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Opinion

Opinion

Painful racial stereotypes persist

May 23, 2010

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Last week, Soledad O’Brien made a young mother cry.

It came in the midst of a special series, “Black Or White: Kids on Race” on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” The series was based on a new version of the famous “doll tests” pioneered by husband and wife psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1930s and ’40s, and recreated in 2005 by Kiri Davis, a teenage filmmaker.

In the tests administered by the Clarks and Davis, black children were presented two dolls, identical in appearance except that one was dark and the other, light. Asked which doll was bad, stupid or ugly, most of the black kids picked the black doll. Asked which was good, smart or pretty, they chose the white one.

CNN’s study was similar, except that children were presented with pictures, not actual dolls, and the images ran a color gamut from very light to very dark. One other difference: CNN tested white children along with black ones.

Which is how this little 5-year-old white girl in Georgia came to be sitting at a table facing an unseen researcher as her mother sat with O’Brien and watched on video. Asked to point out the “good child,” she touched one of the lighter-skinned figures. Why is that the good child, she was asked. “Because I think she looks like me,” the little girl said.

Asked to point out the “bad child,” she touched the darkest image on the paper. And why is that the bad child? “Because she’s a lot darker,” the little girl said.

And watching, her mother softly wept.

Your heart broke for her, because you just knew she never saw that coming. Your heart broke because you just knew she had bought into the myth that children are not soiled by the prejudices that stain their elders. Your heart broke, because how many times have you heard it said that, since they are growing up in the era of Oprah and Obama, our children will live beyond the belief that character is a function of color.

But children are not idiots. They hear us and see us. They watch television, they listen to radio, they read magazines, they live in our world. So very early on, they know what we think. And often enough, it becomes what they think, too.

Thus, it is no surprise that CNN found both black and white kids maintain a decided bias toward whiteness. For instance, 76 percent of younger white kids pointed to the darker figures when asked to identify “the dumb child.” Because this is a pilot study, those results are not definitive. But they are instructive.

So is this: A few months ago, a white teacher brought a black girl up to me as I was preparing to give a speech. The teacher wanted me to talk to her. She doesn’t think she is beautiful, said the teacher, because she is dark. I asked the girl if this was true and in a soft voice, with eyes averted, she said that it was.

And man, what do you say to that? How do you explain the psychology of self-loathing and the futility of judging oneself by someone else’s beauty standards, and the cumulative psychological weight of 400 years of being told you are not good enough and the need to embrace and love and value yourself just as you are? How to explain all that in 90 seconds or less while people are pulling at you, and the event is about to begin and you’ve got a speech to give and this little girl won’t even look up?

I did the best I could. It was not nearly good enough.

As I watched her walk away, I was troubled by my failure to make the case. And by the enduring need to do so. We are over 40 years beyond the Civil Rights Movement, 40 years beyond a burst of pride and racial consciousness that transfigured our very understanding of what it means to be black, 40 years into a future where Michael Jordan is an icon, Bill Cosby is a national father figure and a Kenyan’s son is president of these United States.

FORTY YEARS. And still ...

And STILL.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com

Comments

weeslicket 3 years, 11 months ago

hey!! mr. shewmon, and mr. barry penders:

when was the last time-- if ever -- you were ever referred to (directly, by anyone) as a "cracker"????

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demonfury 3 years, 11 months ago

If you look at the articles written by Lenny here over the last 4-5 years, you will find the ratio of articles that include his skin color outweighs those that do not mention it, approximately 8-1. In my opinion, that's a person who has major race issues, not someone who puts journalism before self agendas. It's too bad, because years ago, Lenny used to be a good read. Then he won his pulitzer, and went straight into his own agenda, knowing he was seemingly untouchable. I don't know which is more sad, him or his agenda. And he wonders why he is discriminated against ?????

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 11 months ago

Why did the supreme court refuse to look at the case of Obama's citizenship, place of birth and/or if he had dual citizenship? The left went berzerk when Bush was rightfully declared the president in 2000 by the supreme court, but are perfectly fine that there is a big (?) on Obama's citizenship status that has been let go. You won't see the corrupt media pushing for the review, you never did and you never will.

