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.