It's tougher to break social taboos than you think: even racist attitudes are learned young

Like  Leiden University Professor Judi Mesman
Wednesday, December 6, 2017 - 06:57

By Justice Hub

Do children see race? If your answer to this question is “no” then you are wrong. But don’t worry, you are in good company. Former US President Barack Obama also holds this view as evidenced by a recent tweet.

The fact that Obama’s tweet (at the time of publishing) still held the record for being the most “liked” means that millions (if not billions) of people hold the mistaken view that children are automatically colourblind. 
 
At a recent Hague Talks themed on “How do we break social taboos” Leiden University Professor Judi Mesman demolished the fallacy that “Children don’t see race” especially as conceived by advocates of “colourblind parenting."
 
“Research shows that from early infancy, before children turn one year old, they can reliably distinguish between the main ethnic groups. They can reliably distinguish between black people, white people and Asian people,” said Mesman who is the dean of Leiden University College. 
 
“By the time children are one year old, they are no longer colourblind. So people can talk about children being colourblind but this is not the case,” she explained. 
 
Using findings from various studies carried out in the US and in the Netherlands, Mesman illustrated to the packed Hague Talks audience how children too can exhibit prejudice. None of this is to say that racism is innate in humans. Mesman stresses that it is precisely because children can distinguish between races from an early age that parents should be careful how they act and what they say about 'others' including other races, in front of children. 
 
“Children do get all sorts of racial messages, without parents realising that they are giving them,” she said. 
 
“Racial attitudes are transmitted nonverbally and through daily conversations even when you don’t think you are talking about it,” Mesman concluded. 
 
Her research has many implications for those who are trying to challenge prejudice and break social taboos. 
 
You can watch the full talk by Professor Judi Mesman below: 

You might also be interested in watching this talk by Jane Waithera, who is an advocate for the rights of people with albinism, from the same Hague Talks event. Waithera spoke about her experiences growing up with albinism in Kenya and how it has shaped her advocacy campaign on behalf of people born with albinism.

 

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Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 11:01
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