Children Learning Racism

The Intelligence Report has a very interesting article on how and where children learn racist ideas, with a focus on children of white supremacists. The report quotes a number of scholars on this how and where issue:

“Overall, there’s not a lot of evidence that, at least in the long term, kids get their prejudice from their parents,” said Charles Stangor, who runs the Laboratory for the Study of Social Stereotyping and Prejudice at the University of Maryland. “I would call it more of a community effect than a parental effect. The community fosters tolerance or prejudice.”

What is this “community”? The article cites another researcher:

That community includes peers and other adults, such as teachers, coaches and clergy, said Frances Aboud, a psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who studies the development of racial prejudice in children. “There are so many other influences in a child’s life [besides parents], particularly once they start kindergarten.”

The account only mentions peers in passing, but research that Debi Van Ausdale did for 11 months in a multiracial daycare center showed clearly that children learn a great deal about racial matters from other children. That they form important peer groups and learn much from each other is a key finding of this study, yet these children’s groups still do not get enough attention in social science research on racial learning and systems of racial oppression. 512ENERVJDL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_Children, as young as three years old, teach each other the basics of the white racial frame and the dominant racial hierarchy.

There is much else to the lives of children and racism that does not get enough attention. Teachers are quite important, and some research does focus on them and the curriculum.

And then there are the children of the supremacists. The fears and stresses of children of white supremacists are explored a bit in the Intelligence Report article:

Children of racial extremists may have to contend with other effects of their parents’ bigotry, Aboud said. “I think [they] probably become sensitive to that type of adult; other kids might not be aware that there’s that kind of extreme emotional hate toward people,” she said. “[Children of racial extremists] might have lived with more fear. They might have felt vulnerable themselves to that kind of hate: What if I cross my parents in some way — am I going to get that hate directed at me?”

This is yet another seriously under-researched area.


  1. Hillbilly

    I agree that the research in this area is under-researched. I usually get the question in class asking when people learn about race, racial identity, and racism and I use yours and Debi’s book, Joe, to get at the answer. I also talk about Amanda Lewis’ book “Race in the School Yard” which is another good source of research on the area.

  2. ragarwal02

    Growing up in India “racism & prejudice” were spelling words that we were expected to memorize for the English reading and writing class. I did not comprehend the true meaning of these terms until I came to united states. Fortunately the American culture also taught me the true meaning of “compassion, service and kindness”. I agree with the writer that community plays an important role in influencing one’s outlook towards life in general and others in particular. However defining human beings as the product of their enviormment is too narrow in scope. I believe that human beings are the sum product of external and internal forces,
    personal experiences and the resulting choices they make.
    Interpersonal relations play a significant role as well. For
    these reasons alone we should be hopeful and optimistic
    about the future. Positive changes in the above mentioned factors can result in a positive changes in us.
    Research findings should be used as an awareness and educational tool.

    Research findings should serve as an awareness and thought provoking tool we want to make a measurable difference in

  3. DJohnson

    Racism doesn’t get enough attention in school? Just how much attention would be enough, then? Seems to me racism, and race generally, get quite a lot of attention for a thing that is so far outside the curriculum. Maybe they should drop math to make more time for race. Or spelling — Word is pretty good at that now, anyway.

    There is, of course, one important way in which children do “get” their racism from their parents. Their parents’ genes determine the child’s race. This racial inheritance determines the possible range of racist attitudes a child can expect to learn from his peers. Furthermore, the parents’ genes pass on a disposition in favor of others who are likely to share those genes, so children will be predisposed to their kin, of course, but also toward people who look like them.

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