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"This is from Uncle Seth and Aunt Cynthia. Go ahead, open it," a woman, most likely the children's mother, said to two little red-haired white girls, handing them a huge gift bag. The girls are excited to open the Christmas gift, until, that is, two black dolls are unveiled. In a mocking voice, the woman goes on to ask the kids what's wrong. The smaller kid starts to cry. Laughter can be heard. The kid eventually throws the doll away, violently. More laughter.
Is racism funny, then?
The video depicting these events went viral. Thankfully, another video soon followed, one demonstrating parenting done right. Two different little white girls received black dolls for Christmas as well, but these girls are all smiles about their gifts. The smaller girl told her mom that she best liked that the doll "comes with clothes", while the bigger one says she likes the way the dolls look, hugging her doll tightly and stroking its hair. "What about how they look?" the mom asks. "They have hair and they have eyes," the smaller girl says.
Both of these videos — which, if you're on Facebook, you've almost certainly seen at least one of — are very telling. They don't constitute a scientific study, however. The same can't be said for the landmark Doll Test conducted in the 1940s, that aimed to find out how kids viewed race. Back then, black dolls did not actually exist, so the researchers had to paint a white doll brown. Both black and white kids were found to prefer white dolls in overwhelming numbers.
CNN aimed to replicate that test in the twenty-first century. Had views changed? A little. Both white and black kids still showed a preference for white dolls and cartoon characters. However, child psychologist Margaret Beale Spencer, whom CNN hired to conduct the new pilot study, said:
"All kids on the one hand are exposed to the stereotypes. What's really significant here is that white children are learning or maintaining those stereotypes much more strongly than the African-American children. Therefore, the white youngsters are even more stereotypic in their responses concerning attitudes, beliefs and attitudes and preferences than the African-American children."
In other words, we still don't live in a "post-race society", and white parents of white children are in a unique position to help ensure that, should the Doll Test be repeated in 20 or so years time, the results will be a whole lot different. The question is, then — how can you raise children who respond to black dolls by saying they appreciate their clothes, hair and eyes, rather than by crying? How do you teach your white child not just to be non-racist, but also anti-racist?
The Case Against 'Colorblindness'
"But why should I talk about race? Aren't we all just people?", you may ask, particularly if you are a white Millennial who was raised on a diet of colorblindness. The simple answer to this common question is that it's impossible to discuss racism — and why racism is wrong — without also discussing race.
It's because people of color have a long history, one that's still being played out in the present too, of being marginalized and discriminated against that we need to tackle these discussions in a frank and open manner, rather than simply offering the idea that everyone is equal.
As the Doll Test shows, along with studies that reveal that even infants notice racial differences, kids are very much not colorblind. Children notice skin color and other personal features quite naturally without any intervention, whether you want them to or not. What they won't simply see, however, is the history that led to the racism we still have today.
Without talking about racism, kids are much more likely to pick up the stereotypical and prejudices ideas that are doubtless in their lives somewhere, whether in school, on TV, or in a grandparent. Research shows, pretty consistently, that it's by talking about race, racism, and differences that we bring down levels of prejudice in children. So go ahead, tackle these discussions head on, without fear.