A Study in Black and White

By Bryan Toporek — May 14, 2010 1 min read
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A recent CNN-commissioned pilot study finds that both white and African-American schoolchildren have a “white bias”—white students overwhelmingly so.

The study, led by University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer, surveyed 133 students in eight public schools—four within a two-hour radius of New York city, four within a two-hour radius of Atlanta. At each school, the researchers surveyed students in two age groups: 4- to 5-year-olds and 9- to 10-year-olds.

Spencer asked students of both age groups certain questions, and then had them answer by pointing to one of five cartoon pictures of people with varying skin tones. The older students were also asked questions about a color bar chart which featured light and dark skin tones.

According to the study, the white students responded “overwhelmingly” with “white bias"—associating positive characteristics with their own skin tone and negative characteristics with darker skin tones. The African-American students surveyed (75 altogether) also demonstrated having white bias, although to a lesser extent than the white students in the survey.

“All kids on the one hand are exposed to the stereotypes” Spencer said. “What’s really significant here is that white children are learning or maintaining those stereotypes much more strongly than the African-American children.”

Spencer suggested that the findings may shed light on persistent racial achievement gaps in schools, insofar as African-American families have to spend more time and energy on “reframing messages that children get from society.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.