Archive for children
The archived video(s) of An Exploration of Whiteness and Health A Roundtable Discussion
is available beginning here (updated 12/16/12):
The examination of whiteness in the scholarly literature is well established (Fine et al., 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Hughey, 2010; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Whiteness, like other racial categories, is socially constructed and actively maintained through the social boundaries by, for example, defining who is white and is not white (Allen, 1994; Daniels, 1997; Roediger, 2007; Wray, 2006). The seeming invisibility of whiteness is one of its’ central mechanisms because it allows those within the category white to think of themselves as simply human, individual and without race, while Others are racialized (Dyer, 1998). We know that whiteness shapes housing (Low, 2009), education (Leonardo, 2009), politics (Feagin, 2012), law (Lopez, 2006), research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008) and indeed, frames much of our misapprehension of society (Feagin, 2010; Lipsitz, 1998). Still, we understand little of how whiteness and health are connected. Being socially assigned as white is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status (Jones et al., 2008). Anderson’s ground breaking book The Cultivation of Whiteness (2006) offers an exhaustive examination of the way whiteness was deployed as a scientific and medical category in Australia though to the second world war. Yet, there is relatively little beyond this that explores the myriad connections between whiteness and health (Daniels and Schulz, 2006; Daniels, 2012; Katz Rothman, 2001). References listed here.
The Whiteness & Health Roundtable is an afternoon conversation with scholars and activists doing work on this area.
The roundtable is sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) and the Critical Social & Environmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center CUNY. The event is hosted by Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor, Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education), Jessie Daniels (Professor, Urban Public Health and Sociology) and Rachel Liebert, (PhD Student, Critical Social/Personality Psychology).
Parents know what their children need, especially when it comes to their education. And it’s about time that we start listening to them. In the nation’s rush to blame everyone, including the parents, for children’s, especially minority children’s, educational failure, we have stopped listening to the people who know the most about their own, and their community’s children. The parents. And instead of listening to these parents, these mothers, we listen to everyone else. Everyone else gets a say in what is right or wrong, but mostly wrong, with the schools – movie directors, politicians, educational policy experts, and academics (myself included). And most of these people do not have children in the public schools (again, myself included), particularly the low income public schools that bear the brunt of most criticism.
And it’s not as if these parents are not demanding to be heard. It’s just that the United States is used to ignoring them. Historically, low income minority women have been the most marginalized, oppressed, and disenfranchised, suffering from what Patricia Hill Collins calls a triple threat of disadvantage. For those parents who might not speak English fluently or speak it as their first language, this is only all the more true. However, it’s not as if these groups do not advocate on behalf of their children. They do. It’s just these groups are often intentionally ignored, or silenced, because to listen to them would call attention to the tremendous injustices that not only they, but their children, the most vulnerable of our American citizens, suffer.
Stigmatized as being on welfare, sexually promiscuous, or involved with illegal drugs, low income minority mothers are often seen as social pariahs. But the stores of knowledge they hold, both with regard to their own cultures and histories, as well as the oppositional consciousnesses documenting the explicit injustices to which their children are subject are profound. And they must be heard. We, as the American public, must listen as they rally nationally – in Bridgeport, Connecticut, New York City, Paterson, N.J., Baltimore, Dallas, Texas, Sacramento, Chicago, and St. Augustine, Florida. In these cities, and so many others, they rally.
Demanding that school boards address the existence of toxic substances in their schools, increased parental involvement, that schools in their neighborhoods not be closed, overcrowding , privatization of school employees, cuts to education funding, physically abusive teachers, and fewer tests, these parents clearly know what the specific problems in the schools are.
They do not need educational experts, politicians, or others who have never stepped inside their neighborhood (unless to campaign), much less their schools, to tell them what is keeping minority test scores low. They know. And it’s time the rest of the country listen. This July, parents, as well as teachers and other supporters, from around the nation will convene in Washington, D.C., to reclaim their rightful control over their children’s futures. I hope we listen.
In response to a recent New York Times article entitled “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above”, which suggests mixed race teens are “beginning to reject the “one-drop rule” and embrace their multiple racial heritages,” Tuesday, John McWhorter, conservative author of Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, wrote an article in The Root entitled “Let’s Stop Being Angry at Biracial People.” In typical McWhorter fashion, the author was very critical of Blacks arguing they are “adopting the racial-classification strategies of Strom Thurmond” and other white supremacist by encouraging biracials to identify as Black. McWhorter’s argument could not be further from the truth. Black animosity toward multiracials does not stem from internalizing white racist classification schemes. Blacks’ hostility toward multiracialism stems from biracials privileging their personal identities over the universal struggle of people of color against white supremacy. Supporting this claim, Natalie, a respondent in my current project looking at the multiracial movement, suggests:
They [the multiracial movement] need to become more aware of the politics of race in the United States rooted in equality concerns not cultural identity concerns. Cultural identity is fluid and highly personal, but racial justice is a need for the collective to embrace with an understanding of how nonwhites are viewed.
