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Thread: Racial/Colour Awareness In Young Children

  1. #1

    Racial/Colour Awareness In Young Children

    This question was posted on Google Answers by a concerned mother:

    My son, who is nearly 3, is black. Most of the children he plays with
    are white. However he appears to show a strong preference for playing with other black children if he can. Child rearing books tend to suggest that children are unaware of racial differences but I have seen reference to research that says that children as young as 3 are aware of colour differences. Can you track down the research available in this area so I can get a better understanding of the issue and the possible impact on my son?


    From "Racial awareness and social identity in young children." Davey AG. Ment Health Soc. 1977

    "There is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that racial awareness and even racial repugnance can be well developed in children of four or five years of age. The semi-projective techniques employed by some investigators have encouraged disputes in interpretation, but the substantive findings of out-group preference by the minority accompanied by pronounced ethnocentricity on the part of the majority is well supported by many sociometric studies. Since a child's sense of his social identity can only be achieved within the context of the system of preferences and biases which exist in a society, it will be argued that the development of prejudice in children is a product of the normal, necessary and rational process of progressively ordering the environment into manageable categories and their need to comprehend their place within it."
    An excerpt from "The Perception of "Racial" Traits. Essays on the
    Color Line and the One-Drop Rule
    ," by Frank W Sweet. July 17, 2004

    "What are the stages through which children learn to perceive and later to articulate what their culture sees as "racial" traits? "Racial" perception develops similarly to most of the cognitive abilities identified by Piaget and others in five major respects. First, like the ability to recognize that one jar can hold more liquid than another, some form of "racial" feature recognition appears in every culture. Second, contrary to folk belief, the ability begins to
    emerge in very early childhood. Third, it forms gradually in stages. Fourth, with maturity it becomes so entrenched and cognitively automatic that the individual can no longer introspect how it is done. Fifth, it eventually becomes rationalized into a theory-like knowledge structure that sustains inferences about category members that go beyond direct experience."

    "On the other hand, the perception of "racial" traits differs in two important ways from other cognitive abilities that emerge in early childhood. First, although the pattern of development is stable across diverse cultures, the content of "racial" perception varies dramatically (as Eugene Robinson learned). Second, although "racial" perception first appears in infancy, it becomes theory-like relatively late in childhood. Naive theories of biology (dogs beget puppies, cats beget kittens, etc.), of physics (big jars hold more than small jars), and of mind (mothers cannot really read thoughts), in contrast, develop years earlier than those of "racial" group membership."

    "Experiments with 3-, 4- and 7-year-olds from the U.S. Midwest show that even toddlers believe that "racial" traits are more firmly fixed for life than are occupation or body type. This is important because it shows that counterfactual belief starts early in life. In the children’s own experiences (attending an integrated school) skin color and hair texture do in fact change over a person’s life (most kids darken at puberty) whereas body type (which correlates with the global latitude of ancestry) does not change. Nevertheless, belief in the permanence of "racial" traits starts by age 3 and grows stronger with age. This demonstrates that, although cognition of "racial" traits may use some of the mechanisms of naive biology, the former does not depend on the latter, nor does it spring merely from observation of
    the world."

    "Other experiments show a strong social membership component (as opposed to a presumed biological component) of "racial" perception. Thirty-six 3-, 4-, and 6-year-olds were presented only with speaking voices. They were then asked to tell whether each unseen speaker resembled previously depicted individuals with preponderantly European traits or those with preponderantly African features. Although all of the voices were unintelligible, some used muffled English syllables and others used Portuguese sounds. Midwestern U.S. children (members of both the Black and the White endogamous groups) associated Portuguese-sounding speech with African appearance."
    From "Activities that Promote Racial and Cultural Awareness," by Barbara Biles, M.Ed.

    "The foundation of self-awareness is laid when children are infants and toddlers. At these stages, children learn "what is me" and "what is not me." Toddlers are sensitive to the feelings of the adults around them, and they begin to mimic adult behavior. By age two, children recognize and explore physical differences. They are also learning the names of colors, and they begin to apply this to skin color. Natural curiosity will lead to questions about differences."

    "THE PRESCHOOL YEARS (age 3 and 4). Children of this age are better at noticing differences among people. They have learned to classify, and they tend to sort based on color and size. They can't yet deal with multiple classification, so they get confused about the names of racial groups and the actual color of their skin. They wonder why two people with different skin tones are considered part of the same racial group. Many preschool children will comment - in words or through actions - on hair texture, eye shape, and other physical characteristics. They want to know how people got their color, hair texture, and eye shape."

    "Children at this age believe that because other parts of their body grow and change, skin color and other physical traits could also change. Some young black children prefer white dolls over black dolls (Clark, 1963). More often than white children, they may say that they don't like their skin color, hair texture, or another physical trait."

    ** "By age four, children begin to prefer one race."
    From "Exploring young children’s ‘racial’ attitudes in an Australian
    context - the link between research and practice
    ," by Anna Urszula.


    "This research demonstrated that children as young as three years old used a number of physical characteristics including ‘racial’ cues when categorising people. Among the latter cues, the most common appeared to be skin colour, older children however, also applied other characteristics such ‘racial’ physiognomy or belonging to a certain ‘racial’ group."

    "Although nearly all children noticed ‘racial’ differences, such awareness was not necessarily linked to children’s potential friendship choices or evaluation. Knowing about such differences did not seem to imply their negative evaluation. This seems to be consistent with ‘racial’ attitude development model proposed by Katz (1976), which suggests that during early childhood years different components of attitudes may develop independently."

    "However, it has been also found that some children who used ‘racial’ cues more often than any other characteristics during categorising tasks, ignored other differentiating factors and made consistent negative friendship choices in relation to children perceived as ‘racially’ different. This appears to suggest that even at such an early age some children accentuate ‘racial’ differences so much that they are unable to see others as individuals."