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Bob Kraxner 3 years, 11 months ago

Why doesn't this racist named Pitts just come on out and scream it..."I HATE WHITE PEOPLE, because I wish I was one" he's already said so in different words, many many times. Why does LJW even print his racist articles?

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Ray Parker 3 years, 11 months ago

Mr. Pitts is a sterotypical race-baiter.

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barrypenders 3 years, 11 months ago

The Pitts could have brought up that the "Have" Poser, has done as much for the Country as the "Have" Eldrick Woods, has done for "Golf". But that would have been 'Profiling' and PADs are against 'Profiling'.

Keep it in the fairway.

Stimulus, Bent PAD, and Posercare live unprecedented

Darwin bless us all

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Tamara Degner 3 years, 11 months ago

Race has been continually brought into conversations by Obama himself. I am more than positive that Obama is the cause for the “racism” going on in our society today. The immigration law in Arizona has nothing to do with racism and neither does Obama being president. It is in fact the Obama administration that is calling others racists. And some of you are eating it up in agreement.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 11 months ago

The fact is, the have-nots who practically pulled a hamstring running to the voting booth to vote for The Anointed One, realize they've been duped and they're not too happy. You have to confess, the elections and primaries that have taken place thus far into The Anointed One's first and only term are definitely not swinging in the left's favor.

Arrogance diminishes wisdom.

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barrypenders 3 years, 11 months ago

Evidently, those that don't "Have" what the "Haves" have, are using 'Skin Color' as a tool to not be a "Have not".

Why is "America" the only place that the "Have nots" use 'Skin Color' as a tool to get the "Haves" stuff?

Maybe the Pitts using the 'R' word will help get the 'Stuff' the 'Have Nots' demand.

Stimulus, Light Skinned Stuff, and Posercare live unprecedented

Darwin bless us all

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 11 months ago

Seems the more Obama proves to be the failure many thought he would be, the more the left cries, "RACISM!"

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 11 months ago

The fact is one generation from now it will be painful (or rather, more painful) to be white in America. Hopefully, I'll be suffering from enough dementia, I won't know it----or dead.

May God Bless!

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tange 3 years, 11 months ago

It's the butterfly effect. A butterfly beat its wings 400 years ago.

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Fred Whitehead Jr. 3 years, 11 months ago

Tom, what is this fixation with "Kool-Aid"? I think I have heard this new "ism" used in context with such limbaughisms as "damned liberal", "socialist", "regime" "state-run media" and other common blatherisms that are creaated by the low life puss bimbo. You relly liove this lovable Nazi??? I bet you watch "Hogan's Heros".

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dogsandcats 3 years, 11 months ago

Have you ever watched a rap video? Can you honestly say that the words "bad" "mean" and "dumb" don't come to mind? Before you call me a racist, think about it. That particular segment of black society is perpetuating their own stereotypes and broadcasting them all over. That is the message that is going straight to kids and without any kind of education or experience otherwise, that is what kids are going to think. As an adult, I am able to reason that one image like that does not represent an entire race of people, but does a 5 year old have that ability?

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geekin_topekan 3 years, 11 months ago

I took a similar test at the university. It was created by some ivy leaguers. It said that I had a slight inclination to associate black with negative images and white with positive. It also showed that I associated white/Europe and Non-white/American.

Go figure.

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Fred Whitehead Jr. 3 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Liberty_One 3 years, 11 months ago

I wonder about the validity of the conclusions being drawn from this test. If the test was done with white faces and green faces, and the same results occurred, what would be the conclusion then? Would we call it "Wizard of Oz" bias because the wicked witch had a green face?

The problem with such a test is it doesn't rule out that there is a third, intervening factor, generating the results of which the test isn't controlling for.

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beatrice 3 years, 11 months ago

Amazing how once again a story on race quickly becomes another case of kill the messenger. People don't like knowing the truth when it comes to race and racial biases in this country. Very sad. To dismiss it because it is coming from children, even sadder.

Oh well, best to complain about the hardships whites face in America. I mean, the President is for once not a white guy! Oh no!! As Tom recently claimed, whites have no power right now. One man, and a wise Latina woman, have taken it all away! And some here apparently agree.

