Last night, I was dismayed. I was flipping through channels when I came across Anderson Cooper's CNN show. Last night's episode was on race and toddlers, in fact-it turned out to be a follow up on the original episode aired in May. As I was about to change the channel, Mr. Cooper posed the question, how biased are young children towards race? He then proceeded to describe a psychology experiment, first started in the1940s by two psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, in which dolls were used to determine children's attitudes and beliefs about race. In CNN's modern day version of the study, a child between the ages three and five years of age is shown a picture of a cartoon character, duplicated about five times across a page from left to right. The picture to the far left depicts the character as very light skinned, and through shades of darkening, the picture to the far right depicts the character as very dark skinned.
The experiment would begin with something like this, the examiner would ask the child a question regarding the character of the duplicated characters and the child would point the the corresponding shade of character.
"Which one is the dumb child?" White child points to the darkest skinned character, black child points to the darkest character, in response to the same question." Get it? It is important to note that every child during the experiment was alone with the interviewer. Needless to say, all children regardless of their skin color showed favorable bias towards the lightest skinned cartoon character and unfavorable bias towards the darkest skinned cartoon character.
Watching Anderson Cooper's show last night reminded me about a talk given by the novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, about the dangers of the single story. Ms. Adichie like myself was raised in Nigeria, and like myself grew up reading children's books by European authors. In her talk, Ms. Adichie jokes about being so inspired by the books she read, that she too began writing at an early age, about engaging in cultural activities she had never engaged in, such as playing in the snow. Even though she had never been outside Nigeria at the time. Ms. Adichie talks about how oblivious she was to her bias until she was introduced to children's literature written by African novelists. She talks about how stunned she was when she realized that children who looked like her could also exist in literature. According to Ms. Adichie, the danger of the single story occurs when we view a person, cultural populations or even ourselves from a one sided perspective. When others are viewed only by a "single story" we fail to take into account the complexities of human nature, in regards to the hopes, fears, talents and flaws that make up all human beings, and we objectify the person.
As sad as I felt watching Anderson Cooper's show last night, I felt hopeful. I felt hopeful for two reasons. The first reason is that I now realize my task as a parent in teaching my two young children about empathy for self and others. The second reason is that I also came across a book tittled, "I Am Me And You Are You".
The book is written by Eva Marie Cote and illustrated by Tom Myers. "I Am Me And You Are You", is a wonderful children's book to help children understand it's okay to feel good about being who they are. Whether it is in regards to physical attributes, religion and culture. I personally enjoy how the book uses animals as analogies to highlight why differences are okay and the importance of each animal being and looking the way they are. I personally will use this book with my three year old as an introduction into the conversation about self love, and empathy for self and others.
In referencing back to Anderson Cooper's show, every parent whose child participated in the study seemed stunned. In fact, the follow up was based on what the parents where doing to better educate their children. But after some thought, that's not surprising, since it does take a village to raise a child. With the powerful influence mass media yields in our lives, our collective world while bigger, is much smaller when compared to communication in decades and centuries past.