Anderson Cooper on Trayvon Martin and the AC360° Study on Children and Race
April 3rd, 2012
04:02 PM ET

Anderson Cooper on Trayvon Martin and the AC360° Study on Children and Race

Editor's note: Watch AC360° on Wednesday for the next part of Anderson Cooper's special series "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture" at 8 and 10 p.m. ET on CNN.

Do you make judgments about other people based on their race, and if so, at what age did you start doing that? Those questions are at the heart of a study we have been working on at AC360° for more than a year.

The question of how people react to someone else's race, consciously or not, has been much discussed since the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Many of the questions surrounding the case center on what George Zimmerman was thinking in those few minutes between first laying eyes on Martin and killing him. Was race a factor, and if so, how? Obviously, there are still many details we do not know about the shooting, but when I first heard about the incident, I thought of the study we've just concluded and are airing this week. What we discovered is that for kids as young as six, perceptions of race definitely make a difference when judging other children.

As part of the study, researchers showed African-American and white children these pictures separately and asked questions such as: What’s happening here? Are these two children friends? Would their parents like it if they were friends? The pictures are designed to be ambiguous and can be interpreted in a number of ways. For many kids, when the race of the children in the pictures changed, so did their interpretation of what the picture showed.

The expert who designed this study for us said that the findings could indicate a subconscious racial bias that exists in even very young children. As our expert points out, children aren’t born into this world judging anyone by the color of their skin. They have to learn it.

The aim of this project was to look at this youngest generation and see how far weve really come as a country. I hope this study helps us all consider how our perceptions of race impact our thoughts and behaviors, and also what messages adults are passing down to children.

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Filed under: Kids on Race • Race in America • Trayvon Martin
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Theresa

    We taught our son that we are all made by God . No one is any better than the next . Our color does not determine who we are our actions do.He went to private schools and when he went to middle school had his first interaction with black students. While coming home from school a group of black teens followed him he tried to strike up a conversation. They wanted his jacket and backpack and to throw punches. Now yes He and I are aware if you see a group of black teens don't be racists or rude but keep your guard up. It is hard to make your child aware yet not racist. Then when we see on the news about all the flash mobs and gangs beatings it enforces the fear. I would rather my son be looked at as racists than be naive and be hurt or killed.

    April 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  2. Terry

    A March 2011 study in the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry journal about multiracial children pointed out that two million American children have parents of different races, making them one of the fastest growing segments in America. – obviously, there many inter-racial friendships in the US.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  3. Eva

    CNN is obsessed with race and promoting racial tensions. Every single time I open CNN I see another piece on race. I grew up in NYC and my friends were literally a big group of kids of every nationality and religion. I have photos of us all hanging out on the steps of our Junior High School, arms around each other, girls and guys, Black, White, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Chinese, Columbian. Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist. Really. I know you're trying to sell stories but I've lived abroad, most countries don't fixate on race to this extent. I don't even read your articles. It's all the same garbage. Seriously get over it and start promoting love and brotherhood. Or doesn't that sell?

    April 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Victoria

      i agree with what your saying. However you have to think outside of the city. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where the closest city with other races was 150 miles away. Two completely different worlds if you want to compare NYC to the small town. Consider yourself lucky for having the opportunity to have such diversity within your reach!
      I think it’s a great thing that they have so many POSITVE, truthful and raw articles and interviews on race. Sometimes it’s the only way to get people to really think about race and HOW they can get their children to be open about it. My daughter personally does not have an issue with race, she’s only three, but I make sure she is around other races, plays and talks with other races and that she sees it at such a young age that it’s OKAY to do so.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  4. mike

    why is anyone surprised that kids are developing opinions on race at such an early age?? society is obsessed with it. everything is based on it. it's in your face 24/7. the worst offenders are the ones who say they wish we could get beyond a person's skin color. there is racisim in america, but it's not the epidemic some try to make it out to be. also, it does not go one way. all races take someones ethnic background, skin color, etc into account whether they want to admit it or not. if we want to get beyond this, focus on the real racisism and stop playing the race card everytime you dont get your way.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  5. Susan

    Kids aren't born racists, they are taught it at home. Parents need to teach them acceptance, tolerance, and kindness. They need to live it themselves, before their kids will truly respect differences. You can't blame the schools for the ways the kids live at home, only for behavior that is not dealt with at school.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  6. mike

    Bullying is as human as humans are animals. Ever watch how chickens or ducks or other animals behave in their natural environment? They all bully in some form or fashion, and it'salways the stronger bullying the weaker, or the majority against the minority. Throw a brown chicken in among white or black chickens and the brown one is gonna get abused. this animal process eliminates the weaker and the "different" from the population. Now humans can't do that in a land of laws. Physical intimidation needs to be corralled and corrected as much as possible – particularly in schools. What about bullying in the workplace? It happens every day in most work environments be it the lumberyard or the skyscraper office. Bottom line is that bullying is in our genes and we must strive to control it and success depends on the individual and the societal mores. But it ain't going to go away no matter what types of rules and laws passed to protect the weak so we need to understand that it's always t here but may not happen if individuals don't put themselves in "bullying" harms way.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  7. Nik

    I'm curious as to why all of the studies in race in America are about whites and African Americans, what about Hispanics, Indians, Asians etc. etc.?

    The real issue is America doesn't consider those other groups "Americans". Unless you are black or white you aren't American apparently.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  8. JJ

    I feel in the video "Friends of a Different Color" that the questions were being asked to Davionne in a weird way that was leading him to the answers he said. Listen to her tones and the order of the choices she gives him. Like his Dad said, he was probably trying to answer in the way that he thought the interviewer wanted him to answer.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  9. Stacey

    My son transferred from a diverse private school to a predominately Caucasian private school. He his Latino and was bullied at the new school. When I expressed my belief that my son was being bullyed because of his skin color; they quickly dismissed it. The school stated they had "spy's" monitoring signs of bullying; therefore, my son could not have been bullied nevertheless discrimated against. This school left me no choice to withdraw him from the school. As I stated in my previous posting school's need to accept that rasicism is still alive and needs to be to address. Or this pattern of discrimination will never end. Discrimination happened to me as a child and it continued with my son, I hope it will not continue with my grandchildren.

    April 3, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Don

      Had the exact same situation happen to my son when we went from the suburbs to a predominantly latino area. Got so bad we had to pull him from the school and put him in a private school. The private school is much much more diverse, but we have had no such problem here. there is also alot more parent participation here which helps alot. At the public school was just a hendful of us who ever got involved

      April 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  10. Rita I. Law

    Regarding the race relations and children documentary.....I firmly believe there is only one race....the human race. Sure, we all appear different, but isn't it about time we toss out the whole idea that there is more than one race?

    April 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Maty

      But that's antithesis to what 'diversity' advocates teach.

      April 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm |