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Applying the Evidence We Have: Support for Having Race Conversations in White U.S. Families

Sylvia P. Perry, Allison L. Skinner-Dorkenoo, Jamie L. Abaied, and Sara F. Waters

Perspectives on Psychological Science

Popular press articles have advocated for parent–child conversations about race and racism to prevent children from developing racial biases, yet empirical investigations of the impact of racial socialization in White U.S. families are scarce. In an article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science in 2020, Scott et al. warned that, given the lack of empirical evidence, parents might actually do more harm than good by talking to their children about race. In this comment, we draw upon the literature on (a) racial socialization, (b) parenting and parent–child discourse, and (c) the role of nonverbal communication in parental socialization to inform our understanding of parents’ ability to engage in race-related conversations in the absence of empirical guidance. We also highlight emerging evidence of the potential benefits of these conversations (even if parents are uncomfortable). In sum, the wealth of existing literature suggests that parents can successfully navigate challenging conversations with their children—which tends to result in better outcomes for children than avoiding those conversations. Thus, although we support Scott et al.’s call for researchers to develop more empirical research, we part with the authors’ assertion that researchers need to wait for more sufficient evidence before providing recommendations to White parents—we believe that the time for White families to begin talking about race and racism is now.


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