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Sexist Beatdown: Wee Little Racists Edition

White people! Specifically, parents who are white people! We need to talk! Your six-month-old babies, they are all HUGE RACISTS!

Okay, this is probably not true for your six-month-old baby. What is true of your six-month-old baby is that it has probably noticed that people have different skin tones. However, by the time your baby is six YEARS old, you – guilty liberal white parent – may have entirely failed to neglect this topic of discussion because it gives you a case of the Yikes! And so your baby will probably have noted that people are treated differently on the basis of their skin tones, and absorbed many a deleterious message about what differing skin tone means for a person, and all of your vague messages about how “it is bad to judge people” because “we are all equal” or whatever will probably not have helped your white baby to figure out that (a) race exists, (b) racism exists, and (c) those are bad things all on its own, ESPECIALLY since (non-expert sociological opinion, here) talking about  skin tone and/or brown people evidently gives their parents a case of the Yikes which means that brown people must be very SCARY! So, yeah, at that point your baby will probably be kind of a racist. Or, at least, a baby that does not know how to think about race and privilege critically! BAD NEWS FOR EVERYONE.

Other bad news: even if your babies are babies of color, they are for some reason going to be really pretty resistant to the concept of a black Santa Claus.

Therefore, it is time to talk about talking about race with your baby. Join Amanda Hess of The Sexist and I, therefore, in this crucial anti-baby task!

santa-claus-is-a-black-man-1ILLUSTRATION: Teach them early on, people.

AMANDA: hey, racist baby.

SADY: hey there!

AMANDA: are you ready to discuss how modern equality-minded parents have all taken to blaming their latent racism on their impressionable young children?

SADY: ha, yes. the babies, they are all RACISTS! sort of. first of all, i think the very RACIST BABY tagline is kind of hilariously off, in that the actual “children as young as 6 months old discriminate on the basis of skin color” thing is, apparently, literally wrong. what children as young as 6 months old do is look longer at photos of people who are not the same race as their parents, according to the article. but, you know, that is not SENSATIONAL. so let’s just imply with our headline that six-month-old white babies are already full of societally determined anger and hate.

AMANDA: but, importantly, it is also The Longer Gaze at People Who Are Not the Race of Their Parents That Shall Not Be Named. since the main parenting tactic unearthed in this story is: as long as I never mention race or racism, my child will come out unracist. to the point that some ostensibly nonracist parents DROPPED OUT OF THE STUDY when they found out they would be forced to discuss race with their children. “not under my roof.”

SADY: yeah, exactly. and the result, apparently, IS that the four and five-year-olds end up with pretty fucked-up ideas about race.

AMANDA: and also, hilariously, report that they think their parents are racists, too

SADY: right. “do your parents like black people?” and 14% are like, “nope!” which makes sense, if the kids are getting shushed every time they ask about the existence of race. (1) They get the sense that race is a forbidden topic, and maybe therefore a Bad one, and may project their parents’ fears of race discussion onto people of different races, concluding that THEY’RE what the parents are scared of. (Behold my extrapolation of in-no-way-expert conclusions!) (2) If you don’t have someone TALKING about race, and pointing out the existence of racism and why it’s bad, you’re just left to soak up all the messed-up cultural stereotypes and racism like a little kindergarten-enrolled sponge.

AMANDA: yeah, and I think this points to a lot of the assumptions that these parents have about their children for no apparent reason. like Chris Brown’s mom expressing shock that her child attacked his girlfriend, when that kind of thing was in the home and probably not addressed in any significant way. or parents insisting that their child would never rape someone, even though they failed to bring up in sex in any conversation. and I think this also goes back to the fear that, like, if you talk to boys about preventing rape, you somehow magically turn them rapists through the expectations you’ve laid out.

SADY: right. well, i think a lot of it is also the nature-vs.-culture thing, and this messed-up expectation we have that kids are inherently pure of all culture. like: if you never MENTION injustices, your kids won’t be aware of them, and then they will somehow progress into childhood without ever noticing that people are treated differently and drawing their own conclusions about that! whereas the fact is that a large part of childhood is not only learning what your parents and teachers explicitly, verbally teach you, but getting socialized and learning to reflect the norms around you.