Natalie, as well as sociologists Rainier Spencerand Jared Sexton, suggests, the problems between biracials and Blacks are rooted in biracials placing a higher priority on personal identity recognition than on universal racial justice. McWhorter’s argument is based on a false assumption and only serves to frame Blacks as racist and pathological–as much of his work does. Arguing Blacks are the party championing racism, it is McWhorter who has embraced the colorblind lie and denial of the systemic nature of race in America.
In McWhorter’s argument, Black anger toward the multiracial project stems not just from accepting the white racist classification system, but also from deep feelings of self-hate. According to McWhorter:
That anger comes from insult — specifically, a sense that Troy must think he’s better than they are. After all, why couldn’t they just allow that Troy has had a different life from theirs? Or, more simply, open up to the obvious fact that some people are genetically (and culturally) more black than others? Those would be perfectly natural responses. Thinking that Troy looks down on you is just one alternative. And that alternative can feel natural only to someone who deep down does feel that being black is somehow lowly. [Emphasis added]
This excerpt reveals McWhorter’s assumptions about Blacks. In this statement it is clear McWhorter believes Blacks feel themselves to be a “lowly” and inferior race and thus perceive expressions of multiraciality to be offensive. However, as evidenced in their rich counter-frames, Blacks have historically maintained a positive self-image despite whites’ assault on their personhood.
It is whites who view blackness as a lowly status, not Blacks. The historical record shows McWhorter’s assumption of Black self-loathing to be clearly incorrect. After this assumption is shown to be false, McWhorter’s argument collapses. Once it is shown Blacks love themselves, McWhorter doesn’t have an argument because Black self-hate is the core of why he believes Blacks oppose multiracialism.. Therefore, biracials being encouraged to identify as Black is not an act of anger for “looking down on Blackness” or “letting racism win.” The frustration Blacks feel toward the multiracial project is a result of Blacks commitment to racial justice, not self-hate or internalizing racist classification schemes as McWhorter suggests.
The National Center for Education Statistics has just released a very interesting and revealing 2010 statistical report– Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups–on children and parents, with a main emphasis on educational issues. Here are just a few of their findings:
photo credit: Steve Snodgrass
The percentages of children who were living in poverty were higher for Blacks (34 percent), American Indians/Alaska Natives (33 percent), Hispanics (27 percent), and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders (26 percent), than for children of two or more races (18 percent), Asians (11 percent) and Whites (10 percent).
Forty-eight percent of public school 4th-graders were eligible for free or reduced- price lunches in 2009, including 77 percent of Hispanic, 74 percent of Black, 68 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native, 34 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, and 29 percent of White 4th-graders.
These revealing data show extreme poverty levels for major groups of color, with very high levels qualifying for reduced-price or free lunches. Among other things the data demonstrate huge problems of structural inequality and racism that seem to be off the white-controlled policy agenda for the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
In 2008, some 44 percent of White 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges and universities, while in 1980 some 28 percent were enrolled. In addition, approximately 32 percent of Black 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in colleges or universities (an increase of 12 percentage points from 1980) and 26 percent of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled (an increase of 10 percentage points from 1980).
Inequality and structural racism at lower grades contribute substantially to inequalities up the line at college. Here, again, very substantial differentials. Some other data also tell us something significant about current immigration and demographic patterns:
In 2008, a higher percentage of Asian children (51 percent) had a mother with at least a bachelor’s degree than did White children (36 percent), children of two or more races (31 percent), Black children (17 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native children (16 percent), and Hispanic children (11 percent).
The Asian children are more likely to be the children of documented immigrants, who have come in under a biased U.S. immigration system that increasingly tends to “cream off” the world’s middle and upper middle classes. Thus, many documented immigrants come in with college degrees and some social or economic capital that facilitates socioeconomic their and their children’s mobility in the U.S. Other children of color are no so fortunate, including those who are the children of undocumented Latino immigrants. Other data are also revealing:
In 2007, a higher percentage of White (18 percent) children ages 12 to 17 reported drinking alcohol in the past month than did their Hispanic (15 percent) peers, peers of two or more races (13 percent), and Black (10 percent) and Asian (8 percent) peers.
