• Babies Discriminate Based On Skin Color

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    From Newsweek:

    At the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas, a database is kept on thousands of families in the Austin area who have volunteered to be available for scholarly research. In 2006 Birgitte Vittrup recruited from the database about a hundred families, all of whom were Caucasian with a child 5 to 7 years old.

    The goal of Vittrup’s study was to learn if typical children’s videos with multicultural storylines have any beneficial effect on children’s racial attitudes. Her first step was to give the children a Racial Attitude Measure, which asked such questions as:

    How many White people are nice?
    (Almost all) (A lot) (Some) (Not many) (None)

    How many Black people are nice?
    (Almost all) (A lot) (Some) (Not many) (None)

    During the test, the descriptive adjective “nice” was replaced with more than 20 other adjectives, like “dishonest,” “pretty,” “curious,” and “snobby.”

    Vittrup sent a third of the families home with multiculturally themed videos for a week, such as an episode of Sesame Street in which characters visit an African-American family’s home, and an episode of Little Bill, where the entire neighborhood comes together to clean the local park.

    In truth, Vittrup didn’t expect that children’s racial attitudes would change very much just from watching these videos. Prior research had shown that multicultural curricula in schools have far less impact than we intend them to—largely because the implicit message “We’re all friends” is too vague for young children to understand that it refers to skin color.

    Yet Vittrup figured explicit conversations with parents could change that. So a second group of families got the videos, and Vittrup told these parents to use them as the jumping-off point for a discussion about interracial friendship. She provided a checklist of points to make, echoing the shows’ themes. “I really believed it was going to work,” Vittrup recalls.

    The last third were also given the checklist of topics, but no videos. These parents were to discuss racial equality on their own, every night for five nights.

    At this point, something interesting happened. 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.”

    Vittrup 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.

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