April 7th, 2012
12:05 AM ET

Kids on Race: Mikayla's story

Editor's note: Tune in on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET for Anderson Cooper's special program about "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture."

Do we make unconscious judgments about people based on skin color? And, for the children involved in our landmark study, did their answers to our questions change, depending on race?

Our ongoing "Kids on Race" series has sought to locate the origins of racial issues that so often seem native to the American experience. We decided that by talking directly with children– innocent, impressionable, and honest– as they are slowly being introduced to society, we might learn how prejudice can take hold of young minds... and from this early point, despite our best intentions, sometimes never let go.

We enlisted Dr. Melanie Killen, a revered child psychologist and University of Maryland professor, to design and implement our study. She ensured that our methods remained scientifically intact throughout the process. She helped highlight and explain key findings. She offered advice and explanations to parents who allowed their children to participate.

In this installment, Anderson investigates a concept known as "subconscious racial bias." This is described as "a bias that kids pick up on– from messages they hear at school, at home, the characters in the TV shows they watch, what they see online." As Killen points, these are not overt feelings of racism, but rather "the things that we're not aware of, the things that we do when we don't realize it."

We aired the results of our research throughout the past week, and the culmination of this effort will be presented in an hour-long program on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Watch an Anderson Cooper Special Report— "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture."

Filed under: Anderson Cooper • Kids on Race • Soledad O'Brien
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Marietta

    I remember the cliques of Jr. High and High School. I wonder what answers you would get by asking about different social types. – examples – ask the upper social echelon types what they think of the geeks, jocks, tough rough types(tatoos, piercings, etc.) also the simple, unattractive. low ability, etc. etc. I remember the lunch room groupings by choice. All the same types sat together because that"s where they ???felt accepted. I suggest Jr. & Hiigh Schools have assigned lunch seating consisting of various types. for ?about a month then a new assigned group for the next month. They should be assigned to discuss various topics and get input / opinion from EVERY MEMBER of the lunch table. This could last as long as the topic interested them. Cover at least five? topics in a month and turn in a results sheet when they finish the topic. They would begin to understand OTHERS. Need some ground rules ... ? 1. Be respectful, 2. be truthful 3. equal rights, 4. Speak up if someone is controlling 5. Set up own rules for being Fair and democratic. Etc.?? PASS THIS IDEA ON TO YOUR Jr. High and High School. Maybe the kids will create a more fair and CIVILIZED SOCIETY. From a retired Teacher.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  2. Darlene

    The african american boy who seemed skeptical about mixing with other races, has learned to walk in a schizoid sort of way. He probably feels most comfortable with his own race, as we all do, but doesn't know what to expect when he plays with white children. WEB Dubois talked about the double mind that the African American Children have to have when growing up in this society, and they are constantly adjusting to keep a middle ground. For instance young black boys have to be very aware of how well they are being "accepted" by certain friends before they can acutally just let their hair down and just have fun. My family lives in an up scale neighborhood. I took my 6 year old son to the park to play, and the two children that were on the play ground were white boys. They were all in the same age group, the white boy was about 3 years older than my son, and his brother was younger than my son..They were playing tag, and my son was acting normal, and eager to play. They made him "it" right from the start. Not a problem. He tagged one of the boys and was playing fairly and as a little boy should. Well, even though he tagged the boys , they still wanted him to be it. As I walked over to intervene, the older boy kicked my son in the face as he was catching him once more and called him the "N" word. I as a parent was devastated. The father of the other boys was there, and stood up , he also heard his son. He did not apologize , neither did he correct him in front of my son, to show that this is unacceptable behavior. I spoke to the boys as responsible adult, and told them that that wasn't fair and he needed to apologize to my son. There is not much you can say to someone else's children. I was almost in tears for my son, because they hurt his little heart. The "n" word got under my skin, but the humiliation of being back kicked in the face as you are climbing up the bars was humiliating to my son. So now he is 14 and has a mixed group of friends as usual. I teach him to keep his ears open and to always be present so tht he will make good decisions as to who his friends are, and who they are not.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  3. Aaron Karacuschansky

    As a 17 year old high school junior who has attended a private Jewish school for my entire life and has had very limited interactions with people of other races, I feel as if my beliefs and upbringing are very different from the white children interviewed in this special. While this issue is complicated enough, I believe the difference in the religious and moral values that have been instilled in me and those of non-Jewish children have also been a factor in the varying views on race. One would think that being in an isolated Jewish community I would harbor negative sentiments towards people of other races; however, I believe it is just the opposite. The Jews, Non-Jews and especially African-Americans in the community of Greater Baltimore have built a strong and respectful relationship over the years and there are in place many programs that yearn to teach kids such as myself the values of these relationships. While never truly having an African-American friend save the few African-American friends that I friended at secular summer camps, I do believe race does not play a factor into whether or not I can be friends with them. Even as the inherited sentiment among Jews is to marry and continue the Jewish religion from generation to generation, my parents and parents in the Jewish community would seem to have less of a problem with intereligious and even interracial marriages. Perhaps the main factor in my views is that Judaism is both a religion and a race and many people don't believe that. My interactions with non-Jews as two different races whether they are black or white is very positive and would be very positive regardless of race. I have learned from both a religious and moral perspective that race is and should never be a factor in deciding friendships and relationships. The history of relationships between races in our country is too influential and strong and because of this people need to learn to be tolerant and open to co-existence.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  4. Kent Hardage

    Totally flawed study! A study of kids and race with only white people asking all the questions and inturpeting all the answers? Do you think maybe a white kid answering to a white adult and a black kid answering to a white adult may get different results? This study could only be valid if it were conducted with both white and black adults. Each race of kids should have to answer questions to both race of adults. Then you could compare the answers based on the mismatch and the match of race and see if there are differences. If no difference THEN you could make the conclusion you have made but I believe you would be very surprised that answers would be very different based on how confortable each kid was with talking with his/her own or different race. I would really be interested in the results of
    a correctly run study, maybe no difference.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  5. Curt

    So the while the debate of "why" blacks and whites still struggle with race relations is always a topic worth discussing; I think we should really ask or get persons of Asian/Indian decent to covey thier views of Black and Whites Americans. I garauntee that American vieweres would be just as interentesd in knowing how people form those ethinc backgrounds have biases as bad or worse then the typical "Black & White" race debate discussion.

    April 8, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  6. Ovan shortt

    To be honest racism is all around no wonder these kids think the way they do. Look at movies, tv show,
    And commercials majority white leading actors with an occasional token friend. I'm glad you started the discussion I just wish you would of included other races.

    April 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Mike


    Did CNN interview children, black/white, that are mixed race?

    April 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  8. Parent of black kids

    You never asked a single white kid why they had a negative reaction? My kids aged 5-21 woukd all have the same answer. With black and white friends that they would make friends with a white kid first because they have been bullied, had their things stolen and been mean to by the black kids. Not that they have not had a mean white person. just if they had To explain why they dont try to reach out to black kids its because their experiences with black kids have been a bad and negative experience.

    April 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  9. Rick

    In the story, race was the only given factor, which skews the data. Try adding in heavy people vs skinny people, people with bad acne vs clear skinned, wealthy vs poor, and so on. You might find that it is human nature to distrust people who are different from you. Conducting a race only test is only good for ratings, not for understanding how the mind works.

    April 8, 2012 at 1:41 am |