Children as young as three may already be racist, a leading race equality campaigner has claimed. Toddlers at nursery school must be encouraged to play with children of different ethnic backgrounds to help them “unlearn any racist attitudes and behaviour they may have already learnt”, said Herman Ouseley, the former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Lord Ouseley, who wrote a report on the 2001 Bradford riots, said different racial groups have to play together “from day one”. In an article for the journal Race Equality Teaching, Lord Ouseley wrote: “If, for example, Muslim children nearly always play together and seldom play with other children, the question needs to be asked, ‘Is there a reason for it that may relate to culture? Or apprehension? Or prejudice?’“
Jane Lane, an early years equality adviser, co-wrote the article. “There is a view that children do not learn their attitudes until they are about five,” she told The Sunday Telegraph. “But people in the early years know that children . . . at the age of three are categorising people . . . Many, many are racially prejudiced, for all sorts of historical reasons.”
Lord Ouseley’s claims were questioned by childcare experts. Margaret Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said that children did not tend to notice different skin colours until the age of six. “In all the time I have been involved in nursery education, since about 1975, I have never seen children segregating to play,” she said.
Research presented by the fertility and development expert Robert Winston last year suggested that children as young as four hold racist views. An experiment for his BBC1 series Child of Our Time showed that young children identified black people as potential troublemakers and criminals. It also showed that children of all backgrounds prefer white people, associating them with success and trustworthiness. At the time, Lord Winston warned that Britain was in danger of “breeding a new kind of racism” in young children.