This episode is part of a series on understanding the intersection of race, privilege, and parenting. Click here to view all the items in this series.
This episode launches a series of conversations on the intersection of race and parenting. I spent a month wading around in the psychological literature on this topic and deciding how best to approach it, and eventually decided to split it into four topics.
Today we’ll dig into white privilege in parenting through a conversation with Dr. Margaret Hagerman on her book White kids: Growing up with privilege in a racially divided America.
For those of us who are white, white privilege can be an incredibly uncomfortable to discuss. After all, we didn’t ask for this privilege – we were just born into a system where we have it. But the reality is that we do have it, and many of the actions we take on a daily basis mean that we don’t just benefit from it but we actively take steps to perpetuate that advantage. So in this episode we’ll learn how we can recognize that privilege in our lives and we’ll start to learn about some steps we can take to address it.
In upcoming episodes we’ll look at white privilege in schools, parents’ responsibility to work on dismantling systems of racial privilege, how to talk with children about race, and what children learn about race in school (and what you can do to supplement this).
I’m really excited to begin this conversation, but at the same time I want to acknowledge that while these episodes are based on a close reading of the literature, this is a massive subject and I’m not the expert here – I’m learning along with you. If you think I’ve missed the mark, do let me know either in the comments or via the Contact page. And if you’d like to participate in a series of conversations on this topic with other interested parents, do join us in the free Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group – just search for #whiteprivilege to find the thread.
You might also be interested to listen back to earlier related episodes:
Wait, is my toddler racist? (Recorded back when I was still learning to distinguish between prejudice and racism!)
How children form social groups, which is critical to understanding how they develop prejudices in the first place.
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Bonilla-Silva, E. (2018). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America (5th Ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Brantlinger, E., Majd-Jabbari, M., & Guskin, S.L. (1996). Self-interest and liberal educational discourse: How ideology works for middle-class mothers. American Educational Research Journal 33(3), 571-597.
DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3(3), 54-70. Full article available at https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116
Goyal, M.K., Kupperman, N., & Cleary, S.D. (2015). Racial disparities in pain management of children with appendicitis in emergency departments. JAMA Pediatrics 169(11), 996-1002.
Marrast, L., Himmelstein, D.U., & Woolhandler, D. (2016). Racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care for children and young adults: A national study. International Journal of Health Studies 46(4), 810-824.
National Conference of State Legislators (2017, August 1). Disproportionality and disparity in child welfare. Author. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/disproportionality-and-disparity-in-child-welfare.aspx
Nicholson-Crotty, S., Birchmeier, Z., & Valentine, D. (2009). Exploring the impact of school discipline on racial disproportion in the juvenile justice system. Social Science Quarterly 90(4), 1003-1018.
Nodjimbadem, K. (2017, May 30). The racial segregation of American cities was anything but accidental: A housing policy expert explains how federal government policies created the suburbs and the inner city. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-federal-government-intentionally-racially-segregated-american-cities-180963494/
Poehlmann, J., Dallaire, D., Loper, A.B., & Shear, L.D. (2010). Children’s contact with their incarcerated parents: Research findings and recommendations. American Psychologist 65(6), 575-598.
Scheindlin, S.A. (2018, May 31). Trump’s hard-right judges will do lasting damage to America (Opinion). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/30/trump-judge-appointments-roe-v-wade-courts
Sibka, R.J., Horner, R.H., Chung, C-G., Rausch, M.K., May, S.L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review 40(1), 85-107.
Wanless, S.B., & Crawford, P.A. (2016). Reading your way to a culturally responsive classroom. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/may2016/culturally-responsive-classroom
Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We are kicking off a series on the intersection of race with parenting and child development today. This actually grew out of the episode we did a while back on intergenerational trauma in which I acknowledged that the trauma that black parents experience just as a result of being black and I meant to go back and do another episode on that topic because it was just too big of a topic to slip into a more general episode on trauma, but when I got in touch with a Black friend to discuss how to go about covering this, she said, and I’m going to quote, “Don’t do an episode on that. It smacks of trauma porn.” Instead, she told me to look at what it means to be a white parent in America today and by extension in other colonizing and colonized countries.
So, I read a whole lot of books and I thought for a long time and that episode is now in the process of expanding to this series of several episodes. Today, we’re going to talk about white privilege, which I know can be a difficult topic to think about and white people including me, have a tendency to experience what Dr. Robin DiAngelo calls White Fragility, which is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable and triggers our defenses like denial, anger, fear, and guilt. And those caused us to argue or fall silent and leave the stress-inducing situation. So, if you’re feeling any of these emotions right now, after I said the words, White Privilege, and especially if you’re thinking, I don’t have privilege, my family doesn’t have enough money, or my partner just got laid off, or the black cashier at the grocery store was really weird to me today.
Then I’d encourage you not to let your defense mechanisms engage by shutting off this podcast, but instead try to listen with an open mind. This stuff isn’t easy, but it is really important. So, today we’re here with Dr. Margaret Hagerman, who’s the author of the brand new book, White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America. I was really excited to find this book because there are a lot of researchers writing on white privileges today, but not nearly so many who are writing about it specifically as it relates to children. Dr. Hagerman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University and as a Faculty Affiliate in both the African American Studies and Gender Studies programs. She received her Ph.D from Emory University. Her qualitative research focuses on the study of racial socialization or how kids learn about race, racism, inequality, and privilege. Her new book is called White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America. And while Dr. Hagerman does study the process of how this occurs, both inside and outside of schools, today we’re going to focus on the outside of school processes because we’ll have another episode very soon that’s entirely devoted to how whites experienced privilege in the school system. So welcome Dr. Hagerman.
Dr. Hagerman: 04:14
Thank you for having me.
All right, so let’s start out by something that we don’t normally do on podcast episodes, but when I was doing my Masters in Education, it was really common for professors to ask students at the beginning of a paper, particularly on the topic of diversity to identify their privileges. So, I’m going to start by identifying some of mine and I wonder if you’d be kind enough to then follow by identifying some of yours?
