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CNN’s Latest Race Study Prompts Timely Discussion

On the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., CNN, aired the latest installment in its ongoing look at “Kids and Race.”

The report that aired tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 was just a part of a much larger presentation on the topic of race that can be found on the AC360 web site.

There, you can download a full 17-page report of the study with details and citations to the other research on this topic.

Academics like myself will want to look deeper at the methods used in this latest project.

But for the general public, which has seen a national conversation about race re-ignited in the recent Trayvon Martin case, tonight’s CNN report re-focuses our attention on where we are when it comes to teaching our youngest residents about interacting with those from other racial backgrounds.

Courtesy: CNN

In this latest study lead by Psychologist Melanie Killen, six-year-olds were shown an ambiguous picture of children of different races ‘(see above) and then asked to describe what was happening.

The black first-graders had far more positive interpretations of the images than white first-graders.

Killen drew some conclusions about the role of parents.

“African American parents … are very early on preparing their children for the world of diversity and also for the world of potential discrimination,” said Killen. “They’re certainly talking about issues of race and what it means to be a different race and when it matters and when it doesn’t matter.”

Also in the study, 13-year-olds were shown a different ambiguous picture, prompting some of the students to recount their own experiences of being bullied because of their racial background.

Courtesy: CNN

The study found that whether or not the school was majority white, majority black or racially diverse makes a difference.  This was especially true with white children.

Tonight’s extended report included soundbites from the students’ reaction at several grade levels.

A Two-Year Follow-up

In 2010, Cooper was the lead anchor presenting the results of  another CNN-commissioned  study that showed black and white children are biased toward lighter skin.

The test then was aimed at re-creating the landmark Doll Test from 1940s.

Those tests, conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, were designed to measure how segregation affected African-American children.

Is It Still Just Black and White?

I couldn’t help but wonder where are the Hispanic kids in this discussion?  Most of the clips in tonight’s study were depicting the same black vs. white discussion.

That black vs. white discussion was what was on the minds of Americans who were alive on April 4, 1968 when shots rang out at  Memphis’ Lorraine Motel and the nation’s most famous civil rights leader lay in a pool of blood.

But, I wonder what would Dr. King say today if he heard the results of this CNN study almost a half-century after his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in August 1963.

Yes, black vs. white is still a relevant discussion in 2012.

But, so is the discussion about what Hispanics, now our nation’s largest racial minority group, encounter, especially given the recent debates over immigration reform.

We should applaud CNN for starting a discussion, but also ask that the producers in future installments in the “Kids and Race” series to  broaden the dialogue beyond just black-and-white.

George L. Daniels, Ph.D.  is an associate professor of journalism at the The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and member of the SPJ National Board of Directors.  He is a past chair of the SPJ Diversity Committee. Read more of his thoughts at bamaproducer.wordpress.com




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