This research examined whether marginalized groups had an awareness of race, reported children's experiences with racial discrimination, and assessed the moderating effect of ethnic identity on the relationship between racial discrimination and self-esteem. Overall, non-Hispanic black children were more aware of the concept of race. This finding supports the racial socialization literature and the work conducted by Nazroo (2003)
in the United Kingdom that marginalized groups (non-Hispanic blacks) with histories of oppression are more aware of race. Children also reported frequent encounters with racial discrimination over a thirty-day period. The findings also support the racism-related-stress model that racial discrimination negatively affects self-esteem. However, the findings do not support the moderating effects of ethnic identity.
Although Hispanic children reported significant exposure to racial discrimination, their awareness of the definition of race was almost identical to that of non-Hispanic white children and below that of non-Hispanic black children. These findings are supported by the works of Levine and Ruiz (1978)
and Ocampo and colleagues (1993)
which suggest that Mexican American children develop racial identification at later ages. The Hispanic children in the current study are largely generation 1.5 immigrants (those who have recently migrated from Latin American countries before the age of 12, ~ 86 per cent) and are overwhelmingly of Mexican origin (~ 80 per cent). As Viruell-Fuentes (2007)
notes, this generation of Hispanic children learns about their lower racial/ethnic status through interactions with others.
The early social contexts of the Hispanic participants in this study are overwhelmingly in Latin America. The traditional perceptions of racism in the United States, with an emphasis on a black-white racial binary, do not fit the Hispanic immigrant experience as Hispanics may be black, white, Amerindian, or some combination thereof. When Hispanic children immigrate to the United States and have contacts with children of other races and ethnicities, in their schools or neighborhoods, they are more likely to become aware of their marginalized status (Viruell-Fuentes 2007
). Hispanics, particularly immigrant children, may therefore be more similar to non-Hispanic whites when considering race as a master status than they are to non-Hispanic blacks.
Although they have lower awareness of race, a greater percentage of Hispanic children report discriminatory encounters. This suggests that the embodiment of Hispanic ethnicity is not without challenges in the United States. Taken together, these data suggest that as their population and visibility continue to increase, Hispanics may become targets of discrimination at younger ages. The higher rates of discriminatory experiences directed at Hispanic children may also include forms of discrimination separate from those experienced by other racial/ethnic groups. For example, it is possible that if the Williams Every-Day-Discrimination Scale included discrimination based on language, discriminatory experiences reported by Hispanics would be even greater.
Non-Hispanic white children in this study are less able to define the term race and very few non-Hispanic white children report racial discrimination. The racial socialization literature suggests that only a segment of the population engages in this process. As other studies note, racial socialization is salient for individuals with historic experiences of discrimination (Brown and Krishnakumar 2007
). Therefore, it is not surprising that many non-Hispanic white children required racial definitions. As Copenhaver-Johnson (2006)
demonstrates, white parents are more reluctant to discuss race, discrimination, and racism, which can possibly contribute to the inability of the non-Hispanic white children in this study to define race. The largest percentage of discriminatory experiences for non-Hispanic whites was being bothered or threatened because of their race.
Additionally, racial discrimination negatively affected self-esteem across racial/ethnic groups. It appears that encounters with discrimination are important for children and that the negative health affects associated with racial discrimination are present in this group of young children. This further supports the work linking racial discrimination to health status for adolescents and adults. As well, these results highlight the need for more studies to decompose the effects of racial discrimination on the physical and mental health of young children.
While Hispanic children in Birmingham reported higher rates of discrimination than their non-Hispanic black counterparts, these results may not apply to all locales. The non-Hispanic black children in this study are predominantly concentrated in urban areas with high concentrations of blacks. Such ethnic enclaves can function as protective zones (Wilson and Martin 1982
) where children may be less likely to have exposure to racism (Massey and Denton 1992
). Further, to examine the levels of segregation across groups, isolation and interaction indices were calculated (McKibben and Faust 2004
). These calculations indicate that, indeed non-Hispanic black and Hispanic/non-Hispanic white children are highly segregated by residence (numbers not calculated separately for Hispanics due to small sample sizes). The likelihoods of meeting another member of their racial/ethnic group are 64 and 87 per cent for non-Hispanic black and Hispanic/non-Hispanic whites respectively. Furthermore, non-Hispanic blacks have a 35 per cent chance of interacting with people of other racial/ethnic groups whereas the Hispanic/non-Hispanic white children have only an 11 per cent chance. These indices convey that non-Hispanic white children have a low degree of interacting with children of other racial/ethnic groups and further underscore their lack of racial awareness.
Although we evaluated racial discrimination on an individual level, the racialized social systems that help to create these interactions are important. As Bonilla-Silva notes (1997
, racialized social systems become institutionalized and form a culture whereby the social relationships and life chances within and between racial groups are structured. The reported instances of racial discrimination and the resultant effects on the self-esteem of young children in this study emerge from these embedded social structures. The children in this study utilize these structures to maintain dominance, status, and privilege (Van Ausdale and Feagin 2001
While very informative, there are some limitations to this research. One African American interviewer conducted all interviews and research shows there may be respondent bias due to the racial-gender discordance between the interviewer and respondents. Research also indicates that individuals are likely to underreport instances of discrimination resulting from the possible stresses of recalling the incidents, the sensitive nature of the topic, or the denial of personal experiences for self-preservation (Karlsen and Nazroo 2002
). In addition, the methods used for racial socialization are not included in this study. This study sample consists of healthy children recruited and paid to participate in a clinical study. Nevertheless, the current findings expand the literature and provide important clues for guiding future research on race and discrimination among children. This study suggests that racial heterogeneity among children is not necessarily indicative of racial harmony. This calls attention to the need for parents, schools, and communities to be attentive to solving such problems, especially with the current growth in the Hispanic population. Research on racial discrimination during childhood has primarily focused on the experiences of non-Hispanic black children. However, this research suggests that the experiences of young Hispanic children need to be included in future work and measures of discrimination associated with accent, immigrant status, and language proficiency, as well as skin color be utilized. In addition, future studies should engage in research to understand how young Hispanic children identify and interpret race and ethnicity.