Do Mothers Pass On Racism More than Fathers?

Dubner has blogged before about the difficulty of gathering accurate data from adults on subjects like racism. The problem, he noted, lies in people’s tendencies to give answers that are socially appropriate but don’t necessarily reflect their actual views.

Children, however, are not often so guarded (or disingenuous, depending on how you look at it). As such, they can provide a better means of studying whether and how deeply racism is passed down through generations. Psychologists Luigi Castelli, Luciana Carraro, Silvia Tomelleri, and Antonella Amari employed this strategy in their new study, titled, “White children’s alignment to the perceived racial attitudes of the parents: Closer to the mother than father,” published in the September British Journal of Developmental Psychology. Rather than poll parents about their racial views and then compare the results to the views of their children, the researchers instead assessed the children’s perceptions of their parents’ views on race. The authors thereby lessened the chances of political correctness skewing their results. Their findings are summarized as follows:

Overall, the children showed a strong in-group preference in their choice of playmates and in the attribution of positive and negative traits to White and Black peers. In addition, children reported the belief that parents would be happier if they played with a White rather than a Black child. Finally, children anticipated that parents would also display racial biases. Most importantly, we found that children’s attitudes were strongly correlated with the perceived expectations and attitudes of the mothers but not the fathers.

The finding that children have a powerful ability to pick up on their parents’ racism is unsurprising, given that children learn the majority of their lessons on social interaction from watching their parents. But the conclusion that white mothers have more influence on their children’s decisions to choose only white friends seems more a result of circumstances than any special link between matriarchal racism and childhood psychology. The comparative influences of mothers versus fathers have been studied in the past, on topics like whether fathers play a larger role in shaping language development, and whether mothers have a greater influence on their kids’ career choices. In this case, playmate choices could be affected more by mothers simply because of the dogged fact that mothers still perform the bulk of childcare duties, and are thus the predominant supervisors during playtime and other social situations. If Dad isn’t around at playdates and birthday parties, chances are he’ll have less to say about the friends his kid ultimately chooses.

(Hat tip: British Psychological Society Blog)

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  1. coolrepublica says:

    A year ago the NYT had a article about how children learn language better from their fathers instead of their mothers. Now some other researchers are saying that children learn racism better from their mother. Something has got to give. Both research can’t be right about who children learn better from.

    My guess is children learn racism from the person that is more vocal about their opinion. Women sometimes can’t shut up about what they think. It would make sense that children will be bombarded daily with their mothers witching about racist views more than they would hear their fathers.

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  2. coolrepublica says:

    A year ago the NYT had a article about how children learn language better from their fathers instead of their mothers. Now some other researchers are saying that children learn racism better from their mother. Something has got to give. Both research can’t be right about who children learn better from.

    My guess is children learn racism from the person that is more vocal about their opinion. Women sometimes can’t shut up about what they think. It would make sense that children will be bombarded daily with their mothers witching about racist views more than they would hear their fathers.

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  3. Uhclem says:

    “Women sometimes can’t shut up about what they think. ”

    And yet, ironically, coolrepublica is probably not a woman.

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  4. Uhclem says:

    “Women sometimes can’t shut up about what they think. ”

    And yet, ironically, coolrepublica is probably not a woman.

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  5. G-Mac says:

    Learning racism and learning words are certainly two separate parts of the brain and would require two methods to learn. It is very possible both cases could hold true.

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  6. G-Mac says:

    Learning racism and learning words are certainly two separate parts of the brain and would require two methods to learn. It is very possible both cases could hold true.

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  7. SF lady says:

    I found this article interesting, but I have to wonder if the researchers have children. I live in San Francisco, where as a white woman I AM in the minority. ( I believe SF is currently 18% white) When my son was young he had a black friend (they met in an after-school program)who lived in the projects. I certainly wasn’t going to allow my son to play at an apartment in the projects without spending many hours to assess if the home was safe, a luxury of time that I didn’t have. Added to the local the boy’s mother worked and had several other small children. I would have to pick up and drop off the friend each time. I began discouraging the friendship not out of racism, but out of inconvenience.

    If my son was asked, would he have said I didn’t want him to have black friends?

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  8. SF lady says:

    I found this article interesting, but I have to wonder if the researchers have children. I live in San Francisco, where as a white woman I AM in the minority. ( I believe SF is currently 18% white) When my son was young he had a black friend (they met in an after-school program)who lived in the projects. I certainly wasn’t going to allow my son to play at an apartment in the projects without spending many hours to assess if the home was safe, a luxury of time that I didn’t have. Added to the local the boy’s mother worked and had several other small children. I would have to pick up and drop off the friend each time. I began discouraging the friendship not out of racism, but out of inconvenience.

    If my son was asked, would he have said I didn’t want him to have black friends?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0