Dr. Hagerman: 04:37
Okay, perfect. So my first obvious one is whiteness. I am a white person from England now living in America. I think my second one is economic status. I’m currently lucky enough, fortunate enough, well, we say lucky, but I’m upper middle class, although I come from a working class family and I do not deny that, I imagine it is, in some measure at least due to the fact that I am a white person and I do have privilege.
So, it’s not entirely luck that has a gender, this fortune. I’m heterosexual. So that meant my sexuality is accepted by society. I never had to come out to anybody. I’m able bodied, I’m pretty much able to do whatever I need to do to get through life using the body that I was born with. And I also have some educational privilege because I have a number of Master’s degrees, a number of years of advanced education and I recognize also that my privilege has intertwined with the education that I’ve received as well. So, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind telling us a bit about your privileges as well.
Dr. Hagerman: 05:33
Sure. So I am a white woman. I grew up in a family that I would identify as having upper middle class status and now I’m a college professor and so I think that that status is probably, you know, still depending on how you measure it. I’m a social scientist, but I think that you would say that that was still that status. I am also heterosexual, able bodied and I have a Ph.D. So, certainly that would put me in a status of having educational privilege.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And also just wanting to make the point before we move on that I deliberately sought out white researchers to interview for this series, partly because we’re examining whiteness rather than blackness and partly also because I think it can be easier to truly hear and take on these truths when they’re presented by someone who looks like you and sounds like you and is more like you rather than someone who appears to be on the outside than looking in. But I do want to acknowledge that black researchers and activists have been talking about white privilege for a really long time. And my hope here is that we can build on rather than refute their work. So, let’s get started with a topic that seems really easy, but perhaps it’s not. So what is race?
Dr. Hagerman: 06:43
That is a great question. So, I think that often people, at least my students for example, tell me that they think race is a biological concept, but in fact race is not a biological concept, but instead a social concept. And so the way that I like to think about this is that the lines that demarcate different races, these were lines that were drawn by humans and these were lines that were drawn in ways that relates to political projects. And so as philosopher Charles Mills puts it, “The reality of race is a reality that socially created not an intrinsic reality of the human.” And so I think what that really gets at is the ways in which race is a political system and so where you are located within that system or how you’re categorized, shapes, things like where you live, who you marry, how you see the world and so I think a better or maybe an easier way to think about race is to think about race as a political grouping. And as Dorothy Roberts who is a legal scholar puts it, “Race has always served a political function.” And I think that that’s really important in understanding the history of race and the history of racism and where that leaves us today.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, and something that I learned as I was researching this, the way that we know this is a political construct and not a biological construct is that the groups change, right?
Dr. Hagerman: 08:02
Sometimes the people who were from Chinese origin will be classified as white and sometimes they’ll be classified as Asian and so the people in power able to change the groups to suit their own needs.
Dr. Hagerman: 08:14
So, that to me it was a key learning. I always just sort of symbol, if a person looks like a certain thing then they probably are that thing, but it turns out if you actually dig deeper into it, the group that’s in power has shifted what constitutes different groups and what privileges those groups have to suit their own needs at various points in history.
Dr. Hagerman: 08:34
So yeah, it’s… that initial point just kind of blew my mind when I, when I started thinking about it. So. Okay. So a second question, and I think that the children that you talked to in your study had some thoughts on this. Is it racist to discuss race?
Dr. Hagerman: 08:47
So this is a question that certainly some of the children would debate with one another, like you just alluded to, but my answer to this is no. It’s not racist to discuss race and as many different scholars coming out of legal studies as well as sociology have found in research and in history, you know, we are at a moment right now where many people talk about new forms of racism. So something like color blindness, like saying that you don’t care about race or that you don’t even notice race or that race doesn’t really matter in our society and that to talk about it is just to re, you know, introduce it and to be racist that that’s really just a way of perpetuating the racial status quo and that, you know, the reality is we live in a society in which resources are allocated along these lines of race.
Dr. Hagerman: 09:35
And so to not talk about race is not going to get us anywhere. If anything, I think it will perpetuate the problem.
Dr. Hagerman: 09:42
So no, I do not think it is racist to discuss race.
Okay. And we’ll come back to color blindness in a bit because I think that is so important. But I wonder if first you could give us just a little bit of background on your book. What and who did you study?
Dr. Hagerman: 09:53
Sure. So White Kids is a book that’s based on two years of ethnographic research with 30 families who identified both as white but also as affluent. And so these are families that have both race and class privilege. Uh, the children in this book are all in middle school, when I did the initial data collection, so the two-year time period. I do go back and re-interview them when they’re in high school, although that’s not the focus of the book.
Dr. Hagerman: 10:17
It comes up at the end. And so these were families that were living in a midwestern community and were kind enough to let me into their world and the sort of private sphere of white families. And so I spent this two years interviewing children, interviewing parents, observing them as they go about their everyday business, you know, birthday parties and soccer practice. And gymnastics and so forth and so I spent a lot of time with these families and my research questions were really about the ways that these families communicated about race and this question is informed by the research on this topic of racial socialization, which really comes out of this really important and powerful work by black scholars in both sociology and psychology who historically were really focused on understanding how black families communicate about race and particularly how black parents prepare their children for, you know, potential experiences of racism.
Dr. Hagerman: 11:12
And so sort of building on that scholarship and thinking about how white families are not removed from the discussion of race or racism in America, but in fact are, you know, central to it, you know, I wanted to explore what was going on in these families and really try to see how it is that young white people are developing ideas that either reproduce racism or racial inequality or maybe rework it or maybe even challenge it.
And you studied two very different communities in the book, right?
