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

Evan Ridenour 5 years ago

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

jaywalker 5 years ago

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

jaywalker 4 years, 12 months ago

Hopefully a life of immersion in different cultures along with a solid education will enable them to open their minds and embrace humanity regardless of pigmentation.

jonas_opines 5 years ago

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

jaywalker 5 years ago

Same can be said for Cal Thomas' columns. I wonder if they realize this. Doesn't speak well for journalistic originality.

cowboy 5 years 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.

Fatty_McButterpants 4 years, 12 months ago

Probably use far fewer unnecessary 'apostrophes', if 'you' get what 'I' am 'saying'.

cato_the_elder 5 years 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.

grammaddy 5 years ago

How naive to think that the election of the 1st Black President would solve the country's 400 year old race problems.

Corey Williams 5 years ago

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

emceelean 5 years ago

Reid meant that Obama's skin tone was a boon to his candidacy. Not because it was a reflection of his character, but because millions of white voters likely found him more affable due to some of them being bigots.

He was simply commenting on the possibility that perhaps subconsciously racist voters felt less threatened by him based on their own flawed conceptions. Conceptions based on something as trivial as a man's skin color.

Joking that Strom Thurmond would have impacted the current landscape by preventing "problems" irrevocably means that Trent Lott considers blacks to be "problems."

Suggesting that -- even in jest -- indicates that Trent Lott is a bigot.

emceelean 5 years ago

Tom, buddy, I am disappointed that you took the time to call me a dunce without quantifying the extent of the duncery.

Also, I think the fact that you rebuked me personally rather than forming a response relative to my claims indicates that you are either unwilling or incapable of devising the absent rhetoric.

I do not, know Harry and cannot say for sure that he is not a racist. If he is, he hides it better than Strom and Trent.

That being said, I do think the fact the he chose to say "Negro" is slightly unsettling. Albeit not technically incorrect, its use as a pejorative would prevent ME from using it to describe anyone.

So, there, I'll meet you halfway. Would you do the same for me?

morganlefay 5 years ago

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

emceelean 5 years ago

Kanyeezy disrespecting Taylor Swift was rude, yes. But what did it have to do with race? I think he was judging Beyonce and Taylor based on their records. And, I gotta say, B-day was a smash.

Also, I've convinced myself (through speculation) that the incident was probably initiated by the producers of the award show. I can imagine them telling Kanye, to "feel free to run amok" for the sake of strengthening their brand.

Also, I think your kool-aid references are probably inspired by my handle. No, I do not nor do I advocate the abuse of Codeine/Promethazine concoctions. Rather, it is a play-on-words of my last name M-c-L-e-a-n.

More to the point though, you're right, people who aren't white are also capable of racism and sometimes bear contempt towards whites. They are therefore bigots and should be condemned like every other bigot because it is a reflection of their character.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

Is discrimination why you can't get a job, Tom? Or is it just the fact you're afraid to leave your bunker?

kimmydarling 4 years, 12 months ago

I always forget what a life altering struggle it must be to be white, male and middle class in America.

Oh Tom, truly, your fight against the man moves me to tears

emceelean 5 years ago

Is it funny that I ask somebody a question with the intent of provoking a response as opposed to a non-specific claim?

Yes.

I suppose it is funny that I should expect people in this forum to elaborate on their ideas.

Nde 5 years ago

Oh don't get your panties in a bunch! And Kanye is a straight dumbass and Kool-aid makes the world go round! I just thought the idea "whites are discriminated against..." was funny! Is it just out of straight fear that some "whites" see that minorities have been seeing the "white helping hand" as a "slap in the face" and that the minority movement to take a stand is becoming stronger making some "whites" cry discrimination. Or is it the fact that the almighty, once alpha "whites" have been losing world dominance. I thought it was a joke so I thought it was FUNNY! "Peace be with you"

puddleglum 4 years, 12 months ago

that's right. discrimination is everywhere and is here to stay. some people say it is ugly. then again, it is easy to see the similarities between discrimination and wal-mart. Neither one will go away. As far as stereotypes, well stereotypes are based on repeated similar encounters-so I can't really find fault with stereotypes...just the application of them universally.

kimmydarling 4 years, 12 months ago

Yeah, it's a day to day struggle living in a world where your every interaction is geared towards making you seem normal. Where white people are on almost all magazines, television shows praising beauty tend to lead a majority towards caucasians an most if not all grooming products in department stores are geared towards white people.

sigh It must be a horrible HORRIBLE thing

kansastruthteller 5 years 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.

redfred 5 years ago

What white president led to the charge to free the slaves? Are you talking about Lincoln. He only freed the slaves because he was losing the war and then he only freed the slaves in the states that were in rebellion and not under his control. There is plenty of doucumentation to show that he did not want to free the slaves.

mom_of_three 5 years ago

you are half correct, fred. Lincoln was against slavery, but he was not going to get rid of it (immediately) where it was already legal. He wanted to prevent the spread of slavery to the west. He made the statement he would have done anything to keep the country together, including keeping the slaves.
While he freed the slaves in the states which left the union and formed a rebellion, it was to keep the south from using black labor against them.
But I have no doubt he was against slavery.

notaubermime 4 years, 12 months ago

Wrong on both accounts. While the East was a stalemate, the Union had taken large sections of Tennessee, Missouri, the Mississippi River and New Orleans by the time of the Proclamation. As far as not wanting to free the slaves, by all accounts, he worked pretty hard to get the 13th Amendment passed.

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

Right. There have been no indication at teabagger rallies that suggest racism. None what so ever.

Well, unless you read the signs people carry and listen to the rhetoric being spoken, that is.

cato_the_elder 5 years 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.

emceelean 5 years ago

That sounds like a formula for increasing homelessness, crime, and the gap between the rich and poor.

I don't understand how people advocate Libertarian ideals such as yours in a world where the populations everywhere are rising and resources and opportunities are limited. Maybe you could explain?

Also, how can a lack of education be solved with a withdrawal from public education? That seems impossible.

kansastruthteller 5 years ago

Yes and no. While we both agree that it is important to teach people how to fish and not just to give them fish, what you seem to be suggesting is to stop giving them fish before you teach them how to fish and equip them with a fishing pole.

I do believe for many, government assistance has not been just a safety net, but a means to enslave them in poverty. How do we wean the poor from government assistance when there is a culture that is unwilling to work? Sure, I'd be in favor of cutting it off completely at some point and let them either become productive or perish, but there are innocent children involved what do you do with them?

Really to break that cycle of poverty you need to get the children out of that environment. Provide them with proper health care, nutrition and education and you can break the cycle, but how do we accomplish that when we have unwilling parents who are not equipped to make that transistion?

jafs 5 years ago

With massive job outsourcing and high unemployment, where are all of the jobs?

kansastruthteller 5 years ago

Yes and no. While we both agree that it is important to teach people how to fish and not just to give them fish, what you seem to be suggesting is to stop giving them fish before you teach them how to fish and equip them with a fishing pole.

I do believe for many, government assistance has not been just a safety net, but a means to enslave them in poverty. How do we wean the poor from government assistance when there is a culture that is unwilling to work? Sure, I'd be in favor of cutting it off completely at some point and let them either become productive or perish, but there are innocent children involved what do you do with them?

Really to break that cycle of poverty you need to get the children out of that environment. Provide them with proper health care, nutrition and education and you can break the cycle, but how do we accomplish that when we have unwilling parents who are not equipped to make that transistion?

Steve Jacob 5 years ago

Two Dems vs one Rep. on the ballot. I think it's more anyone in DC is in trouble, and don't forget the far right sometimes pick right wingers in primaries, like Rand Paul. This guy already hurt himself in the one national interview he did.

weeslicket 5 years 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?)

Jaylee 4 years, 12 months ago

haha yeah i havent been called a cracker since grade school in the 90s!

when i moved to chicago, i made friends at my inner city college by calling people cracker. don't try that at home. i was a trained professional! =)

emceelean 5 years ago

I suppose I am too optimistic. An expectation of rational discourse in this venue is predicated upon my ideal that everyone conducts themselves with candor and aplomb. Oops.

Mike Ford 5 years 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?

emceelean 5 years ago

I am not too familiar with South African history or the Botha's reign as prime ministers aside from the google searches I just ran.

So you think they are congruent?

50YearResident 5 years 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.

mom_of_three 5 years 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.

Mike Ford 5 years 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.

beatrice 5 years 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 ...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

" If the test was done with white faces and green faces,"

What would the point be? To my knowledge, there are no humans with naturally green faces.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

So I guess to make it really valid study, we should also include faces with three eyes, two noses, .....

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years ago

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

Flap Doodle 4 years, 12 months ago

How many different ways can you work the N-word into a post, bub?

geekin_topekan 5 years 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.

dogsandcats 5 years 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?

puddleglum 4 years, 12 months ago

and yet these videos seem to be written with the wit of a five year old....

but be careful, someone is bound to say you are not attenuated with others' "culture"

to them I say, go watch 'cite soleil' (great movie)... then tell me how great that culture is.

emceelean 4 years, 12 months ago

Interestingly enough, who is consuming black culture and black music? Young white men.

