“See Baby Discriminate”

According to this long research-reporting article in Newsweek, even babies discriminate (HatTip to reader Hube).

I don’t have a strong enough grounding in psychological social science research to have anything worthwhile to say about the research fondly reported here, which for all I know may be penetrating and profound — but if it is it will be in spite of the pervasive politically correct contemporary liberal bias that drips from the Newsweek article.

A few (but only a few) examples:

  • “[S]omething interesting happened” — at least it shocked the researcher — when liberal parents in liberal, diverse, multicultural Austin, Tex., were asked as part of one project to discuss race with their 5 –7 year old children.

    Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.”

    [Birgitte] Vittrup [the researcher] was taken aback — these families volunteered knowing full well it was a study of children’s racial attitudes. Yet once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race, they started dropping out.

    It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles — like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same” — but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences….

    They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.

    Imagine that! Liberal parents being reluctant to discuss racial differences with young children because they wanted the kids to grow up colorblind! Could it be that that these young kids didn’t know many blacks; that in fact most of the whites they did know were nice; and that “some” or “a lot” of the black kids they had met in their “diverse schools” weren’t?

  • Then there was something Vittrup found even “more disturbing”:

    Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions — many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.

    Now wait a minute. Why should anyone, even a social science researcher, find it especially “disturbing” that children raised by parents who try hard to raise colorblind children, who go out of their way to avoid talking about racial identity, not know whether their parents “like black people”? They might not even know whether their parents know any black people, or which of the people their parents do know are black.

  • Vittrup’s mentor at the University of Texas, Rebecca Bigler, “think[s] it’s important to talk to children about race as early as the age of 3.”

    Her reasoning is that kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism; they’re going to form these preferences on their own. Children naturally try to categorize everything, and the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible.

    We might imagine we’re creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender—they’re plainly visible. Even if no teacher or parent mentions race, kids will use skin color on their own, the same way they use T-shirt colors. Bigler contends that children extend their shared appearances much further — believing that those who look similar to them enjoy the same things they do. Anything a child doesn’t like thus belongs to those who look the least similar to him.

Perhaps instructing children as young as three about proper racial attitudes (isn’t that really what’s meant by “talk to”?) will lead them to give more appealing answers on surveys conducted by researchers. Indeed, Vittrup found that

[o]f all those [she] told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. Talking about race was clearly key.

Perhaps the children in those six families have been saved, transformed into model young racially sensitive and aware liberals. Or perhaps their attractive new “racial attitudes” are only skin deep.

Say What? (5)

  1. newt0311 September 7, 2009 at 12:18 am | | Reply

    Nobody is too young to be indoctrinated.

  2. David September 7, 2009 at 2:34 pm | | Reply

    Were the parents more worried about their children’s attitudes, or about some unfortunate ill-timed remark by a child in front of his parents’ friends? Nothing like a dose of latent false consciousness in the next generation to cast a pall on a backyard gathering of proper local Austin music, micro-brews, sustainably farmed appetizers, and hyphenated last names! Now back to my South Park Labor Day marathon…

  3. Laura(southernxyl) September 7, 2009 at 5:32 pm | | Reply

    When my daughter was three I asked her what color she was. She looked at her arm for a moment and then said, “Well, I fink I’m beige.”

    Shortly after she started referring to people as “black” or “white”. I asked her (black) preschool teacher about that, and she said that she was forced to talk to the kids about race b/c one little black preschooler’s parents had told him that the white kids weren’t really his friends and he had to watch his back. Just keeping it real, I guess. He came to school depressed and hostile, and when the teacher found out why she was mad as hell. So she addressed the concept of race with these toddlers: some of us have dark skin, some light, we are all friends. She resented having to do that. I understand the liberal parents who didn’t want their kids talked to about race and racial differences. You can’t pretend it’s not there, but it’s such a potentially ugly thing that it’s tempting to push off having to deal with it as long as possible.

  4. sena September 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm | | Reply

    “Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.”

    As someone who went to diverse schools, I can say with confidence that us non-blacks unfortunately would answer that most/many blacks we went to school with were not nice, and it seems it generally is those who have had the MOST contact with blacks who are LEAST likely to have a positive reaction. That the researchers don’t even seem to consider this indicates they shouldn’t be researchers.

    “one little black preschooler’s parents had told him that the white kids weren’t really his friends and he had to watch his back.” Soooooo common. Ever since elementary school I’ve encountered black kids screaming about whitey, and how the school was racist, the test was racist, the coaches/teachers were racist, etc. and they clearly got it from their parents as a) they were all of 8, and b) the parents would be marching up to school to complain, particularly with regards to playing time on sports teams. It’d be reeeeaal interesting for these researchers to study the black kids, but that will never happen. Wonder why.

  5. Lisa September 7, 2009 at 11:15 pm | | Reply

    I read thst piece. I teach middle school kids. This part killed me.

    “Minority parents are more likely to help their children develop a racial identity from a young age. April Harris-Britt, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that all minority parents at some point tell their children that discrimination is out there, but they shouldn’t let it stop them. Is this good for them? Harris-Britt found that some preparation for bias was beneficial, and it was necessary—94 percent of African-American eighth graders reported to Harris-Britt that they’d felt discriminated against in the prior three months.”

    Did none of them consider that by teaching their kids they would be discriminated against they are teaching the child to look for it.. even when it isnt there? It really destroys personal responsibility because when something goes wrong, they have a scape goat.

Say What?