Article Summary #4: African American Mothers' Socialization Beliefs and Goals with Young Children: Themes of History, Education, and Collective Independence

Suizzo, M. A., Robinson, C., & Pahlke, E.  (2008).  African American mothers’ socialization beliefs and goals with young children: Themes of history, education, and collective independence.  Journal of Family Issues, 29, 287 – 316.

The goal of the study was to identify and describe cultural models of child rearing with 3 to 6-year-old children.  This research focused on middle-class suburban mothers.  Many African American parents believe that education is the only way their children will have opportunities in a world that could be racist toward them.  Communicating the importance of education is an important socialization goal.  A semistructured interview was developed for the study.  Questions included: mothers’ relationship with child, mothers’ own upbringing and family background, child’s experiences with racial discrimination and mothers’ racial socialization beliefs and practices, and the mothers’ long-term goals and values for her child. 

Three themes were identified: teaching children about African Americans’ history and their ancestors’ struggle, promoting educational achievement as a means to overcome barriers of racism, and promoting individual autonomy while maintaining close family relationships.  Mothers talked about teaching their children that African Americans have a unique history that non-Blacks do not share, may not understand, and may misinterpret.  Teaching this history was used to also prepare them for future discrimination.  Nine out of the 12 mothers explicitly mentioned wanting to transmit the values of pride to their children and incorporating it into their interactions.  Mothers did not mention the brutality of Jim Crow or slavery because they did not seem to be ready or willing to tell this side of the story, but they chose to highlight the positives.  Mothers of younger children seemed less likely to have taught their children about African American history.  Mothers used several strategies to communicate what it means to be African American (Kwanzaa, Juneteenth). 

Education was the most frequently mentioned long-term goal.  Many felt that it was important for them to be actively involved in their children’s learning and education.  They also expressed the need for their children to learn African American history in school.  There was also mention of racism being a potential barrier to their children receiving a good education and their educational attainment; they described several ways in which they saw racism manifested in education.  Educational achievement was explicitly connected to the practice of racial socialization.