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Blacks in Suburbia: Children, Families Fit In, Study Shows

A study conducted by a University of Washington researcher indicates that black children who live in predominantly white communities grow up expressing positive attitudes toward blacks, whites, and themselves.

The study also indicates that black families--who move to the predominantly white suburbs for bigger houses, more space, and better schools--can thrive in the suburban communities while maintaining ties to the black community through churches, social organizations, and other groups.

One out of five blacks in the United States lived in the suburbs in 1980, but the number of blacks who lived in predominantly white suburbs was a small minority, according to James A. Banks, chairman of curriculum and instruction at the University of Washington's College of Education.

In the predominantly white communities Mr. Banks studied, blacks made up less than 3 percent of the population.

Mr. Banks surveyed 64 black families that live in Seattle's suburbs. The study, conducted with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, also examined the attitudes of 98 black children ages 4 to 18 in those families.

Although previous studies--which have focused primarily on inner-city blacks--indicate that black children are more apt than white children to attribute their successes or failures to others than to themselves (a characteristic correlated with failing behavior), the black children in Mr. Bank's study tended to relate success and failures to their own efforts (a characteristic often correlated with high academic achievement, persistence, and self-esteem). The black children demonstrated this characteristic to the same degree that white children did, Mr. Banks said.

Mr. Banks said that many social scientists have theorized that blacks living in predominantly white suburban communities would not be fully accepted in either their home neighborhoods or in the black community. But he noted that little research has been done to test the idea.

Some of Mr. Banks's findings "did indicate that there can be some difficulties in trying to function in those two worlds," Mr. Banks said. The more involved that families became in white suburban life, the less content they were with their involvement in the black community. Conversely, the more active black families were in the black community, the less content they were in white suburbia, Mr. Banks said.

Mr. Banks is now studying the attitudes of suburban teachers toward the black children in their classes. The first paper from Mr. Banks's study is scheduled for publication in the Winter 1984 edition of the Journal of Negro Education.

Fewer Adults Seen Supervising Children

Declining support for public education and child-related issues can probably be linked with the fact that the proportion of adults in the population with a day-to-day involvement with children is shrinking, a researcher at the University of Nevada-Reno suggests.

In 1940, about 49 percent of the nation's households had no children under the age of 18, says Judith Zimmerman, an assistant professor of home economics who studied the changing demography of families.

That percentage changed little over the next three decades, rising to just under 53 percent in 1970, she found. But in 1980, about 60 percent of the households were childless.

The increasing incidence of divorce and of women in the workforce, as well as other social changes also have caused the populace to be less concerned about the needs of children, Ms. Zimmerman suggests.

"Families are no longer composed of husband, wife, and two children, with the husband working," according to Ms. Zimmerman. "There are all different forms: one-parent families, single-parent families through divorce, families composed of women who never married and their children, single people, people living together without legal marriage, and adults living with an elderly parent. These real characteristics need to be incorporated in any national policy dealing with families and children."

Vol. 03, Issue 13

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