Why Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Race

Nadra Kareem, Race in America, May 25, 2010

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Psychologists tested the racial attitudes of children in the study by presenting them with five cartoon figures, identical in every regard but skin color, which ranged from very dark to very light. Asked to choose the smartest, nicest and prettiest cartoons, the children tested invariably chose the whitest of the bunch. More significantly, the children didn’t hold back their reasons for their selections, admitting point-blank that the cartoons’ coloring factored into their choices.

When interviewed later, the parents, crying, were clearly appalled to discover that their kids held such attitudes about race. {snip}

{snip} Parents as well as CNN personalities such as Soledad O’Brien were quick to name the nightly news, television shows and racist playmates as culprits.

{snip} Parents play an enormous role in how their children feel about race. Is it any wonder that white children overwhelmingly found the white cartoon kids to be the most attractive–considering that their parents overwhelmingly buy them dolls with light hair, light skin and light eyes? Dark dolls are so unpopular in retail stores that some companies sell them for less than white dolls just to get them off the shelves. Moreover, children recognize the types of people their parents find attractive. If a mother consistently calls men and women with light hair, light skin and light eyes beautiful, children pick up on it. The same can be said for black parents who criticize children for the texture of their hair and warn them not to play in the sun for too long–lest they get darker–or praise lighter-skinned blacks for their beauty, while ignoring darker-skinned blacks.

It’s also worth noting that parents who live in all-white communities send a real message to their children about people of color, even if it’s not expressed. White children who live exclusively around other whites may conclude that their parents chose their neighborhood because darker-skinned people are bad or dangerous. Such children may also conclude that they have no black classmates in school because blacks aren’t as smart as whites, instead of considering the reality of economic and residential segregation–an issue likely too complex for them to grasp.

All of which is why if parents want to seriously tackle the issue of race with their kids, they have to be prepared to discuss the choices they’ve made in life–from the neighborhood they choose to live in to the church they attend to the friends they have. And if parents want to raise non-racist children, they must be prepared to reconsider some of their choices, even if it means broadening their social circles, enrolling their children in diverse schools, buying their children multicultural toys and books or relocating to a different area altogether. Blaming children’s racial attitudes on the media simply won’t cut it.

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