We don’t talk about race, because we fear it, and this will lead to our shared demise.

Race is about colour. A baby is born seeing muffled light.  Vision is not clear, colour discrimination is not present. A baby has no conception of “race” as an object of desire, or a colour palette by which people are differentiated. 

Thus, young children are taught and learn differentiation and the meanings we attach to them from others. As a baby is nurtured, she sees remnants of colours that become objects and people. According to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, children will try to make sense of why people look different, even without adult guidance.  By three months infants prefer faces of certain groups and at nine months a child can group faces by shade.   Harvard researchers have brought our attention to “primitive maps” of babies that become gradually sophisticated.  Neural sensitivity becomes complex by 200 days of age, and studies demonstrate a window of opportunity. 

Visual and auditory exposure of stimuli is critical.  Neuroscientists agree on the importance of early conceptual experiences for a baby’s perceptual development.   In connecting this to the formation of racially placed ideas, “early mapping” allows for children to see and hear about racial equity both orally and visually.  Eventually, a child acquires knowledge about colours of the rainbow, and more importantly, the discriminate process allows a child to understand that humans come in various colours.  This rudimentary knowledge of race that stems from the process of understanding how colour operates, can be a positive one.

Children as a social group are particularly important in the process of moving toward racial equality.  Racism is not sporadic.  It begins as children learn biases based on colour.  The point of departure for change must include what they are taught, and how it is taught, this is effective socialization.  It is simply not enough to instigate racial equality mandates, and give lip-service by changing political practices and rules in organizations, schools and bureaucracies. This is to expect miracles. The American Psychological Association notes that “children notice race several years before adults want to talk about it; infants are well aware of race and preschoolers have potentially developed racist ideas.

The onus lies with adults to assist the leaders of tomorrow to be equipped with relevant racial awareness. 

Just as racism is learned, it must be unlearned, hence the present social dilemma adults are facing.    The equity mindset and effectiveness can only be achieved at the point of socialization.  As a child matures to adulthood with an open mind about race, that kind of mindset is brought forth into the world of work, education, communities and groups.  Responsible organizations must act on today’s racist dilemma within the context of learning. 

Well-meaning parents may teach children that “skin colour does not matter;” but the problem is, it does. Teaching equity cannot ignore the inherent privilege of race.  Once racist ideas are set in motion, the roots have sprung, it is difficult to unlearn.  The truth is, we must do it right the first time.

Early mappings are powerful indicators of personal thoughts later on in life.  Just as it is important to correct physical illnesses early on, in the same vein, it becomes important to nurture and correct biased perceptions of race early on in a child’s life.

The Space For Racial Attention

A child’s innocence far outweighs notions of colour and the attachment of ideas of superiority or inferiority with skin colour.  Without reinforcement of equity, biased ideas about race are often promulgated through media and other social institutions, hence the present racist dilemma.

This is the vicious cycle that is ordained and its designs have far-reaching consequences.  No conversation or wishful thinking about racial equality is possible unless we seek out the roots of how racism is learned and taught.

When I speak here about race, I speak of race along a continuum. The human race is one. Think of race as a line between point A and point B; that line represents a colour continuum.  At point A is Black and as we gradually move to point B, the line slowly becomes White. This is a shade gradation and the colour gradient changes even between family members with the same genetic traits.  Sociological research shows that even lighter colour siblings are treated differently. 

Family members themselves, often internalize such gradations where “whiter” siblings are treated differently than “darker” siblings.  This is the point of departure.  The notions of treatment along the racial continuum develop heartily at the family focal point.  The family and those who socialize children becomes the vector for the messages that babies and eventually children gain about race.  As such, at the time of school and pre-school readiness, ethnic gradations are strongly internalized by children during the process of their socialization.

Hence, babies and children need to be taught as early as possible that we are one race:  the human race.

People bare traits of different colour but such difference is a strength that reinforces variance as being positive, not negative.  Humans are not same, they are unique. The world would not be the dynamic place that it is if we were same.

We have all seen images of two children of different colours playing lovingly with each other; their innocence makes no use of the uselessness of fostering racial bias.

Preconceptions and the formation of prejudice, then falls on the shoulders of family, parents and caregivers, and must be attenuated to early on in life.  When children learn from adults to prejudge based on colour, the racist game moves us in circles.  That is why in present day, the myths are difficult to debunk, because once racist ideas are internalized early on it becomes difficult to unlearn.   These same biases manifest later on in groups at school and in the workplace.

It is a dangerous ground, one that conjures up sensitivity and fear to frankly talk and address the issues.

A child is not racist at birth, a child is taught racism.  Upon confronting racism at school, a child who was socialized early on, and taught that all colours are equal, would have the emotional tools to defend themselves and uplift others, who may not have learned the racial equality lesson.