Are today's white kids less racist than their grandparents?

September 17, 2018, The Conversation
Do we have any reason to believe that each new generation of white people will be more open-minded and tolerant than previous ones? Credit: Elvira Koneva

In America's children, we often see hope for a better future, especially when it comes to reducing racism.

Each new generation of , the thinking goes, will naturally and inevitably be more open-minded and tolerant than previous ones.

But do we have any reason to believe this? Should we have faith that today's white kids will help make our society less racist and more equitable?

Previous research has had mixed findings. So in order to explore more fully what white kids think about race, I went straight to the source: white children themselves.

In my new book, "White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America," I explore how 36 white, affluent kids think and talk about race, , privilege and inequality in their everyday lives.

The limitations of survey data

Before beginning my research, I looked at what previous studies on the racial attitudes of young white people had found.

According to some researchers, we do have reason to be hopeful.

Using survey data, they found that young white people are expressing less prejudice than generations before them. For instance, white support for segregated schools – a traditional measure of racial prejudice – has dramatically decreased over a 50-year period. And surveys show that younger whites are less likely to express racial stereotypes than older whites.

But a second group of researchers disagreed. They found that whites today simply articulate racial prejudice in new ways.

For example, according to national survey data, high school seniors are increasingly expressing a form of prejudice that sociologist Tyrone Forman calls "racial apathy" – an "indifference toward societal, racial, and ethnic inequality and lack of engagement with race-related social issues."

Racial apathy is a more passive form of prejudice than explicit articulations of bigotry and racial hostility. But such apathy can nonetheless lead white people to support policies and practices that align with the same racist logic of the past, like a lack of support for social programs and policies designed to address institutional racism or an indifference toward the suffering of people of color.

Other researchers question the ability of surveys to capture honest responses from whites about race-related questions or to describe the complexity of whites' perspectives on race.

As useful as surveys can be, they don't allow us to fully understand how white people explain, justify or develop their views on race.

What the kids are saying

In order to better understand how white children think about race, I interviewed and observed 30 affluent, white families with kids between the ages of 10 and 13 living in a Midwestern metropolitan area. Over the course of two years, I immersed myself in the everyday lives of these families, observing them in public and in the home, and interviewing the parents and the kids. A few years later, when the kids were in high school, I re-interviewed a subset of the original group.

These children had some shared understandings of race, like the idea that "race is the color of your skin." But when I brought up topics like racism, privilege and inequality, their responses started to diverge, and there was more variation than I anticipated.

Some kids told me that "racism is not a problem anymore." But others told me in great detail about the racial wealth gap, employment discrimination, unequal schooling, and racist treatment of black kids by police.

As an 11-year-old named Chris explained: "I think that the white kids, since they have more power in general in society … disciplinary actions aren't brought down as hard upon them. But when it's, you know, a black kid getting in trouble with the police … I think people are going to be tougher with them, because, you know, [black kids] can't really fight back as well."

Although some of the kids had much greater understandings of the history of racism in America, others flattened time and lumped all of African-American history together, while also mixing up names and dates.

One 11-year-old named Natalie told me: "Racism was a problem when all those slaves were around and that, like, bus thing and the water fountain. I mean, everything was crazy back in the olden days. … But now, I mean, since Martin Luther King and, like, Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she went on the bus. And she was African-American and sat on the white part. … After the 1920s and all that, things changed."

When it came to the understandings of privilege and inequality, some kids made comments like, "There's no such thing [as privilege]. Everyone gets what they deserve in life, if they work for it."

Other kids disagreed, like 11-year-old Aaron: "I think [whites] just kind of have the upside. … And since much of society is run by white people anyway, which is an upside, more white people are, you know, accepted into jobs, so they get the upside. So, yeah, I do think they have the upside."

I also found that many of the children expressed forms of racial apathy. When a black teenager was shot and killed by a police officer in the community, 16-year-old Jessica told me that she "did not care" about black people being killed because they "obviously did something to deserve it."

But some kids, like 16-year-old Charlotte, had a very different reaction: "It should all be stopped. There is actually a problem and a system that allowed this to happen. … Technically, legally, what that officer did was 'okay'? It's like, well, maybe that's the problem. Maybe killing black people shouldn't be legally 'okay,' you know?"

The importance of a child's social world

Why such stark differences among these kids?

It wasn't simply a matter of these kids repeating the views of their parents.

I found that their perspectives were shaped less by what their parents explicitly said about race and more by the social environments these kids grew up in – and how their parents constructed these environments.

Decisions parents made about where to live, where to send their kids to school, which extracurricular activities to enroll them in, where they traveled and what media they consumed work to create what I refer to as a child's "racial context of childhood."

Within this racial context, kids developed ideas about race by observing and interpreting what was going on around them. And because of important variations in these social environments, the children made sense of race in different ways.

In this sense, my work builds on existing scholarship on how children develop understandings about race and racism in the context of family, place, early school experiences,elementary and secondary schools, child care and even summer camp.

All of these aspects of a child's social environment play a role in shaping how they learn about race.

Are white kids less racist than their grandparents? My research with kids doesn't give us any reason to believe that each new generation of white people will naturally or inevitably hold more open-minded and tolerant viewpoints on than previous generations.

Dismantling racism in the United States will require more than just passive hope.