I wonder why we do not have white leaders and politicians talking a lot about the “white problem” of drug (alcohol) use among white youth in the U.S.
And like other studies they also show the trend toward an more diverse society where whites are gradually becoming a statistical minority, especially among children:
Between 1980 and 2008, the racial/ethnic composition of the United States shifted— the White population declined from 80 percent of the total population to 66 percent; the Hispanic population increased from 6 percent of the total to 15 percent; the Black population remained at about 12 percent; and the Asian/Pacific Islander population increased from less than 2 percent of the total population to 4 percent. In 2008, American Indians/Alaska Natives made up about 1 percent and people of two or more races made up about 1 percent of the population.
And these demographic changes continue at a fast pace today.
A farcical show of racism took place recently in Prescott, an Arizona city of 34,000, located 120 miles north of Phoenix. The cause was the opposition by some local citizens to a public mural located at an elementary school. The mural’s purpose was to advertise a “green transportation campaign.” Likenesses of four elementary school children of various races were part of the display.
The presence of nonwhite children in the mural bothered some of the local white citizens. Regarding the painted wall, one of the mural artists, reported that as the artists and some children worked on the project they were heckled. “We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics).”
Wall reported that subsequently school principal Jeff Lane asked him to make the children’s faces appear “happier and brighter.”
“It is being lightened because of the controversy,” Wall said. He added that, “they want it to look like the children are coming into light.”
It would appear that ‘brighter’ and ‘coming into light’ mean ‘whiter.’ Yet Lane denied any political pressure, asserting the changes were made “from an artistic view. nothing to do with race.”
It is important to note that the mural was funded by a state grant. Furthermore, Wall reported that thousands of town residents volunteered or donated to the project.
Nevertheless the ‘mural battle’ is a stark reminder that racism still is alive, even if sometimes it comes as tragicomedy.
Rollingout.com has a nice personal interest story, with a very important point. The story is about the Imafidon family, a black-British family, and its very-very-high-achieving children. First there are the two nine-year-old twins, Peter and Paula, who are the youngest to
ever pass the University of Cambridge’s advanced mathematics exam. That’s on top of the fact they have set world records when they passed the A/AS-level math papers.
Nine years old! But these two children are not alone, because their sister Anne-Marie
holds the world record as the youngest girl to pass the A-level computing, when she was just 13. She is now studying at . . . Johns Hopkins University …. Sister Christina, 17, is the youngest student to ever get accepted and study at an undergraduate institution at any British university at the tender age of 11. And Samantha, now age 12, had passed two rigorous high school-level mathematics and statistics exams at the age of 6…
The father immigrated to London from Nigeria three decades back, and he makes a key point about why these working class children have done well in England:
….. he denies there is some “genius gene” in his family. Instead, he credits his children’s success to the Excellence in Education program for disadvantaged inner-city children. “Every child is a genius,” he told British reporters. “Once you identify the talent of a child and put them in the environment that will nurture that talent, then the sky is the limit. Look at Tiger Woods or the Williams sisters … they were nurtured.”
Doubtless, he is underplaying parental efforts here, but still his point is dramatic.
So, of course, in the U.S. we starve and re-Jim-Crow our inner-city educational programs for decades, then when the Bush Depression kicks in, our governments’ solutions include giving a trillion dollars in aid to Wall Street’s white-collar, low-intelligence deviants, but cutting back on many local educational and other social support programs that develop young talent in areas where we need it.
Perhaps we need to send our (mostly white) politicians to study with this savvy father and his very talented kids. Maybe they can get their “low IQs” up a little?
CNN has had a University of Chicago professor, Margaret Beale Spencer, to test 133 black and white children (in two groups, one 4-5 and one 9-10 years old) in eight schools in New York City and Georgia, to see their preferences for white and black skin, a sort of contemporary testing of issues that psychologist Ken Clark raised many years ago – and that were used in the famous footnote to the Brown decision. The CNN website gives this summary:
Spencer’s researchers asked the younger children a series of questions and had them answer by pointing to one of five cartoon pictures that varied in skin color from light to dark. The older children were asked the same questions using the same cartoon pictures, and were then asked a series of questions about a color bar chart that showed light to dark skin tones. The tests showed that white children, as a whole, responded with a high rate of what researchers call “white bias,” identifying the color of their own skin with positive attributes and darker skin with negative attributes. Spencer said even black children, as a whole, have some bias toward whiteness, but far less than white children.