AMANDA: and it’s such an obvious cop-out when you just state it like that. “I thought if I never MENTIONED why Santa was always white, my children would never shun the black Santa that entered their classroom.” It doesn’t make any sense! and so the burden of talking about this shit lies on the groups who are going to be most affected by it, which is why minority families talked about discrimination with their kids, and why girls get a shitload of advice on how not to get themselves raped.

SADY: right. exactly. it’s about the comfort of privilege. like: kids who experience discrimination, on any level, are going to naturally bring it up with their parents, and parents are going to be more responsive to that. like, i think i was four years old when i first asked my parents why some people said certain things were not for girls, and why boys wouldn’t let me do those things. (the things in question were pretending to be the Ninja Turtles* and/or soccer, but still, I THINK MY POINT HOLDS.) but if you ARE privileged, and you never directly experience discrimination, and all you have are these vague messages that certain aspects of your life (like, say, your race) are Not To Be Talked About, you’re of course going to grow up completely blind to your own privilege and also unreflectively participating in it.

AMANDA: yeah, and another interesting thing that separates race from gender is that, if you’re a girl, and you play the best fucking Raphael on the block, boys on your street may have the opportunity to recognize that and understand that girls can play Ninja Turtles. but if you think that Hispanic kids can’t play Ninja Turtles – stay with me here – and you don’t have any Hispanic kids on your block, you may grow up always assuming that Hispanic kids are shitty at impersonating superhero mutant sewer denizens. and that injustice cannot stand. so while gender becomes problematic through constantly reinforced roles, the problem with race is that there’s sometimes just a vacuum.

SADY: right. the article does, to some level, address what happens in diverse schools. because the thought was, if kids are not raised in these mono-racial environments, they’ll associate across races more and be less likely to make judgments based on race. but, nope! what happens, more often than not, is that even within a diverse environment like a school, kids only hang out with or form relationships with people of their own races. and that’s complicated; i mean, i imagine that there are white kids having all-white friend groups because their parents are uncomfortable with dealing with non-white people and they’re consequently uncomfortable with it as well. but i imagine there are also kids of color who are like, “oh, God, i do not want to deal with the white kids that are clueless and/or hurtful about race, i cannot educate anyone in the lunch room today, i just want to have my peanut butter sandwich and chocolate milk in peace.”

AMANDA: and the interesting thing is that kids are pretty ready to accept it—to the point that when they watch a multicultural Seseme Street episode, they do not notice the message enough for it to change their habits. Santa, apparently, is untouchable, though.**

SADY: ha, yes. “even the little girl the most adamant that the Real Santa must be white came around to accept the possibility that a black Santa could fill in for White Santa if he was hurt.”

AMANDA: Christmas is even more racist than babies are

SADY: I’m dreaming of a non-exclusively-white Christmas, myself.

* AN UPDATE, FROM SADY: Incorrect! There were no Ninja Turtles when I was four. There were, however, Ghostbusters. And I was not allowed to play. NOT EVEN AS JEANINE.

** AN UPDATE, FROM AMANDA: Upon further reflection, I can totally understand why some white kids would not accept a black Santa. To adults, Santa is just whoever puts on the suit, and there’s no reason a black dude can’t put on the suit. To children, Santa is one real dude who becomes very important to their well-being each December. And for their whole lives, they’d seen that dude reproduced in malls, on television, and in storybooks as the same rosy-cheeked white dude. At that point, it’s against that kid’s best interest to accept that Santa could be black. Because if Santa could be black, that means there is more than one dude being Santa. And if there’s more than one dude being Santa, that means that Santa isn’t really real. And once you acknowledge to yourself and your immediate family that Santa isn’t really real, there’s always the fear that the presents will stop mysteriously dropping through the chimney. The only way to circumvent the racism of Christmas, in my opinion, is to introduce black Santa to children at a very early age,


  1. eloriane wrote:

