"They said, if you was white, you'd be alright, If you was brown, stick around, But as you is black, oh brother, Get back, get back, get back."-- A 1947 blues song, "Black, Brown, and White," written by Big Bill Broonzy.
I wish I had some positive news to report to the people who still believe we are now living in post-racial society, but alas, our culture is still infecting children of all colors to believe that white=right.
"Black or White: Kids on Race" is a segment airing on Anderson Cooper 360 this week, with Soledad O'Brien reporting. It's painful to watch young innocents display such racial bias, particularly the black children, who will in fact face the need to overcome self-doubt and self-loathing that their white peers will not, through no fault of their own. That the Ann Coulters, Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world feed off of racism and bias (that they, of course, claim doesn't exist) makes it worse.
Don't get me wrong, the fact that the cultural playing field is not level is not a reason to merely bathe in self-sorrow. Clearly one can do well, succeed and even achieve great success in this country as a person of color despite the disadvantages that result from ingrained biases.
What many whites keep trying to to do is try to skip over the fact that the legacy of slavery is more than the past ownership and debasement of human beings. It is an embedded belief in our culture that white=normal, and everything else is an anomoly. If the world is viewed through that lens, then all of the advantages that convey with white privilege are seemingly available to non-whites, because they don't believe there is white privilege. We just elected a black man, that does not equal racism is dead, or that our country is ready to see all people as equal. But it hurts deep to one's core to see children already going down this path.
A 5-year-old girl in Georgia is being asked a series of questions in her school library. The girl, who is white, is looking at pictures of five cartoons of girls, all identical except for skin color ranging from light to dark.
When asked who the smart child is, she points to a light-skinned doll. When asked who the mean child is she points to a dark-skinned doll. She says a white child is good because "I think she looks like me", and says the black child is ugly because "she's a lot darker."
As she answers her mother watches, and gently weeps.
The mother, whose name the study prohibits from being used, says her daughter has "never asked her about color" and that the results of the test were an eye opener, and she says she and her daughter "talked a long time about it"
Her daughter's perception on race and the fact that the issue was not taken up at home is in many ways typical.
Research and discussions with parents of the children who participated in this study, indicate that white parents as a whole do not talk to their kids about race as much as black parents.
A 2007 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that 75 percent of white families with kindergartners never, or almost never, talk about race. For black parents the number is reversed with 75 percent addressing race with their children.
But in some ways, it is about innocent self-identification with images and people who look like them, however, in the absence of a nuanced discussion about race, the vacuum is filled with other information.
Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock and an award-winning writer on parenting issues says white parents "want to give their kids this sort of post-racial future when they're very young and they're under the wrong conclusion that their kids are colorblind. ... It's in the absence of messages of tolerance that they will naturally ... develop these skin preferences."
And black kids are poisoned by this crap, though not at the levels of the white kids in this study. The original 1947 doll test results show us that in 1947, we had a race problem, and now in 2010 this study shows we still have a problem, despite changes in civil rights laws and the improvement socioeconomic conditions in the black community over time.
It goes back to what I've said over and over at my blog and here at Pandagon -- we have to get over the reticence to discuss these issues and stop burying them. We have so few skills in engaging in issues about race over the color lines and we fail to acknowledge the need to be fluent in it. It's as if otherwise intelligent people close their eyes and say "racism is over" 50 times to make it go away.
Why? Because the discussions are full of landmines -- emotional, intellectual, complex ones -- that are easy to avoid because everyone shares that anxiety. The anxiety of saying something incorrect, stupid, out of turn or fla- out biased, exposing one's self as full of stereotypes about the other group. Guess what? We all have them and we rarely want to examine them. You're not alone. Do something about it -- for your kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. You owe it to them to usher them into adulthood without the fears, stereotypes and biases left to be fed to them by our culture.
Move past your discomfort and discuss.