The first time my infant son exhibited a less than happy reaction at a dark haired, dark skinned individual I thought nothing of it, but by the tenth or so time I saw a pattern. I saw a prejudice baby. I saw what some may even have called a racist baby. Naturally, I was a bit intrigued and at the same time a bit worried. It led me to research whether or not racism and prejudice are inborn or ingrained, nurture or nature, and more importantly whether or not a baby could be either.
Is prejudice and racism inborn?
That’s a tricky question many experts don’t quite agree on. In the end a combination effect of inborn and learned behavior is often the census.
On the inborn side an instinct to racial-prejudice is suggested to have originated in a tribal time when humans that “didn’t look like” you were usually a threat. As well as in the inborn human tendency to create an in-group and an out-group based on visual differences. An overall distrust and dislike of the out-group is generally present. Survival meant only trusting those in your tribe, which at the time would have been of the same race as you.
On the learned side studies have shown infants as young as 6 months old can recognize differences in skin tone and will show preference to those skin tones that most closely resemble their primary caregivers. However, infants that had bi-racial parents or had been exposed to multiple races regularly did not show a racial prejudice.
This would suggest that while a baby may be genetically and evolutionarily prone to prejudice, the predisposition requires environmental influence to evolve into racism and can be overridden by learned behavior as well.
Can a baby be prejudice or racist?
The answer then is yes. A baby is born with a natural prejudice and desire to form safe groups. Whether these groups form into single race categories depends on the environmental influences on the child after birth. A child that is kept in a single race environment will develop a prejudice towards people of other races effectively becoming a racist by definition under the idea that anyone outside of the in-group is to be disliked and distrusted because the in-group is superior. This learned trait can later be altered, a racist baby will not necessarily become a racist for life.
If so, is there anything I can do to prevent my baby from being prejudice or racist?
If all information presented in this article is considered to be fact then yes, the logical assumption would be exposure to a wide ethnic group from birth would prevent an infant from developing a strong racial preference. A direct, frank and clear approach to racial equality education later in life is also recommended to ensure older children maintain the understanding that while we are all different and should be proud of those differences, those differences do not make us unequal, or one group bad and another good.
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