Three sociologists who study children and youth and race and ethnicity, Elizabeth Ackert, Margaret Hagerman, and Ranita Ray, answered questions from the ASA Section on Children & Youth’s Communication and Publications Committee about their work and about race and ethnicity in the contemporary United States. Check out their full interviews here.
Questions for Elizabeth Ackert: As someone who studies the experiences of Mexican-origin children and youth, could you comment on the current situation of Mexican and other immigrant parents and their children in the United States? What do you think is most important for children and youth scholars to keep in mind about the current situation?
EA: First, it is important to remember that there is a diversity of experiences among the immigrant population in general and among the Mexican immigrant population in particular. As social scientists, we often compare mean outcomes between groups, but when focusing on immigrant populations it is always important to think about within-group variability (by national origin, by citizenship status, by authorized/unauthorized status, by levels of acculturation, etc.). My current research looks at place of residence (immigrant destinations) as another source of diversity within the already diverse immigrant and Mexican-origin populations. Highlighting diversity in characteristics and outcomes among these groups should be fundamental to research in this area.
Second, we are in an era of political scapegoating of immigrants, including Mexican immigrants. This scapegoating involves the characterization of migrants and asylum seekers as “invaders” and attempts to link immigration to societal ills such as crime and disease. This scapegoating is not new, unfortunately, but the rhetoric is heightened right now. It is important for scholars to document both qualitatively and quantitatively how national and local dialogues and policies surrounding immigration are influencing development and wellbeing among the children and descendants of immigrants. One new area of my research, in collaboration with Stephanie Potochnick from the University of Missouri, examines how local immigration enforcement (287g agreements and deportations) varies across immigrant destinations and determines whether Latino/a families in areas with higher immigration enforcement are less likely to utilize health care. Click here for Elizabeth's full interview.
Questions for Margaret Hagerman: Your new book, White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America, is based on two years of ethnographic study of affluent, white parents and their children. Very briefly, you find that white racial socialization involves not only what affluent, white parents do for their children (e.g., choices about neighborhoods, schools, and extracurricular activities), but also what they say to their children (e.g., whether they talk openly to their children about race), and that white children do not always agree with their parents about race. What effect did this particular research and book project have on you as a sociologist?
On the positive side of things, I now believe that it is possible for our research to have an impact on the choices that individual people make and how people see the world. Honestly, I always feared that my work might be pointless in terms of actually challenging inequality. But I have had so many conversations recently with affluent, white parents who have told me that my book has influenced them, that they are thinking critically in new ways about their own complicity with white supremacy, and that they want to make different parenting choices moving forward. I hope that they do. However, on the negative side of things, I have also learned that the statement “all children should be worthy of consideration” is possibly the most controversial statement I could make. I have been absolutely horrified by the hateful response to my suggestion that all children should be valued in our society, even if they are not one’s own affluent white child. Click here to hear more about Margaret's experience.
Question for Ranita Ray: In your recent book, The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City, you draw upon your three years of ethnographic study of sixteen black and brown youth living in an economically marginalized community to challenge the commonly-held belief that targeting risky behaviors (drug use, gangs, violence, teen parenthood) is the key to ending the “cycle of poverty.” What should be done instead and why?
RR: I think it is imperative we not place inordinate focus on risk behavior prevention because not only does this come at the cost of supporting youths’ educational and occupational goals, but it actually causes harm by reinforcing racist and classist stereotypes. For example, many non-profits in Port City actually invested resources and energy on pregnancy and violence prevention at the cost of, say, providing assistance with college admission or mitigating food insecurity. But it’s not just that. This focus often lead youth to internalize the idea that they’re potential social problems—for example, even after being admitted to a four-year university, one youth chose to join the military to “become disciplined.” Teachers, non-profit workers, community members, and sometimes the youth themselves, policed and stigmatized youth as potential social problems.
This focus also places the burden squarely on the individual as it indicates that ultimately behavioral change is the answer to challenging inequality. In reality, it is wealth inequality, discrimination, low-wages, tax laws that benefit the wealthy, and profit systems that result in hunger and eviction as white wealthy people accrue wealth that hold youth back. Given drug use is evenly distributed across communities, for example, why do we primarily focus on drug use within communities of color instead of, say, raising minimum wage or focusing on estate tax reform to challenge the racial wealth gap?
When we construct Black and Latinx youth as social problems to be solved, even if through our benevolent desire to do good, we are ultimately reproducing systems of racism and classism. For more from Ranita, click here.
About the Contributors:
Elizabeth Ackert is a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her individual and collaborative work examines explanations for why racial/ethnic and immigrant-origin groups are unequally distributed across contexts—including schools, neighborhoods, and immigrant destinations—and evaluates the consequences of this contextual inequality for disparities in outcomes in domains such as education, residential mobility, and health. She is particularly interested in understanding how the attributes of immigrant-receiving contexts, including states, communities, neighborhoods, and schools, influence the educational and health outcomes of children and adolescents of Mexican origin.
Margaret Hagerman is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University and is a Faculty Affiliate in both the African American Studies and Gender Studies programs. Her qualitative research focuses on the study of racial socialization. In addition to her new book, White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America (NYU Press, 2018), Hagerman has published articles in Journal of Marriage and Family, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Sociological Studies of Children and Youth.
Ranita Ray is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is an ethnographer specializing in children and youth, women of color feminisms, urban inequalities, and education and policing. In addition to her book, The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City (University of California Press, 2018), Ray has published other work related to children/youth, urban inequalities, race, class and gender, including book chapters and articles in such journals as Social Problems, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Sociology Compass.
Section on Children and Youth