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Culture and Conflict: The Portrayal of Blacks in U.S. Children's Picture Books Through the Mid- and Late-Twentieth Century

Bernice A. Pescosolido, Elizabeth Grauerholz and Melissa A. Milkie
American Sociological Review
Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jun., 1997), pp. 443-464
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2657315
Page Count: 22
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Culture and Conflict: The Portrayal of Blacks in U.S. Children's Picture Books Through the Mid- and Late-Twentieth Century
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Abstract

Using three sets of children's books, we document changes in racial images and examine the relationship between culture, gatekeeping, and conflict in society. In terms of the representation of Blacks, four findings stand out. First, the portrayal of Black characters over time is nonlinear and can be divided into reasonably distinct phases: declining representation from the late 1930s through the late 1950s, nearly zero representation from that point through 1964, a dramatic increase from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, and a leveling off after 1975. Second, images vary significantly over time. For example, in award-winning books, Black characters reappear during the latter half of the 1960s in "safe," distant images. Third, the depiction of intimate, egalitarian, interracial interaction and the portrayal of Black adults as focal characters are rare. Fourth, gains in multicultural portrayals have not been maintained consistently across the different sets of children's books, with prize-winning books more likely to depict Blacks. We link these trends to gatekeeping activities and to strains in Black-White relations in the larger society. Specifically, advertisements from publishing houses are more likely to include Black characters than are award panel selections or editorials in leading professional journals. Prize-winning books continue a trend toward increased representation of Blacks and account for most of the books featuring only Black characters. Finally, when African American challenges to the dominant societal norms are strongest (measured by the numbers of conflicts, protests, and legal actions) Blacks virtually disappear from U.S. children's picture books.

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