Do kids judge others based on skin color?
How many White people are nice? (Almost all) (A lot) (Some) (Not many) (None)
How many Black people are nice? (Almost all) (A lot) (Some) (Not many) (None)
These are the questions that Birgitte Vittrup of the Children's Research Lab at the University of Texas asked Caucasian children between 5 and 7 years of age as a Racial Attitude Measure. Other 20 adjectives used to replace “nice” were adjectives like "dishonest," "pretty," "curious," and "snobby."
Vittrup sent a third of the families home with multiculturally themed videos for a week, such as an episode of Sesame Street in which characters visit an African-American family's home, and an episode of Little Bill, where the entire neighborhood comes together to clean the local park… a second group of families got the videos, and Vittrup told these parents to use them as the jumping-off point for a discussion about interracial friendship…The last third were also given the checklist of topics, but no videos. These parents were to discuss racial equality on their own, every night for five nights.
Of the last group, 5 families quit the study and two pointed out clearly that they weren’t ready to have such conversations with their children. “We don't want to point out skin color," they said. Much as they knew the study was about children’s racial attitudes, parents started quitting once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race.
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Parents claim to embrace multiculturalism, but according to Vittrup's entry surveys, most of these Caucasian parents hardly ever talked to their children directly about race. “They might have asserted vague principles—like "Everybody's equal" or "God made all of us" or "Under the skin, we're all the same"—but they'd almost never called attention to racial differences.”
Parents wanted their children to grow up ‘colorblind’, but the initial test showed they weren’t.
Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, "Almost none." Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, "Some," or "A lot." Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way... More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: "Do your parents like black people?" Fourteen percent said outright, "No, my parents don't like black people"; 38 percent of the kids answered, "I don't know."
However much we want our children to grow in a race-free vacuum, clearly, children do draw their own conclusions about race. Apparently, according to child-development researchers, children notice racial differences as much as they notice the difference in other colors.
University of Texas, Rebecca Bigler thinks its important to talk to children about race as early as 3 because even if we don’t, children are prone to form their own preferences and favoritisms based on the group they think they belong to. Below is the experiment she carried out:
…4- and 5-year-olds were lined up and given T shirts. Half the kids were randomly given blue T shirts, half red. The children wore the shirts for three weeks. During that time, the teachers never mentioned their colors and never grouped the kids by shirt color.
The kids didn't segregate in their behavior. They played with each other freely at recess. But when asked which color team was better to belong to, or which team might win a race, they chose their own color. They believed they were smarter than the other color. "The Reds never showed hatred for Blues," Bigler observed. "It was more like, 'Blues are fine, but not as good as us.' " When Reds were asked how many Reds were nice, they'd answer, "All of us." Asked how many Blues were nice, they'd answer, "Some." Some of the Blues were mean, and some were dumb—but not the Reds.
Bigler says differences in skin color, weight or hair color are kinda like differences in gender – clearly visible. Even when we refuse to point them out, just like children used t-shirts colors, they will use skin color in the same kind of way.
Bigler contends that children extend their shared appearances much further—believing that those who look similar to them enjoy the same things they do. Anything a child doesn't like thus belongs to those who look the least similar to him. The spontaneous tendency to assume your group shares characteristics—such as niceness, or smarts—is called essentialism.
So when do children begin to notice race? When 100 black children and 100 white children were shown photos of faces, Phyllis Katz, then a professor at the University of Colorado found that at 6 months, babies “stare significantly longer at photographs of faces that are a different race from their parents indicating they find the face out of the ordinary…children's brains are noticing skin-color differences and trying to understand their meaning.”
When the kids turned 3, Katz showed them photographs of other children and asked them to choose whom they'd like to have as friends. Of the white children, 86 percent picked children of their own race. When the kids were 5 and 6, Katz gave these children a small deck of cards, with drawings of people on them. Katz told the children to sort the cards into two piles any way they wanted. Only 16 percent of the kids used gender to split the piles. But 68 percent of the kids used race to split the cards, without any prompting. In reporting her findings, Katz concluded: "I think it is fair to say that at no point in the study did the children exhibit the Rousseau type of color-blindness that many adults expect."
We talk openly to children about pink being for girls and blue being for boys. So, if babies notice differences in skin color as early as the tender age of 6 months, why do we leave the “white" and "black" issue for them to figure out on their own? Do we make things better? REALLY? Should parents call attention to race when with their children?
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