Children are Naturally Colorblind

Gabrielle D’Arcy
5 min readNov 9, 2021

Following the recent Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election, the debate about Critical Race Theory in public schools and public life has intensified. While elected Democrats and MSNBC pundits insist that Critical Race Theory “isn’t real,” many Americans are finding that our national approach to race is more divisive than the unifying messages we embraced in the past. Following the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, the public consensus was that colorblindness was the best way to combat racism. Ignoring people’s skin color when interacting with them, we reasoned, prevented people from judging or stereotyping others on the basis of race.

But in the past few years, many Americans, including the politically disengaged, have watched apprehensively as this philosophy fell out of fashion. Op-eds arguing that colorblindness leads to “racism blindness” are increasingly common. Trusted sources of information like the New York Times publish inflammatory articles with titles like, “Can My Children Be Friends with White People?” and debates surrounding whether babywearing and knitting are racist permeate otherwise apolitical websites.

These increasingly radical ideas have even found their way into the lives of children. In many blue cities and towns across the country, teachers read a book entitled Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness to elementary schoolers. And Cartoon Network ran a campaign involving cartoon characters explicitly instructing children to “see race” in order to “be anti-racist.” These newfangled approaches to racism seem to directly contradict the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., who, until recently, was widely regarded as the expert on these matters, and many Americans feel the old, colorblind way was preferable. Many voters feel increasingly uneasy with these changes. They know something is happening, and they sense that their children are imbibing something they strongly disagree with. They call these ideas Critical Race Theory, and though the label itself may be imperfect, the phenomenon is real.

Complicating these debates is the pandemic. We were told that leaving our house was selfish and homicidal — unless we were protesting for George Floyd. In many districts, while schools were closed and women were leaving the workplace in droves to care for their children, diversity trainings were held via Zoom on the taxpayer’s dime. One can hardly argue that anti-racism training was a priority at a school no one was even attending; but in Loudoun County, Virginia, apparently, it was, because the district spent thousands of taxpayer dollars for Critical Race scholar Ibram X. Kendi to lecture teachers and parents about being “anti-racist.” Further, while many working parents were scrambling to find coverage for their children, leaked emails confirm that powerful teachers’ unions influenced and delayed school re-openings. Given these circumstances, many parents understandably felt that their public schools, which they pay for, did not have their children’s best interests at heart.

I’ve worked with children for many years, and I’ve seen firsthand that children are naturally colorblind. They recognize differences, sure, but they do not assign any value judgement to them. I have witnessed children who speak no English being welcomed by their classmates, and I watched as their native-born classmates, unprompted, adjusted their games so the immigrant child could be included without needing to speak. When I taught a majority-black preschool class, the little girls watched with a child’s wonder as I flipped my hair upside down and it behaved very differently than theirs; and then, giggling gleefully, they flipped theirs too to show me how their curls bounced. They didn’t see my “white hair” as different from their “black hair;” it was just different hair, and it was exciting for them. And I once had a conversation with a relative about Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” and my cousin, a toddler, adorably looked up at me, curiosity in his eyes, and asked, “You mean like, black Spider-Man?” He was referring to Spider-Man, his hero, in a black suit.

As cute as this anecdote is, the lessons it contains are increasingly unpopular in activist circles. Not My Idea author Anastasia Higginbotham told The Atlantic that she wrote the book because she believes white children need to be taught to identify the influence of “whiteness” in their everyday lives lest they perpetuate it. Ibram X. Kendi expressed a similar sentiment in writing his book Anti-Racist Baby. Both authors assume that if children aren’t taught to see color and explicitly identify racism and whiteness as the causes of all injustice, they will grow up to believe racist ideas. This is a deeply misguided understanding of racism — and of children. Children do not need to be taught to be anti-racist; they already are. Pathologizing colorblindness means pathologizing children’s natural, innocent state. Children do not need to be told that they are white or black or brown. They already know, just like they know what color shirt they’re wearing or what color their house is. They just don’t assign any meaning to it.

What does need to be taught explicitly is racism. Children do not harbor prejudice naturally; if a child expresses bigoted sentiments, it’s because they were instructed to do so by the adults in their lives. Kendi, Higginbotham, and other advocates of Critical Race Theory are confusing the cause and effect: if children are racist, it’s because they were taught to see race, not because they weren’t.

Refusing to see race does not mean ignoring racism. Refusing to assign a value judgement to race does not mean ignoring racism. It means refusing, despite what pop-psych snake oil salesmen like Robin DiAngelo will tell us, to believe that black and white people are inherently different. It means rejecting the idea that all black people have inherent knowledge that is inaccessible to others or that white people are naturally ignorant. It means viewing friends as friends, not as white friends and black friends and Hispanic friends and Asian friends. It means recognizing that skin color and other such immutable characteristics are the least interesting, least illuminating part of us. Rejecting racial categorizations also means rejecting racism, because in the event that other people are bigoted and unsophisticated enough to judge someone negative based on race, it means we know that person was wrong.

Stop trying to teach children to judge others based on skin color. In fact, when it comes to race, perhaps we adults could learn a little from them.

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