Children See Colour

By Rebbecca Hemmings

Statements such as ‘I don’t see colour, we’re all the same’ and questions like, Why do we need to talk about race?’. are very common during my antiracism training sessions. However, the problem with them is that they invalidate the experiences of racially marginalised people. As I often share in the antiracism training sessions, I do not wake up in the morning, look at my skin and think ‘Oh yes I am still black’. I just think of myself as a person. However, when I leave my home, I am often reminded of my skin colour. This happens when I look for things like makeup for my complexion, or plasters which generally do not come in the colour of my skin, or I might experience being ‘othered’ when someone I meet treats me with suspicion or fears me for no apparent reason. It is the systematicity of such incidences that distinguish these as familiar forms of racial discrimination on varying levels.

“Ordinary rudeness happens randomly, unpredictably without any pattern or regularity. But microaggressions happen to certain people again, and again and again.”

Regina Rini – The Ethics of Microaggressions

An ethnic minority’s skin colour is very much a part of their identity because society makes it that way. This is communicated through daily microaggressions, unconscious biases, racial stereotypes, and overt racial discrimination. Therefore, to not see colour is to deny and invalidate an ethnic minority’s experience. Unfortunately, this is common.

So, what about children? Do they see colour? Are they aware of racial difference? They do see colour and are very aware of it. Just as they can tell you the colours of crayons, they can tell you the colour of people’s skin. From the age of 6 months, they start to associate skin colour with positions in society (without understanding context). Children begin to form stereotypes about people based on skin colour based on what they are exposed to. They might see that brown people tend to do menial work and that white people get to tell others what to do i.e. they are positions of power.

Both white and ethnic minority children do this. The famous Clark Doll Study of the 1940s asked white and black children a series of questions about the skin colour of the dolls. Almost unanimously, both groups preferred and associated positive traits to the white doll and negative with the black doll. 

Children do see race and are often quite open about that (especially when they are younger). When they interact with children of different colours they sometimes compare and contrast. It can be particularly distressing for ethnic minority children as they try to function in a world that purports to not see colour.

“It is common place that young African-Caribbean and South Asian children have been known to try to scrub their skins ‘white’…

ref 1. Debbie Epstein

Therefore, to counteract the negative stereotypes, educators, parents, and carers are strongly encouraged to not brush the notion of colour under the carpet. Instead, engage children in age-appropriate conversations about racial differences and similarities which attributes value to all.

The children of Strawberry Words – The Strawberry Kids have created a song all about embracing different skin colours called ‘Every Little Thing (Is Gonna Be Alright). It can be purchased from all major streaming platforms and the cartoon version can be seen here on YouTube.

The lyrics can be seen in another post.


Ref 1: Too Small to Notice? Constructions of Childhood and Discourses of ‘Race’ in Predominantly White Contexts Debbie Epstein

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