Posts tagged colorblind
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!  

Ctrl + Alt + Del

There is no shortage of confusing and misunderstood topics when it comes to race. The preferred terminology for describing black people (or should I say African American), the perpetual assumption that Asians are immigrants, that forgotten chapter in American history where arbitrary borders changed the citizen status of people groups, and so on. When these topics come up, most people readily admit that there is much more learning that needs to be done. But there is one topic that seems to constantly and consistently elude us- colorblindness.  

It seems many still believe colorblindness is the key to solving racism. Believing in the notion of colorblindness sounds like this, "I don't even see color," or this, "But we are all the same," or this, "I've never looked at you as a (fill in the blank)". These statements are usually followed by a sugary example of our sameness and ends with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr about character not color being what really counts. And it all sounds pretty good, until you run into someone who refuses to let you forget their race, "If you cant see color, you can't see me." Simple. Hard-hitting. This statement typically stops the syrupy language that was flowing just a few seconds before. While I completely agree with wanting to be seen (and that being seen includes my race), we have not really given people the opportunity to unpack the complexity of colorblindness as a concept.  So, I am going to try to address it on an interpersonal level today, without writing a whole book on the topic!  


Ctrl- The first thing we have to do is get the myths surrounding colorblindness under control. Myth 1: Colorblindness is the only option for recognizing my humanness. Believe it or not, it is possible to notice my race and still see me as human. Too many people have bought into the myth that to see color is to erase my humanity, my character, my individuality. When actually my race can give you clues into who I am, if I am given the chance to explain why my race matters. Myth 2: To not be colorblind is to be racist.  Consider this, when I walk into a room and a man notices that I am female, I do not call him sexist. When a friend says my grandmother's silver hair is beautiful, she is not being ageist . When I ask my Uncle if he is having trouble getting his wheelchair through the door, he doesn't shout "Ableist!" Similarly, noticing my race does not make you racist. Myth 3: Seeing color is seeing stereotypes. There is no question that stereotypes about POCs are rampant- news segments, movies, magazines, family members, politicians- stereotypes are everywhere. However, just because we are spoon-fed stereotypes like toddlers, doesn't mean we have to behave like toddlers. We can, in fact, reject stereotypes. Have you ever seen a child refuse to eat mushy green peas? Toddlers reject food with a-t-t-i-t-u-d-e. We can do the same with stereotypes- recognize them for the mushy green peas that they are and refuse to consume them. We can allow people to define racial significance for themselves.  

ALT- But how do we do that exactly? Well, first need an alternative to colorblindness. I would like to suggest we become color conscious instead. To be colorblind is to ignore or disregard race. Color consciousness is to be aware of race, to no longer disregard it as meaningless or minute. People who are color conscious are comfortable noticing difference without ascribing superiorty and inferiority to those differences. They can appreciate cultural differences and the diversity of thought, perspective and experience that race brings to the world. Color conscious people refuse to ignore race because they are too busy exploring it for all its beauty, quirkiness, and yes, messiness. 

DEL- So we must delete this positive notion of colorblindness from our psyche. I don't want to ignore that God gave me chocolate brown skin, thick hair, and a rich culture- you shouldn't ignore it either. And lets be honest- colorblindness doesn't really exist. No matter how often I try, every time I stand in front of a group, have them close their eyes, and ask if anyone has forgotten what color I am- the answer is always the same- nope! So rather than desperately trying to disregard what you can clearly see, open your eyes wide and delve into the significance of my race with me.