Children Are Not Born Racist; They Learn It

And who do they learn it from?  Parents and Family!

Without children, we would not be here today. Humans would not exist. Without children of any color, there is no future for the human race. Children are our future. When asked what is the earth’s greatest resource, many people respond with gold or oil or trees or water, even oxygen. With my own very limited polling done on this question, rarely are children offered as an answer. I sometimes think this is a matter of people not seeing the trees for the forest. Kids are just there like air, trees, and rain; just not thought about in general terms other than by family members or close friends.

Human babies are born with basic survival skills; a feeling of hunger, how to make their first sound, breathing, sleeping, yawning, smiling, and voiding functions.  It has long been thought that children were also born skin color-blind. They were deemed not to see skin color. It was thought that it was only when it was pointed out to them once they reach later childhood they noticed a difference in skin colors.  

Research demonstrates that children’s awareness of racial differences and the impact of racism begins quite early (Tatum 2003; Winkler 2009). Multiple studies document the ways that young children take notice of racial differences and note that as early as preschool, children may begin excluding their peers of different races from play and other activities based on the prejudices of their parents or other family members. Is racism built into our genes and has to be “unlearnt” as we grow towards adulthood? Or, do children learn if from an early age from those they are closest to?

Forget for the moment, about the human construct of races. There is only one race on the planet, the human race. As I have stated in previous posts, white skins only appeared around 8,000 years ago. This is a scientific fact. It is relatively modern humans who created the idea of “race”. I often wonder if those early white-skinned people were discriminated against and considered lesser people because of their skin color when they were in the minority. 

People who define a person by the color of their skin in this day and age are ignorant and uneducated.  To anyone out there old enough to remember that wonderful song – Imagine – penned and sang by John Lennon, just imagine a world free of hate, discrimination, intolerance, bigotry, and pedophilia. 

For those of you too young to even know who John Lennon was, click on this link. Imagine.  

Imagine a world where children are born, are taught the essentials of life; are provided an education and medical care, have a loving family, and freedom from war and slavery. 

Parents and teachers have an obligation to teach and learn with children about the critical and complex issues around bigotry and racism. In her seminal research and writing on this topic, Beverly Daniel Tatum (a former psychology professor and president of Spelman College) has written extensively about the manner in which racial prejudice in society is normalized and transmitted to children from birth by parents who have a false belief in skin color defining the person. In discussing how messages about race-based privilege and oppression are internalized, Tatum provides a powerful metaphor. 

She explains:  In the same way residents who live in highly polluted areas cannot avoid becoming “smog breathers,” Americans for example who are immersed in white supremacy unwittingly become “racism breather.” Many of us may not realize the degree to which these toxic beliefs shape our perceptions and experiences of the world. Unless we have opportunities to unlearn racism, these messages become absorbed and have consequences.

In a race-conscious society, we all have a racial identity that develops in predictable ways, shaped largely by the interactions we have with others and our core beliefs. Learned empathy and tolerance towards others can help all of us begin to build bridges across our differences. With that understanding, we are better able to do what is called the ABCs of leadership — affirm identity, build community and cultivate the 21st-century leadership we all need to dismantle the racism that threatens our diverse society.


If you have any comments, disagreements, or additional information on this post, please contact me either through Pippies, or through my website.


Post Image Credit:


Written by Michael Trigg

What do you think?

One Comment

Leave a Reply
  1. Too true Michael. The same principal applies to happiness. Humans aren’t born unhappy. We develop it it over time with our experiences and perceptions. So “wanting” to be happy is a silly goal as it requires never ending external targets to fulfill it. It’s already in us. A better solution to the ‘happiness’ problem is to do things and associate with people that bring out joy in a persons life… whatever that may be. Meaningful work and contribution. Spending time with kids/grand kids. Listening to the birds and nature instead traffic, sirens, TV and abuse etc. But I don’t need to tell you because you already get it. It’s one of the gifts of wisdom that comes with time. Sadly some people like Trump have know idea what any of this means and will never understand the concept of wisdom, no matter how many years he lives.

Leave a Reply

3 Changes You Need To Make For a More Meaningful Life

The Land of Unequal Opportunity