Writing for Newsweek, author Po Bronson noted that the study revealed the damage wrought by the myth of a “color-blind” society: “In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions — many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.”
Most parents have had that awkward grocery store moment, where a young child makes a loud and tactless observation. (I think mine was, “Mommy, look at the chocolate man!”) Sometimes these observations reveal those “improvised conclusions,” like a child wondering if a dark-skinned person is “dirty.”
Our instinct as parents is often to shut those conversations down, not-so-subtly shaming the child by admonishing that it “isn’t nice” to say such things. But is that really the message we want to send — that noticing racial difference is somehow a shameful act?
We spend the formative years of childhood teaching our children to notice difference. I do this all the time with my daughter. “What shape is the balloon?,” I ask her. “Can you hand me the red crayon? Show me the picture of the dog.”
My daughter goes to day care with children of different races. If she’s not aware of those differences now, I know she will be one day. When she does become aware of them, I know she’s going to ask that wearying question that all parents have to answer thousands of times: “Why?”
In his Newsweek column, Bronson writes about experiencing this moment with his son. The 4-year-old boy then walked around pointing out black people on the street, saying loudly, “That guy comes from Africa. She comes from Africa, too!”
Bronson was embarrassed, sure. But he also realized why his son was making such a big deal about it.
“It was obvious this was something he’d been wondering about for a while,” Bronson wrote. “He was relieved to have been finally given the key.”