The recent video of a toddler’s exchange with her mother, who was recording the entire episode, served as an unfriendly reminder of how the constant reinforcement of racial stereotypes, especially from an early age, can manifest itself into lifelong false beliefs of superiority over other ethnicities.
In the video, the mother is seemingly innocently quizzing her very young daughter over some missing snack-sized slices of cake. Steadily denying the accusations that she “ate them all,” the daughter pleads innocent to her mom’s playful charges before unknowingly showcasing her impeccably implicit racial biases against Black people.
The dialogue surrounding the eaten cake slices is damning:
- Mom: “Where have they gone?”
- Daughter: “I…. don’t know.”
- Mom: “So who ate them all?”
- Daughter: “Someone come around and just ate them all.”
- Mom: “Someone come around and ate the cakes?”
- Daughter: “Yes.”
- Mom: “So someone broke into our home and ate Mr. Kipling Angel Slices? Didn’t take the TV? Didn’t take, you know, some jewelry? They took these cakes?”
- Daughter, nodding while looking directly into the camera: “And it was a Black man.”
- Mom: Bursts into hysterical laughter as a smile creeps up the child’s face in apparent relief her mom wasn’t mad at her anymore and had shifted her anger to a Black man.
If the optics weren’t clear enough, the underlying problem most certainly was: The child knew that criminalizing a Black person would remove any suspicion from her. It’s the oldest trick in the racist book –the Black guy did it! — and yet this child, who looked to be no older than four, had that damaging and false narrative at the ready to pull out at a white supremacist moment’s notice.
That type of behavior from such a young age is all but sure to lead to a lifetime of harboring false beliefs based on race that end up becoming deep-seated implicit biases subconsciously informing the way they live. It can and most likely will result in immediate, perhaps unwitting, suspicion of anybody with Black or brown skin.
That type of intrinsic knowledge can’t be blamed on gene or heredity — the little girl learned it from somewhere. How else would that poor young soul know to criminalize Black man had she not been taught it?
We’ve seen countless examples over time in a centuries-old trend that, of course, materialized recently in 1) a spate of white police officers killing innocent Black men on sight because of a burning suspicion of guilt despite their sworn civic duty to presume innocence; and 2) in the biased criminal justice system that routinely rewards white defendants while punishing Black people for the same offenses. (How else do you explain a white Baylor University fraternity leader who admitted to drugging and raping a woman avoiding prison time and not even having to register as a sex offender?)
So if this toddler, God forbids, grows up to be a police officer, chances are that we can expect her to fall back on the same implicit biases that she displayed on the video as a toddler, only they’ll probably be exponentially magnified by that time. And, if she has a child, chances are just as likely she will impart the same biases on her offspring that can ultimately become a part of a person’s psyche for life. It’s a vicious cycle that has shown no sign of letting up anytime soon.
And while all of these businesses’ and corporations’ new-found consciousness about racial insensitivity was noteworthy, the resulting rash of futile implicit bias training sessions was all but tantamount to placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound that could only be closed with stitches. The efforts were commendable, if not a public relations stunt, but it takes more than a few hours to learn how to break a bad habit. Especially if that habit is racial implicit bias, according to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health.
“[I]mplicit bias is like a habit that can be reduced through a combination of awareness of implicit bias, concern about the effects of that bias, and the application of strategies to reduce bias,” the study’s abstract said. However, the study took 12 weeks to conduct, not one day of company-wide training, and said it was only effective among “[p]eople who were concerned about discrimination or who reported using the strategies” taught in the study, which researchers referred to as an “intervention.”
That means conquering racial implicit bias takes a dedicated and repeated conscious effort to undo all the unconscious contempt white people have for Black folks. In other words, there needs to be a willing participant. But with white privilege rewarding white people time and time again, especially in instances involving implicit racial bias, there was seemingly no incentive for this to happen. That likely left many white children to develop similarly cyclical cases of implicit racial bias — unless their parents step in from a very early age.