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So many parents and teachers believe in this myth of racial innocence. They don’t want to burden their children with this rather adult idea of racism. They believe that children are born kind and innocent to race and that they don’t need this information. So they would rather raise them to be what we call ‘color blind.’ Many researchers would submit that, actually, the worst conversation to have with a child is no conversation at all about race. What is known is that, in reality, young children (as early as three months old) understand bias and difference based on research by Dr. Karen Wynn, Director of the Infant Cognition Center, and Dr. Bloomington, both at Yale University.
like the things they love.”
–Dr. Maria Montessori
What researchers are thinking now is that humans may be born with this kind of bias. We have a bias towards something that looks scary or different. Research shows that these biases are not just ‘learned’ behaviors. They are actually inbred, instinctual behaviors that worked for our protection at one point. Left unchecked, without a parent’s guidance, the child cannot help but develop a bias.
Children see bias as early as 3-6 months old. So let’s scan forward. What happens in a family if the parent says, “Well, I don’t want to talk about race because my child is too young?” or “I want them to remain innocent from all of this.” Then the child will be raised in a color-blind mindset and, as research bears out, the child is less likely to point out or understand when discrimination happens.
This could happen very subtly. Let’s say you’re at a playground with your child. You see another child point to a child of color and you hear the pointing child say, “That child looks dirty. Why is that child dirty? Does it come off?” The parent of the pointing child cringes, turns, and walks away, shushing the child. The child’s interpretation is that this is not a good topic; they should not talk about this.
To conclude this summary of just a small segment of Dr. Wise’s broadcast, let’s remember that when we allow our biases (or our embarrassment) in situations stop us from guiding our children toward antiracism (especially the youngest children), they absorb it right away. Children are mirrors. They mirror us. It’s so very important that we check ourselves to see what our children are sensing in our attitudes, in our language, and in our thinking because they are taking it all in.