Study: White and Black Children Biased Toward Lighter Skin

CNN, May 14, 2010

{snip}

Nearly 60 years after American schools were desegregated by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and more than a year after the election of the country’s first black president, white children have an overwhelming white bias, and black children also have a bias toward white, according to a new study commissioned by CNN.

Renowned child psychologist and University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer, a leading researcher in the field of child development, led the study. She designed the pilot study and led a team of three psychologists: two testers to execute the study and a statistician to help analyze the results.

Her team tested 133 children from schools that met very specific economic and demographic requirements. In total, eight schools participated: four in the greater New York City area and four in Georgia.

In each school, Spencer tested children from two age groups: 4 to 5 and 9 to 10.

Since this is a pilot study and not a fully funded scientific study, the sample size and race selection were limited. {snip}

Spencer’s test aimed to re-create the landmark Doll Test from the 1940s. Those tests, conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, were designed to measure how segregation affected African-American children.

{snip}

In the new study, Spencer’s researchers asked the younger children a series of questions and had them answer by pointing to one of five cartoon pictures that varied in skin color from light to dark. The older children were asked the same questions using the same cartoon pictures, and were then asked a series of questions about a color bar chart that showed light to dark skin tones.

The tests showed that white children, as a whole, responded with a high rate of what researchers call “white bias,” identifying the color of their own skin with positive attributes and darker skin with negative attributes. Spencer said even black children, as a whole, have some bias toward whiteness, but far less than white children.

“All kids on the one hand are exposed to the stereotypes” she said. “What’s really significant here is that white children are learning or maintaining those stereotypes much more strongly than the African-American children. Therefore, the white youngsters are even more stereotypic in their responses concerning attitudes, beliefs and attitudes and preferences than the African-American children.”

{snip}

Spencer was also surprised that children’s ideas about race, for the most part, don’t evolve as they get older. The study showed that children’s ideas about race change little from age 5 to age 10.

{snip}

Spencer said the study points to major trends but is not the definitive word on children and race. It does lead her to conclude that even in 2010, “we are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued.”

[A PDF file of the complete “CNN Pilot Demonstration” can be downladed here.]

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.

Comments are closed.