Dr. Hagerman: 11:43
Right. So the, there’s one metropolitan area and there’s two neighborhoods within that metropolitan area or within the actual city that I look at, but then I also compare that to a nearby suburban area and sort of notice the differences in why people chose to live in these different communities. So some dynamics with the schools, dynamics with extracurricular activities and so forth. And because these families have these economic resources, they can make all kinds of different choices. And so because of that I was really interested in why, you know, they would choose to live where they did.
Mm-hmm. Okay. And so what kinds of ideas did the children that you interviewed have about race?
Dr. Hagerman: 12:21
Well, I think one of the interesting findings from my work is that not all of these children’s shared the same ideas, and there was more variation I think in some of their thinking than what I had initially anticipated. But I did find some powerful patterns across different groups of children. And you know, I think one of the things that I was really interested in was to what extent do these children believe that racism is still a problem in America? And for some of the kids they told me that they did not think it was, while other children had lots to say on the matter and could give me very specific examples of racism in the United States. And so the book really goes through and has, you know, a lot of the children’s voices told by them like their actual quotations and some incidents that I observed when I was spending time with them. And you’ve really got, I think a rich sense of the, both the range of ideas but also the patterns that exist as well.
Mm-hmm. And where there major patterns appearing in each of the two communities that you studied?
Dr. Hagerman: 13:19
Yes. So for the families that lived in the suburban area, this community was almost entirely white. So, the children had white teachers, white soccer coaches; their friends were almost entirely white. And so subsequently these children really never even came into contact with a person of color. And as such, their parents believe that they didn’t have any ideas about race. And it was really striking to me to talk to parents and have them tell me that my child doesn’t have any ideas about race, but then to talk to children and to find out that their kids had all kinds of ideas about race. And so certainly these children I do think fall into the category of sort of adopting a colorblind ideology of the world, thinking that racism was a problem of the past, that, you know, things are, are fine today, that people just need to work hard and they’ll get where they need to get and that talking about race is racist, you know, all of these kinds of themes, which is very different than some of the children that were living in the city who were able to talk in much more sophisticated terms about structural inequality and about the historical legacy of white supremacy and how these things manifest themselves in contemporary society.
Dr. Hagerman: 14:27
And you know, I was, I was really struck by just the difference between these groups of kids.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And I wonder digging deeper on that, if you could tell us a bit about your interview with the woman that you call, Victoria Chablis and you gave everybody a pseudonym. So this is not her real name. Can you tell us what Victoria says, she thinks about race and what do the things that she told you, tell us about what she actually thinks?
Dr. Hagerman: 14:47
Sure. So I might just read, just here from my book.
Sure. Go for it.
Dr. Hagerman: 14:51
Okay. So Victoria tells me that “Race isn’t really part of my children’s experience, so we don’t really talk about it. While some people try to play the race card, things are pretty much equal nowadays. I guess there will always be those who just want something for nothing.” Um, so she’s laughing as she tells me this and she, she goes on to talk about how, you know, basically she thinks that black people are lacking motivation and don’t care about education and starts using all these, these racist stereotypes. So she says things like, you know, you have people who are on the low income state provided health insurance and yet they have their cell phones and their fingernails out to here and she sort of gestures these like long manicured nails. They have the designer purses and whatever. And I know that, that maybe that’s part of black culture because they don’t have so much that they might want to spoil themselves a little bit.
Dr. Hagerman: 15:39
I totally understand that. But at the same time, and I go back to the same thing, if you can’t buy your kid a box of cereal and a gallon of milk, then basically, she goes on and on. But she basically says that you’re being irresponsible. And what was so striking about this comment was that she actually ends up telling me that we should get rid of food stamps because, you know, food stamps are basically a handout and that you shouldn’t have children if you can’t feed them, which was really striking, and it was racialized, right? There’s all kinds of racial stereotypes that are sort of embedded into this statement, but it’s just striking that she really talks about how race is not part of her experience and yet she immediately articulates all of these positions and interestingly enough this conversation happens in front of her daughter so it’s like her kid is literally listening to her reproduce very common racist stereotypes at the same time that her mom saying that they don’t talk about race.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And it seems to be linked to the idea of color blindness as well, right?
Dr. Hagerman: 16:39 Absolutely. And so Eduardo Bonilla-Silva is a sociologist and he has a book called Racism without Racists, which I highly recommend.
I’ve read it.
Dr. Hagerman: 16:49
Yeah. I may sense. I always find it to be really helpful, maybe some of your listeners too, if they haven’t read it yet, but yeah. So, so you know, some of the things that he talks about include this claim that most people do not see or notice race anymore sort of this, you know, red, pink, yellow, blue, everyone is all the same to me. That kind of thing. This idea that racial parity has been achieved, you know, sort of drawing on these meritocratic or sort of, you know, the ideas about meritocracy, if you work hard, you can achieve anything. And then sort of this idea that any patterns of racial inequality that do exist are the results of individual shortcomings or group level shortcomings and these tend to be assumed to be cultural.
Dr. Hagerman: 17:28
So you heard in that comment from Victoria, she’s talking about “black culture”, that’s an example of that saying, you know, well, if people aren’t successful it’s because they’re not motivated and that have something to do with their culture. Um, and then the final sort of point that Bonilla-Silva makes is that, you know, the reason this is so troubling I would say is because if you say that race doesn’t matter anymore, then you also say there’s no need for institutional remedies like food stamps. Right? So if you’re saying that black poverty doesn’t matter, then you’re basically saying that the government should not, you know, have programs to feed black children or to feed children who are poor altogether. And so I think that, you know, when people say things like they’re playing the race card, which literally Victoria says, they’re really minimizing racism and the impact that it has on not only individual people but on the policies that we could pass, that would alleviate a lot of suffering to be quite honest.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And also it was pretty striking that a lot of the parents in this suburban community really just didn’t talk about racism at all or race because of this color blindness issue. One mother, Mrs. Church said she felt she didn’t need to discuss racism with her child, because their child watches Glee on TV, which has characters of different races in it. But I was struck by the difference between these families who kind of have the white privilege of not needing to discuss race because they are embedded in the system that privileges their world view, whereas black parents have to figure out what’s the right time to tell my kid about race and murders and systemic injustices. And they don’t necessarily have the luxury of protecting the child’s childhood.
Dr. Hagerman: 19:08
Absolutely. And that’s one of the points I try to make at the, at the beginning of the book, and then again at the end of the book is that, you know, for many, I think for many white parents, they feel like at least the ones in my book, you know, they felt like, well I don’t really need to talk to my kid about this. It’s not really an issue for us, that kind of thing. And I just find that so problematic given exactly what you just said, you know, the reality that we do live in a society that’s organized by race and so therefore the same time that white parents deal like they don’t need to talk to their child about this, you know, black families are trying to figure it out, you know, and the research shows that black parents actually approached this in a number of different ways.
Dr. Hagerman: 19:46
You know, I think the assumption often is that that parents of color are, have figured this out and they know how to do this. But I think there’s actually a lot of research that shows that this is difficult, right? It’s difficult to know how to talk to your kid about Tamir Rice, right? Like it’s difficult to know the best strategy for that given the age and so forth. So yeah, so I think that my book kind of has a call to white parents, like, you know, I think that you should also be talking about this and to suggest that your child is too innocent to know about this. Well, well then what does that mean about children, about, you know, parents who are raising black children, right? So is their kid not innocent, like that’s, that’s kind of where I, where I end the conversation.
Yeah. And so to dig deeper into that, you talked with one girl whom you called Lindsay and she said she loves her school. I’m gonna quote “Because the people are nice and I’m learning and it’s good there. We like to talk about social issues and stuff. So, I don’t know, race comes up all the time and people will talk about it. We just pretty much say whatever is on our mind.” Now, the irony of this is that Lindsay’s parents had pulled her out of an integrated public school because of a racist second grade teacher who would humiliate the black students in class and Lindsay’s father said that her parents put her in private school because “Putting Lindsay into a private environment allowed her to be in an environment where she could see justice as opposed to prejudice.” And so the thing that really jumped out at me in this is that white parents have the luxury of choosing to withdraw from racism rather than engaging with it.
And you said, uh, also in the book that Lindsay’s father had talked with another teacher because there was a rule that children couldn’t go to the bathroom during class. And it turned out that the rule “Wasn’t for Lindsay. It’s for the slippery kids. The ones we can’t trust in the hallway.” But rather than talking with the principal or addressing what is really unacceptable behavior head on, he just withdraws himself and his daughter and his resources from that situation. Do you think that this is a common response by white people to situations they find uncomfortable both in school but also outside of it?
Dr. Hagerman: 21:44
Well, I do think that in my research it seems like when things get to be too stressful, and this kind of gets at this concept of a white fragility that you mentioned earlier, you know, I think that this dad at some point tells me, I mean it was his daughter tells me, you know, sometimes you just have to walk away and I think that that’s an interesting lesson to teach your child, particularly when you are trying to teach your child about justice right here. Sort of claiming that that justice is really important to teach to young kids. Teach to your kid in particular. And so I do think that based on my research, that when situations become racially tense in any way, a lot of times the parents in my research would back away or would remove their child altogether. I do think this example of Lindsay really demonstrates how race, privilege and class privilege can work together because as you said, you know, obviously part of white privilege is being able to excuse yourself from racism, be able to pull your kid out of a situation that is racist, but it also is about class privilege because this private school that they ended up sending Lindsay to is extremely expensive and so to be able to pull together those resources in the middle of the school year to get your kid enrolled in this, you know, really expensive school, you know, it’s, it’s sort of a combination of both of these things and you can really see that playing out here.
Dr. Hagerman: 23:03
So yes, I think in general it is based on my research for the parents I studied, it was common for white parents to feel uncomfortable and to back away. Although I will say that there were some parents that did not do that and instead, you know, really tried to listen, understand, and to learn and educate themselves and be a better member of their community. So there was some variation.
Yeah. And just continuing on that idea, I thought that another consequence of Lindsay’s transfer from public to private school is that like a lot of the children in Sheridan, the community, that suburban community, she no longer really engages with children from diverse backgrounds and she really has no concept of what racism actually is. And to illustrate that you describe how I think, it was actually a different mom from this community, Mrs. Avery took her daughter and her daughter’s friends to see the movie The Help which is about black domestic workers experiences in the 1960s and critics have described it as being excessively honey glazed and trivializing the black experience and the daughter apparently said something like, oh my gosh, thank God I wasn’t alive then. Thank God we live now where it doesn’t really matter what the color of your skin is. And this reminded me of something that I had read previously by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
And that’s the difference between seeing racial issues through a mirror because you are in a diverse environment or through a window because you’re not in a diverse environment. You’re on the outside looking into that environment and so you know, I see this in my, my own daughter’s preschool. It’s not a very diverse place and so given the segregation that exists in our own country at the neighborhood level is still really high. What is Lindsay and what are our children learning about people who don’t look like her? Is it enough and if not, what do we need to do differently?
Dr. Hagerman: 24:42
Well, as a sociologist, I think that segregation is one of the major challenges that we face. I mean, I think that the children in this book, you know, although there are some meaningful differences in the context, you know, in which they live, generally speaking, most of them are living relatively, you know, segregated lives and so I know that you don’t want to talk too much about schools in this particular episode today, but certainly we know that segregation plays a tremendous role in our education system, specifically with respect to racial inequality within our education system. And so I think that we can’t really understand how it is that white children learn about race without taking segregation seriously. And that means segregation, that operates at the neighborhood level, as you mentioned, but also in schools with friendship groups, in families, you know, all kinds of different sort of contexts of children’s lives. And so yeah, I mean, in terms of what we need to do differently, I think we really need to fight against segregation and patterns of segregation. I think there’s some really clear ways that this could happen at the level of education in terms of schooling. For example, we know that schools are segregated because white people want them to be segregated. Um, which I know we’ll get into in another episode, but…
Yes, we are. Very deeply.
Dr. Hagerman: 25:52
Yes. So, I think that there are things that white parents absolutely can do differently. And particularly again, because I’m studying affluent white parents, they have all kinds of choices to make. They can choose where to live. It’s not a situation where they don’t have a lot of money and it’s difficult for them to find that apartment to rent, right? This is like, they’re buying these big, you know, expensive homes and they get to choose where they live. So, I think that the way to sort of combat segregation is to understand it and to understand how our own individual level decisions are contributing to the perpetuation of it.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And I think education is a common way that plays out. And again, we’re not going deeply into the school system here, but you asked Holly who is a mother who lives with her family in the predominantly white suburb of Sheridan about what she thinks of the lack of people of color in her children’s lives. And she said, “Sheridan is Lily White, yeah.” And you asked her, is that something you and your husband talk about? And she said, “No, we don’t talk about it. It’s a nonissue for us. I would welcome more people of color, but I just want everyone who is here to be on the same page as all the parents like me. I want to be in a community that feels the same as we do, which is we value education and that’s what this community is. We found a community that really supports education.” And so she’s talking about education, but there’s kind of a subtext here. Can you talk us through what’s going on in this comment?
Dr. Hagerman: 27:10
Absolutely. I mean this is what we would refer to as racially coded language and so there is a longstanding belief that is a myth that certain people care about their children’s education and certain people don’t. And what those certain people mean, typically are white parents and parents of color and in particular black parents, there’s a real anti-blackness I think element to this particular stereotype. And so when saying that we found a community that really supports education that’s suggesting that there are certain communities that don’t support education. And so I think that we will look at the literature on education and on how parents think about their children’s education, how children think about their own education, we find that black parents often care the most about their children’s education and, and need to employ all kinds of strategies to make sure that their child receives the best education they possibly can. This whole notion of having to work harder than other kids because of the potential for prejudice to play out. I mean that’s evidence of working even harder to try to acquire a quality education. And so, you know, I sort of try to talk about the subtext of Holly’s comment here by thinking about these ways that white people talk about race without actually saying anything explicit, but everybody in the conversation knows what is really being stated.
Mm-hmm. And what’s the effect of that? What harm does that do?
Dr. Hagerman: 28:37
Well, I think that the harm is that it kind of maps onto color blindness, right? To say like, oh, I’m not racist. I never said anything about race, you know, and this sort of refusal to actually acknowledge what you’re saying I think has ramifications for real solutions, you know, and if white parents are going to hoard opportunities for their own children and say that it’s because they support education, then they’re ultimately perpetuating racism and perpetuating racial inequality because they’re not ultimately sharing those opportunities to other people. By other people, I specifically mean people of color and specifically African Americans.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And we’re actually gonna talk a lot about opportunity hoarding in our next episode with Dr. Allison Roda. So, I’ve already recorded that one. I’m excited to send that one out too. So on the topic actually opportunity hoarding, the parents in your study were kind of using their privilege to enhance their children’s opportunities using extra-curricular activities that aren’t always available to all children. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Dr. Hagerman: 29:35
Sure. So some of the things that I observed and a lot of these, interestingly enough happened in families that told me upfront that they were very interested in raising their children to be anti-racists. These were not the Sheridan parents. These are parents who said to me, look, I read every book I can. I try to be as informed as I possibly can. I want my kid to stand up against racism. These are parents that, that tend to choose an integrated public school, although the school has all kinds of internal processes of segregation, with tracking and so forth. But you know, these are parents that are, that identify as progressive, anti-racist, social justice, warriors, you know, these types of people. And interestingly though, even though they’ve bought into the public schools and they do important work and a lot of respects, I think to challenge racism, they also then sort of reproduced the very things that they say that they are opposed to.
Dr. Hagerman: 30:27
So, and this really can be seen with extra-curricular stuff. So for example, using your social networks to get your kid the sort of coveted summer internship, right? And understanding that you’re doing that. I mean it’s… and it’s not like these parents didn’t understand that they were doing these things and were talked about it and they felt conflicted, but at the end of the day you live in a competitive society. This is kind of how they would frame it. And so it was important for them to give their child these opportunities. And so I, I sort of highlight in the book how, you know, getting your child a summer job or a summer internship or you know, some type of really elite opportunity that will help them ultimately get into college or you know, an elite college at that, you know, that, you know, one way to think about that is, oh, I’m just, I’m just trying to help my kid, you know.
Dr. Hagerman: 31:14
But I think another way to think about that is, how can you really say that you value equal opportunity and fairness and then simultaneously be using your own position of privilege to get your kid more stuff, right? Those two things don’t align. And so that I think, that’s what I call the conundrum of privilege in my book. And I do think it’s a conundrum. I, you know, I’m not trying to speak badly about these parents, that they are faced with a conundrum. They’re trying to navigate structural inequality at the individual level. And that’s really difficult to do. But at the same time, you know, I don’t want to let them off the hook, you know, they are in, in effect reproducing the very patterns that they say they seek to challenge.
Mm-hmm. Okay. So you’re setting me up nicely for my next question about structural inequality and then we’ll try and finish by what are some of the things that parents can do. So, if you haven’t thought about this topic very much listeners as I had not until fairly recently, I might say that America seems like a pretty meritocratic country and if you work hard then you really can get ahead. And I know that you’ve already cited Dr. Hagerman, Dr. Bonilla-Silva’s work on this topic, which is how society allocates differential economic, political, social, even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines that are socially constructed. And so there’s a list of examples in your book at the very beginning and you kind of rip through them super fast in one paragraph. And so I’m wondering if we can kind of pull them apart a little bit because you’ve given sort of a lot of major categories of examples of how systems are not meritocratic and they do have these racists sort of overtones to them. So very, very briefly, I wonder if we could talk about education, maybe discipline in schools.
