “fail to acknowledge inequality and racism…[and] are unintentionally complicit in the reproduction of it.” Children, generally racially aware, often think for themselves: “Sometimes my mom is racist and tries to pretend like she isn’t,” says one 12-year-old girl. Yet while critical of racial inequality, the kids “believe they are better and more deserving than everyone else.” Hagerman is especially good on the “conundrum of privilege.” These families often want diversity but “choose to opt out of diverse spaces,” giving children the benefits of their wealth with all-white dance lessons and vacations. The ironies abound: “While some parents of black children are teaching their kids how to navigate racism to stay alive, some parents of white children are teaching their kids that race no longer matters in the United States.” The author concludes that white parents can fight racism “by rejecting the idea that their own child is more innocent and special and deserving,” but individual choices may not matter much “as long as structural inequality persists.”
A complex and nuanced academic book.
American kids are living in a world of ongoing public debates about race, daily displays of racial injustice, and for some, an increased awareness surrounding diversity and inclusion. In this heated context, sociologist Margaret A. Hagerman zeroes in on affluent, white kids to observe how they make sense of privilege, unequal educational opportunities, and police violence. In fascinating detail, Hagerman considers the role that they and their families play in the reproduction of racism and racial inequality in America.
White Kids, based on two years of research involving in-depth interviews with white kids and their families, is a clear-eyed and sometimes shocking account of how white kids learn about race. In doing so, this book explores questions such as, “How do white kids learn about race when they grow up in families that do not talk openly about race or acknowledge its impact?” and “What about children growing up in families with parents who consider themselves to be ‘anti-racist’?”
Featuring the actual voices of young, affluent white kids and what they think about race, racism, inequality, and privilege, White Kids illuminates how white racial socialization is much more dynamic, complex, and varied than previously recognized. It is a process that stretches beyond white parents’ explicit conversations with their white children and includes not only the choices parents make about neighborhoods, schools, peer groups, extracurricular activities, and media, but also the choices made by the kids themselves. By interviewing kids who are growing up in different racial contexts—from racially segregated to meaningfully integrated and from politically progressive to conservative—this important book documents key differences in the outcomes of white racial socialization across families. And by observing families in their everyday lives, this book explores the extent to which white families, even those with anti-racist intentions, reproduce and reinforce the forms of inequality they say they reject.