“White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America” by Margaret A. Hagerman— How Affluent White Children Learn About Race

Hagerman, Margaret A. “White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America”, (Critical Perspectives on Youth), NYU Press, 2018.

How Affluent, White Children Learn About Race

Amos Lassen

American kids today live in a world of ongoing public debates about race, displays of racial injustice, and for some, an increased awareness surrounding diversity and inclusion. Sociologist Margaret A. Hagerman looks at affluent, white kids to observe how they make sense of privilege, unequal educational opportunities, and police violence. She considers the role that they and their families play in the reproduction of racism and racial inequality in America and s does so in great detail.

Hangerman’s “White Kids” is based on two years of research involving in-depth interviews with white kids and their families and is a sometimes-shocking account of how white kids learn about race. This book explores questions such as, “How do white kids learn about race when they grow up in families that do not talk openly about race or acknowledge its impact?” and “What about children growing up in families with parents who consider themselves to be ‘anti-racist’?”

We “hear” the actual voices of young, affluent white kids and what they think about race, racism, inequality, and privilege. We see how white racial socialization is much more dynamic, complex, and varied than previously recognized and is a process that stretches beyond white parents’ explicit conversations with their white children and includes not only the choices parents make about neighborhoods, schools, peer groups, extracurricular activities, and media, but also the choices made by the kids themselves. We have interviews with kids who are growing up in different racial contexts (from racially segregated to meaningfully integrated and from politically progressive to conservative and the book documents key differences in the outcomes of white racial socialization across families. By observing families in their everyday lives, we see the extent to which white families, even those with anti-racist intentions, reproduce and reinforce the forms of inequality they say they reject. 

Hagerman shows us the segregation, income inequality, and racial biases which run rampant in her subjects’ lives and she does so in clear prose. She presents an important analysis on the ‘well-meaning,’ ‘colorblind’ racism that her subjects perpetuate, stripping down the coded language of suburbia and reveals the ugly truth underneath.  “More than anything else, whiteness is an everyday practice constructed out of mostly mundane, seemingly ‘beyond race’ interactions. She traces the different trajectories of racial meaning that young white children make about themselves and others as they deal with school, friendship, and neighborhood and the larger world beyond. What we really see is that there is no single way that whites learn about race.

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