Who is selling black culture and black music? Old white men.

puddleglum 4 years, 12 months ago

yep, capitalism will sell anything for a buck. another reason while it will ultimately fail

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years 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".

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 12 months ago

Well, Tom, we all live in a free society and all are free to state their case and position. Even phred phelps. So I guess I will just watch and comment as the occasion arises. Not much of what is said here really matters much, actually I prefer iced tea myself, I carry a jug of it to work.

But I think no one would disagree that those who claim racism is dead are wrong. I grew up in a the next state south of here and remember the dual drinking fountains, the signs on some doors for "white people only" and all the bad jokes about Liza and Rastus. I remember my mom getting on to my father for his jokes about the new black officer in his unit in the Army. Dad was an officer in WWII and back then the military was segregated, but black units had white officers and my dad had that duty at one time. As he got older, his attitude changed a lot and when some of my black friends came over to visit, I was rather amazed at the transformation in the old man. Must have done him some good, the old man lived to be 90

But there is still a lot to be done.

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

boo hoo, the poor poor whites in America!

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

How many are poor, poor whites because of the system that favors blacks in American society is keeping them that way? Zero. That is the point.

tomatogrower 4 years, 12 months ago

And Tom is hardly one of them. What a joke.

Jaylee 4 years, 12 months ago

I am a poor white, but it has nothing to do with blacks or whites.

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

Ignoring racism is a failure of many on the right.

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

Tom, you are still just a sore loser. An anti-American, anti-patriotism, anti-free elections sore loser. When we add in the "poor, poor whites" business, you are just sad.

tomatogrower 4 years, 12 months ago

Tom, I am a "have", and most of my friends are, and we voted and will vote again for Obama. hmmm, more stereotyping.

whats_going_on 4 years, 12 months ago

you remind me of my grandmother. When asked the question "if Obama directly saved a childs life (pulled him out of a burning building, saved him from drowning, etc)...would you still find something about the situation to b*tch about?"

She said, "yes"

Jaylee 4 years, 12 months ago

Tom, you were not one of these "people" you speak of who voted Obama and are disappointed, SO DON'T ACT LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT THEY FEEL! And your image created on this board doesn't exactly denote what I'd call emphatically empathetic, so don't say someone you know or are friends with fits the bill.

I, personally, haven't forgotten the logic implied when one thinks about Bush having done so much damage and how long it would take to rebuild. I never was one who thought voting Obama would solve everything immediately, as "Anointed One" assumes, so I am still very happy with my decision.

Think what you want, but point that arrogance finger some other direction.

Tamara Degner 4 years, 12 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.

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

Yes, racism in America is Obama's fault. I just never realized that Obama was 234 years old.

However, you are close to the truth. The fact that Obama is in the White House is what is bringing the racists out of the woodwork. So in essence, yes, it is Obama's fault. I'm quite sure if the old white guy had won, we wouldn't be hearing so much hatred and racism. I guess you must also blame women who are victims of rape.

Brilliant.

Tamara Degner 4 years, 12 months ago

I have no idea what rape has to do with racism, but keep reaching, you might just scare someone.......

Flap Doodle 4 years, 12 months ago

"I just never realized that Obama was 234 years old." Since we've never seen his real birth certificate, we don't really know how old he is.

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

Yep, and we've never seen Sarah Palin's actual GED.

Keep reaching snap, keep reaching.

Tamara Degner 4 years, 12 months ago

Tom, beatrice must be a far-left racist herself, just calling names and not making a point.

Jaylee 4 years, 12 months ago

jaspertamara (Tamara Degner) says…

"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. "

just saying.

beatrice 4 years, 12 months ago

How is it even possible to type when your head is buried so far in the sand?

Tamara Degner 4 years, 12 months ago

Hey there sunshine,(beatrice) you seem to be the take charge racist in this conversation. Just because someone disagrees with Obama’s policy, the leftists cry racism, the tea party people are not hollering race, they are hollering QUIT SPENDING MONEY!!!!!!! But of course, you are so busy criticizing everyone from Sarah Palin, (you must be scared) to Glen Beck. They are just two people out there expressing their opinion (obviously you are listening). As I see it, with Obama in the office he is in, and his “Oh I am sorry for America doing this or that to you, go ahead Iran and North Korea, you can have nuclear weapons. I am sure you will not use them against us or our allies”. Oops! Obama has alienated our allies. You go ahead and worship the fool in the White House. He will be voted out even if a chimpanzee runs for office.

Jaylee 4 years, 12 months ago

What the jizzm were you on yesterday barry? Sheesh!

weeslicket 4 years, 12 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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