Is Racism Natural?

Written by Claire Colvin

There was a video on CNN yesterday that stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t footage from Thailand, or election coverage.  It is a video of a little 5 year old girl  sitting in front of an image of 5 cartoon children.

The children are all wearing the same dress and the same expression, only the color of their skin is different.  An interviewer asks the little girl “who is the smart child?” “who is the mean child?” Over and over the little girl assigns all of the positive characteristics to the white children and all of the negative characteristics to the darkest skinned child.

I sat and watched, saddened and a little heartbroken until the interviewer asked the girl “Why is she the good child” and the little girl says “Because I think she looks like me.”

That really got my attention.

I’ve always thought of racism as a great evil that is taught, that somehow, for some reason we teach children to hate.  But I found her answer very illuminating.  Don’t we, as adults, assume the best of the people are who are most like us? Could the roots of racism really be that simple?

Just because it’s a natural response certainly doesn’t mean it’s acceptable or good and it doesn’t excuse us from taking active steps to combat our own wrong thinking. Later on in the clip, the girl’s mother fights back tears as she whispers “I guess she just hasn’t been exposed.”   I wonder about my own childhood – were the children in my story books the same color as I am? Were the dolls I played with?

I know that part of what made Star Wars such a game changer is that Lucas intentionally played with this thinking.  In the movies the Jedis, the good guys, all wear dark colors while the Storm Troopers, the harbingers of evil, are clad in sparkling white.

It’s easy to watch this little girl and think “wow, that’s sad” but what do I see when I look at my own thinking? What do you see when you look at yours?

How do you combat the mistaken thought that “people who look like me are better”?

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36 Responses to “Is Racism Natural?”

  • Tiffany says:

    wow. So I guess the blacks and dark hispanics aren’t exaggerating

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    I think it’s like any form of discrimination, it’s almost impossible to see how bad it really is if it is not aimed at you. I wonder if anyone has tried this same test with darker skinned children, if they choose the good child as the one that looks most like them too?

  • allison says:

    what is even sadder is that as an afram am women, if u go to other places besides the US, it is not nearly as bad, this is a legacy of slavery and its results of the sin of favoritism which in the book of james spoken about as sin. As a child i didn’t know I was ‘bad’ until somebody told me. God never said that, somebody else did, that little girl is picking up on her family or society or the news, but somebody told her. it is not an innate quality, as with everything else is must be learned.

  • allison says:

    they would pick the light child even if they were black, this is because of slavery because if you go to other places it is not nearly as bad as the us. I didn’t know i was any different from the white kids in my class as a child, until somebody from the ‘outside’ told me. God NEVER said that, this is learned behavior.Some kids have red, hair or look different, it is human nature to wonder about those different from you, it is fear, but it’s only if everyone in your group looks exactly the same. eLse how would she know the difference. Somebody told her that. the same way kids curse, they hear it from somewhere. Whether people want to admit it or not. News, parents whatever, she didn’t just have that innate, somebody told her it was wrong because it was different. I’m afr-am

  • Angie says:

    Racism is a deliberate action to include or exclude, like or dislike, etc. based upon one’s color or race. However, these children based their choices by what was familiar to them, and the images that they see projected on TV. Children are not born racist!

  • allison says:

    Amen. And what do you think they see, MLK or the NAACP or black people doing good? no they see the news and what the media perpetuates, i’d think black folks are bad too, if I don’t know that there are good blacks folks and bad white folks and good white folks. ditto, Children are not born racist. There are some beautiful parts of Africa,and other countries, but 9 times out of ten you will see starving children so you think that’s all there is. I know because I have been there and seen it with my eyes, it is easier to find the wrong that to highlight the good. There is no way this child would know that living where she lives, so i’d see we are the ones with the disadvantage.

  • something says:

    Racism is learned.. this is false.. I feel like this is a non-colored person trying to cover up the truth by making the statement that it is “natural”

  • stacieking1 says:

    I think all races have some form of natural racism. Everybody questions somebody different from what they know. It happens on all sides of the coin sadly. I personally have an interest in cultures. I think the way black people talk is cool, the way cowboys talk is cool, hispanics can be sexy (women) and asian – as long as they don’t talk crap about you while they are doing your nails are cool too.

  • stacieking1 says:

    Unfortunatley when people get with their own race against another, they try to gang up. You see it everywhere

  • AndreaW FaithTraveler says:

    I thought just because I dated a black guy, I wasn’t racist. It took a friend in high school to point out my own negative feelings towards a completely different ethnic group for me to realize how I reacted when I was in the minority and felt somehow that my culture would disappear.Sometimes we don’t even realize our own presuppositions and sometimes we need to be told how our thinking is unnecessarily dividing people. Racism can be subtle or blatant, but it’s very real. The good news is that the racism you learned as a child can be unlearned- it is your choice what thoughts you embrace. For a vision of reconciliation I often turn to a certain preacher….”Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.I have a dream today!” Martin Luther King, Jr. Excerpt from “I Have a Dream,” 28 August 1963.

  • Catrina says:

    I live in a Valley that has more hispanics than any other race. It is the first time I have felt as the minority. It angers me when I hear a hispanic or african american talking about the whites as racist because down here, it’s the hispanics that are racists. Drives me nuts, though it also helps me understand a few things, most importantly how the “minorities” must feel. Also and I’m sad to say this but I’m also being completely honest how being descriminated against can make you a racist…because I generally have nothing good to say about hispanics (sorry, I know it’s totally unfair)

  • waterbug says:

    Yes racisim is a reality, usually when there is a majority culture in one spot. When you and yours are all there is around, anyone different becomes “abnormal”. When you think about it, even what we call discrimination that’s not to do with national culture (ie, against women, against the poor, against the disabled, against “whatever”) is really still what we call “racism” today. That’s why I’d prefer to call it what is really is, “discrimination”. I’ve been to other countries where racism is much worse than in North America… I like this video…it’s done by someone who himself was a racist, so he’s felt the hate against others in a way that I never have…what he says makes a lot of sense to me… http://www.iamsecond.com/#/seconds/Ken_Hutcherson/

  • Pollynkorect says:

    I’m white and I’m racist. As a young person I accepted the idea thatracism was bad and that I should change in order to make non-whites feel better about themselves. As I have grown older I have rejected this premise. Liberals claim homosexuals are born that way and there’s nothing wrong with same-sex sexual preference. I’ve decided that I was born racist, and there’s nothing wrong with same-race preference — no matter what 5 out of 4 Supreme Court justices say. I reject the notion that I should hide my racism or be ashamed of it, or make myself miserable pretending to like people I don’t want to be around. Go ahead and judge me if you want. I accept myself the way I am, and remember my segregated youth with fondness. Integration has in no way improved my life or America’s educational system. Instead it has created a nation of liars who, out of fear, stupidity or brainwashing, profess the lie that the race who put men on the moon is the same as the race who never invented an alphabet or mathematics. To acknowledge the truth isn’t hate. It’s sanity.

  • Claire Colvin Claire says:

    Pollynkorect If you truly believe that no non-white person has ever created an alphabet how do you explain the 2 000 languages that exit in Africa? Your information is simply incorrect.

  • Hey Pollykorect,

    You say you were born racist. I’m just wondering if you believe in creation or evolution?

  • Justin Time says:

    Racism is not natural. However, “groupism” is. Who’s in and out of a group has changed with time and place. This modern idea of “race” is a fictitious myth like myths that other groupings created for themselves and against those considered outsiders.

    If people were to all become identical clones tomorrow, it seems that humanity would find some other way to fracture itself.

    People should just wake up and realise that we’re all human and no one’s merde stinks more than another’s. OK?!

  • Alex Kumar says:

    I’m still not sure that racism is inbuild into our genes.
    Centuries ago, people were exposed to less media, but white people were strongly presented as superior to members of other races. Nowadays, there’s less racism in on the television, but white people are still often presented as people you can trust, whereas people who look ‘foreign’ are always supposedlly people you can’t trust. The media is less racist, but there’s a lot more exposure to it.

  • catfantastic Cat says:

    It’s not just about positive and negative images. It’s about who gets the privilege of being portrayed as “normal.” When the average joe and jane are consistently portrayed as straight, white, able-bodied, middle-class people, the decisions that get made tend to leave out everyone else.

    It’s true that people tend to prefer the people they’re culturally conditioned to think of as being like themselves, no matter how equally much like themselves the other folks tend to be. Ye gods, look at how the English portrayed the Irish, for centuries. But that is cultural conditioning, and it’s also politically motivated.

    Also, it is in fact true that the “races” that invented mathematics and the first alphabet–Arabs and Phoenicians respectively–have never been to the moon.

  • Brad Richert says:

    While I am not surprised that at least one comment like Pollynkorect’s made it on this discussion, I am interested in why Sheldon, a Power to Change mentor, brought up the discussion between creationist ideology and evolutionary theory. That Sheldon presented his question as a dichotomy leads me to believe that he is either an atheistic evolutionist or a young earth creationist – I’ll assume the latter for obvious reasons.

    Since Pollynkorect elaborated on her KKK-like reasoning, maybe Sheldon could elaborate on the reasoning for his question. Whether one understands the mechanics of evolution and/or believes in a Creator has nothing to do with the choice to act on the innate preference to favour those similar to us.

    What evolution does teach us, however, is the biological reason that we have this innate preference. While early Christians and Jews believed used the Bible to prove that the sons of Ham were cursed, scientists (yes, including the dreaded Richard Dawkins), have effectively posited that racism is an extension of tribalism and even familial protectionism.

    We protect our children before anyone else – why? Because they are the propagation of our genes. As an extension, we share a greater percentage of genes with those who look like us – usually people of our own “race”. Tribalism is the result of like families coming together and protecting one another from the “unknowns” or the “unlikes”.

    Racism proper is simply the belief that there are inherent differences in people’s traits and capacities that are entirely due to their race. This is scientifically false, but not necessarily immoral or unethical. What is immoral and unethical, from both a secular humanist and contemporary progressive Pauline Christian standpoint, is the social and legal justification to discriminate based on those racial differences.

    We will naturally gravitate to those “like” us. Just look at our schools – elementary & high school. In segregated communities, whether state-enforced or status-enforced, you can see how racial discriminated is exasperated. Rich white kids hand out with other rich white kids. Discrimination is rampant. However, in communities that have a multicultural balance, you see kids who have overcome that innate preference of “like”.

    I write in hopes that we will not confront that ugly is-ought debate. Creationists cannot have the naturalistic fallacy both ways. Simply because something IS, as in the reality of our natural world, does not mean that is how it OUGHT to be.

    For a definitive treatise on understanding evolution, see Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God”. For a reason why every Christian should believe that evolution is true, see Francis Collins’ “The Language of God”. Finally, to truly understand racial preference, see Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene”.

  • Brad, thank you for your comments. I don’t personally see evolution and creation as being diametrically opposed. I do think that a person can believe in evolution and believe in God. I wouldn’t go as far to say that “every Christian should believe that evolution is true.” There are, AFAIK, still some lingering questions about evolution that haven’t (yet?) been answered and some very smart, credentialed and respectable Christian scientists do not believe that evolution is true. (Also, there are those who are neither young-earth creationists nor Christian evolutionists, there are many such as astrophysicist Hugh Ross of Reasons.org who are not young-earthers yet also do not believe evolution of a macro-variety is true.)

    It’s unfortunate that the Bible has sometimes been used as a tool for racist ideologies (“sons of Ham” et al) as you’ve noted, thankfully our understanding of the Word has progressed beyond such ideas, similarly to how scientific ideas have progressed beyond misguided notions of eugenics or phrenology. This isn’t to say the Word changes, it’s to suggest that when fallible people interpret it we sometimes come to incorrect conclusions, thankfully as a community we can work towards increasingly accurate interpretations.

