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Negotiating Whiteness: White Children’s Racial Identity, Intergroup Attitudes, and Experiences of Socialization

  • Author(s): Hazelbaker, Taylor
  • Advisor(s): Mistry, Rashmita S
  • et al.

This 3-study dissertation explored White children’s negotiation of Whiteness, racial identity development, intergroup attitudes, and experiences of socialization. Participants were from an ethnically and racially diverse, rural elementary school in the Midwest United States. In Study 1, I explored the labels that White children (N = 53; Mage = 8.97, SD = 1.72) use to define themselves and their open-ended identity-related beliefs and knowledge. Results revealed that White children most often identified as American or with an ethnic heritage label. White children’s identity-related beliefs were grouped into five narratives indicating that some children were still developing identity-related beliefs whereas others’ beliefs conformed to dominant ideologies that normalized Whiteness. In Study 2, I examined White children’s (N = 53; Mage = 8.97, SD = 1.72) conceptions of and attitudes about ethnic-racial and religious groups and the degree to which they were correlated with child and parent level characteristics. Results indicated that White children reported more social group-related knowledge about ethnic as compared with racial and religious groups and more favorable attitudes about their own as compared with other groups. These dimensions of children’s intergroup attitudes were differentially correlated with parent level characteristics: children’s conceptions of ethnic-racial and religious groups were related to parents’ racial attitudes whereas children’s attitudes about these groups were related to parents’ comfort with intergroup contact and socialization practices. Using a phenomenological approach in Study 3, I explored White elementary school teachers’ (N = 12) attitudes about and strategies for addressing ethnicity, race, and related topics in their classrooms. Results highlighted a paradox in teachers’ attitudes and socialization about ethnicity and race. Teachers reported an appreciation for the school-level ethnic and racial diversity, while simultaneously endorsing a colorblind ideology. Additionally, while teachers reported incorporating race-related lessons and conversations, these topics were more frequently discussed in reaction to holidays and student-initiated questions. Taken together, these three studies illustrate the ubiquitous influence of the ideologies of White supremacy and colorblindness on White children’s developing understanding of themselves and others. Implications for racial identity development, the racial socialization of White children, and the development of anti-racist White children are discussed.

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