How do we racially and culturally socialize our children or students? I would like to begin with a scenario followed by a question or prompt. The scenario should be familiar to many readers regardless of your role in a young child’s life; parent, caretaker, educator.
Scenario: It is lunch time and a wonderful array of food is spread across the table. The smells are enticing and the young person who the food is intended for really needs to sit and eat before she melts down from lack of food. The trouble is she is engrossed in play, has told you she isn’t hungry, and has already ignored your first attempt to get her to the table.
Writing Prompt: Consider for a moment how you might try again to bring the child to the table to eat. Write down your own response before you continue reading.
Now read the options below.
How you get the child to sit at the table and begin eating may be influenced by racial and cultural socialization patterns from your own upbringing as well as the patterns you are explicitly or implicitly using to socialize the child. Monocultural families (where the child and parent(s) are of the same race and culture and perhaps even live around and among others of the same race-cultural background) often socialize their children by the practices around them. I encourage you to reread the options and this time, consider your reactions to the approach(es) you would not use. Have you heard these approaches used in schools or in your other communities? Is one approach too punitive, or too passive?
It is sometimes difficult to know your own cultural patterns until they are challenged by others. I can vividly recall the time I was reprimanded by the White, Jewish parents I worked for while in college. I wanted their son to brush his teeth so he could eat and then we could play. I used a bribing strategy my Latina parents used for all six of their children, including me. I told the three year old that I couldn’t play with him until he brushed his teeth and got dressed. It worked for me because the child did what I wanted him to do. It was clearly not ok with the parents who were listening in on the intercom. The parents told me he didn’t have to brush his teeth or get dressed if he didn’t want to. That was the first time I was confronted with an unfamiliar child rearing practice, the idea that the child had a say on what the day was like. The fact that the parents were listening in on my via the intercom was something I processed years later, but that too was a style I was unfamiliar with. In my collectivist home, family, and neighborhood, you would never second guess what the person in charge was doing with or said to the child.
During my years as an early childhood educator in a progressive school I experienced many more unfamiliar child rearing practices. I picked up on subtle differences in racial and cultural patterns used by parents and caretakers at drop off and during pick up. Through readings I learned that these racial and cultural patterns are as ingrained in them as my own cultural patterns were for me (Whelan Aziza, 2006). In addition to the diverse ecosystem existing in my room, there was also the school. As an institution, schools carry with them their own philosophies of education and considerations for good teaching practices. While I believed in the school’s progressive approach, I was conflicted when the practices I learned to use through coursework and at faculty meetings didn’t work for some of my culturally and racially diverse students. The more familiar I became with anti-bias and culturally relevant practices (Derman-Sparks & Olsen Edwards, 2010), the easier it was to consider ways to teach the three year old students in my class through a racial and cultural construct.
Schools are fodder for the racial and cultural socialization that takes place between and among students and adults. Educators have access to a wealth of resources to nurture healthy racial-cultural identity (see resources below). Perhaps readers are familiar with the Teaching Tolerance Anti-bias Framework. Their four domains do more than teach about social justice causes or encourage students to engage in activism. What is most appealing about their framework is that it includes identity as an essential part of anti-bias work. Pre-K to 12th grade educators are offered goals for identity development that positively affirms the social identities to which students belong. In addition to recognizing and affirming students’ racial-ethnic identity, educators should consider ways that cultural patterns develop field independent and field dependent learners.
Cultures vary in the ways in which they interact with children and this informs how students interact with each other, with adults at school (are they raised to see adults as peers, caretakers, authority figures, or a combination of several roles), and with the processes used to acquire and analyze new information. Whelan Ariza (2006) discusses the differences in learning strategies and approaches used by students to solve problems, interact with others, and function in classroom settings. European Americans tend to be field-independent learners who like individual recognition, are comfortable approaching tasks without the need to consult with others, and are self-reliant. Students of color (African American, Arab American, Latino/a, Native American, and many Asian American students) tend to be field-dependent learners. For these students, their work with others is to achieve a collective or common goal and they are greatly influenced by the teacher. Other differences in learning styles include silence versus vocal and physical movement while engaging in tasks; working on a project independently versus sharing work and answers; how the student understands and uses time; amd comfort asking questions in class. In addition to providing an overview of cultural diversity in the classroom, Whelan Ariza (2006) discusses some of the cultural traditions taught from parent to child from Native American, Asian American, Muslims, Followers of Islam, Haitians, and Latinx communities.
Re-consider the approaches used to get the child at the table to eat her lunch through a racially-culturally relevant perspective.
Who are my children racially-ethnically and culturally? How do my collectivist parenting practices influence their developing sense of self? How do my children experience individualism in their other communities? The cultural styles in our home, within our home and family communities, and within the school community are pervasive. These styles influence many aspects of how my children and I function in the world and the occasional clashes I encounter while raising them. These are the questions, concepts, and stories I will address in this post.
