By Chuck Hadad
Tune in to “Anderson Cooper 360°” all week for the surprising results of a groundbreaking new study on children and race at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.
(CNN) — A white child and a black child look at the exact same picture of two students on the playground but what they see is often very different and what they say speaks volumes about the racial divide in America.
The pictures, designed to be ambiguous, are at the heart of a groundbreaking new study on children and race commissioned by CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°. White and black kids were asked: “What’s happening in this picture?”, “Are these two children friends?” and “Would their parents like it if they were friends?” The study found a chasm between the races as young as age 6.
Overall, black first-graders had far more positive interpretations of the images than white first-graders. The majority of black 6-year-olds were much more likely to say things like, “Chris is helping Alex up off the ground” versus “Chris pushed Alex off the swing.”
They were also far more likely to think the children pictured are friends and to believe their parents would like them to be friends. In fact, only 38% of black children had a negative interpretation of the pictures, whereas almost double — a full 70% of white kids — felt something negative was happening.
But why? CNN hired renowned child psychologist and University of Maryland professor Dr. Melanie Killen as a consultant to design and implement this study. She says the divide often begins with the different ways parents talk to their kids about race.
“African American parents … are very early on preparing their children for the world of diversity and also for the world of potential discrimination,” said Killen, adding, “they’re certainly talking about issues of race and what it means to be a different race and when it matters and when it doesn’t matter.”
In contrast, the negativity for white children could be more of a result of what parents are not saying to their children than what they are saying. Dr. Killen contends that white parents often believe their children are socially colorblind and race is not an issue necessary to address. “They sort of have this view that if you talk about race, you are creating a problem and what we’re finding is that children are aware of race very early,” said Killen.
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