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CNN Claims “Landmark” Series On Kids Perceptions Of Race…le sigh

May 18, 2010

Have you heard the news?

Black kids hate the way they look, hate themselves entirely. Black and White kids think Black kids are bad, stupid, dumb and ugly.

All of this according to the scientific, unbiased, not-concerned-with-ratings folks over at CNN; Anderson Cooper’s show, to be exact.

Anderson Cooper was one of few journalists who dug into the impact- immediate and long term- of Hurricane Katrina.  He was a trusted face in “truth.”

Years later Anderson is back with another controversial topic; race and perception- by children.

The goal of the CNN Study was to determine the status of children’s racial beliefs, attitudes and preferences as well as skin tones biases at two different developmental periods.  Specifically, kindergarten children and middle childhood youngsters attending grade schools in either the Northeast or the Southeast regions of the United States…

There is a lot of data to back up the so called “findings” of the study to determine “the status” of children’s racial beliefs, which CNN makes available in full on their website.  There are impressive pie charts, graphs, equations and terms you and I have probably never heard of before.  It all looks very official and on the up and up. But ya know, it’s a funny thing about data; it’s cast in the eye of people- how objective and impartial are they? But I digress.

Check this little tidbit in CNN’s description of the series:

We have a new landmark pilot study on race and how children see skin color.

As a journalist, a few words jump out at me right away: new, landmark and pilot.

New, means “we found it before MSNBC- it’s all about ratings.”

Landmark means “we want you to think this is ground breaking- even if it isn’t.”

Pilot means “the specific study we employ hasn’t been proven- scientifically or otherwise.”

But let me take a step back. You might think I’m getting read to say children never develop negative perceptions of themselves, each other, or each others races.  I won’t say that because I know it’s not true.  I know that because I experienced a childhood full of racial prejudice and bullying by white children from pre-school to at least 7th grade.

The first time I knew I was something other than the status quo was my first week at a new school.  I was in the 2nd grade.  It was before the start of the day and all the kids were on the playground waiting for the bell to ring.  A few came over and asked me “what” I was… “what are you?”

I didn’t know the answer.

Another kid chimed in, “she’s Black.”

Once the group had an answer to their question, they announced they would never play with me… because I was Black.

That was my grade school experience from start to finish. And from it I learned, more than anything, to hate myself.  I hated my skin, my hair, my features.  I hated that I couldn’t wear the same makeup as the White girls could.  I hated that I could get my hair into the styles they could, but it always looked wrong.  I hated everything about myself because I thought I was ugly.  I thought I wasn’t good enough.  I thought I was dirty and bad.

I knew that kids had perceptions of me that were totally out of my control and came from anywhere but me.  But I knew that I was stuck with whatever they thought, because I couldn’t change what they’d already embraced.

So yes, I get it. I know it happens time and time again.  I’ll be the first to admit that for those 5 years I wanted soooo badly to be White.  I didn’t want to be “different”, I just wanted to fit in.

Maybe all of that would lead you to believe that I watched the CNN videos and bought what they’re selling hook, line and sinker.


Here’s my first point of contention: Taking a so called “scientific” study and editing it for television should be considered a conflict of interest.  Science is not about ratings.  It’s not jazz hands, lighting and dramatic voice overs.  It’s sterile, controlled and often quite boring.

Science is supposed to get to the truth of what can be proven.

Television is supposed to get to the number 1 slot in the ratings machine. “Drama” is the name of the game.  Where it doesn’t come natural, edit, re-write, and edit some more.

Second point at issue for me: The study does not account for the minds of children.  It does not consider how children think or rationalize or even how or why they associate certain things.  Instead the authors of the survey take what amount to muddy, misleading and leading questions and call the answers definitive and damning.  Don’t be fooled.

Third issue: The study- and the questions therein- are full of assumptions.  For starters, using a spectrum chart of skin color that is only Black to White assumes children only see in Black or White (or light skinned, dark skinned).

That’s not an accurate reflection of anything.  Kids aren’t just Black and White, nappy or silky blond-haired.  What would happen if they added a red-head to the chart? Or a picture of a child with “Asian” features?

More assumptions from the “study”; that children hold identical definitions and frames of references for words like “good”, “bad”, “pretty”, or “smart.” They don’t. 

(The best part of the video is when 2 of the kids asked to point to which character on the board represents someone who is “dumb”- flatly refused to answer the question.)

Fourth point: Children- particularly those that do not have a previous relationship with the adult they are talking to or being asked questions by, speak to gain approval of the adult. To the child, it’s not what they think personally. They are more focused on “what does the adult want me to say” or “what can I say” that will cause the adult to signal approval.

Since there is no discussion during the questioning phase, it appears at least a few of the children are taking stabs in the dark with their answers, and then looking to the adults for a reaction- for affirmation.

That’s what kids do.

Fifth point of “omg give me a break”- drawing conclusions that aren’t necessarily there.

If you ask a child- or anyone for that matter- “If you could look like anyone else…” and then ask them to point to their choice on a board with limited options, you can’t read too much into a Black kid pointing to the White character.  After all, you just asked that child to pick something other than what they are.

