The Hidden Picture- Kids on Race

For those of you who missed it, Anderson Cooper’s team of researchers hosted an interesting study on children and race earlier this month. You can check out the video here: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/02/study-race-relations-through-a-childs-eyes/?hpt=ac_mid

This is a rather taboo topic for parents to talk about with their kids. Is race a factor in perception of a situation? Anderson Cooper’s team has been studying Race Relations in children for over a year now. Think about it, do you make judgments about other people based on their race, and if so, at what age did you start doing that? They discovered that for kids as young as six, perceptions of race definitely do make a difference when judging other children.

As part of the study, researchers showed African-American and white children these pictures separately. The pictures are designed to be ambiguous so that the story behind these pictures came only from the eye of the beholder. Researchers then asked the children questions such as: What’s happening here? Are these two children friends? Would their parents like it if they were friends? For many kids, when the race of the children in the pictures changed, so did their interpretation of what the picture showed.

The study implies that children aren’t born into this world judging anyone by the color of their skin. They have to learn it. One child stating that she was bullied in school for the color of her skin, another that she has overheard comments her classmates made to her teacher about her being black. A majority of children responded with answers that involved what their parents might think. “My parents might not like it if I was friends with a kid who was a different color”. One boy recalls being sad when the parents of a classmate told him he is not allowed to be friends with their daughter since he is a different color—these children are six years old! Fortunately, there were signs of hope in some children who expressed that they were friends with everyone, black or white.

Experts believe that the children’s perception had a lot to do implicit bias from parents. The subtle messages parents send their children through their actions toward different races. In responding to questions, many kids mentioned that their parents did or did not have friends who were a different color. When the children were shown pictures, 70% of white children had a negative perception of the situations. Only 38% of black children showed negative perceptions. Why such a difference?  Experts believe that it may be due to the fact that black parents more commonly prepare their children for discrimination at an early age. Whereas white parents generally tend to believe that if you talk about race then you are prolonging the issue.  What can we, as parents, get out of this study? Talk to your kids.

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