    You bring up an interesting point when you note that “Simply because something IS, as in the reality of our natural world, does not mean that is how it OUGHT to be.” I can understand how this would apply to naturalistic evolution, but you seem to suggest that it applies to Christians as well? I don’t see why, given the existence of God, that the is-ought fallacy would apply? This sort of brings us back to the original question. If, as you say, racism is “not necessarily immoral or unethical” then I don’t see why a person who takes a naturalistic perspective would have any recourse to say that it is wrong. And if it’s not wrong, then it should be accepted (especially if it is “natural”). Of course I am playing devil’s advocate here, since I think racism is immoral, therefore wrong, and therefore should not be accepted.

  • bingbing says:

    For people who are Asians like me who live in poor Asian countries, we don’t put significance to people who are “LIKE US”—but people who are whiter—-meaning Caucasians. We were thought that the Westerners are the brightest, richest and most supreme race of all. From the books we read, and the movies we watch, all images shown to us that Asians and blacks are designated with “inferior” roles, thus discrimination against them is so strong even for us, non-whites.

  • Bernard Bernard says:

    Yes, and in reality when we read in the Bible that God tells us that we are all human and equal because we are all sinful. Thus that is our natural state. Somehow, we end liking who we we are like and because of our sinful nature we end up comparing with others and making judgments that are not based on the Truth of God.
    If we would end up putting on ourselves the high value God put on us when He died on the Cross for us we would not compare. We would just accept each other according to those values. I also left some room for all of your thoughts.

  • Andrew Andrew says:

    Bingbing and other Blogers,

    In pictures of Jesus that I see he is Caucasian however people who have died for a few minutes seen Jesus and came back to Earth they say the pictures do not look like Jesus. I think the racist will be shocked when they see Christ sitting beside the Heavenly Father as the blood line that Jesus came through was of Jewish heritage and the majority of Jewish people are of a darker color skin and not pure white as the pictures portray him to be. Ultimately if we are rejecting or belittling other races by thinking that because they don’t look like me they are not as good we are defying God’s creation and more so the son of God Jesus Christ as if we think that people look like me are better then we are rejecting the way Christ looked…. . Just a thought…

  • Mirror says:

    similar studies haven been done with babies. so its NOT learned, its natural to prefer what is not foreign. liking foreigner is LEARNED.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html

    what is frightening how afraid we are of accepting this. we get blind in this area, it is such a tabu…yes human being are not so good.yes we have instincts which used to save our lives in the past. animals attack when they think they are in danger. this prejudice saves loves. we are not machines yet, there is still a lot of this animal in us. accept it, be tolerant with the human race. if you cannot, dont call yourself tolerant anymore…..we hate what is too close too us but not acceptable

  • catfantastic Cat says:

    Mirror–the article says that kids will tend to prefer those they see as being like themselves, and will use any old excuse to make those distinctions. But that doesn’t mean those distinctions carry forward into adulthood. What’s “us,” and the nature of the relationship between “us” and “them,” is culturally determined, and the prejudices that actually do survive are backed by networks of tradition and systemic discrimination. We know that can change, because dynamics of that sort have changed in the past, but I think the article is saying that so-called colour-blindness isn’t a solution to racism.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    Good point Cat. I too just read the article and would have to agree with you that it is more about what children are seeing around them then that they have to learn to like people of other races. It is no different than children and food. They have to learn to like food that is different. I don’t think Mirror, that you can make statements about racism based on this study.

  • Denise says:

    That is exactly why we need integrated schools and programs that show the good and bad characters as coming from all races, nationalities, both genders, etc.

    Some years ago, I pointed out to my husband that on the tv news each evening if they were showing a story about a robber, rapist, or murderer they would describe him (or her) as was black or hispanic but other times there was no description at all. I told him I expected those perpetrators must have been white/caucasion. He listened for a number of months and found it to be true. In a relatively few recent years I and my husband have seen a shift and now hear descriptions of perpatrators as white and have not heard as many stories that leave off the description all together. Of course, the descriptions of blacks and hispanics remain and they should; or all descriptions should be dropped.

    This kind of thing reinforces our nature and our nurture or breaks the chains tying us to our sinful self. We need to decide as a culture if we will be moral and teach moral attitudes or not. What children learn in one aspect of life they carry to aspects.