Also, you can’t infer from that narrow answer, that the child hates or otherwise loathes who they really are, or would even prefer to be something other than what they are- which is exactly what CNN is trying to sell they push this crap and swear it’s science.

We don’t really know- as a reader pointed out in the comments below- what those kids, especially the youngest ones- really thought they were looking at. They weren’t looking at children. Those caricatures didn’t look anything like a normal child of their age. Are children more likely to relate those images to their peers, or to thier favorite cartoons?

“Did these scientists realise that in presenting the “dolls” as cartoon representations of children that the kids being tested might automatically see the characters as not real, but in the realm of the storybook character? Most present-day animated storybook characters are identifiable by colour (not race necessarily, but the actual hues chosen by the artists)–the bad guy always has dark (black,blue, purple or grey) skin and hair, with or without long fang-like teeth. This is what children are fed on every day, and that is how thay identify the characters in the story.” Cherie Griffith, SV reader

As an aside- there is no justifiable explanation for not conducting the study on the West Coast.  Why not take a sampling of children from all over the country?

All children in this country are raised to critique themselves to death. How can they be skinnier, taller, prettier, more desirable.  Do Black children and children of color in general have to fight that mental war at a rate disproportionate to their White counterparts? Of course.  Can in spell disaster in the life of a child? Absolutely.

Does that mean your dark chocolate Black kindergartner is sitting in class everyday, miserable, hating who she is and wishing she could be the little white girl with blond hair sitting across the room? Hell no.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. cherie griffith permalink
    May 18, 2010 8:21 am

    I just watched CNN’s take on the study. Did these scientists realise that in presenting the “dolls” as cartoon representations of children that the kids being tested might automatically see the characters as not real, but in the realm of the storybook character? Most present-day animated storybook characters are identifiable by colour (not race necessarily, but the actual hues chosen by the artists)–the bad guy always has dark (black,blue, purple or grey) skin and hair, with or without long fang-like teeth. This is what children are fed on every day, and that is how thay identify the characters in the story.
    Is it possible that if the “dolls” being presented were actual photographs of real children–possibly the same child but photoshopped to change skin tone, that the kids being tested would give answers closer to how they felt about real children?

  2. May 18, 2010 9:22 am

    Spot on observation.

  3. May 18, 2010 12:17 pm

    Sable, i just want to quickly say your fourth and fifth points are so important and the most easily overlooked by those happy to swallow everything the media feeds them. A lack of simple critical-thinking skills obscures these sorts of observations from most. Well done.

  4. May 18, 2010 9:32 pm

    I did not see this, but I would really like to catch it. The authors of NurtureShock (a great and revealing book by the way! I highly recommend it) have some studies on race and how children perceive race and it’s really ugly. I mean, it’s bad. I wonder if they used those studies, are totally went off on a tangent. It sounds like they did. But I think if you want to see this done right, check out NurtureShock or google Is My Baby Racist, they used an excerpt of the book in Newsweek. Rush Limbaugh went APESHIT lol. So you know it hit the mark.

  5. May 18, 2010 9:33 pm

    Whoops I mean “or” not “are”

  6. May 18, 2010 9:33 pm

    Yup, familiar with it!

  7. Comment 41 permalink
    May 20, 2010 11:08 am

    Excellent Blog post

    Why would Turner Broadcasting’s Cable News Network, or rather the producers and content contributors at CNN still feel the need to “study” African Americans?

    Sure, any contribution to the proper development of the poorly positioned, sadly represented descendants of long ago slaves is the utmost responsibility of the cable television station with it finger on the pulse of the American conscious.

    Perhaps, it would be more appropriate to say finger to the ‘forehead’ of the American subconscious

    All neatly organized with pretty charts and data symbolization….

    It seems that the portion of the propaganda offensive reserved for the disposition of ‘negroes’ in this country has not changed much since the 60’s.

    Blogs, social media, electronic communication, television stations, print media, and all sorts of groups/organizations all dedicated the African American experience are not enough to prevent the ‘experts’ from shaping the image of the ‘negro’ the way they see fit.

    Any attack (sorry…study) on the future of this country (i.e. the children) would normally be seen as an act of war, or at the very least worthy of condemnation, but unfortunately; Father Turner knows best

    Once again, turning to Malcolm X for clarification, he once referenced the development of modern China from post war state into world power to illustrate the shift in public consciousness (subconscious) towards Chinese Americans:

    The Chinese used to be disrespected. They used to use that expression in this country: “You don’t have a Chinaman’s chance.” You remember that? You don’t hear it lately. Because a Chinaman’s got more chance than they have now. Why? Because China is strong. Since China became strong and independent, she’s respected, she’s recognized. So that wherever a Chinese person goes, he is respected and he is recognized. He’s not respected and recognized because of what he as an individual has done; he is respected and recognized because he has a country behind him. They don’t respect him, they respect what’s behind him.
    Perhaps, this virtual/landless state that exists (Africa America) will one day declare itself an atomic power to solicit the same sort of change in public perception and eliminate the need for exclusive ‘study’

    Better yet, maybe African American children will just be seen as American children

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