Kids & Race

Have you ever heard someone say that kids are a "blank slate" when it comes to race? I have long listened to the refrain that kids only learn about race and racism when parents teach it to their kids. But I have been reading a lot of research, lately that debunks this notion. I'd like to take the opportunity to share some of what I am learning with you! I have only included short quotations, but I do hope you will find some of these worth reading in their entirety! 

"Research has disproved the popular belief that children only have racial biases if they are directly taught to do so. Numerous studies have shown that children’s racial beliefs are not significantly or reliably related to those of their parents (Hirschfeld, 2008; Katz, 2003; Patterson & Bigler, 2006). While this may seem counterintuitive, Hirschfeld (2008) says it should not surprise us. Children, he argues, are motivated to learn and conform to the broader cultural and social norms that will help them function in society. In order to gauge these “community norms,” children have to gather information from a broad range of sources – not just their own families." -Dr. Erin Winkler, Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race   

“…By nine months of age infants are better able to tell two own-race faces apart compared to two other-race faces. But the facility at recognizing faces in our own group has a flip side that may be the basis of a curious mindbug we know well in our adult selves- the perception that members of groups other than our own look (and behave) “alike”. “ –Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (pg 128)

"So research with babies, notices the - it shows that kids notice racial differences very, very early - by a year or so. By preschool, they start to talk about racial groups a lot more frequently, but it's really a focus on skin color and noticing that we all come in different shades. But about 5 up, preschool, about 3 to 5 years old, kids start labeling themselves often with racial terms. So using like black and white, which don't actually reflect the actual color, so it shows that they're actually understanding that these categories have labels that have social meaning." -Ms. Christia Brown, transcript from NPR Interview 

 "Instead of trying to ignore race, research suggests that parents should be more pro-active. They can tell their kids it’s OK to recognize and talk about racial differences while still communicating that it’s wrong to hold racial prejudices. My own research with 67 racially- and ethnically-diverse families, all of which had children under the age of seven, indicates that talking and answering kids’ questions about race may help them understand racial issues and become more tolerant. I found that the children of parents who talked more about race were better able to identify racism when they saw it, and were also more likely to have positive views about ethnic minorities. This was true for both the white families and the families of color in my study." Allison Brsicoe Smith, Rubbing Off 

"Another study by Dr. Bigler demonstrated how children’s logic in trying to understand race can go awry. In a study conducted in 2006 (published in 2008) before Obama was a candidate for president, Bigler and her team asked a group of 5-10 year old children why they thought all 43 presidents to date were White. She offered possible explanations and a whopping 26% of children endorsed the statement that Blacks could not be president because it was presently (in 2006) illegal! It’s doubtful anyone taught their children that it was illegal in 2006 for a Black person to be president, however children, reasonably I might add, searched the world for a possible reason why this would happen. How could 43 presidents in a row all be from the same racial background?! Certainly illegality would explain such a disparity. Thus not talking about race with your kids can result in surprisingly problematic views about race. " Dr. Kristina Olson, Are Kids Racist?

I also really enjoyed this resource on talking to kids about race. Hope you like it, too!