    Denise

  • sharon says:

    I believe a divine God who’s ways are not our ways and thoughts not our thoughts proved he was against racism since “The Tower of Babel” when these people wanted to
    stay in the same place and make themselves famous God confused their language and they couldn’t understand each other and had to move across the world..thus here we are still trying to do the same thing, but things are changing vastly among races and nations and will are going to see some things in the not so distance future that’s probably going to shock racist or all creeds and nations.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    Thanks for taking the time to visit and leave a comment, Denise and Sharon. I think you are so right Denise, so much of it really is what we communicate and how we communicate it. Before God there is no difference….

  • Mirror says:

    Me, being of “mixed race”´I can hardly believe Western moralists:
    I think the reason why “you/we” do not manage to fight racism, even in “advanced societies” is exactly that it is a fight. its like when you are on diet- as long as you fight, you never succeed long-term. I have noticed that its particularly white Western Europeans (in my country)that are so “tolerant”! in the rest of the world and among migrants from the rest of the world – this topic is treated much more natural and honest. White people seem to suppess all their natural racism (and so it grows in the unconscience). I noticed that I am much less racist that many of the so-called “tolerant” moralists, who get kind of aggressive when they meet so-called “intolerant” people. so I dont trust them anymore….

  • B. Miller Brenda says:

    Mirror, I thank you for your comments, and I would have to agree with you. It has been my experience that my feelings and tendencies toward racism and prejudice had come from a lack of exposure to peoples from other cultures than my own in my youth. And yet, though I had no reason to be racist, I held within me a tendency to fear the unknown. I also felt a sense of shame in acknowledging this irrational fear, and so my tendency was to want to hide it and to moralize, as you have said, which did not help at all. It has only been in allowing the Perfect Love of Jesus to melt away my fear so I could reach out beyond my comfort zone and begin making friendships with all the people that he gave me the opportunity to meet that I was able to overcome this fear and prejudice in my life. Today, I see the need for open communication with honesty and a sincere desire to hear one another without defensiveness and a genuine recognition that racism and prejudice is alive and well in our society, and it is clearly against the loving call of Christ Jesus to be one in Him. Jesus does not look at our outsides, and neither are we to look at the outside, but at the reborn spirit that makes us one with each other and, therefore, brothers and sisters in Him. At the same time, it is not possible to ignore the truth that healing needs to occur in the process of forgiveness before trust can be restored in relationships damaged by racism.

  • Mirror says:

    @Brenda:I am not a Christian myself but I remember that Jesus often defended sinners, and critisized the Pharisee. He was not impressed with thei acting like they were little gods while their heart was not pure….
    Honestly, what is racism? nothing else but anttipathy for a certain type of people. something that we all have. What makes it special when it is about race, it could be any other variable (religion,opinion,education,hobbies…).Ifyou love poeple, you also accept their mistakes….so you dont need to judge the sinners anymore….

  • B. Miller Brenda says:

    Mirror,I completely agree with you; loving people is the absolute key to overcoming! Thank you so much.

  • It’s funny that when growing up ( mid sixties in Zambia Southern Africa) I had no issue with black and white and my classmates were simply friends, or others I didn’t like were simply different from my interests. After the age of 12 I started getting more exposed to the world, realized there were differences between black and white, learnt about segregation in America, apartheid in South Africa and how my own parents were discriminated upon in my country in Zambia in Southern Africa. I suppose the realization that we are different is from the time we become aware of ourselves, sexually, physically and then race and cultures. However this phase passes again when you mature to realize that human beings are all the same and that we have the good the bad and the ugly in all races and societies.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    So true Swithin…I like what you said that this phases passed ‘when you mature to realize that human beings are all the same and that we have the good the bad and the ugly in all races and societies.” Well said!

  • unknown says:

    I love God and I love myself, that is why I can love everyone. I think i’m beautiful and I celebrate the beauty in others. I think Racism is also fueled by jealousy. It’s fueled by self hatred. You mirror what you feel about yourself. As a child, I was never affected by racism. I knew I was what I was and I knew what other people were, but if I disliked a person it was based on attitude not appearance. Even to this day, I do not care about outside appearances. I judge based on character. God has shown me that the only thing to hate in this world is SIN.

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