CNN is running a study to understand how children perceive race, and why.
Researchers showed pictures of animated children to over 130 participants from the East Coast and the South.
When asked which of the animated girls was “ugly” or “mean”, one 5 year old white child pointed to dark skinned cartoons. When asked which girl was “smart” she pointed to the white one. Her Mom shed tears as she watched.
But it’s not just white children with a bias toward lighter skinned people. Dark skinned children in the study also showed bias toward their lighter counterparts. Their bias was not as strong as the white kids but was noticeable nonetheless.
Researchers believe that the problem may be starting at home, particularly with white families. And not because of racist parents, but because the topic is simply not spoken of in many white families – at least not nearly as often as the topic of race is raised in black families. This makes sense on some levels, of course. Black families suffer more prejudice than whites so it’s an unfortunate fact that dark skinned parents may have to bring the topic up to their children so that they know in advance of possible future experiences of bias. Approximately 75% of darker skinned parents address race with their children. The same percentage of white parents do not discuss the topic at home.
Many light skinned parents have only good intentions. They don’t want to bring race up at all because they want their own children to be color-blind. To see only people, and never their color. The problem with this is that they don’t prepare their children for the reality that racism does exist. The ugly truth needs to be addressed, say experts. Many parents disagree and say they will have these discussions for several reasons, including fears of planting seeds of bias by merely doing so.
When my son was three, he openly referred to a boy in a waiting room as a “brown boy”. His mom ignored it and I sat cringing in my chair.