This article mentions that research indicates babies as young as 6 months notice racial differences. But why wouldn’t they? This article definitely comes from a white, colorblind point of view:
For decades, it was assumed that children see race only when society points it out to them.
Actually, I’ve never assumed that children see race only when society points it out to them. And I’d hazard a guess that many other people of color don’t make this assumption. Nor do I believe in the “Diverse Environment Theory” (and I’d assume many people of color don’t either):
The other deeply held assumption modern parents have is what Ashley and I have come to call the Diverse Environment Theory. If you raise a child with a fair amount of exposure to people of other races and cultures, the environment becomes the message. Because both of us attended integrated schools in the 1970s—Ashley in San Diego and, in my case, Seattle—we had always accepted this theory’s tenets: diversity breeds tolerance, and talking about race was, in and of itself, a diffuse kind of racism.
The article notes early on that differences in talking about race are influenced by race:
What parents say depends heavily on their own race: a 2007 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that out of 17,000 families with kindergartners, nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents; 75 percent of the latter never, or almost never, talk about race.
Yet throughout the point of view is from the white majority. The assumption is that “everybody” is white:
We might imagine we’re creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender—they’re plainly visible.
Water is also wet, by the way.
When I was doing research with children, I discovered early on about the norming of whiteness. Give a child a survey that asks for racial identification, and little African American kids know that they are “Black or African American.” Similarly, Latino kids and Asian kids know their classification.
White kids? They don’t understand the question. We had an inordinate number of white children who self-identified as “Native American”–because they knew they were “American.” What they did not know was that they are white.
The white writer mentions this about his own child, who is white:
He had not been taught the names for races—he had not heard the term “black” and he called us “people with pinkish-whitish skin.” He named every kid in his schoolroom with brown skin, which was about half his class.
My son’s eagerness was revealing. It was obvious this was something he’d been wondering about for a while. He was relieved to have been finally given the key. Skin color was a sign of ancestral roots.
Over the next year, we started to overhear one of his white friends talking about the color of their skin. They still didn’t know what to call their skin, so they used the phrase “skin like ours.”
“Pinkish-whitish” is among one of the many names white people use to describe themselves. Or they use other terms: I’m more of a pinky-beige. I’m beige. I’m light tan.
What they typically do not say is that they are white. White people often experience deep discomfort with being identified as white. I suspect in part it’s because they do not like to be stripped of their individuality and relegated to a racial class. And perhaps it’s difficult to identify with whiteness when our discussion about whiteness is often about negative attributes–white privilege and white racism.
So whiteness is rarely discussed in white households. And the lack of discussion is used to further enforce the idea that race has no meaning, that we’re all alike under the skin, that we live in a meritocracy and that we don’t see color.
Except “we” does not include people of color. Not even for well-meaning white people who believe in the “Diverse Environment Theory.” When white people talk about “exposure” to people of color, they are talking about seeing us, rather than interacting with us. Like with Thailand’s “long-necked women,” we are something to look at. You come into our communities but you don’t know our names.
“Exposure” by itself is meaningless in race relations. And “tolerance” should not be the ultimate goal in a community. “Tolerance,” like the word “acceptance,” assumes that somebody is tolerating. And you know who they’re tolerating, don’t you? (Yes, thank you, massa white man! So nice of you to tolerate me in your community!)
I moved a while back because I was tired of living in a majority-white community. And I wonder at times about the ways in which I ignored racism. Because it is clear to me now that living in a community where a large number of people look like me is beneficial.
Simultaneously I try to unlearn the internalized racism that years in my old neighborhood wrought.
And I believe the “Diverse Environment Theory” belief is a marker of my own internalized racism. Because the one thing I did forget was that even if there are a large number of people like you in a community, that doesn’t mean the white people will like you. In fact, I think it’s easier to be one of a small number of people of color in a community. One or two is not too scary. But gather up enough of us and we have our own grocery stores and places of business, we speak foreign languages among ourselves, we use up your resources and you just barely tolerate us.
But we can’t talk about racism, because when we do we’re silenced by the majority outcry. We don’t see race. We are colorblind. We treat everybody as equals here. And you are the one who is creating the racism by talking about it!
But I am a person of color and this is my community. And I see race. And I am not colorblind. I would like to believe that everybody is equal, but when you silence my voice I know different.