Does your kid have biases when it comes to skin color? A new CNN pilot study reveals that white children have an overwhelming bias towards white, while black children also have a bias towards white, just not as strongly as the bias shown by white children. Does this translate to your kid? Should you be worried?
Who's the Prettiest?
One hundred and thirty-three children from New York and Georgia, ranging from about 5 to 9 years old, participated in the study. The study placed a child in a room with a researcher and showed the child a picture of several identical cartoon girls, the only difference being the range in their skin tones, from light to dark. When the researcher asked questions like "Who is the prettiest girl?" or "Who is the smartest girl?" the white children tended to point to a cartoon girl that had similar skin tone to herself. When asked who the ugliest or meanest girl was, the white children tended to point to the cartoon with the darkest skin tone.
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Discussions with parents of the children revealed that white parents generally do not talk about race with their children as much as black parents do. And there's research to back this up too. A 2007 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that 75% of white families with young children never talk about race, while 75% of black families address race with their kids. According to many black parents, they begin speaking to their children about race at a very young age because they want to educate them about a potential obstacle they may face as they get older. And perhaps the white parents did not feel the need to discuss race with their child because they believed there were no biases to begin with, and that to highlight the issue of race would produce some biases that were not already present. This seems like a flawed view because skin preferences are more likely to emerge in the absence of tolerance messages, rather than in their company.
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Of course, as with all studies, there are limitations here (although the published study does not recognize any). It is possible that the children tended to associate positive traits with a cartoon that they believed was similar to themselves and negative traits to the opposite, dark version of themselves so as to associate themselves with positive traits and completely dissociate themselves from negative ones. Also, just because these kids may have shown a bias towards skin tone doesn't mean that they will inevitably grow up to be a racist. There are many experiences left on the road to self-discovery for your little one.Clark Doll Study
What explains, then, the black children's preference for white? This is by no means a new phenomenon. The 1940 Clark doll study examined children's self perception related to race. The study found that black children preferred to play with white dolls and that they associated the color "white" with attributes such as pretty and good, whereas "black" was considered ugly and bad. These findings may indicate that the children had internalized the racism that they experienced from being discriminated against. Of course, today's society has changed a great deal since 1940. Yet, it can be argued that there are still pervasive skewed racial stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media and society at large. These stereotypes may be influencing our kids' views of race and how it pertains to themselves and other around them.
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Well, the only tangible thing that you, as a parent, can do to prevent your youngster from developing skewed racial representations is to TALK to them. Let them know that we are all human and all have an equal right to be treated kindly and fairly. Your role as a parent extends beyond just providing for your kid. You must also sometimes take on the role of an educator and a human rights advocate.