Are Kids Really “Colorblind”?

 

The rapidly escalating, racially-charged events in the US and around the world are shedding light on a harsh truth that many prefer to ignore. Sure, the US elected Obama … twice; and social media is taking a stand against police brutality; it’s even reported that the economy is in recovery. So, how do we explain the steady tripling of the US wealth gap between whites and blacks in the past 25 years (Brandeis University)? That’s right, tripled.

According to CNN Money, “A typical black household has accumulated less than one-tenth of the wealth of a typical white one. And it’s only getting worse.” And that’s just the States, what about the ongoing racial crises raging across the world? Immigration, wars, equal education, access to medicine, food and water … What’s going on here? This is the world our kids will inherit. Therefore, how do we address the issue of race at home?

Where do our kids fit into all of this?

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s dream is still something we aspire to. And as parents raising the next generation responsible for getting us all closer to that dream, we have to ask the BIG QUESTIONS.

Are we and/or society teaching children to discriminate? Or is racial bias a human condition?

The short answer: Kids being “colorblind” is a myth. In fact, studies have found babies as young as six months can recognize different races from their own. Isn’t that remarkable?

“Research clearly shows that children not only recognize race from a very young age, but also develop racial biases by ages three to five that do not necessarily resemble the racial attitudes of adults in their lives.” (Winkler, 2009)

How to talk to kids about race

Most parents assume not talking about race, or the apparently colorblind attitude of children, is a good thing. It’s more effective, however, to talk about it directly and early on before distorted biases set in. In preschool director Shannon Nagy’s experience, “Young children are hard-wired in their brains to notice difference and to categorize it. So it is vital during early childhood to put some context around making sense of differences.”

If they ask you questions about a natural situation such as a movie, book, or relationship, use that. You can also seek out materials they are comfortable with to address the issue (e.g., age-appropriate books or videos featuring a familiar character). The important thing is you don’t avoid the issue and you utilize what they are comfortable with as natural teaching moments for talking about race and tolerance.

The racial zeitgeist is indeed in need of real change. And effective parents can influence the direction it takes.

“Children are going to be drawing their own conclusions anyway. So it is best to try and influence those conclusions now.” ~Shannon Nagy

 

References:
Winkler, E. 2009. Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race.
CNN: Black and White Inequality
Butler, S. 2011. It’s Never Too Early to Talk About Race.

About Elle C. Mayberry

Elle C. Mayberry is a mom and author, who just released a new children's book with her young daughter. With a passion for parenting and degrees in psychology and "make it workology," she created Tuned In Parents (TiP).

6 comments on “Are Kids Really “Colorblind”?

  1. You bring up a good point, Meredith. I think a lot of us, myself included, were brought up believing the “colorblind approach” was best. And now that we realize kids pick up on differences early and benefit from us providing that positive context, we know better. 🙂

  2. That’s really interesting. We’ve been going with the “colorblind” approach, but one day my daughter came home and told me what she had learned in school about Martin Luther King Jr. and I realized that she knew more than I realized about race. She also has friends of different races and backgrounds. I’ve been trying to talk to her a little more about it, along with how people are different religions. I think it’s helping to frame these differences in a positive way for her. Thanks for sharing at the #ManicMondays blog hop!

  3. It is so sad that this is still an issue. We really do need to start talking to our children earlier about things such as equality early on if we are ever going to see change in the world. We must build them up with a strong sense of what’s right to combat all the nasty, negative things they will hear as they enter the real world and protect them from those influences. We are so divided, be it by race or income or gender or any number of things, it’s time we start focusing on unity!

    Thank you for sharing with us at #MommyMeetupMondays!

    • I have to quote your concluding seven words, Brandyn, for they SAY. IT. All. “…it’s time we start focusing on unity!” And yes, yes, yes, via educating our kids earlier about equality. Somebody get this mama a podium!

  4. My parents did a really good job at raising us to be aware of color, but made it very clear that judging somebody by the color of their skin was not appropriate. It was important to my brother and I being adopted since we are not the same color as our parents. We learned very early on that people would make assumptions and why it was not okay for us to. I am amazed at how young kids notice color. Just another reason motto ignore it. Thank you for sharing at #MommyMeetUpMondays.

    • It is amazing how young kids differentiate colors. Your parents sound open and loving, Jules, and keenly aware of how to educate children about “race.”

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