Children “do” race and racism, runs the premise of this ethnographic report from two scholars—and watching how they “do” them can teach us something about teaching, learning, and racial concepts and ideals as well.
Van Ausdale (Sociology/Syracuse) and Feagin (Sociology/Univ. of Florida, Gainesville) conducted an 11-month study of children between the ages of three and six in multi-ethnic day-care centers. Van Ausdale observed what children say about race and skin color—their own and others—as well as how they respond to adult instruction about those concepts. Her observations are presented in a text co-authored with Feagin and backed by an extensive reevaluation of both standard and controversial theories of child development. The authors argue that our fundamental mistake is the imposition of adult ways of thinking and learning upon children; they gathered a large amount of empirical data on how the young define their own skin color, that of others, and what they feel adults are trying to teach them about it. Even very small children act and interact with themselves, with other children, and with adults in a fiercely independent and highly developed manner; by the time a four-year-old encounters someone of a different skin color, he incorporates his own observations into a system of thought that includes sophisticated and fluid thinking about specifics and generalities. An adult teaching a child “about race,” they suggest, may be teaching a child more about adult-child relationships, with the moral object of the lesson falling by the wayside. We might be able to rethink race, the authors conclude, if we rethink the distinctions between children and ourselves.
A study intended for a general audience as well as academics; although the lay reader may find the theoretical jargon burdensome, the scenes of youngsters interacting are vivid and provocative.