Some call it “tough love,” others claim they’re just “keepin’ it real.” Either way, by preparing their children to face racism, parents hope their kids will be able to handle such realities in non-violent ways.
In their attempt to understand the impact of interpersonal racial discrimination on criminal offending, Callie Burt, Ronald Simmons, and Frederick Gibbons offer new insights into how African American parents prepare their children for experiences with racial bias in order to foster a sense of resilience. Based on panel data from several hundred male African American youth from the Family and Community Health Study, their findings show that higher instances of racial discrimination increase the likelihood of crime. But they also find that families use what they call “ethnic-racial socialization” (ERS) as a means of reducing this effect. According to the authors, ERS is “a class of adaptive and protective practices utilized by racial/ethnic minority families to promote functioning in a society stratified by race and ethnicity.” ERS is not necessarily a strategic effort, but an adaptive means of coping with racial inequality. In addition to reducing the impact of racial discrimination among the sample of black youth, ERS also weakened the effects of emotional distress, hostile views, and disengagement from norms on increased offending. Further, teaching kids about racism may prevent them from getting tangled up in criminal responses, but it’s also clear evidence that our society hasn’t transcended race or racism.
In an era of concerted cultivation and enlightened parenting, the need to steer children away from crime by revealing harsh inequalities at a young age seems futile. Ethnic-racial socialization strategies are not compatible with most middle-class cultural scripts. However, the irony in all of this is that most privileged parents are keeping it just as “real” as low-income parents of color. It is the stark contrast in how these parents practice concerted cultivation—whether in teaching piano scales or teaching kids to expect a racist world—that catches our attention.