The debate over nature vs. nurture has prompted ever more researchers to investigate the subject. One of the more interesting outcomes is that attitudes found in children have been taught, after all. In a study of whether children were “born racist,” researchers found that racist attitudes in some children were actually influenced by subtly racist attitudes in their “liberal” parents:
Vittrup was taken aback — these families volunteered knowing full well it was a study of children’s racial attitudes. Yet once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race, they started dropping out.
It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles — like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same” — but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences.
They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.
More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions — many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.
It may turn out that the question of whether Sasha or Storm or Coy was born a girl or boy is inseparable from and intertwined with the issue of what their parents subconsciously wanted them to be, even if they were unaware of it.
So are we free? Can we safely teach our children anything without guilt? Or can we only safely teach them things if it’s OK? Or is the world irredeemably divided into archetypes with which we have to live?