Do Children Only See Race When We Point It Out to Them?

Written by Debbie Riek, Education Coordinator | Oct 7, 2009 1:45 PM

In an article from NEWSWEEK entitled “See Baby Discriminate” authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman refer to a 2006 study by Birgitte Vittrup addressing young children and race.

In the study, even when children were exposed to multiculturally themed videos for a week, if there was no explicit conversations about race, the children did not change their racial attitude. Even when adults made vague comments like “Everyone is equal” and “We are all friends,” Children’s negative attitudes about other races did not shift. It was only the children whose parents made explicit comments about race and referenced race while watching the videos who had a positive shift in their racial attitudes.

For parents and educators this has powerful meaning. It is not enough to place culturally diverse items in a classroom or even immerse a child in a diverse world. They will inherently segregate themselves by the differences they perceive.

In order to positively influence the attitudes of young children, we must have very intentional conversations about race. Silence sends the message that talking about other cultures or races is bad. While it may worry some that even a positive statement like “It’s wonderful that a black person can be president,” still encourages a child to see divisions in society, it is imperative that we remember that children recognize skin color differences at 6 months of age and are trying to understand those differences.

The article also references a study by Rebecca Bigler where preschoolers were given one of three different colored t-shirts to wear for three weeks. No mention was made of the colors. Even though they played with children in other colored shirts and did not segregate based on the colors, when asked which color team was better, they believed their own color team was smarter than the other colors. Children quickly categorize everything in their lives and assume that those who look similar to them enjoy the same things they do.

To read the article visit

Published in Education

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