Spencer adds this point:
“What’s really significant here is that white children are learning or maintaining those stereotypes much more strongly than the African-American children. Therefore, the white youngsters are even more stereotypic in their responses concerning attitudes, beliefs and attitudes and preferences than the African-American children.” … Spencer says this may be happening because “parents of color in particular had the extra burden of helping to function as an interpretative wedge for their children. Parents have to reframe what children experience … and the fact that white children and families don’t have to engage in that level of parenting, I think, does suggest a level of entitlement. You can spend more time on spelling, math and reading, because you don’t have that extra task of basically reframing messages that children get from society.”
Well, whites invented and maintained the system of racial oppression, and its rationalizing white racial frame, with many anti-black and anti-other stereotypes–and lots of pro-white stereotypes as well. So, the white children get a much better “education” in racist stereotyping 101. And the Black children are having to fight back against this white racist framing of both virtuous whiteness and negative stuff about their own group. And of course black parents and children have to reframe this racist stuff. There is a strong, 380-year-old black counter frame against the white racial frame, in much of black America. Apparently, psychologists do not think much in historical and structural terms, or read research on systemic racism and the old white racial frame.
Then there is this comment in the CNN article:
Spencer was also surprised that children’s ideas about race, for the most part, don’t evolve as they get older. The study showed that children’s ideas about race change little from age 5 to age 10.
Again, there is some good sociological literature over the last decade that shows just how early white children learn the white racial frame of African Americans and other Americans of color – which CNN and these psychologists might well have consulted too.
The recent issue of Newsweek has an interesting article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, award-winning science journalists, on some psychological research on children and racial matters, apparently an excerpt from a new book NurtureShock.
The psychological studies cited provide revealing data, yet they and this Newsweek article are written substantially from a white frame. Physical science and social science writers and researchers often seem to have trouble in seeing the larger context of systemic racism and its white racial frame as they assess even research findings on racial matters. The model of society implicit in most mainstream research on racial issues assumes we live in a basically healthy society where racial “prejudices” are just a “problem” that is matter of individual frailties and modest remedial actions.
The Newsweek article begins with a description of research at the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas, in liberal Austin, Texas. There researcher Birgitte Vittrup recruited 100 white families with children 5-7 years old. She first asked the children questions about “How many White people are nice?” and “How many Black people are nice?” (and similar questions with other adjectives), with options from “almost all” to “none” offered to children. Then she split the group into thirds. One parental group was asked to show multiculturally themed videos to their children. Another group was asked to show these videos and then talk with their children about interracial friendships using a checklist of points. The third group was given the checklist and asked to talk with their children for several days, but with no videos.
One surprise happened immediately:
Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.” Vittrup was taken aback—these families volunteered . . . . every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. …
Very revealing data. Most parents wanted their children to be color blind, but they were not in her testing.
Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” . . . . Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.”
And other negative views of black Americans. Very likely, the kids have learned by observing parental actions, and from their peers, but this is not discussed in the article. The writers note that the three groups of children tested much the same in racial attitudes, and the researcher found no significant effects from the different parental teaching conditions. However, studying the parent diaries revealed that the parents did not use the checklist much and actually only gave vague instructions to the kids about “everyone being equal.” The writers conclude that parents fear that talking about race will highlight it for the children and make them see racial differences. They then ask
The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race?
A rather naïve way of putting it. Denial of racism is never a way to solve it. But these data show that that even liberal white parents do not talk much about racial matters with their children. And then these writers go to make an assertion about our era, and cite some more interesting research:
The election of President Barack Obama marked the beginning of a new era in race relations in the United States—but it didn’t resolve the question as to what we should tell children about race. ….. For decades, it was assumed that children see race only when society points it out to them. However, child-development researchers have increasingly begun to question that presumption. They argue that children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue—but we tell kids that “pink” means for girls and “blue” is for boys. “White” and “black” are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own. . .. Within the past decade or so, developmental psychologists have begun a handful of longitudinal studies to determine exactly when children develop bias. Phyllis Katz, then a professor at the University of Colorado, led one such study—following 100 black children and 100 white children for their first six years. She tested these children and their parents nine times during those six years, with the first test at 6 months old. . . . When the kids turned 3, Katz showed them photographs of other children and asked them to choose whom they’d like to have as friends. Of the white children, 86 percent picked children of their own race.
