The Road to Socialization

None of us are born racist or homophobic. Early on, we are taught about how the world works from our close loved ones. We learn about roles and expectations, and as we enter school, these messages are reinforced. Bobbie Harro describes this process in her classic article, “The Cycle of Socialization” which can be found in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.  This worksheet is an adaptation of her original work.

The Stages of Socialization

Birth and Early Childhood
We are born into a society with established rules, expectations, and roles for us to fill, based on our different social identities (identities like our sex, class, race, ability, etc.).  In our early childhoods, we learn how to behave and relate from our loved ones. Some examples include: “Boys don't cry;” “Other religions aren't as truthful;” “You should stay away from those people;” “Don't worry about your broken toy, we'll just buy you another”.  

Reflection Questions

  • At the time of your birth, what messages did society enforce about white folks, and people of color?


  • What early messages did you get from family and caregivers related to race? (What norms for behavior, values, rules for you to follow, roles you should take) 


Immersion in Institutional and Cultural Messages
Later on, we're bombarded with messages from institutions with which we interact: religion, the family doctor, family friends, the store, police officers, and teachers. The messages are relentless and reinforcing, and to resist them is to invite scorn, isolation or even violence.  We're also bombarded with messages from our culture: the media (news shows, internet ads, advertising, newspapers, radio), the language we use, song lyrics, etc. 


Reflection Questions

Think about your time during high school and college, and the messages you received around race. 

  • What messages or “scripting” did you receive from institutions you encountered (for example, church, school, legal system, medical system, businesses)


  • What messages or rules were you taught from the culture you consumed? (for example, cultural practices, song lyrics, language, social media, patterns of thought) 


Enforcements of the Status Quo
It is not easy to exit this system of socialization; conforming to our assigned roles is rewarded in every realm (for parents, spouses, employees, students, etc.)  We are deterred from challenging racism in a million ways.


Reflection Questions

  • When you have challenged the status quo (challenged racism or white privilege) what messages have you received from co-workers, friends or family?


  • How did you feel as a result of these messages?


Exit Ramps: Following a Different Path
It takes someone or something to show us the exit ramp away from the Status Quo. “Exit ramp events” can happen any time in our lives -  maybe through a particularly insightful teacher, a powerful book, or when we witness an act of blatant racism. “Exit ramp events” make us newly aware of oppression, and start us on a new path of awareness and action. 


Reflection Questions

  • What exit ramps have you experienced around race that challenged your earlier socialization?


  • What new awareness or action resulted from this “exit ramp event”?