How young is racism starting? Research shows concerning results for Toronto

(Courtesy: Unsplash/Andrew Ebrahim)

Children as young as five can display more positive associations with white children compared to Black children on measures of unconscious bias, says new research from York University. 

This can be true even when taking into consideration kids’ tendencies to favour same-gender peers, according to the study. However, this could also increase positive associations towards Black children, which suggests the persistence of anti-Black racism and its contextual nature.   

With parental consent, 225 non-Black children between the ages of five and twelve years were recruited and tested in a quiet location in a science museum in Toronto.

The study focused specifically on bias toward Black versus white targets because of “the ongoing inequities and inequalities” faced by Black children and adults in North America.”

“I think for many Black parents this would not be a surprising finding, given their own lived experience,” lead author Jennifer Steele, a psychology professor with York University’s Faculty of Health, said in a news release Wednesday. 

“Racism continues to persist in our society and children are picking up on that,” she said. “What it also points to is kids looking at race through a lens that can come in and out of focus, depending on what they are paying attention to.”

Steele is also director of the York University’s Interpersonal Perception and Social Cognition Laboratory. 

She acknowledged it can be uncomfortable to think of young children as displaying racial bias, and says it can be useful to acknowledge and discuss issues of racism on the path to tackling them.

Steele said talking to children about race and racism in age-appropriate ways can help combat biases.

“It is important for children to see many examples of the diversity of amazing people, from all walks of life, who contribute positively to our society,” she said.

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