I am a 6’4’’ Afro-American male, and my life experiences have led to an interest in how that may be affecting me, and if this effect is positive or negative, and if there was any reason for it. Among my more recent experiences where race may be a relevant factor is the occasion where a ginger female child preferred to cross a heavily snow packed street, and then cross it back, instead of crossing me on the same side of the road (Silva, 1). This specific event was the difference between the passive curiosity of how my race may affect the outcome of my day, and doing some research to find out.
My first attempt at finding an answer led me to an interview looking to understand a study being performed by Paul C. Quinn, a professor of psychology at the University of Delaware. The study tested infants from 3-9 months of age, and how well they could recognize same-race faces as well as other-race faces, comparing the results to see if there was any preference. Professor Quinn states, “It seems that, as time goes on during the infancy period, and we experience some categories more frequently than others, we begin to process those categories differentially (Ann Manser, 1).” It is worth note, that the study found the same results in the recognition ability when supressing actual facial colors, leaving only facial features such as nose format, eye slant and mouth shape as the factors to be tested with and recognized.
The article was exactly what I was looking for, leading me to tested factual data of a possible reason why my race might affect my daily life, so I went to the source. Besides discovering how the study was conducted specifically and the sample size, the result didn’t change from what I previously understood, it still concluded that infants started with the ability to recognize same-race and other-race faces equally, but over time, this ability would slowly wither down to a point where they had a clear preference to own-race faces regardless of familiarity with the specific face (Paul C. Quinn, 643).
Here I have confirmation that it wasn’t in the childs nature to avoid me with my size or race, but, more likely that this avoidance and potential fear was likely lost over time. Understanding that there are extremists, they are qualified as extremists for being the exception, the rarity, so, this child likely wasn’t raised to hate or fear other races outright, but that still makes me wonder where the fear came from, when I had done nothing to give it a cause?
The article did however, lead me to where Prof. Quinn acquired the interest for the topic, which was another study performed by Sandy Sangrigoli, a PhD in psychology from France.
The study by Sandy Sangrigoli was more in depth and thorough, but specific only to 3-month old infants, testing their ability to recognize same-race and other-race faces with or without time to familiarize themselves, and concluded that the infants had the ability to recognize same-race faces slightly better when a very short amount of time was given to familiarize, but had the same chance of recognizing same-race or other-race faces when more time was given. (Sangrigoli, 3-month-old 1224).
At this point, we have confirmed that infants have no preference of race, but lose that ability over time. Both studies share the fact that all infants tested had statements from their parents claiming that they had next to no contact with the other-race faces tested, besides the random passing on the street (1221). Looking to find out more information on the process of infants losing the ability to recognize other-race faces as well as their own, I found that Sandy Sangrigoli is somewhat of an expert in the field, and had performed a prior study, testing infants ages 3-5 looking to test the Other-Race Effect, or the ability to recognize other-race faces as well as own-race faces (1221).
This prior study of Sangrigoli’s was performed on 3-5 year old infats, looking to test their ability to recognize same-race faces and compare that to their recognition of other-race faces, they tested with caucasian children, once more with statements from their parents claiming little to no contact with other-race people (the other race tested was Asian). The conclusion was that though they had the ability to recognize both races equally when upright and without any hinderances, when the images were placed upside-down, they lost the ability to recognize other-race faces, indicating that the infants were selective on which faces they cared about enough to recognize when hindered (Sangrigoli, non-native-effects 83).
As we move forward with the studies in the timeline of an infants life, the one common factor in them all is their lack of contact with the other-race faces tested. I don’t see a need to continue on much further, the child that avoided me was not too much older than 8, and likely didn’t change much from that age, being still submitted to the same lifestyle her parents had chosen for her since she was a newborn.
This information does shed more light on why she may have avoided me, or potentially feared me, though it doesn’t answer it outright. I notice, however, that the term fear may be more appropriate, and it connects many prior memories, and a point that is embedded those that have looked into the after effects of some globally significant events, such as 9-11.
9-11 is a date, and a date that everyone in the USA and still a large amount of foreigners can recognize almost immediately, knowing exactly what I am referring to, what it was, and at least some of the effects of it. For the sake of clarity, on the 11th of September of 2001, 4 passenger airliners were hijacked by a terrorist organization named al-Qaeda, and then flown into symbols of the power of the USA, with the most-well known being the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing thousands. While this was happening, we the viewers had very little information on why it had happened, or who had done it, the one thing we knew almost for sure, was that it was a middle eastern organization, and based on messages prior and shortly after, they also claimed to represent the Islamic nation, and that was all that we heard. However, what was missed was that they were an extremist group, and not a sanctioned representation of the nation.
The effect, relevant to my point, of the 9-11 attack was rampant discrimination and terrorism directed towards all middle-easterners, with disregard to where specifically they were from or even if they shared the same religion as the extremist group. This led to multiple deaths as well as general mistreating of any with similarities to the extremists, even if irrelevant similarities (Khan). The point that I intend to make by comparing this to infants simply learning to prefer faces similar to the ones they see on a daily basis is that we, as humans, fear what we don’t know.
Studies have tested and confirmed that when we don’t know what might happen, depending on how much will be based on this change, the more we lean towards the extremist fear (Brown, 339). This fear will lead us towards the fight or flight response, where in our daily lives means no more than moving forward or halting in your progress, when this response is triggered on a global scale, and what you fear for is your liberty or rights that you have lived with, your response will not be so mild, it will be the difference of shooting someone for what later becomes an illogical reason, or moving forward acting as if nothing had happened and there is nothing you can do about it.
A small girl moving out of her way to avoid me, and after-effects of 9-11 are different sides of a similar fear, with 9-11 clearly being the extreme case, and the child avoiding me being next to nothing in comparison. However, both are based on the fear of what you don’t know. The child avoiding me was her choosing flight instead of fight, which makes clear sense, seeing as she couldn’t have been more than 4ft tall and I am not only more than 2ft taller, but also large in stature, my worry then becomes, what if I were the smaller one? Would the threat of me be gone, or would the response change from flight to fight?