Black or White: Kids on Race at CNN
Let the Healing Begin â€“ Or Else!
Â By Cleo Manago
CNN recently featured a potentially interesting, weeklong series called “Black or White: Kids on Race.” It centered on a study conducted by African American child psychologist and University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer. Dr. Spencer is a leading researcher in the field of child development.
Commissioned by CNN, she designed a pilot study to explore thoughts on race had by American children. Her findings illuminated that children do indeed have racial biases from as early as five years old. According to Dr. Spencer’s findings, about 66% to 76% of younger White children in the study perceived children with darker skin tones as undesirable, bad, mean, dumb or ugly. Meaning that dark-skinned people were less desirable, not as good as, intelligent or attractive as White or lighter skinned people. 59% of older White kids shared these same sentiments. Dr. Spencer’s study, as presented on CNN, referred to this thinking as “White biases.”
While the level of “White bias” (or anti-Black perspectives) were high among White children, more than 70% of older Black kids (as opposed to 59% of older White kids) perceived children with darker skin tones as undesirable, bad, mean, dumb or ugly. More than 61% of younger Black children had this same “White bias.” Racist views had toward Blacks by White children may be experienced as disappointing or disturbing by some. Yet, these ideas rarely impact the quality of life had by Whites. That many Blacks have anti-Black views toward other Blacks and likely themselves as well has had a clearly destructive impact on the quality of life had among Blacks.
Just five years ago, in 2005, a young African American college student named Kiri Davis made a powerful documentary called, “A Girl Like Me.” Davis’ film had [already] revealed that legions of Black people in America hated themselves or have a “White bias.” Last year in 2009, comedian Chris Rock produced and starred in a documentary called “Good Hair.” Rock depicted many slices of Black internally oppressed life. One scene featured him in an Asian run [Black] hair supply shop. Rock walked in with Afro wigs for sale. Both the Black female employee and the Asian owner turned up their noses in mutual disgust stating “Nobody wants that.” Another disturbing scene featured all Black women. Most with hair weaves who said, “I wouldn’t hire anyone for a job with [natural] hair like that (pointing to the one woman who featured her own hair). I’d think something was wrong with her.” In other words, they would not hire anyone, likely at the White owned corporation they would work for, who looked too Black.
So far, how CNN is discussing anti-Black attitudes had among Black children is similar to how late icon Michael Jackson’s blatant “White biases” was often discussed in the media. While there was on-going scrutiny and negative critique of the ghoulish appearance Jackson developed–in his efforts to appear White, i.e. “Wacko Jacko,” that he was the victim of anti-Black internalized oppression–resulting from living in a White biased/supremacist society rarely if ever accompanied these reports. Similarly, the CNN series shows footage of Dr. Spencer saying that, overall, the racist attitudes had among these children result primarily from “Children mimicking the unfinished business of adults in this country.”
Never discussed,regarding Blacks, is the major influence of religion in Black communities, which is typically accompanied with a White image of Jesus, or that the American media, including CNN, is a significant source leading many Black people to question their desirability, human value, right to anger, intelligence and beauty. Also the starkly present problem of internalized racism (or the White bias had by Blacks) was rarely focused on as a particularly disturbing and dangerous finding in the study.
Yet, African Americans have the highest rates of health disparity and premature death in the U.S.A., face growing levels of suicide and incarceration among Black males, and an unparalleled amounts of intra- community violence. Some may expect that logically the presidency of Barack Obama–who had a Black African father, and a Black first-lady–would change this dynamic. What is neglected in this line of thought is that all logic (or reasoning) by individuals takes place in a socio-cultural context which provides the basic information about which they reason. If there are “White biases” in that information, if the information is incomplete or even untrue, such factors can be a substantial cause of faulty reasoning, or manufactured low-self-concept. That Black [also] have a bias toward White or light skin indicates that Black life occurs in a socio-cultural context that contains faulty reasoning or faulty logic.
Just last week, Arizona’s White governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law targeting a school district’s ability to conduct ethnic studies programs. For example, in this district, a Black History or a non-White biased history class on any school campus is illegal. Are liberal American Whites up in arms about this institutionalized White supremacist/biased move?
Seemingly not. Are Black people in America making this a federal case? Clearly not. Black and White versions of White bias rule again. Differently from what CNN’s Black or White: Kids on Race series implies so far, the problems of and caused by “White biases” in America goes beyond what parents are or are not doing. In many cases, Black parents too are the children of parents intergenerationally influenced by “White biases” or anti-Black norms, thus, the still very present Black use of the word “nigga.”
A very doable remedy to this American cultural and institutional phenomenon would require explicit and active resistance to conditioning to be in denial about the problem of Black internalized [White] racism. Blacks have to actively commit to unlearning and acknowledging their high likelihood of having “White biases” themselves. These are essential to breaking out of this often unconscious, anti-Black trance. Black people reading this can also decide here and now to be reflective and actively unlearn and purge from their psyches the manufactured myth of Black inferiority to Whites. When we call each other niggas we reinforce the myth of Black inferiority–in our children–and reinjure the souls of Black people. Given the endless examples of profound Black accomplishment, genius and capacity, if one really examined this, the idea of Black inferiority defies reality. Yet an honest look at and into Black reality is still avoided by legions of Black people or disrupted by our conditioning to have a White bias instead.
Until Black people actively unlearn all aspects of how Black children, Black people are conditioned to not value Black life, that the country has a Black president remains more likely a fluke than the ultimate mark of Black sustained possibility.