Unpacking Racial Socialization: Considering Female African American Primary Caregivers' Racial Identity

By Scottham, Krista Maywalt; Smalls, Ciara P. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Unpacking Racial Socialization: Considering Female African American Primary Caregivers' Racial Identity


Scottham, Krista Maywalt, Smalls, Ciara P., Journal of Marriage and Family


The relationship between female African American primary caregivers' racial identity and their racial socialization emphases was examined. Three components of racial identity were evaluated: (1) the importance of race to the self-concept (centrality), (2) affective feelings toward group membership (private regard), and (3) perceptions of how group members are perceived by nonmembers (public regard). Latent class cluster analysis was used to identify racial identity profiles, or dominant combinations of racial centrality, private regard, and public regard among a sample of 208 female African American primary caregivers. Mean differences in the content of caregivers' socialization emphases by profile group were then assessed. Findings indicated that caregivers with different identity profiles emphasized different messages. These findings and their implications are discussed.

Key Words: cluster analysis, family diversity, family processes, parent-adolescent relations, U.S. families/African American.

In a review of the race socialization literature, D. Hughes, Rodriguez, Smith, Johnson, Stevenson, and Spicer (2006) called for a more nuanced look at the relationship between racial identity and race socialization emphases among caregivers. The current study answers this call by examining the combined effects of previously unexamined facets of racial identity, illuminating how female caregivers' beliefs about race and intergroup relations (racial identity) influence the types of messages that they transmit to their children.

Racial Socialization

Defined as verbal and behavioral messages transmitted to younger generations for the development of values, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs regarding the meaning and significance of race and racial stratification, racial socialization represents the process by which caregivers teach children about the social meaning of race and racial group membership (LesaneBrown, 2006; Lesane-Brown, Brown, Caldwell, & Sellers, 2005). Racial socialization is common among African Americans, who are faced with the daunting task of providing information that will allow their children to survive and prosper in a society that often devalues African American culture (Bowman & Howard, 1985; Caughy, O'Campo, Randolph, & Nickerson, 2002; Stevenson, Reed, & Bodison, 1996; Thornton, Chatters, Taylor, & Allen, 1990). Indeed, a growing body of literature indicates that racial socialization can protect African American youth from the negative effects of prejudice and discrimination (Fischer & Shaw, 1999), nurture the development of positive in-group attitudes (Demo & Hughes, 1990; O'Connor, Brooks-Gunn, & Graber, 2000), and buttress youths' self-concept (Constantine & Blackmon, 2002), which has been associated with positive life outcomes such as academic achievement (Chavous et al., 2003).

The majority of race socialization research has focused on determining the types of messages that caregivers communicate to their children. Although experts have not reached consensus about the number and nature of these messages, several types have consistently emerged across the literature. Specifically, although researchers have used different terminologies to define them, themes related to the existence of egalitär ianism, racial group pride, racial barriers, and engagement in activities or behaviors involving African American culture are shared by many of the existing theoretical conceptualizations and empirical findings related to racial socialization among African Americans (Bowman & Howard, 1985; Demo & Hughes, 1990; D. Hughes & Chen, 1997; Phinney & Chavira, 1995; Stevenson, 1994; Thornton et al., 1990).

Egalitarian messages have been identified as the most frequently emphasized message among African American caregivers. When transmitting egalitarian messages, caregivers try to teach children that all racial groups are equal and that, although important, race is not a self-defining characteristic (D. …

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