Racial Centrality Study in New England shows Low Scores for White Participants

by hunter_c on November 13, 2016 - 8:33pm

In 2008, there was a survey conducted by Grossman and Charmaraman regarding the issue of racial-ethnic centrality (the degree to which people identify race as an important and crucial part of their identity), white privilege, and what it means to be white. Their sample size was 793 white teens (ages 14-21) from three different high schools in the New England area, and approximately 50% of the participants were female. To gather their sample, Grossman and Charmaraman conducted a preliminary survey to 1, 793 teens but to be qualified for the survey, the participants could not be of mixed race (meaning they had to be “fully white”), resulting in only 793 participants being qualified. Due to previous studies on the subject, their hypothesis was that these teens would have a low racial centrality scoring, and this low score would decrease further as their parents had higher levels of education and a high socioeconomic standing (this would tie into white privilege, as well as privilege associated with money). With that hypothesis in mind, the researchers also predicted that teens who had less money would score slightly higher on the centrality rating, due to their reduced privilege. Respondents were asked questions about their race and ethnicity through a Likert scale, rating responses as “not at all important” (1), to “among the most important” (4). Participants were also given the opportunity to respond to questions with a comment if they felt the answers provided were not sufficient. Most participants responded that their race/ethnicity was “not at all important” or “somewhat important”. Respondents were also asked about their parent’s highest level of education, with 49% of fathers having a PhD or a Master’s and 49% of mothers having a 4-year degree (Bachelor’s). This high level of education had a direct correlation to the participant's low score on the racial-ethnic centrality scale. These findings are consistent with those of previous studies, and it demonstrates that adolescents with highly educated parents with good socioeconomic standing are less likely to be aware of their “whiteness”, which exemplifies their privilege because teens of color are faced with their race every day. On the other hand, teens from predominantly non-white high schools were more aware of their race and scored higher on the centrality scale. Overall, the conclusion that these researchers came to was that white teens do not reflect on their “whiteness” or what it means to be white, nor does it have very much importance to them as opposed to teens of color.


I feel there were a few issues with this study. Firstly, I think they should have had a larger sample size. The recommended sample size is usually 1,500 and this study had significantly fewer participants than that. Secondly, this study took place in New England, perhaps going to other parts of the United States would have provided broader answers and given new perspective. I would have also liked to see the “mixed race” participant’s answers. Often times, people of mixed race (especially teenagers) struggle with their racial/ethnic identity, and it would have been useful to compare them to the “white” answers to see both the differences and similarities. Despite these criticisms, there were positive aspects to this study. Evaluating the parent’s level of education was interesting, as well as their open-ended answers section. Sometimes people don’t always feel exactly how the researcher worded the response, so having the option to add their own was a good decision which provided the study with more relevant and accurate information.




Grossman, J. M., & Charmaraman, L. (2008). Race, Context, and Privilege: White Adolescents’ Explanations of Racial-ethnic Centrality. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(2), 139-152. doi:10.1007/s10964-008-9330-7