New research supported by the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences reveals differences in how white and Black parents talk to their children about race.

I-LABSPublication, Research

mother and child in discussion
mother and child in discussion

In the United States, Black and white parents have different conversations with their children about race. In a multi-university study spanning 11 cities across the United States, Dr. Onnie Rogers and a group of researchers at Northwestern University, teamed up with Dr. Katharine Scott, Wake Forest University, Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, University of Washington, and Dr. David Chae, Tulane University, to investigate how parents talked about Black Lives Matter (BLM) with their 8–11-year-old children immediately following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The researchers found that while 80% of parents talked about BLM with their children, Black parents were significantly more likely to do so than white parents. 

The way that parents talked to their children about BLM varied too. The researchers found that Black parents were more likely to acknowledge racial inequality than white parents (45% of Black parents vs 23% of white parents). Black parents were also much more likely to affirm the value of Black life (34% vs 12%). And the content of these conversations recognized and actively resisted racism. White parents who talked about BLM were more likely than Black parents to focus on equality (“we treat everyone the same”) rather than talking directly about racial injustice. They were also more likely to either to copy and paste their response from the internet or to give a response that avoided or didn’t actually bear on BLM. These types of responses were not designed to actively resist racism. In fact, researchers believe that when we say “everyone is the same and we don’t see color” we are implicitly conveying to children that talking about race and color is taboo, and we shouldn’t notice or acknowledge these topics.  A color-avoidant approach like this can inadvertently teach kids that accepting inequalities is okay and not a target for change. 

Notably, for parents who chose not to talk about BLM, only a small percentage of parents reported that it was because they didn’t feel prepared or didn’t have enough knowledge. This suggests that parents may need more support in understanding the value of talking specifically about inequality and inequity with children, and how such conversations can educate their children about civics and motivate them to notice, resist, and disrupt the injustices they see around them. 

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Related Media Coverage available in Psychology Today, The Hill,, Seattle Times, and Yahoo News.