Boo hoo, the troubles of being white in America. Glenn Beck needs to do a series on this. Nobody knows the troubles I've seen ...

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Mike Ford 3 years, 11 months ago

emceeclean, you have twelve or more federally recognized Indian tribes plus many of the Brown people from Mexico are also Indigenous peoples there. The Yaqui and Tohono Odd'ham people have tribal members on both sides of the border. With this many Indigenous Brown people being harrassed by a caucasian minority the similarities of a caucasian minority running over an African majority in South Africa during Apartheid and similarities of a caucasian minority harrassing a Brown majority are what they are. Arizona was largely Indigenous and Spanish until the Mexican War of 1845-47 and the Gadsden Purchase of 1852-53. Arizona wasn't a state until 1912.. The Brown element has never gone away.

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mom_of_three 3 years, 11 months ago

I will admit I grew up with parents, grandparents and relatives who were racist. Most kids do not see the error of the parents' ways, but I and a few of my cousins did. We see people for who they are, and not the color of their skin. We can't explain why we think differently than the people who raised us, but kids do have a way of figuring out right from wrong without following the example of their parent.

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TrooGrit 3 years, 11 months ago

Does this guy not know how to write about anything else? This must be the umpteenth billionth time he writes about race! The man is truly obsessed! I did read about half of it, and decided it's just "one more Pitts column".

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50YearResident 3 years, 11 months ago

Leonard says, But children are not idiots. They hear us and see us. They watch television, they listen to radio, they read magazines, they live in our world. So very early on, they know what we think. And often enough, it becomes what they think, too. To get an idea of who is good and who is bad just watch the KC 6 O'clock news. Kids watch along with their parents at this hour. Now this is just a statement of facts. Make a note of the crime statistics that are shown and who the offenders are. A lot can be learned about who are the bad guys in the news. Now don't you think this can also influence a kids opinion? If you don't like what you see then make an effort to change the images.

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Mike Ford 3 years, 11 months ago

You know tom, the Navajos, Hopis, Zunis, Yavapais, Havasupais, Wavapais, Pimas, Apaches, Paiutes, Quechans, Yaquis, and Tohono Odd'hams called Arizona home for many generations long before the caucasians put in the Butterfield Stage line to agitate and commit relocation and genocide against the Apache people and have Kit Carson force the Navajos on the Long Walk. Arizona has been a state since 1912. It would be nice if the Sun Belt Carpetbaggers remembered who is originally from Arizona and who came to Arizona to take water and minerals and scenery. This isn't ancient history. It's not even a century old. The hint is there is nothing to celebrate with that goofy flag of yours other than you support the harrassment of anyone who is a Brown Indigenous person so that the Sun Belt immigrants can run everything. Studied South Africa or read the Botha family anyone? tell me if there is a difference?

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weeslicket 3 years, 11 months ago

note to mr. shwemon: this editorial is NOT about politics. please attempt to read it again.
(do you really get called "cracker" a lot?)

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tange 3 years, 11 months ago

Tom's just needful of attention.

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tange 3 years, 11 months ago

It is ignorance— arrogant ignorance—which persists.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 11 months ago

Looks like Obama's "home" district in HI are racists too. They just went for the Republican in the special election. Wow! Things just are not shaping up for Dems this fall.

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cato_the_elder 3 years, 11 months ago

Kansastruthteller, the way to break the cycle of poverty and lack of education for those who are mired in it is to do away with government handouts altogether and demand individual responsibility for one's actions, get the federal government out of public education altogether, and reduce both taxes and government spending at all levels in order to fire up our economy and create jobs in the private sector. It will take a generation to do it, but it can be done. It won't be done by liberal Democrats, whose retention of power is directly based on making as many citizens as possible dependent on government largesse of all kinds at all levels.

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kansastruthteller 3 years, 11 months ago

I saw a segment on the test and black kids pointed to white drawings as being bad, why isn't that being reported?

Look at the crap said about teapartiers - because they are white and oppose Obama's agenda they must be racist. Simply not true.

Lest not forget history. It was a white president that led the charge to free black slaves and thousands of whites gave their lives for the freedom of blacks.

