Changing the Narrative on Race

Some weeks back I saw a video on Facebook about the thoughts of children on race where young children around the age of five are asked a series of questions and reveals the perception that children have on race and skin colour. They were asked a series of questions (such as which one is the pretty doll; which one is the bad doll etc.). It was amazing to see how the vast majority of all the children involved in this video; the black, brown and white children had similar views concerning people (or in this instance the ‘doll’) based on the colour of their skin. It was interesting to see the conditioning that each of these children had gone through regardless of their particular race or skin colour. Of course to say that the children are racist because of the perceived negativity towards people of dark skin is ludicrous. What this shows more than anything is the imagery and narrative that children are exposed to and raised with.

As a mother with two young children, one of whom is about the same age as many of the children interviewed, it saddened me to think that we have created a world where children begin to formulate ideas about people (based on skin colour) as essentially superior and inferior. This led me to ask myself the question, which I continue to ask, what can we do to change the narrative? It is a question that I will no doubt continue asking and perhaps continue to answer and to look for answers in different ways. I must admit I was tempted to do this experiment with my 4.5 year-old son and when I shared this with my husband, he did not like the idea. Although he didn’t go into detail about why he didn’t think it was a good idea, I think he secretly fears that our son’s responses may not be much different to those of the kids in the video.

Our son goes to a school that is predominantly white where he is the only black kid, aside from the one or two other brown students in the school. I know he sees colour, he is very aware that he is visibly different but I don’t believe that he sees his difference as a deficit. Perhaps the fact that he has an infectious personality and so is popular at school helps. I do wonder though, as he grows and as society tells him (through media and other avenues) that his difference is something to frown upon, how that will impact on him. I also wonder how things could possibly be different in his world as an adult to my current world where it is not uncommon for your resume to slip off the pile because of your clearly foreign name, or where, just like the other day I experienced race hate in the form of abusive racist remarks yelled at me by two bigots as they drove past me. I like to think that although the racism is common in my world, things will be different in his world as an adult because through open and honest dialogue, beliefs are challenged and inclusive cultures are fostered more and more. I guess we’ll know for sure when the time arrives.

Racism is largely fuelled by ignorance. The media has had a huge impact in shaping perceptions about race. Its no coincidence that most of the media broadcasting portrays negative imagery of some races (such as black) and positive of others (such as white). The average person is not very discerning, most people tend to believe what they see in the news or through movies as an accurate reflection of reality. For example, when the robber who holds the checkout at gun point is almost always a black man in movies, people unconsciously associate crime with black men, shaping the perceptions and thus treatment of this group. A good example of this is my brother’s experience some years ago at a petrol station. After putting fuel in hi car, he went into the station to pay. As soon as the man on the checkout saw him, he flinched and looked fearful, reaching for what my brother assumed was some kind of a weapon behind the checkout desk as my brother approached. When my brother reached the counter and handed him the cash, he said he seemed to slowly calm down. I’m sure the man at the checkout by nature may not be racist per se, but he has been conditioned to formulate beliefs about people based on race or the colour of their skin. This is sadly not uncommon. Despite the influence of mass media, we must shift the narrative on race because real people are impacted, some in very serious and adverse ways by this narrative. Check out the video of the ‘doll test’ with young children for yourself and feel free to comment on your thoughts on the video or anything I’ve shared.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

Elizabeth



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