    "Salience of ‘racial’ cues and their negative evaluation seemed to increase with age; it has been found however that even at three years of age some children began to attach negative labels and feelings to such perceived differences. All the above appears to suggest that it is of prime importance to provide children with opportunities not only to become aware of ‘racial’ differences but also to see them as something important and valued."

    "Although all children demonstrated their awareness of ‘racial’ differences, with age they appeared to be more reluctant to openly discuss such differences as well as their feelings and social preferences towards them. This seems to demonstrate the important role of socialisation in the process of learning ‘racial’ attitudes. Children appear not only to absorb adults’ attitudes towards difference at an early age; they also learn how socially appropriate or inappropriate it is to openly state them."

    "As some seven-year-old participants displayed their strong negative evaluation of ‘racially’ different peers and made negative potential friendship choices more consistently than the younger participants, it can be suggested that the environmental factors rather than immature cognition play crucial role in the development of prejudice."
    From "How Our Children Learn Racism." Along The Colour Line. May 2004

    "The 1997 article by L. Hirschfeld, "The Conceptual Politics of Race: Lessons From Our Children," published in the journal Ethos documented that most three-year olds and virtually all four-year olds could match photographs of children of various racial identities with pictures of their birth parents, when presented with photos of parents of divergent racial groups. In other words, children have the ability to "naturalize" race, and to connect a person’s identity with a particular racial categorization."
    From "How Racial Identity Affects School Performance," by Pedro A. Noguera. Harvard Education Letter. March/April 2003

    "Awareness of race and the significance of racial difference often begins in early childhood. We know from psychological research that the development of racial identity is very context dependent, especially in the early years. Children who attend racially diverse schools or reside in racially diverse communities are much more likely to become aware of race at an earlier age than children in more homogeneous settings. 1 Interacting with children from other racial and ethnic backgrounds in a society that has historically treated race as a means of distinguishing groups and individuals often forces young
    people to develop racial identities early. However, prior to adolescence they still do not usually understand the political and social significance associated with differences in appearance. For young children, being a person with a different skin color may be no more significant than being thin or heavy, tall or short."
    From "Helping Children Develop a Sense of Identity." Early Childhood Today.

    "In diverse families and communities, children come to expect a degree of variation in how people look, feel, and sound, viewing such variation as normal. They understand their world is comprised of both high and deep voices, dark skins and light ones. Children spending their early years in more homogenous families and communities come to associate the human face, voice, and touch with a particular skin color or tone. By age three, many children can put their reactions to skin color into words. They not only notice their own, but also mention how theirs is different from that of other people."

    "Just as they learn about differences between colors and shapes, children are also beginning to categorize people. Many three- and four-year-olds talk about physical differences between themselves and others, between boys and girls, skin colors, hair textures, and eye shapes. By the time children are in the early grades, they've begun to comprehend racial differences consciously. The development of children's identity is tied to all of this observation."
    From "Helping Children Develop Cultural Competence." Ohio State University Fact Sheet.

    "Most adults are surprised to hear that between the ages of 2 and 5, children become aware of cultural and ethnic differences. Not only do children at this age become aware of differences, they also begin to recognize which differences are valued and which are not. At this developmental stage, the misconceptions, discomfort, fear, and rejection of difference is called pre-prejudice. However, if adults do not intervene with children at this time, pre-prejudice can develop into real prejudice."
    Hmmm... perhaps children aren't so colorblind, after all. :
    "Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her:
    powerless to separate ourselves from her, and powerless to penetrate beyond her.

    Without asking, or warning, she snatches us up into her circling dance, and whirls us on until we are tired, and drop from her arms." - Goethe

  2. #2
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    I mention this in my essay:

    My cousin has a girl of two who attends nursery. There is only one black girl in the group called Katie. Whenever my cousin's daughter looks through books and sees a picture of a black person she points and says "Katie".

    Kids are certainly not colour blind.

    At this developmental stage, the misconceptions, discomfort, fear, and rejection of difference is called pre-prejudice. However, if adults do not intervene with children at this time, pre-prejudice can develop into real prejudice.
    The Orwellian effort to deny our instincts starts young to "educate it out of the kids".
    A people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors
    will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendents.

    Lord Macauley

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    My son was always aware of these things from the time he was a baby. About ten years ago I worked in a department where we had a black secretary. When I showed up with my baby she always wanted to hold him. He was so terrified of her that he would start screaming and crying the minute she touched him. It always embarrassed me that he reacted this way everytime, but he seemed to associate her with something that scared him. At the time, I would make excuses like that he was ready for a nap or that he was hungry, but I think she suspected what the problem was. It was a very odd situation.

    When my child became older he was also very aware of hair and eye color differences as well. He would just blurt out things like, "I only like blue eyes. I'm glad I have blue eyes!" and he tended to blurt this out at odd times too, like when I was waiting in line at the grocery store or at the bank. A child at school was teasing him about not having eyebrows and he got really angry, responding, "I have eyebrows! They're blond so you don't see them." I have to emphasize that I haven't discussed these topics with him at all. He has these ideas and opinions on his own and seems to be very happy with how he looks.

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    My son never ever would cry in stores when we went shopping. He is always very aware and content riding in his stroller or in the cart. But one day about a year ago when he was 5 months old, we went shopping, and he saw a negro for the first time. He started crying each of the three times we passed the negro in the aisles and I had to give him a hug and reassure him that everything was ok. So yes, that starts at a VERY young age.

    He also shows a marked preference for little girls with blond hair. He always stares at them and tries to "flirt" with them as babies tend to do ... :mdr14001:

    You can only understand how babies can flirt when you have one!

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