    This is actually really fascinating, and also reminds me of some family anecdata. You see, white babies are huge racists, of course, but babies of colour can also be huge REVERSE RACISTS! Yes, it’s true! My parents are (white) computer science professors and they work with a lot of international students of varying races. The’ve been doing this since the 80s so sometimes these students grow up and get married and have babies. And then we go and meet these adorable little babies, and they freak out because usually we’re the first white people they’ve seen. They’ll be a little shy of all the strangers, but extra shy of my family (sometimes they cry!), and it’s not because my parents are creepy or anything (babies who know white people love my dad! He has a great baby voice!). They’re just not accustomed to white faces yet.

    The difference, of course, is that these babies are going to grow out of it. They will be inundated with messages telling them that, no, actually, white people are normal. Whereas when I was a baby, probably freaking out at these same friends… yeah, it turned out basically exactly how you described.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  2. Roxie wrote:

    I read that newsweek article earlier this week and it just seemed stupid to me as in like, duh!. But this is because I remember being 5 yrs old and my mother telling me that some children might not like me/play with me because of the color of my skin. That there dislike was not my fault, but theirs.

    Although, the article did answer my question of “how do white people talk about race?” According to Newsweek, they don’t.

    Lastly, my parents let me know from an early age that Santa Clause was not real, that it was my mother & father who bought me presents. So while I loved EVERYTHING Christmas, Santa was NEVER real to me. One thing that they didn’t tell me was not to tell the other kids that Santa wasn’t real.

    There were very serious arguments in third grade.

    (I wish I could subscribe to the comments..)

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  3. Adrianna wrote:

    My mother spoke with me on the topic of race quite a lot…she ran a home day-care center and man, we were a mixed bunch.
    Any way, she always re-iterated the fact that hating someone based on the color of their skin would be like people hating me because of my freckles or brown eyes. She explained (in fantastic scientific detail) how our skin came to look different, and how it’s just a superficial characteristic.
    The older I get, the more I realize that my mom IS racist. She holds racist viewpoints. But some how, she managed to protect me from that. Some how, deep down, I think she knows that she’s wrong, and I believe she tried her best to protect me and my little brother from a legacy that clearly goes back generations.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  4. madaha wrote:

    if Santa is from the North Pole, he should be Inuit or Laplander or something.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  5. Muse of Ire wrote:

    Did they include any non-Christian children in this Santa-identifying exercise? Because as a Jewish kid, I was always aware Santa was just a symbol. Also I knew, whoever wore the suit, he didn’t have any presents in his bag for me.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  6. Laura wrote:

    Muse of Ire: Very true. Jewish parents don’t even bother with the whole Santa thing. I was wondering the same thing about the study, actually.

    If adults don’t think children are aware of racism, then they can consider this personal anecdote: As a 4-year-old (4! really!), I once got lost in a Wal-Mart, and then a black girl about my age found me crying and befriended me and helped me find my mom again. After that, I resolved (AS A 4-YEAR-OLD) to always be nice to black people, because black people were nice people. I think on some level I understood that no one else thought they were nice people, and I adopted this philosophy in order to defend them, somehow. And thus, based on a single experience, I made a sweeping generalization about an entire race. It actually influenced my thinking for several years afterwards. I always made sure to be “nice” to black people.

    I look back on this experience now and can’t help but think, “Seriously… WTF?!”

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  7. Cellycel wrote:

    I know technical language points can be shitty but:

    “ha, yes. the babies, they are all RACISTS! sort of. first of all, i think the very RACIST BABY tagline is kind of hilariously off, in that the actual “children as young as 6 months old discriminate on the basis of skin color” thing is, apparently, literally wrong. what children as young as 6 months old do is look longer at photos of people who are not the same race as their parents, according to the article.”

    It’s not RACIST BABY so much as DISCRIMINATING BABY and discriminating can mean identifying differences, so it can be a technically precise non-lie sentence.

    I mean it wasn’t, they were sensationalizing and thats obvious.

    Bleh, might as well have not made the point given I agree in tone.

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 8:44 am | Permalink