I was raised in Brazil, and being realistic, racial profiling exists everywhere, regardless of how common a race may be. But small things do change. Some jokes need to be harsher in Brazil to become relevant. While here a single word or look can strike home. Not to say the words or looks change their meaning from place to place, but just the fact that they are viewed differently, but are still used, can change the effect they have on people.
I was raised by parents who don’t believe any one person should be the sole person of interest in a group, I’ve learned to follow the law to keep myself safe; make sure the law is kept properly not just in letter, but in spirit as well; to stand up for any suffering from injustice and to make good use of my time, always serving a purpose and never cheating on it… However, I am a 6’5’’ dark skinned broad shouldered man.
One morning, walking to work on a day considerably bright for winter, trudging through the iced over snow, already on the right side of the road so I didn’t have to risk jay walking on unplowed ice, shortly after passing the school area, a small red coat turns the corner just ahead of me and raises her head, the child looked like a fairytale personified, pale skin nearly matching the snow, a few freckles sprinkled across, deep hazel eyes that made it seem like she had just seen something entirely new that she couldn’t quite place as right or wrong, and shoulder length auburn hair that had to match leaves on the perfect transition from summer to fall.
She crossed the ice packed, unplowed street, not glancing twice. I thought nothing of it until I reached the next corner and glanced back before crossing the road, only to see her crossing back to the side we were both originally on, trudging once more through the ice packed, unplowed street. With her size the snow must have been at her knees, but that must not have been worse than the possible outcome of the alternative…
Stranger danger is a thing, and a thing I support fully. Children need to learn quickly what things are not OK, and why. But why was the appearance of me not OK? Would Little Red have crossed the ice packed street regardless of it being me or another man? Are there no tall and robust men in her family and her family’s social circle? Are there no men with darker skin than her own, snow white? Or was it a choice of her family and their social circle to simply not engage in relations with the colored? What if Little Red was hurt by someone who resembled me and this has nothing to do with her family’s nurturing?
Little Red’s reaction to me is enough to make you wonder if her growing process will make it better or worse and how deeply that will be ingrained into her Self. Will a possible bad experience make it worse? Or is she already set in those ways and thoughts? Will she digress from her current social norm and be the first to mingle with the dirt?
Most of what will become of this facet of Little Red’s life will be decided by fate, but it starts somewhere… When asking what leads this to happen, you will get interesting information on children developing the ability to distinguish races, and how their parents affect it once they do.
Paul Quinn from the University of Delaware conducted research on the matter, and had interesting findings:
At 3 months of age, the Caucasian infants we studied showed a looking-time preference for Caucasian faces, and when we collaborated with researchers in China, we found the same preference among Asian infants for Asian faces. Also at 3 months, infants had the ability to tell apart different faces within their own race as well as within other racial groups, but by 9 months, they had lost that ability for races other than their own.
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.
After concluding that it was not an innate preference of one race over another, Quinn decided to request that the parents of Caucasian babies to read books to their children, from the age of 6 months forward, that featured Asian faces and within 2-3 weeks the children were able to distinguish one Asian face from another once more. This confirms that it was nothing but a lack of familiarity that led the infants to not recognize other-race faces.
But what happens when this lack of familiarity is led further in their lives? Quinn adds:
One interesting question is what the relationship might be between this early categorizing of faces and the stereotyping and prejudice that can exist in children as young as 4 years of age, and, how transient or permanent are the training effects? When exposure to other-race faces stops, infants’ other-race face recognition abilities may eventually regress to chance levels.
The problem isn’t innate, children are born recognizing all races the same way, but they are raised and taught differently, Little Red didn’t need to see me as me to be scared enough to cross the ice packed street, she might’ve not been able to tell the difference if I was another black man at all. All she needed to see was a race that her family had no interaction with. And that was enough for her to feel scared and threatened.
Racial discrimination isn’t hard to find, but the main issue is the cause. You cannot treat someone’s prejudice by sending them to jail for a couple of months when they offend someone and are held accountable for it, not when they have grown with this prejudice since they were infants. Parents and caregivers need to allow and strive for more socialization with other races, it isn’t a requirement to have someone from every other race at your home 24/7, but it may be the difference from your child fearing someone entirely harmless simply because they don’t know better.