Rethinking Racism With Our Children
- unable to distinguish certain colors, or (rarely in humans) any colors at all.
- not influenced by racial prejudice. “a color-blind society”
There is a myth (or lie) many parents choose to believe in our culture that young children are “colorblind” or in other words, do not notice race. I believe most of us have heard it – children are “blank slates” who cannot develop racial prejudices until they are explicitly taught to do so. This leads many adults to argue we should not discuss race with preschoolers because they are “too young,” and even mentioning race will “put ideas in their heads” or “poison their minds.” When young children talk about race or express any bias it is often either dismissed, blamed on parents or other adults, or only indirectly addressed as general bad behavior.
Psychological research suggests the idea of kids being color blind is completely WRONG.
In fact, research clearly shows that children not only recognize race from a very young age, but also develop racial biases by ages three to five which do not necessarily resemble the racial attitudes of adults in their lives (Aboud, 2008; Hirschfeld, 2008; Katz, 2003; Katz & Kofkin, 1997; Patterson & Bigler, 2006; Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). This research suggests we must rethink what we “know” about young children and race!
In an effort to be as vulnerable as possible, I need to confess I never considered myself privileged. But I am, and I experienced a privileged life. I am not talking about a privileged life with wealthy parents. My privileged life consisted of basic facts: I was born white. My dad was an airline captain. My mom was a stay-home mom. I lived in an upper middle-class environment surrounded with people like myself. I never ever worried about the lights or gas being turned off due to non-payment. I had no idea what racial profiling was. I believed everyone had a fair shake at life. I had every single thing I needed and more. I did not pay one cent towards my college education because my parents had established a college fund. By the grace of God, I was born to white parents who made wise decisions.
I would never say I came from a racist family. I was just not exposed to any other race. I was taught by my parents that “people are equal” and gravitated to helping those in need, special needs kids, and the less fortunate, but never was I taught about racial equality. We were unintentionally, ignorantly, COLORBLIND.
A few months ago, I had a 7 year-old in my office.
We were creating an art therapy project and he was drawing several kids in his classroom. He drew a couple of “white kids” and then, “one brown kid”. When asked to tell me about his creation, he said, “My mom told me all people are alike inside even if they have brown skin.”
I immediately cringed inside and thought to myself, “Wow, I wonder how many other kids feel this same way?” How many kids in a controlled environment such as school feel they are all “just the same” yet, when they take one step out of school everyone is different? In my experience, parents are hesitant to speak about race and what it really stands for. They themselves have not been taught correctly or feel if they “bring it up the kids won’t understand, or it will make them racist”.
KIDS ARE NOT COLORBLIND ANY MORE THAN WE ARE.
When we place a white piece of paper and a box of crayons on the table for a child to color, guess what? They will rarely choose a white crayon and will always chose the colored crayons. White crayons do not show up on white paper. When older, kids will choose the color of crayon we have taught them to use for certain things.
Human beings are hardwired to notice outward, visible differences in each other and distinguish one group from another – it is actually a survival instinct. Your body thinks you are safer around people who look like you — genetically, culturally, and communally. People want to be around people who put them at ease. For example, while at Texas Tech studying child development, I observed many children in group experiments as young as 2.5 years old who were naturally drawn to kids who looked like themselves. It is the easier route and is genetically programmed in us to notice such outward differences. This does not mean it is intentional, and DEFINITELY does NOT make one racist, but it happens all the time in our brains.
If you are white, I am guessing you can relate to all or some of the following:
- Hesitating in conversation asking yourself if you should use the word “Black” or “African American” when referring to a person of color.
- Stating, “I am not racist” yet would “never date” a person of color.
- Social profiling when you see a person of color walking towards you and either alter where you are walking or look down with no eye contact nor greeting.
- When telling a story, you have used the word “black boy” when the color of his skin has no relevance whatsoever.
- Said or thought to yourself, “My parents would disown/kill me if I dated a person of color.
- Listened to or told a story or joke with racial slurs.
- Allowed your own fears, ideas, thoughts, and judgements to exclude someone of color.
- Jumped to your own personal conclusions regarding a person of color.
As white people, we tend to promote color blindness because we think that is the best way to make the world fair and equal, But the reality is that our racial divide is our history. Whether it is slavery or the internment of Japanese Americans, we need to see all the pieces as part of our history — we aren’t removed from it simply because we don’t like it.
In my opinion, when you say you are color-blind, you are basically saying you don’t recognize different cultures, beliefs, traditions, or practices nor do you want to.
Let’s get real here parents, our kids are growing up amid deep political, social and economic divides. Now we have social media which gives them access to every slight, provocation, and indignity: Black men in handcuffs, arrested for not buying anything at Starbucks. White college students in blackface, bellowing fraternity chants laced with racial epithets. Brown children confined in wire enclosures, crying desperately for their border-crossing parents. Conversations about race can build critical thinking skills and empathy, tools they need to understand and navigate their world.
Any behavior involving negative stereotypes or prejudices about people based on race, color or ethnicity is a form of racism. Some people associate racism with a loudly outspoken belief in racial superiority or deliberate acts of discrimination. Casual racism concerns not so much a belief in the superiority of races but rather the negative prejudice or stereotypes concerning race. Many of us are in this category without even realizing it. Personally, I am horrified to confess, I fall in this category.
Unlike overt and intentional acts of racism, casual racism is not often intended to cause offence or harm.
One of the obstacles to having an open conversation about race is the tendency to downplay things as not “truly” or “really” racist. This can inspire or encourage prejudice. We do not need to subscribe to doctrines of racial superiority or incite racial violence to say or do something with racist implications.
Racism is as much about impact as it is about intention.
Just because we feel our intention was not to be mean, hateful, or cruel we all need to stop and think about the individuals who are receiving our actions, attitudes, comments, and behaviors.
Like other forms of racism, casual racism can marginalize, denigrate, or humiliate those who experience it. Destruction can occur even if our conduct is not motivated by hate or malice even when we “don’t mean it”. We all need to identify, accept, and take responsibility for our part in racism, not only for ourselves but for the children who we are watching us.\
We need to help children process the disparities and racial animus they see. We know that close relationships with people unlike ourselves—at school, at work, at church, in neighborhoods—can help mute the impact of prejudice and blur group boundaries.
Teach kids to be mindful of race.
Teach them that not everyone is like they are and not everyone has the blessings and gifts they have. Identify the gifts they have – large or small – and teach them to be grateful and appreciative. Teach them other kids have different situations and circumstances to embrace diversity. Tell them where you have been wrong or misguided on this issue. If you are silent as a parent, you are opening the door for your kids to form their own opinions and definitions from what the overhear from others.
Make it simple and make it clear: Our family does not tolerate racism.
Interested in more? I would love to virtually meet to you! Email or call anytime to schedule a virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | email@example.com
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.