It was a white administration and white politicians that voted for civil rights.

Sure, there are racist hate mongering whites even today, but that has nothing to do with the color of their skin, but instead is who they are. Just like Farakhan and Wright are simply even men that preach hatred toward whites and the color of their skin is not reflective of their race.

Being against illegal immigration and crime does not make one a racist. And the truth is, everyone, Asian, Black, Hispanic or White will gravitate towards other like them. And being alike, isn't just about skin color. It also has to do with socioeconomic status and education.

Want to change the world - figure out a way to break the cycle of poverty and lack of education for those that are mired in it; generation after generation.

Want a color-blind world? Then act it, even towards whites.

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morganlefay 3 years, 11 months ago

It goes both ways. White people are discriminated against everyday in this society too.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years, 11 months ago

I guess I have to agree with Pitts today on peoples skin color perception(s). Just take very our own senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D) NV for example. Harry Reid certainly is not a child. He certainly is not an idiot (well??) and he is above all, a Democrat----supposedly charged full of tolerance, political correctness and open-mindedness, right?

Reid said of Obama during the pres. race that Obama could become the country’s first black president because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Of course, he apologized and Dems and the corrupt liberal media hailed Harry for his bravado. Yet, when Trent Lott made a meant-to-be-humorous comment at Strom Thurmond's birthday party that if we had elected Thurmond way back when, we would not have the problems we have, he was tortured and forced out by Dems and the media and a few even in his own party. Would Dems ever be as convicted? Nuh-uh. The media gives 'em a pass--notsamuch for Repubs.

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Roland Gunslinger 3 years, 11 months ago

I saw a portion of this where a kid wouldn't point to any of the kids when asked the questions. When asked which one was nice or bad he said "I don't know... I'd have to spend time with them to know that."

When asked which one was smart he said "I'd have to ask them some questions to know that. Like multiplication... "

It was obvious this kids parents talk to him about race and not judging others based on it.

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Roland Gunslinger 3 years, 11 months ago

I saw a portion of this where a kid wouldn't point to any of the kids when asked the questions. When asked which one was nice or bad he said "I don't know... I'd have to spend time with them to know that."

When asked which one was smart he said "I'd have to ask them some questions to know that. Like multiplication... "

It was obvious this kids parents talk to him about race and not judging others based on it.

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cato_the_elder 3 years, 11 months ago

I used to enjoy Pitts' columns, but ever since Obama was elected all he writes about is race. I remember a wonderfully moving column he wrote a few years back about his relationship with his daughter. I've looked for another such column from him, but he's let his obsession with race overwhelm his professional career. So much for the election of Obama resulting in a "post-racial" America.

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barrypenders 3 years, 11 months ago

Poor The Pitts. The little fella has the Poser in 'Air Force One' making all the calls, and still, he has to play the "Cliche Cards" to 'Fix' his 'Emotionality' needs. What would the 'Pitts' do without european descendents to 'Attack' with all those terms from the PADs 'Pitty-Guilt' playbook?

Tisk tisk.

Stimulus, , and Posercare live unprecedented

Darwin bless us all

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cowboy 3 years, 11 months ago

Pretty sad , children reflect back to us the biases we teach indirectly. The recent immigration and tea party fringe has unleashed the racists. in the past two weeks I have listened to three different folks go on rants about Obama and mexican immigrants and use the word hate while getting really riled up. They thought because I was older and white I would share their hate. I haven't seen this kind of hate displayed in my 50 some years . who was the first racist I ever met ? A grandmother , lock the doors so the n......... can't get ya . My mother set us little kids real straight as youngsters that if she ever heard us say or treat anyone like that there would be heck to pay.

There are great and rotten people of every color and most are quite easily identifiable without casting a large net.

Sad indeed , and it takes generations to get rid of.

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jonas_opines 3 years, 11 months ago

Man, the Spot the Pitts Column from most discussed is too easy to be fun.

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jaywalker 3 years, 11 months ago

How fortuitous then that race relations aren't dependent on 5 year olds.

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Eride 3 years, 11 months ago

This article itself is racist. In fact, if I could report it for violating this sites BS "TOS" I would.

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