Dr. Hagerman: 32:59
Absolutely. Sure. So we know that, you know, when it comes to children specifically, race really structures all kinds of, you know, aspects of their lives. And so in terms of education, there’s a host of scholarship in this area. Lots of different things to look at. But we know for example, that the ways that black bodies get policed even in school settings is different than the way that white bodies get policed in school settings. There’s a really powerful book called Despite the Best Intentions by Amanda Lewis and John Diamond and they do a 5-year ethnography at a public school actually, and find that there are these really striking patterns of which kids could ask for their hall pass as they walk down the hall and you know, during class or something, you know, who gets suspended, who gets expelled. There are a number of studies from my colleagues in criminology that are looking at the school-to-prison pipeline and how children of color are tracked at very early ages into basically the juvenile justice system. And so, yeah, so there’s a lot of research in that area and you know, I can, I can talk more about it if you’d like, but I think that, that those are some of the major, the major themes.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Thanks for covering a little bit of ground pretty briefly. Um, I think the key thing to point out there is this can start with something as simple as asking for a hall pass. I mean, if you think about how it snowballs from there, maybe if that kid doesn’t have a hall pass, then they get put into detention. Certain number of detentions you get suspended, certain number of suspensions you get expelled and so it sort of snowballs from something that is a very minor thing and that we probably wouldn’t even think of if we don’t sort of put, put our right thinking hats on that this is a racially charged way of asking, of querying whether a student has a hall pass or not. So.
Dr. Hagerman: 34:40
Right. And one other thing that just came to mind too, you know, it’s not like the kids in these schools don’t notice these things, right?
Dr. Hagerman: 34:49
I mean the kids in my book, the white kids in my book were very much aware of this one particular role at their school, which was no hoods up. So you weren’t allowed to have your hood up on your sweatshirt. And a lot of these kids wore sweatshirts with hoods and the white kids over and over and over again who went to the integrated school would tell me this rule is only applied to the kids that are Black that like I wear my hood up all the time and nobody ever tells me to take it off. That’s not fair, you know. So it’s like, it’s not like the kids don’t get it. And when I say that, I mean it’s not just that the Black kids don’t get it, but it’s the White kids also get it. Like everyone understands what’s happening. Um, which I think is really powerful because often I think we assume that children are not aware of these things or that, you know, they’re not thinking about these things or whatever. But I did not find evidence that that would be the case.
Yeah. And what does the Black kid take away from this experience and what is white kid take away from this experience? The White kid it takes away, huh! This is a rule and it doesn’t apply to me.
Dr. Hagerman: 35:43
Which is a powerful lesson to learn. Okay. So moving on from schools, what about how young people interact with the juvenile justice system?
Dr. Hagerman: 35:50
Sure. So, um, you know, the juvenile justice system is again, a really big and complex sort of machine, but we do know that some of these things that happen in schools are directly then linked to things happen in the juvenile justice system. You know, I think that we often think that our justice system, maybe is really fair, but I certainly have had the opportunity to have some exposure to it in ways that make it very clear that who has good legal representation, who has, you know, parents who can afford to take off from work to show up to these hearings to advocate for their child. There’s a moment in my book where one of the older kids that one of the children in my study, his older brother had been arrested for having marijuana on him and his father talks about how, you know, when they went to meet with the judge, the judge was like, oh, you’re here.
Dr. Hagerman: 36:41
Look at that. You’re, you’re a white dad and showed up to support your kid. So, I’m going to let your kid off with a very limited penalty. And the implicit in that is a whole like negative statement about Black dads, you know, and there’s sort of no critical, I think, discussion at least from this white father’s perspective about that, although he does, again, he notices it, he knows it’s happening and his child has learned a lesson that he can get away with smoking pot, whereas his, you know, black peers are going to have a different reality if that, you know, they’re caught. So again, really complicated. But that kind of gives you a concrete example for my research.
Yeah. Thank you. And also how children’s parents interact with the justice system has implications for what they learned about this as well.
Dr. Hagerman: 37:23
Absolutely, and I think, you know, even that even that way, dad’s sort of knowledge of the law, he consulted with a lawyer before he went, you know, he had the economic resources to do that, you know, all of these things sort of put him in a different position to advocate for his child in addition to the fact that he’s white. And that obviously brings with it a host of assumption, you know, the benefit of the doubt. Oh, this guy, you know, this was just some kid being a kid, you know, rather than, oh, this is a criminal.
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And, and also black parents are criminalized and institutionalized at a much higher rate than white parents as well. I think the, I think it’s five times blacks are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites. And so what happens to a child when their parent is incarcerated? A whole host of impacts from economic to social to…
Dr. Hagerman: 38:12
Jen: 38:13 I mean you name it.
Dr. Hagerman: 38:14
Yeah. One thing that surprised me was that you mentioned interactions with the healthcare system have potentially these racialized overtones. Can you tell us about that?
Dr. Hagerman: 38:23
Sure, yeah. There’s this really powerful study. There’s a number of studies, but there’s one that was really striking to me that found that black children with acute appendicitis or less likely than white children to receive pain medication when they went to the emergency room. And this comes out of health scholarship, you know, this isn’t necessarily just sociology, but this is research that’s coming out that’s being published in medical journals about the racial disparities in outcomes of kids but also in their actual treatment and if you actually think about that, right, that like this idea that some children based on the social category of race are like can tolerate more pain than other kids. I mean that’s just. I think that’s really bad.
Yeah. I read that study when I saw it. I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw the title of the study in your references and I dug it out and I mean it just boggles the mind. These are people with a medical degree who presumably understand something about how pain works. Well, I mean, where do these ideas even come from?
