Speaking the unspeakable: Youth discourses on racial importance in school

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - The purpose of this study is to gain greater understanding of the ways that youth "do race" in the post-Civil Rights United States. Scholars have studied racial discourse and meaning among adults but have not rigorously investigated the patterns of discourse among youth. Methodology - I analyze in-depth interviews and in and out-of-school observations drawn from three racially mixed fourth-grade classrooms in a city that I call Rolling Acres. Among the 31 families, 21 of the children identified as White and 10 identified as Black. Rolling Acres is a midsized city of over 100,000 residents where 75 percent of its residents identify as White and 9 percent identify as Black. Findings - Youth maintain complex understandings of the importance of race, but mediate the expression of these sentiments based on their social identities and public scripts. Both Black and White children first suggest race does not matter when asked, but then describe that race is important to others in their school. White youth suggest Black youth are the perpetuators of racial antagonisms and perpetuate racial significance through their actions. Black youth suggest White youth do not typically antagonize over race, but when they do the perpetrators are acting out of individual beliefs and thus are limited in impact. Originality - Through an exclusive concentration on the voices of the young, new patterns of understanding and discourse are uncovered, which may relate to later divergences in racial meaning in adulthood between Blacks and Whites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-421
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Studies of Children and Youth
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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