Throwback Thursday: Our Children Are Colourblind (and we should ABSOLUTELY try to keep them that way).

Before I begin, I’d like to apologise for the lack of posts last Saturday and this Tuesday. I did not discover many Great Things to post about on Saturday, and I ran out of time to post my normal Tuesday post. I promise it is in the works, however, and it should be up next week. I think y’all will like it.

Let’s talk about this post here. I originally published it on 23rd October, 2013; shortly after this controversial commercial was released in the US. At the time I was, in my own small way, trying to push this idea of ‘colourblindness’; raising our children to not notice that people come from different races, and just look at people as people.

Looking back, that idea was woefully simplistic and more than a little insulting. Not noticing that people come from different races means failing to understand and appreciate the races from which different people come, which strikes me as problematic. I certainly would not want for people to fail to appreciate where I’m from.

However, in a racist world, noticing that a person comes from a different race is heavily linked to assessing that person based on the stereotypes associated with their race. Perhaps, therefore, there is merit to the idea of raising children to be blind to the stereotypes associated with different races. I don’t know if such a thing would be possible, and even if it were, I wouldn’t mind betting that it would still cause problems. But it is something to think about.

Anyway, here’s the original post. Enjoy.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I’ll be watching YouTube videos and eventually gravitate towards some of my old favourites. This evening/early morning, it was the React videos, by the Fine Bros. After watching YouTubers react to Best Song Ever, Teens React to Blurred Lines and Kids React to The Beatles, I got to Kids React to Controversial Cheerios Commercial.

As with all of the Kids React videos, these American kids up to age 14 were shown a video (in this case, as the title might suggest, a video of a monkey playing a guitar (just kidding)), and then asked a series of questions about the video. Meanwhile, little facts about the videos shown and/or people involved in the video and/or controversy around the video occasionally pop up on the bottom of the screen. The videos usually last between 5 to 10 minutes each, and I highly recommend them. Kids React, Teens React, Elders React, YouTubers React. You’re welcome for your future wasted afternoon.

Occasionally a React episode will come out that touches on a sensitive subject, and in this instance the sensitive subject was racism. The commercial itself is innocent and rather adorable: A little girl asks her mum if Cheerios are good for the heart, and her mum says, yes, they have whole grains in them which can be good for the heart. The girl runs off with the box of Cheerios, and the final scene is of the dad waking up from a nap with Cheerios all over his chest. Hardly the sort of commercial that should start ANGRY COMMENTS about the SANCTITY OF CHILDHOOD or whatever these comments were actually about (the comments were reportedly so horrendous that the comment section of the YouTube video was deleted). What sparked all the controversy? The mother in the commercial is white, and the father is black.

Sadly (and I do think this is sad), I was raised in a fairly racist household…

(…post partially deleted for Reasons…)

…I personally do not believe that I am particularly racist, but it has been hard-wired in me from a very young age to notice people by their race, and I cannot change that behaviour in myself, as much as I would like to. In other words, I have never been “colourblind”.

I think that’s why this React episode touched me as much as it did. After the kids saw the commercial, they were told that the commercial has sparked a lot of anger. and no less than five of them asked “why?”. The kids were then told that the anger was to do with the parents, and did they now have any idea why that might be. The responses were “err… I don’t… know…” “no” and “wait, let me think…” Then they were told that it was because the parents were mixed race. At this point, one kid said “one’s white and one’s black?”, to which the host said “that’s exactly why people have gotten upset”. The kid then sort of stares for a moment, then says “…why?”

The beauty of the Kids React episodes in particular is that some of these kids are four, five, six years old. They arguably have not been in society long enough to understand concepts like racism. They also have not been around long enough to know the difference between what they want to say and what they should say. They will just say what they want to say. And that’s what they did. And the fact that every single one of these kids did not notice that the family in the commercial was mixed-race until it was pointed out to them (or if they did, they did not think it worth mentioning), and even when it was, the younger kids still did not understand why that would be a problem, shows how “colourblind” these kids are. And in my opinion, that is wonderful, and I envy those kids for it.

The video also made me abundantly hopeful, as these videos often do. All of the kids were asked the standard questions about whether this sort of angry behaviour is acceptable, or whether they have experienced racism, or if they would marry someone of a different race to them. Some of the answers were very interesting. The younger black girl said she had never experienced racism (while the other minority race kids said they had), all of them said the angry behaviour was not acceptable, and one kid said that of course he’d be fine with marrying someone of a different race, because “if you remove our skin, inside that we are all LITERALLY the same”. This, from an 11-year-old kid. I can’t imagine that these would have been the sorts of answers gleaned, certainly from the older kids who do understand more about the society in which they live, 50-odd years ago. I definitely don’t think the young black girl would have been able to say she had not encountered racism, had she been around back then. Progress is definitely being made. Just… really slowly.

The last question that was asked was “what would you say to anybody from a mixed-race family?”, and there were again some lovely answers about how “you are you” and “it doesn’t matter what race you are” and everything. The last comment was from an older girl, who said she was really sorry that these people have to deal with stuff like this, and she started crying. The host said “it really bothers you” and she replied “yeah”. Then the video ends. I think that is the sort of reaction that demonstrates that progress is being made, if a pre-teen girl can get upset by the racism other people (not her, mind) experience, that is as much heartbreaking as it is promising.

I don’t know how possible it actually is to keep people as colourblind as they are when they are children. But there is no question in my mind that it should definitely be attempted. This sort of stuff makes me think about statistics such as almost half of people on death row in America being black, while only 12% of the American population is black. Or the life expectancy of Aboriginal Australians is 20 years fewer than white Australians. Obviously, I know that other factors come into play with regards to these sorts of statistics. But I also think that anybody who believes racism does not still have a serious impact on society needs to take a really good look around.

Posted by Gillian

Hello. My name is Gillian Brown. I'm a freelance writer living in the UK, with an Australian accent to offer as a starting point of conversation. As a writer, my main areas of interest are social activism, ethical consumption, linguistics, comedy, and marketing. My other interests include dancing, tabletop role-playing, crocheting and cooking.

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