Explore further: Can white kids grow up to be black? Some preschoolers think so

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11 comments

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julianpenrod
2.5 / 5 (8) Sep 17, 2018
Among other things, much the same old garbage.
Mention the word "racism" and, automatically, whites and whites alone are invoked.
Never any consideration of racist or bigoted feelings on the part of other races toward various groups and races.
The political agenda to try to demean and browbeat whites which gave rise to accusations of "racism" had, as part of its structure, also apotheosizing everyone other than whites! They are all perfect, whites are all foul.
But, then, the real definition of "racism" is recognizing that qualities such as spiritual, emotional, ethical, intellectual differ by race. It has nothing to do with hate or trying to hurt someone! If children are raised not to be racist in that way, that means they will e essentially politically indoctrinated since birth not to see what's around them.
mqr
1.3 / 5 (6) Sep 17, 2018
well, why???

who created the nazis?
and the KKK?
and apartheid?

do we need to continue???

Yes, humans are aggressive, but few groups had based their hatred on skin color, except the ones that have recessive genes. Chinese have resintments against japanese, but they are not based on that the Japanese have a darker or lighter skin.

in case a white victim is about to react, it would be good if makes a list of the hate groups created by the Chinese, the Indians, etc.... and do not come back with ''see? blacks in Alabama have prejudice'' because of course most of the planet have prejudice against whites, the very stable geniuses
-creators of world wars
-inventors of child porn
-inventors of nuclear weapons
-invasors with entitlement, because the whole planet belongs to them, once they had arrived, check south Africa, America, etc.... once whites arrived to steal and murder, they own the land!!!!

God prefers whites.... Why? because they will murder you if you disagree
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2018
A demonstration of, among other things, the power of notoriety. The "press" writes about the Nazis, the KKK, but not about the dozens of genocidal attacks on various groups that take place daily throughout Africa, so many, many, only know certain things occur and not others. And they "conclude" that those other things not "reported" on don't exist. And Trump uses things like the constant murdering in Africa to call those countries sewer level and those who have only a superficial understanding of the world think he is necessarily wrong. The Nazis were as politically motivated as the genocidal attacks in Africa.
mqr
1.2 / 5 (5) Sep 17, 2018
The second world war took 50 million human lives.....

The invasion of Africa by the Europeans killed at least 20 million of people, leaded by Leopold II from Belgium....

But I bet a very stable genius, in his ''post-truth'' state, is re-writing history right now, and the invasion was not like that.... those African went to Europe and tried to murder all those good people that were seeking God.... lol

The average white male is:
-chubby
-sterile, yet infected with STDs
-hateful
-psychopathic

the average.... there are good white people out there..... not all are white trash
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2018
And The North running roughshod over The South during Reconstruction can be said to be the source of much of the resentment behind such things as the KKK. Again, the "press" depicts all Southerners as wanting slavery because they hated the blacks. The "press" won't admit that most whites in the South did not own slaves and many resented slavery because it kept them from getting jobs! When the whites fought for the South, it was for reasons other than slavery!
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2018
It can be said that, if someone builds a cart but doesn't let another use it, it can be said to be an unethical act, but it is an act the individual has an option to engage in because they built the cart. A shiftless layabout may not deny use of a cart to another, not because they are more ethical, but because they don't have a cart to deny the other. You can say blacks didn't use an atomic bomb, but is it because they chose not to, or because they couldn't handle the mathematics to design one? Whites have built major civilizations, collections of people who can act together. Blacks don't seem to have mastered that. The assigning of qualities of race includes spiritual, emotional, ethical, intellectual abilities. Many who are intellectually superior may not be spiritually superior, but they are intellectually superior.
Benni
5 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2018
Why the focus on "white kids"? Sounds like the trappings of a hidden agenda focusing on just a single racial group.
cantdrive85
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2018
well, why???

who created the nazis?
and the KKK?
and apartheid?

do we need to continue???

The same folks who were responsible for the slave trade to the Americas. And the fractional reserve banking system. And the current apartheid regime located in the Middle East who illegally ratified the Balfour Treaty after sacrificing millions of their own.
granville583762
5 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2018
The children born today are not responsible for events that occurred over 70 years ago, it is up to the different races to assimilate on their own accord, and bringing up events like this is of no relevance of children born this century!
granville583762
4 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2018
Longer than this little boys allotted life span to go before his maker to be reborn a little child once more!

By all means discus and question these historical events, but as to the context children born last century and especially this century, these events have absolutely no relevance to little children born this century, and the little child in question portrayed in pictorial form, his little hand and tiny fingers suggest a child of only a few years old who has no relevance and knowledge and no responsibility to events that happened over 70 years ago, probably longer than this little child might live his allotted life span before he goes before his maker to be reborn a little child once more!
Anonym216579
3 / 5 (2) Sep 18, 2018
MQR: Wow could you have your head stuck any further in the sand? There are dozens of violent BLACK hate groups out there in the US. The new black panther party, nation of islam, black lives matter, national black foot soldiers, black riders liberation... dont even get me started on the latino hate groups like la raza. Black hate groups heavily influence black youth through rap music, thats a fact. Racism/violence against jews and white people is skyrocketing while the reverse is on the decline. White people are scared to death of being labeled racists thanks to the efforts of the progressive media. White people today are guilty of only reverse racism. While the minorities have carte blanche to treat whites like sub humans.

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