My collectivist identity as a Latina, of Dominican and Puerto Rican decent, greatly inform how I was raised and how I am raising my two multi-racial children. My cultural style not only influences how I see myself, it also impacts aspects of my behavior and the decisions I make on my children’s behalf.
An ongoing struggle for me are the ways in which I honor my children’s mixed racial-ethnic identities, make room for the cultural style (individualism) they are learning from society at large, and the collectivist practices I use while socializing them to understand themselves as Latinos. The initial attitudes and positive images and messages I convey to them about our culture and values contributes to their perceptions of themselves and aids in their understanding of how they fit into our collective social group. However, because of the influences from other communities (peers, teachers, school neighborhood, and society at large) they are developing their own racial-ethnic identities and cultural styles. On occasion, I encounter clashes with my children due to the many micro and macro influences around them.
What exactly is collectivism and individualism? Here is a small example. A White woman I know, who is raising her adopted Black child from an individualistic cultural style, needed a babysitter. I told her my daughter could do it. This mother wondered how I could make such a decision for my teenager. I explained that my daughter has many liberties to make decisions about her weekends, and she is equally responsible for the needs of our collective community. As the oldest child, my daughter and I regularly navigate her family responsibilities with her growing independence.
Kendra Cherry wrote a great piece about collectivist culture. In it she talks about the emphasis being on the group, not on the individual. She writes, “Where unity and selflessness are valued traits in collectivist cultures, independence and personal identity are highly stressed in individualistic cultures.” Below are a few more concepts Cherry shares that capture what it means for me to have a collectivist identity.
Exert from The Knight in Rusty Armour
“Ambition from the heart is pure. It competes with no one and harms no one. In fact, it serves one in such a way that it serves others at the same time.”
“This is where we can learn from the apple tree,” Merlin said, gesturing above him. “It has become handsome and fully mature, bearing fine fruit, which it gives freely to all. The more apples people pick, the more the tree grows and the more beautiful it becomes. This tree is doing exactly what apple trees are meant to do — fulfilling its potential to the benefit of all. The same applies to people when they have ambition from the heart.”
The apple tree in the story above becomes nourished because of what it allows others to take. The tree becomes “…handsome and fully mature,” even bearing “fine fruit,” not from what it takes from the world or what it does for itself, but from what it gives away freely. Reaching beauty is possible when more is taken from the tree. Image being that tree — with endless gifts to offer.
I realized that the interactions my children have both within and outside of the family are impacted by my cultural beliefs, values, and practices as a collectivist and by the many times they encounter individualism. In fact, I recently read a study done in 2009 which showed that people’s cultural styles (ex: collectivism or individualism) and cultural affiliations (as collectivist or individualistic) even influence the brain functioning and underlying sense of sense. In addition to the cultural style I use in my parenting practices, I see the ways in which collectivism influences my children’s explorations of what it means to them to be racial-ethnic beings.
My teenage daughter is a brown-skinned half Black and half Latina (Dominican and Puerto Rican) young woman. Up until recently, she used the words Black and Latina to define herself and I often thought that she saw these as two separate parts of her whole. This winter (2017) she began a Latinx high school course which has provided her with opportunities to further develop meaning around her identity. At a student-led conference at the end of January, 2017 I overheard her define herself as an Afro-Latina. This was a first for her, even though she has heard me use the phrase about myself. She is experiencing what the great Chicana scholar, Gloria Anzaldúa, refers to as “un choque,” or the “cultural collision” of her new consciousness, (la conciencia de la mestiza). She is entering a stage of her identity development that is abandoning the need to be either/or (Black or Latina) and instead to think in a more synergistic way about her sense of self and the intersectionality of her identities.
My son is a light-skinned, half White (Lithuanian and Russian) and half Latino (Dominican and Puerto Rican) boy. He is a pre-teen and the language he uses to define himself is still rather departmentalized. He embraces all four ethnic groups to which he belongs and is beginning to explore what each of these mean to him. I am grateful to the work of Maria P.P. Root and her Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage because it has taught me ways to step back so he can independently navigate his multiple identities. An experience he may encounter, if he has not already, is what it means for him to navigate his predominantly White school and school neighborhood with the privileges of being white and male in a way that his sister and I cannot.
As a child I was raised to consider the needs of my family and society before my own needs. Educación, from the Latino family’s perspective, is a more comprehensive term than the accepted American usage. In addition to individual academic success, the terms education and educated refer to how people conduct themselves politely, act collectively, support and respect others, and how they respond to authority. The emphasis is on relationships with others and this basic premise is taught within our home through overt and covert forms of family socialization.
