Can White Kids Grow up to Be Black? Some Preschoolers Think So

CBS Detroit, May 19, 2016

Can a person’s race change over time? No–but preschoolers seem to think so.

According to a University of Michigan study, white preschoolers often believe a person’s race can change over time, and the youngsters even think they can can grow up to become black adults.

Steven Roberts, a U-M doctoral student and the study’s lead author, said that although children may be aware of races other than their own, they don’t have a strong understanding of what race is–at least not to the degree of adults.

Roberts and colleague Susan Gelman, U-M professor of psychology and linguistics, examined the extent that children believed race was stable; that is, whether a black child would grow up to be a black adult.

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Researchers showed participants pictures of children who were happy or angry and black or white, and asked them to indicate which of two adults each child would grow up to be. One adult matched the child in emotion (but not race) and the other matched the child in race (but not emotion).

Participants could have chosen a same-emotion but different race match, or a same-race but different emotion match.

White adults, white 9- to 10-year-olds and racial minority 5- to 6-year-olds selected the same-race matches, which meant they believed, for instance, that a white child would grow up to be a white adult.

But white 5- to 6-year-olds showed a different pattern. They selected the same-emotion and same-race matches at equal rates, which meant they were not committed to the belief that race was stable.

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