American journalist Anderson Cooper (CNN) conducted a study to determine how children perceive skin color. The goal was to determine the status of children’s racial beliefs, attitudes and preferences as well as skin tones biases at two different developmental periods. Specifically, kindergarten children and middle childhood youngsters attending grade schools in either the Northeast or the Southeast regions of the US.
While the study was conducted in the US, the results clearly show that it is important to talk to children about race no matter where you live. When asked about intelligence, being “bad” or “good” and beauty, more often than not children said they thought light skin was better than dark skin.
Suggestions for making sure our children grow up with knowledge about race and good self-esteem include:
- Casually pointing out skin color while reading books as well as other things (a red balloon, a yellow shirt, a boy with brown skin, etc.) so children learn that it is not taboo to discuss race.
- Encouraging relationships with a diverse group of people and make sure your friends are diverse, too. Children watch what we do and follow our example.
- Discussing media portrayals and how they may create misperceptions about race. For example, most villains are dark skinned which can lead to the misconception that in real life those with darker skins are bad. In the US, welfare mothers are almost always black on the news, when reality is that most are white. In France, people from North Africa are often portrayed negatively in the news. These can be discussion points.
- If you notice a racist portrayal in a program your child is watching, take time to discuss it with them.