*This post was originally published on January 21, 2016 Twin Parks Montessori Schools faculty and staff continued their work with Derrick Gay, an international speaker on issues of diversity, inclusion and global citizenship. We worked together on case studies about gender and race.
One of the key concepts we talked about is that children are not color blind. Research clearly shows that children not only recognize race from a very young age but also develop racial biases by ages three to five years! (Winkler, 2009). Developmentally, we know children learn to make sense of their world by examining and comparing attributes of new things to others they already know. For instance, while sorting items, they look at the shape, size, color, density, etc. When they meet new people, they categorize the same way. They may assume that they should avoid or dislike people with who look different than their family or have different skin colors than their own – a cognitive puzzle for children to solve (Bigler & Liben, 2007).
In order to address issues of racial bias and prejudice with children and help them understand our society, we must first self-reflect on our own socialization and culture perceptions that we have been exposed to. Educating children “requires that we rethink our ideas about several dimensions of everyday life, including the nature of racial and ethnic oppression, the intellectual capacity of children, our willingness to effect changes in oppressive social conditions, and the extent of children’s social skills” (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). This important work can be difficult and parents and early childhood educators play a crucial role in the development of young minds, perceptions, and attitudes.
Mellody Hobson gave a thoughtful talk on this topic about being Color Brave, not color Blind. Mellody states “it is time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race. If we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, we need to have real conversations about this issue. We can’t be color blind, we have to be color brave.” It is the smart thing to do because our next generations need role models in order for children to think about possibilities and to dream big.
Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L.S. (2007). Developmental intergroup theory: Explaining and reducing children’s social stereotyping and prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 162–166.
Van Ausdale, D., & Feagin, J. R. (2001). The first R: How children learn race and racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Winkler, E.N. (2009). Children are not colorblind: how young children learn race. Pace vol.3, no. 3.