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White Kids

July 2, 2018

This is a review of an advance reading copy of White Kids by Margaret A. Hagerman, to be published September 4, 2018.  #WhiteKids #NetGalley

 

White Kids is an intriguing title, but there are no villains here.  Sociologist Margaret A. Hagerman details findings and observations of

  • Parents and children from 30 upper middle class white families
  • Whose children are middle school age
  • And live in one of three neighborhoods in and around a medium size midwestern city

regarding their opinions and attitudes towards race.

What is “white privilege,” anyway?  I’ve read a number of essays by authors of color who use this term, and I know I’m not the only one who is confused.  Being born white is not a privilege, and there are certainly under-privileged white people.  Then again, I know, empirically, white people have an advantage over people of color, so in my mind, I’ve simply exchanged the word “advantage” for “privilege.”  I found while reading this book it isn’t that simple.  There are many forms of privilege.  Athletic or artistic talent, intelligence, education, and wealth are all forms of privilege.  This study is about the privileges that come with the advantages of wealth.

Why did the parents choose their respective neighborhoods?  What do they consider a good school?  Is racism a learned behavior, or are ten- to thirteen-year-olds capable of forming their own opinions?  How do parents, schools, the media, peers, extra-curricular activities, travel, and charitable activities inform the children in regards to race?  What do the families do to perpetuate or prevent the continuation of white privilege?

These are just some of the questions addressed.  There is also a chapter dedicated to cultural appropriation, centered specifically on the use of the word “ghetto.”  I found this especially interesting, because “ghetto” is a derivation of an Italian word meaning a separate neighborhood in which Jews were forced to live.  Over time, its meaning has changed.  And even during my lifetime, connotations of the word have changed.  Cultural appropriation itself is a sticky subject, in my personal view.  I find it can be quite complimentary.  After all, one would not adopt culturally diverse foods, music, or fashion if one did not enjoy them.  But failing to acknowledge the source of that which we enjoy excludes that source.

Yes, cultural appropriation is a sticky, messy subject.  So are privilege and racism.  But, as you will see, these things are not the product of people who are inherently evil.  Trying to make sense of it all is like walking through oatmeal.  “White Kids,” while it draws its information from a small representation of the United States, is highly illuminating and thought-provoking.  I give it five of five stars.  I learned a lot about things that have eluded me my entire life.  That’s a worthy read!

NYU press will publish this book on September 4, 2018.

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