“Kids on Race”

June 7, 2010 at 6:24 am (Random rantings)

I just watched the “Kids on Race” show Anderson Copper did on CNN (I found it on youtube).  It’s genuinely heartbreaking.  They took, I think, 130 kids in 2 age groups, 4-5 and 9-10, and asked them a series of questions like “which kid is the bad kid?”, “which kid do teachers like better?”, and “which kid do other kids want to be friends with?”.  The kids participating had a card with a cartoon kid repeated 5 times, each picture was the same other than the skin colors which varied from very light skinned to very dark.  Overwhelmingly, the kids pointed out the lighter pictures for the positive attributes and the darker ones for the negative attributes.  The kids in the survey were black and white, from the North and the South, and varying economic backgrounds.

I forget exactly what the question was, but it pertained to one of the negative attributes, but one set of responses really struck me as 76% of the kids attributed one of these negative questions to the two darkest skin tones.  76%!  The white kids were most likely to attribute the negative questions to the darkest skin tones.  What really struck me as sad though was that even the majority of the black kids gave the same answers.  Even the four and five year black kids pointed out that teachers and classmates like the white kids better.  It’s bringing tears to my eyes right now just thinking about it again.  What are we doing to our kids?

Clearly, we need to do a better job of teaching kids not to think negatively of kids who look different than themselves, but part of me feels like there’s another issue on the table too.  It tears me up that these kids feel bad about who they are.  One of the younger black girls, who was must have been four or five, was later interviewed about one of the questions she answered.  The question was about one of the positive attributes, to which she pointed out one of the lighter pictures.  When she was asked why, she said that the lighter skin looked better.  Then, she pointed out when of the darker pictures and mentioned that it looked like her.  She said that one wasn’t attractive because it had dark skin like hers and used the word “nasty” to describe her skin.  I cried.

I’m white.  I grew up in suburbia with two working parents, a brother and a dog.  I went to middle/upper-middle class schools.  I never experienced racism.  There were a few minority kids, and I never felt any different about them than any of my other classmates and I never saw anyone else treat them any different.  I think the Pacific Northwest is generally a pretty welcoming place, so that probably made a difference too.  I honestly didn’t know how prevalent racism was/is until I got older and branched out of my little pocket a bit.

Hubs is Korean.  He moved to Guam with his family as a kid and came to the US a few years later.  I can’t imagine the things he’s felt and heard.  As a kid living in Arizona, older kids would drive by and yell racial slurs at him.  He was the only Asian kid in his school.  He constantly felt like the odd one out.  In middle school, his family moved to the Northwest.  Suddenly, he was surrounded by a diverse group of people.  But more importantly, accepting people.  People who didn’t make him feel like his ethnicity made him a lesser person and people who didn’t make assumptions about who he was.  At least, people who didn’t openly do these things.  It’s not like he’s never experienced racism here, but it hasn’t been overt, open, unabashed negativity.

Maybe as racism slowly becomes more and more the minority, more bigoted people will keep their negativity to themselves.  Maybe then, these kids can have more confidence in themselves.  My husband stopped speaking his native language as a child to try and fit in.  Now, we can’t teach Junior Korean unless we learn it first.  I want Junior to be proud of who is, not to feel like he needs to hide it.  He should be proud to be the child of a man who has gone from living in a mud house to living in America.  It’s that why Hubs’ family came here in the first place?  Isn’t that why so many families did?  To make a life to be proud of.

I’m all for being proud of who you are, but we always need to remember to be proud of who other people are, what they’ve done and where they’ve come from.  Only then, can we really hope to move beyond racism.

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