Children and Racism
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Race Relations in America
Community Studies 111
October 3, 2001
Dr. Luke Tripp
I grew up in a diverse community in St. Paul. Of the ten or more years we lived in that same neighborhood, we came to know the neighbors fairly well. Most of the kids played together, and went to school together. Our parents socialized if they saw each other on the street.
During my junior year of high school, my family moved out of that neighborhood, and into a suburb of St. Paul, called White Bear Lake. White Bear Lake is a predominantly white township. The neighborhood we moved into was extremely quiet, so quiet, that my parents sometimes wouldn't let us play outside because it might disturb the neighbors. My parents didn't have to say it, but we weren't to do anything that might make the neighbors hate us.
Starting school at the new school was one of the toughest experiences of my life. I felt like I stuck out so much. The first day we went to register for classes, everyone in the cafeteria stopped what they were doing, and just stared at us. I had never felt so uncomfortable before in my life.
One day in my senior year, we had a new student in our math class, and automatically these girls I had met a year before who never seemed to notice me in public invited the new girl to the football games, and after-parties, needless to say that she was white. That is when it really kicked in, how much of a disadvantage I had because I was a "minority" at an "all-white-school". I kept thinking to myself how people learn to be racist, and why.
I will focus my research on when and how young children learn about differences. I will also touch on how children filter which differences are good differences and which ones are bad. Lastly, I'll connect the two topics and explain how "bad differences" can lead to racism and/or hate.
I haven't been around a lot of pre-school age children, but I've learned that that is when children start to view other students in their daily activities. Children notice differences when they are in physical interaction with other children. Given opportunity of that interaction, young children start to categorize people, not by race but by characteristics and personalities.
Young children learn the most from their parents and siblings. Most learning occurs in the home with the people who are familiar and looked up to. Because a child "is not born with social values and attitudes" (Porter 14), they learn what is normal and accepted by what their parents teach them. A child may become aware of people's differences when a parent "remarks about skin color, hair and facial features" (Porter 13). When learning about colors, white is almost always connected to pleasant and good things, while black is symbolic for bad and dirty things. Children connect the positive and negative feedback taught with color to things such as snow and angels compared to death and nighttime (which can be scary subjects for children so they don't like darkness), and then they start to see everything that is dark, as bad.
Students at school or day care also see how their teachers single out other students. In an observation made by author, Paul Connolly, black students were singled out and punished more. Not that white students were not punished for doing things they weren't supposed to do, but the number of black students that were being punished were significantly higher, and more frequent (Connolly 79). So if the student is punished for disrupting the class, the other students will connect it as bad, and label the one punished as "a bad kid". In a particular story, a Black boy was singled out when a student and the teacher was talking about prison. The teacher raised her voice and pointed out to a table where a black boy was doing his work at, and made sure he had heard it. The teacher made reference for the boy "not to fight, steal, [or] throw bricks" (Connolly 79). This lets the other students make the assumption that black people always go to jail or prison, and that they are angry, dangerous people.
Young children pick up on things very quickly. They can automatically say something is bad or good, by examples their role models have set. From my research, I have learned that racism is taught at a very young age, and it continues to be a part of the way they learn. Racist ideas stay with that person for a long time, sometimes forever. Children must start learning about other people's differences and embrace it openly. Children must be taught not to be afraid of a certain type of people.
Usually when something goes missing, whole groups are automatically blamed.
"'You have to be careful because black people walk down this ally a lot' a white man warned" (Morales 40). Too quick to judge people with crime often misleads children to think that 'hate' and prejudice is acceptable.
In able for children to learn non-racist thinking, children should interact with a wide range of kids and adults of different ethnicity (Mathias 10). White parents should care about teaching their children about racism because they and their children may not come directly in contact with racist acts against them for the color of their skin
Teachers can do their part in eliminating racism in their curriculum by teaching about American History honestly, not just the bits and pieces that sound good. I hope that my children will not have to grow up in a world where they fear of being the target of racist acts. We have to teach children that stereotypes are just that and nothing more. The future of the world relies in today's children.
Connolly, Paul. Racism, Gender Identities and Young Children: Social Relations in a multi-ethnic inner-city primary school. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Mathias, Barbara and Mary Ann French. 40 ways to raise a nonracist child. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996.
Morales, J. "Unpacking the White Privilege Diaper Bag." Everyday Acts Against Racism. Ed. Maurice T. Reddy. Seattle: Seal Press, 1996. 40-49.
Porter, Judith D. R. Black child, White child: The development of racial attitudes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973.