Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marriage and Family Therapy


Deborah Coolhart

Second Advisor

Ambika Krishnakumar


Black families;Black middle-class;Constructivist Grounded theory;Education;Parent-Child Relationships

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


The purpose of this study was to describe and explain the socialization process of Black middle-class families and explore how this shapes the parent-child relationship. The methodology that was used for this study was constructivist grounded theory. Also included within this methodology were theories and frameworks such as: Narrative Family therapy, contextual therapy, and the Intersectionality framework. Using semi-structured interviews, participants were asked to reflect upon their middle-class upbringing and to share how their socialization process shaped their relationship with their parents, both in the past and currently. There was an array of themes that were discovered from the results. Education being mandatory appeared to be participants' stories as they reflected upon education held as a high priority and participation in extracurricular activities was a requirement within many households, often used to help participants to become more well-rounded and to keep busy to stay out of trouble. This appeared to serve to support participants in becoming more well-rounded as well as to decrease involvement in risky activities. Racial socialization was another critical component of this process, where participants reported intergenerational experiences of navigating having "two strikes against them, and a concern about created a third and final strike against them." Racial socialization also looked different regionally, where participants from some areas of the country received more explicit messages about race compared to others elsewhere who received more implicit messages. Participants also noted conversations about religion, frequently referred to as the cornerstone within the Black community, an important aspect both within the Black community as well was interwoven in between values and lessons that were taught. The role of the extended family was found to be a source of support in mental and emotional ways for individuals in their families. Gender appeared to be another important aspect of this process that may have determined the types of messages that were received. Participants with siblings of opposite gender living in the home with them noticed this more than only child participants or participants with large age gaps between them and their siblings. Participants shared that when it comes to gender, "It's easy to baby the girls." Lastly, it was found that class played a significant role in their upbringings through affording them more opportunities, access to highly competitive education and other important resources. Additionally, this study indicated that there was a central theme around "doing one's best" which carried a different message than from the way in which we typically think of what this means. Participants indicated that they received underlying messages around doing your best really meaning needing to work harder than those around you, because of race. The role of the extended family can come in the form of many different types of support, for the Black middle-class, participants reported that their role served more so as a means to develop a sense of community and closeness in comparison to prior literature on low-income families who may also rely of extended family for additional means of support such as financial. All of these factors appeared to play a significant role in the socialization process of Black middle-class families. Many participants shared it to be challenging growing up within their households but despite those moments grew a closeness and appreciation of their parents that still continues. They also shared stories of compassion in acknowledging that their parents "did their best." While other participants continue to repair their relationships with their parents as result of their socialization process. Future studies should include parents of participants to gain more insight into parts of the socialization that only the parents of participants can provide. Keywords: Black middle-class, Black families, Education, Race, Parent-Child Relationships, Gender, Constructivist Grounded theory


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