Rachel points to an interesting article about a study that claims children learn racism by the time they’re three years old.
Jane Lane, a co-author of the article and an early-years equality adviser whose publications are recommended by the Government’s Sure Start scheme, said conventional wisdom that toddlers were “colour blind” was wrong.
“There is a view that children do not learn their attitudes until they are about five,” she said. “But people in the early years know that children at a very early age – at the age of three – are categorising people. I am not talking about white children; I am talking about all children. Many, many are racially prejudiced, for all sorts of historical reasons.”
Margaret Morrissey, the spokesman for the National Confederation of Parent Teachers Associations, said, however, that children did not generally notice colour until at least the age of six and that “artificial” attempts to force the issue could be detrimental.
I’m not sure I buy it.
Of course, I’m not basing this on a scientific study, but just my own observations of my own kid. Parker’s an African American boy, growing up with two dads who happen to be an interracial couple. If any kid should have a head start with picking up on differences, he should. He should at least notice that daddy and papa are different colors, that he’s a different color from his papa, and that his parents are different from other kids parents.
The study reminded me of a previous post about Parker and kids seem to jump right over labels and differences that regularly trip up adults.
Maybe I’m making too much of this, but it occurred to me that our kids were able to meet each other and be with each on a level that we adults can’t always access because we have to jump over hurdles like race, gender, orientation, etc., whereas our kids seem to run right around them as if they’re not there. And who knows? Maybe they aren’t there, but we’re so used to seeing them there or being told they’re there that we think we have to jump over them, or that there’s no room to run around them. But as we followed them through the park that evening, even though we were right there in the park with our kids, it seemed like they were playing in a whole other place that we could see but not reach.
The more I think about it, the more I think the idea that kids are “racist” by the time they’re three years old is pretty ludicrous. Everything I’ve seen tells me that kids do notice differences. They figure out that kids look different from each other. One has a different color skin, another has different hair, while another has a family that’s different from everyone else. But that doesn’t make them racist, any more than it makes a kid who can distinguish between boys and girls a sexist.
Noticing differences isn’t where bigotry comes from. Anyone who can see and/or hear can notice differences between individuals and simply catalog them in their mind. Ascribing those differences with significance or making value judgments about someone’s character based on those differences is where racism and all the other isms have their origin. And that’s not something inborn. It’s taught, either by parents or by society at large, but it’s not some innate to kids. At least not as far as I can see.
If kids are racist (or sexist, or homophobic, etc.) at any age, it’s not because that’s a natural part of their development. It’s because they learned it from someone, most likely from adults.