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Learning Race, Learning Place

Shaping Racial Identities and Ideas in African American Childhoods

Erin N. Winkler

Publication Year: 2012

In an American society both increasingly diverse and increasingly segregated, the signals children receive about race are more confusing than ever. In this context, how do children negotiate and make meaning of multiple and conflicting messages to develop their own ideas about race? Learning Race, Learning Place engages this question using in-depth interviews with an economically diverse group of African American children and their mothers. Through these rich narratives, Erin N. Winkler seeks to reorient the way we look at how children develop their ideas about race through the introduction of a new framework—comprehensive racial learning—that shows the importance of considering this process from children’s points of view and listening to their interpretations of their experiences, which are often quite different from what the adults around them expect or intend. At the children’s prompting, Winkler examines the roles of multiple actors and influences, including gender, skin tone, colorblind rhetoric, peers, family, media, school, and, especially, place. She brings to the fore the complex and understudied power of place, positing that while children’s racial identities and experiences are shaped by a national construction of race, they are also specific to a particular place that exerts both direct and indirect influence on their racial identities and ideas.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Series in Childhood Studies

Title Series Information

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

First, and most importantly, I thank the young people and mothers who so graciously and candidly shared their stories for this study. It goes without saying that there would be no book without their generous willingness to let me into their lives. Would it not breach confidentiality, I would thank each of them by name. ...

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Chapter 1. Comprehensive Racial Learning, Grounded in Place

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pp. 1-28

“Show me the smart child. Why is he the smart child?” “Show me the dumb child. Why is he the dumb child?” “Show me the nice child.” “Show me the mean child.” So went the questions posed to black and white children in the recent, widely discussed series on CNN.1 ...

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Chapter 2. Rhetoric versus Reality: Ambivalence about Race and Racism

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pp. 29-51

Mahogany, an engaging fifteen-year-old eighth-grader, exudes both toughness and tenderness as she talks about her experiences growing up in Detroit. While she says the adults in her life would describe her as “loud,” “having an attitude,” and “greedy,” she is patiently entertaining her young niece, whom she has the responsibility of babysitting during our interview. ...

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Chapter 3. Racialized Place: Comprehensive Racial Learning through Travel

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pp. 52-76

This chapter begins to reveal the ways place emerges as influential in children’s comprehensive racial learning. Remember that by place, I mean not only the location and geography, but the material environment (buildings, vacant spaces, public spaces, and so on), the social character and cultural milieu, ...

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Chapter 4. Place Matters: Shaping Mothers' Messages

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pp. 77-100

While the last chapter looked at how place directly and actively teaches children about race, this chapter theorizes the indirect role of place in children’s comprehensive racial learning. Specifically, I will argue that place influences what mothers choose to teach their children about race and racism. ...

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Chapter 5. Competing with Society: Responsive Racial Socialization

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pp. 101-146

Michelle laughs freely when sharing stories about her thirteen-year-old daughter, Elina, and her ten-year-old son, Carlos, often beginning, “Now, this is so funny.” Her pride in her children is clear as she shares details about their talents, interests, and personalities. “They just tickle me sometimes,” she says, smiling. ...

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Chapter 6. Black is Black?: Gender, Skin Tone, and Comprehensive Racial Learning

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pp. 147-177

Despite important exceptions (T. L. Brown et al. 2010; McHale et al. 2006; A. Thomas and King 2007), few studies systematically explore the impact of African American children’s gender and skin tone on their ideas about race or their parents’ racial socialization messages (Hughes et al. 2008; Lesane-Brown 2006; Stevenson et al. 2005; T. Williams and Davidson 2009). ..

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Chapter 7. Conclusion: "I Learn Being Black from Everywhere I Go"

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pp. 178-182

There is a debate among scholars over which sources of information (sometimes called “socializing agents”) are most powerful in how children learn about race. The literature falls into two broad camps: those who believe the family is the most critical agent of socialization and those who argue that forces outside the family have more influence. ...


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pp. 183-184


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pp. 185-206


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pp. 207-211

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About the Author

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Erin N. Winkler is an associate professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She received her PhD in African American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work on how children develop ideas about race and racism has appeared in a number of books and journals. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813554310
E-ISBN-10: 0813554314
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813554303
Print-ISBN-10: 0813554306

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 7 figures, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Series in Childhood Studies