Interesting data from Katz suggesting clearly that there is no “post-racial society.” These writers show here a naïve and white-framed notion about Obama bringing a new era. And here is another sentence toward the end of their piece:
Over the course of our research, we heard many stories of how people—from parents to teachers—were struggling to talk about race with their children.
Clearly they mean white parents here. Indeed, African American parents have to talk substantially with their children about race as a matter of course, and survival.
Moreover, sociologists like Debi Van Ausdale and me, among others, have at least since the 1990s shown very clearly that children as young as 3-4 years old have very substantial understandings of racial matters. Such data clearly reveal that children see “race” without it being pointed out formally to them. For example, we show in our research that young white children know how to use the N-word, and can explain what it means. They also show much knowledge that “white” means power and privilege. White children learn the white racial frame from parents and the media, but they learn perhaps most from each other in children’s groups and networks, the latter not mentioned in this article. We found that children are quite active actors in their own networks in making and using white-racist ideas and terms, that they are not just little mirrors of what they see adults doing. There is no mention in this psychologically oriented article of the structural and group realities in which these children live and learn–and indeed that this research is now at least a decade old. There is nothing new here.
Certainly, a structural and systemic analysis is very necessary to understand how children learn racist views and racist framing in this society. A structural analysis is required that sets young children in the larger family, peer group, community, regional, and national contexts where there is still systemic racism in every major nook and cranny of society. One is hard pressed to find any significant part of this society where white racism, individual and institutional, is not significant or widespread. This is true for children like everyone else.
The white racial frame seems to be operating everywhere in this society, including in the way children’s books are written, framed, and produced by the mostly white-run publishing industry. This dominant frame is amazingly well-conditioned, inbedded deeply in minds and brains, and often relatively unconscious. For example, Mitali Perkins has an interesting article in a recent School Library Journal examining stereotypes in children’s books.
She raises important questions for teachers (and thus libraries and others) about what to look for in assessing how a children’s book deals with racial matters, questions such as these:
How and why does the author define race? Is the cover art true to the story? Who are the change agents? How is beauty defined?
Consider her reasoning on a few of these issues. One question and answer set is about whether and how authors of children’s books take note of the racial realities of characters:
Ask . . . Why did the author choose to define race? If the only answer you come up with is “maybe he wanted to show how open-minded he is” or “she could have been trying to move the world toward a better day,” that’s not good enough. A better answer might be, “because the particular community where the action is set is diverse.” Or, “because the protagonist knew how to make kimchee from scratch.” The story and characters, not the author’s best political intentions, should determine whether or not he or she defines race.
I see her point about making racial identification part of a real story, but I think it is fine for authors to intentionally work a diversity of characters into a book with an eye to moving our racist “world toward a better day” — and indeed making it realistic for children living in our multiracial world. She next makes this very point in discussing how most children’s books leave out characters of color. Books
must express diversity lest we fall into the trap of the television show Friends, in which an all-white cast lived and worked in an apparently all-white New York City. Sadly, in the children’s book world we’re not too far from portraying that kind of nonexistent America. Statistics show that 17 percent of students enrolled in American schools are African American. During 2008, however, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center . . . found that among the 3,000 or so titles they received, only six percent had significant African or African-American content. While 20 percent of the country’s students are Latino, only about two percent of all books reviewed by CCBC had significant Latino content.
Once again, we see how the deep white framing of mostly white publishers keeps the children’s book world pretty white. The impact on all children of such white framing is quite significant, as numerous studies show. Another issue she raises is in regard to book covers for children’s books. Numerous books are published with covers that downplay the main characters’ racial group if that group is not white:
Consider the advance readers’ copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Powers . . . released with a white model on the cover despite the protagonist’s Himalayan ancestry.
The final cover was belatedly changed to be more realistic. In these cases, and there are a great many, the envisioned sales audience is white, and in the publishers’ view the latter should not have to encounter faces of people of color on covers. On this point, Felicia Pride at theroot.com writes about a recent incident where the initial cover put on books had a white girl on it:
Looks like book publishing isn’t all that post-racial, but we already knew that. A controversy has been brewing regarding the book cover for “Liar,” a young adult novel by Justine Larbalestier that’s set to publish at the end of September by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The cover (see right) features a young white girl whose faced is partially covered by her long straight hair. The problem? The book’s main character is black.
The publisher eventually pulled the many first covers and put an African American, but still light-skinned skinned, girl on the new covers. In this case protests against the whitewashed cover had a significant impact. One sign of anti-racist action, and a first step in antiracist action, is the problematizing of what was once seen as just normal and natural framing.