The following experience I had with my son is a good example of the clash of cultural styles (collectivism and individualism). My children, my girlfriend, her young daughter, and I were gearing up to leave the house on a cold winter day. My well-layered son was beginning to get hot as he waited for the rest of us to gather our things and head to the elevator. I could see how uncomfortable he was getting just as we entered the elevator, which was already occupied by an elderly couple going to the basement, or C level. I also had to go to the C level so I assumed we would all ride together, let the elderly couple out, drop off what I needed, and then jump back into the elevator to go up to the main lobby.
My son had a different need. He asked if he could get off at M, the lobby, so he could step outside and cool off. Acting on my “do what is best for others” collectivist practice I told him he could not. He began to express his frustration that I would not honor his individualistic need. I gave him the “you are embarrassing me” face because it is also not acceptable in my Latino culture to publicly disagree with your elders, let alone your parent. My girlfriend later asked me why I didn’t let him off on M, which to her seemed like it would relieve him of his personal discomfort and, perhaps, relieve me from getting upset with him as he challenged my authority in the elevator.
At first glance, one may think I was entering into a battle of wills with my son. In fact, the more crucial lesson I was imparting on him was how to set aside his needs for the need of others. He and I have had many encounters such as the one in the elevator whereby he cannot understand why I am insisting on him doing something that inconveniences him, but benefits others. For me, it is as simple as the apple tree…fulfilling its potential to the benefit of all. For him, not so much.
Every moment I can, I want to teach my children to live by Latino cultural values, to see themselves as members of a proud collective, and to develop the necessary skills to live as contributing members of this American society that often, though not always, emphasizes individualism. Later that evening I asked my son to tell me what his perspective was about my two and a half year journey to complete my dissertation. He talked about how hard I worked, what a great accomplishment it was for me, and how proud he was of me. I then read to him the dedication page. It started by naming them, then my parents, my siblings, and my nieces and nephews. The final sentence reads: Any individual accomplishments I experience are in the spirit of the Latino collective to which I am proudly a member.
Anzaldúa, G. (2012). La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a new consciousness. In G. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La frontera: The new mestiza (77–91). San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.
Chiao, J. Y., Harada, T., Komeda, H., Li, Z., Mano, Y., Saito, D., Parrish, T. B., Sadato, N., & Iidaka, T. (2009, September). Neural basis of individualistic and collectivist views of self. Human Brain Mapping, 00:000–000, 1–8. doi:10.1002/hbm.20707
Henriquez-Betancor, M. (2012, December). Anzaldúa and ‘the new mestiza’: A Chicana dives into collective identity. Language Value, 4(2), pp. 38–55. http://dx.doi.org/10.6035/LanguageV.2012.4.2.4
The formation of racial-ethnic identity for minority children and youth matters, particularly in the context of home and school. Young children’s racial-ethnic identity, “has implications for their relationships with in-group and out-group members and is associated with their level of perceived competency and self-acceptance,” (Corenblum & Amstrong, 2012, .p. 133). Increases in cognitive development is associated with increases in racial-ethnic identity (REI) and REI is linked to self-esteem and attitudes towards the in-group.
Adolescents consider the idea of doing well in school a central component to their potential and perceived options for the future. The possible future selves of youth are developed based on personal ideals and social influences such as the family, school, peers, and the media. Youth who connect their academic identity to other important social identities, such as their racial-ethnic identity or social class, are able to work through academic challenges to attain academic goals. Likewise, when educational aspirations are synonymous with family values, youth are able to envision academic achievements and success as part of their academic possible selves.
I attended a predominantly Latino and Black school from my Head Start program to the Catholic school where I entered at Kindergarten and graduated in eighth grade. My future possible self as a Latina was nurtured at home and school. Though I didn't understand the impact of my micro and macro environments, I clearly benefited from my surroundings. I lived in a strong Latino household where culture, history, music, and language where overtly, and sometimes covertly, expressed and I attended a school community whereby my neighbors, the church, clubs, store owners, and peers I socialized with were of Latino or Black heritage. All around me, adults communicated goals of academic success and family commitment.
My educational foundation, while culturally affirming, did not adequately prepare me for high school's academic rigor. My older siblings, however, served as role models to continue with my future possible self as they overtly communicated the importance of completing high school, beginning and completing college, and having aspirations for their future career goals. I realized that this snapshot of my personal story was reflected in my research on Latino youth’s racial-ethnic identity development and academic success. I discovered that there are key components to my experience that are echoed in the literature.
Every day I experience any of my many identities. Sometimes, these are affirming and profound. Other times, I need to surround myself with images, words, people, and experiences to boost myself out of the never-ending hole in the ground called bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
On these pages I hope to share writing, research, and ideas that uplift, affirm, and boost my collective.