Dr. Hagerman: 39:23 Well, I mean I think that idea, if you look to the history of race, I mean going back even to slavery, I mean these ideas that certain bodies are different, you know, and, and that certain bodies can tolerate different types of pain and suffering. I mean it’s, you know, maybe some would argue that that’s too dramatic of a link, but I don’t think it is. Dorothy Roberts has a really great book called Killing the Black Body and she has a discussion in there, about, sort of this was in the context of motherhood, but you know, I think that these, these racial stereotypes or myths that are so pervasive in our society about, you know, different groups, they have these historical roots and I think that that’s probably where a lot of this stuff comes from.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And as another intersection with school, I found another paper that talked about how psychiatric and behavioral problems among minority youth often result in punishment in school. Whereas if you’re a white child exhibiting the same behavior, you are more likely to end up getting mental health care.
Dr. Hagerman: 40:19
Yeah. What about things like housing inequalities?
Dr. Hagerman: 40:24
Sure. So obviously, you know, housing in the United States, we’ve already talked a little bit about segregation, but there’s all kinds of, you know, practices like red lining and steering and restrictive covenants that, you know, the new… a lot of people don’t realize that as a result of the new deal, 98% of home loans went to white families between 1934 and 1962, you know, so I think, you know, often we think, oh we have segregation just because people choose where they want to live. Now, the reality is, you know, these are systemic problems. These are things that are, you know, have these historical roots and these are practices and policies and yeah.
Sorry, just to interrupt, I want to be absolutely explicit here. This is the federal government of the US who is saying which neighborhoods black people can live and in which neighborhoods white people can live in. Is that right?
Dr. Hagerman: 41:10
Right. So this is of course, historically speaking, The Color of Law is a new book that I’m actually in the middle of reading right now about residential segregation and it’s really powerful and I think collectively we need to understand this more and understand that housing is such an important component of your life, right? I mean where you live and be able to feel confident that when you go home you’re not going to be evicted and you know, I mean there’s so much around housing that I think is important when thinking about the recent mortgage crisis and thinking about some other patterns around homes and even connections to wealth and wealth inequality. You know, there’s a really big issue, but absolutely it’s something that structures children’s racialized experiences.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, and just to draw that one out a little bit. I think it’s called reverse redlining in the most recent mortgage crisis where black families were given these a subprime loans at higher rates than white families were and so they defaulted at higher rates and obviously your house for middle class Americans is one of the major ways that you pass on wealth to your descendants. And so these families have worked hard. They put down their payments and they find that they can’t pay on the house. They lose the house and so they lose for an entire generation this way of passing on wealth that the white family who is less likely to get into that subprime loan is going to be able to continue to pass on to their next generation.
Dr. Hagerman: 42:31
Right. And I mean, as you said, you know, a home is typically the largest component of somebody’s wealth portfolio and so to not… to have to be able to even buy a home in the first place requires a tremendous amount of wealth in terms of a down payment and so forth. And so absolutely, you know, the racialized disparities in that, you know, in the subprime loan stuff. I think another more contemporary example of redlining.
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So I want to try and end on what I hope is going to be something of a hopeful note. So, one thing that I learned in the course of researching this series of episodes was I had always thought that racism was about attitudes and about how white people think about people of color and that if white people didn’t have negative ideas about people of color, then we wouldn’t have racism. But through the course of this research, I learned about structural racism which covers so many of the topics we just discussed and others as well that we didn’t have time to get to. And I realized that just changing our attitudes is not enough. We have to change the system as well, but it seems as though we are making decidedly mixed progress on that front. I’m just thinking of recent events. Democrats have elected a racially diverse slate of new house members, but Republicans did not and we elected.
We chose a president who exhibits both personal racism and also extends systemic racism by doing things like nominating mostly white judges to the federal bench and some of them have exhibited acts of explicit racism that I would hope would disqualify them from any kind of public service and they’re getting confirmed by the Senate because they’re also anti-union and anti-abortion, anti-gun control and all of these other, you know, desirable characteristics. And so I tried a strategy to work on this myself in my own voting strategy at the last election. I’m in Berkeley in California, and so the Canada’s positions are pretty much the same out here. So I voted for candidates of color as a first priority. Although unfortunately the candidate of color for state senator did not end up getting elected. And so, you know, that was sort of a, well-I-tried-environment that wasn’t so successful. I wondering what you think are some of the most productive ways that you see that parents can work to dismantle this racist system, the system of white privilege that we, that we live in?
Dr. Hagerman: 44:41
Right. So it’s a very big question and I think that I don’t have an easy prescription to that. I think that first of all, we live in, we all across the country regardless of who we are live in different communities and so the way that racism manifests itself in our different communities, I think, you know, I think it’s pervasive, but I think the way that it works might be slightly different. Um, I live in Mississippi. I think the dynamics here are probably different in some ways, similar in a lot of ways that people like to pretend like they’re not, but also different, I think at least in terms of the local level dynamics. And so I think, number one, I think it’s important to understand what’s happening at the, at the local level, because these are likely going to be individual level decisions.
Dr. Hagerman: 45:21
Certainly, I think that there are ways to, you know, some of the parents in my book, for example, were lawyers and they were working to change laws, they were working to advocate for immigrants, they were doing, you know, their actual occupations, doing things, you know, I’m a college professor, you know, I like to teach students about the history of racism. You know, whatever they end up thinking is up to them. But, you know, providing this, so, I think there are ways that you can try through your work to do this. But in terms of parenting and the parenting is such an individual level thing. And so I sort of, you know, in my thinking about this over time, I really think that the most powerful thing that white parents can do if they would like to dismantle this racist system that we all encounter is to start caring about other people’s kids and to sort of come to this recognition that all children are worthy of our consideration.
Dr. Hagerman: 46:09
And that if you only care about your kid and if you only advocate for your kid and if you only, you know, use your resources to get your child the best and the most, you know, however, you measure those things, that’s never going to challenge inequality, right? That’s only going to perpetuate it because you’re able to make those choices to give your child all these things because of your status as, in my case in this book, a white affluent parent. And so yeah. So I think that there are some examples that I can give about ways to do that. But I think that, you know, advocating for other people’s children just like you advocate for your own children, I think that’s the first step toward dismantling this, some of this.
Yeah. And I’d actually love to hear those examples because I think it can be very tempting to sort of say, well, you know, I work in corporate America, there’s not much I can do my, my company is actually pretty well advanced that the company that employs me for my day job, they are making very concerted efforts to employ a more diverse workforce. I can actually get a bonus of $50,000 if I refer a managing director to the company who’s hired and stays for I think a year, I get a substantial bonus for doing that. So they are very serious about doing that. But what if I’m working for a company that doesn’t have that, doesn’t have the means to do that. And, you know, how can I use my privilege and my sort of position as a parent to work on these issues?
Dr. Hagerman: 47:27
Right. So, you know, one of the things that I, you know, and this is a very controversial point, but I really support integrated schools. I think that that public education is really important for lots of reasons that are beyond our time today. But, and I think that that sort of putting your resources into public education and advocating for, you know, good integrated schools is one step and there’s some great organizations that are trying to do that work. In fact, integrated schools is an organization that tries to help parents through that. But, you know, I think that there are also some really sort of, I don’t know, I feel like through my research it seems that white affluent parents do a lot on a regular basis to get their children, you know, the best teachers and the best summer camps and all these things. And so if that is true, why can’t these also be moments where other children are included in the advocating for your kid to get the best stuff.
Dr. Hagerman: 48:18
And so, um, one example I’ll give is actually not from my research but from talking to a friend who is very familiar with my research and who has been thinking about it. And so he is someone who is a white dad and he has a lot of status in his community. People know who he is. They really respect him. And his daughter was in a class at school and this is a racially integrated classroom and the teacher… there was some issue going on with the teacher and the students and so the dad complained a couple of times to the principal, but then finding the principal was like, you know what, why don’t we just take your kid out of this classroom because this will just solve the problem and we don’t want you to be upset because you’re really important to our community and you have a lot of influence, etc.
Dr. Hagerman: 48:58
And his response was, no, I really would like you to fix the problem in this classroom because if I take my kid out, then that leaves all of these other kids in that classroom with whatever the situation was going on that, you know, are not going to then have a positive experience at school. And so, you know, removing my child from this situation is not going to do anything. So what I like about that example is that it’s a moment in which a parent is leveraging their privilege in a way that benefits more people than just their own kid. And I think that if people can think creatively about doing that in a way that, you know, doesn’t take over the voices or the perspectives of parents of color, right? But does so in a way that, leverage is privilege in a way, you know, in conjunction with at the other parents at the school, you know, I think that that can be a really positive way forward because in that moment, ultimately that dad is advocating for his own child but also the other kids. And I think that sort of what I learned from this work. I think those kinds of behaviors I think will lead us in a better direction than simply pulling your kid out, giving your kid a better teacher and then not worrying about everybody else.
Yeah, and one thing I’ve been thinking about doing, obviously a lot of parents who are listening to this do not yet have children who are in school. They may be in preschool. And so some of those opportunities are maybe not so apparent, but we’re looking at summer camps for next summer because the school’s closed for some time in the summer. And so I’m thinking, okay, what if I put my child in a program that, you know, it’s a paid program and it costs a reasonable amount of money, but what if I offered to pay extra to provide some kind of scholarship to some family, the school selects, you know, I have nothing to do with it, but that makes that opportunity available to somebody who otherwise wouldn’t have it. Do you think that’s enough? Am I doing enough there or is there more that I could be doing?
Dr. Hagerman: 50:44
Well, I mean, I, I think that would be a great idea. You know, I mean that’s definitely one thing that you can do and sort of, you know, sort of this attempt to like redistribute wealth, some assign or sort of share, you know, share and, you know, I think that also there’s a lot that goes on with modeling to your children, you know. So dismantling racism is also, I think about preparing or teaching white children about race and racism in ways that will help them also challenge it not only now but also in the future. And so I think that that kind of action as well as choices people make about who they’re friends with. Who are the friends that come over to your house, who do your children see you associating with and having loving real like authentic relationships with, you know, how do you talk to your children about things that happened in the news if you even do, you know, I think that parenting is a unique opportunity to challenge inequality by raising a child who will participate in a democracy, you know, in a way that will hopefully, you know, lead toward more equity and sort of equality than what we have right now.
Dr. Hagerman: 51:48
So, you know, there’s things you can do in sort of a very material way, but I also think that there’s the ideological level of how people are raising their kids and how their kids are learning to challenge racism. At the end of my book, I talk about when I go back and talk to the kids when they’re in high school and certainly you can see some really powerful distinctions and how these white teenagers are supporting or not their black peers in the aftermath of police shooting of a black teenager in their community. And so, you know, the fact is these are young people that will go on to be adults, but even before they get to adulthood, right now they can also work to dismantle white supremacy if they’re given the tools to do so.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, and you’re setting me up beautifully for an infomercial in the upcoming episodes. So, we’ve talked about white privilege today, sort of in society generally and specifically as it relates to parenting. And our next interview is going to be with Dr. Allison Roda, who is very, who studied a lot on white privilege in schools and then actually Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum has just agreed to do an interview. And so I’m very excited about that and we’re going to get really deep into what are some of the ways that parents can, in their daily interactions with their children, really talk to their children and help the children understand these issues so that recognizing the system of white privilege that we now more fully understand what are some ways that we can start to overcome that privilege. So I’m excited for that series. So thank you so much Dr. Hagerman. We’ve covered an absolutely enormous amount of ground and I’m very grateful for your book and the fact that it’s out there and it’s helping us to better understand these issues and for your time today.
Dr. Hagerman: 53:24
Well thank you so much for having me.
So, Dr. Hagerman’s book White Kids can be purchased on Amazon and references for the show can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/WhitePrivilege.