March 2017


According to The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vendantam, children start to realize face colors when they are three years old and assign specific attributes and stereotypes to different groups of people. It is admitted that this tendency comes from our nature of lazy brains that turn on autopilot mode frequently. As an international female. I would like to share my experience with two children.

Two years ago, I went to the Disney World in Florida, and was playing merry-go-roung. Suddenly I realized a little girl was looking at me curiously.  She was about two years old and was accompanied with her mother on a wooden horse by my side. From her smiling eyes. I felt the pure love that I never experience before. Somehow, there was a deep connection between us at that moment. We were looking at each other’s eyes and smiling until the end of that playing song. She was still smiling at me on her mother’s shoulder and finally disappeared in the crowd. However, I could tell her mother was not so friendly. She did not say anything or smile, even though she observed the friendship between her daughter and me. From her eyes. I realized that I didn’t belong to their group and definitely was not treated as a friend. However, in my heart, her little daughter liked an angel who cannot tell the differences of skin colors or any stereotype assigned to that.

The second thing happened in three weeks ago. I went to the gym and there was a small girl playing with some young white ladies at the locker room. She was about four years old and looked very pretty. I smiled at her and sat down to change my shoes. However, when she walked to me, her face changed dramatically—from smiling to angry. She beat me and scolded me by some words such as “pig!” At that moment, I was so angry not only because of her offensive behaviors but also because nobody she played with there said anything her until her mother came back and simply apologized to me. Then she said nothing to her daughter. I really hesitated to forgive her but had to say “It is Ok.” in order to be polite. I think there is something wrong in that girl’s education.  I’m afraid that when she grows up, that bias and hatred will not disappear but hide deeply in her unconscious mind. She might be as superficially polite as her mother, but treat people differently based on their races, religions, cultures and background.

These two things make me think that whether my small angel in the Disney World will turn into a girl like the unfriendly girl in the gym when she grows up to the year of four, due to the influence of her parents, teachers or the public media in the very early stage of education. If this happens, I will feel so sad.



Shankar Vedantam. How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us

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  • Rachel Kinzer Corell

    This post makes me so sad because I worry you’re right. We can only hope those kids somehow overcome any prejudice taught to them by their families. On a lighter note, you reminded me of an experience I had with a kid that I’ll share here:

    I once parked at a gas station in southeast Nashville with the intention of going in for a coffee. Before I got out of the car, a young (presumably Hispanic) mother with 4 kids (probably all under 10 years old) walked by. As they headed to their car, I noticed one boy make eye contact with me. He’s maybe 6 or so, bright-eyed and round-faced and smiling, so I waved at him and smiled back. Then, instead of following his mother, he walked straight up to my car and started hitting both hands on my driver’s side window, all the while yelling “HOLA! HOOOO-LAAAAA!” It was bizarre and surprising, I’ll admit.

    The mother looked petrified, but I started laughing inside my car. Like, tears rolling down my face laughing. The mom saw me laughing, looked relieved, and waved. I waved back. She called her son back over to her (I guess; she was speaking Spanish so she could have said anything, really). They left. I went in and got my coffee.

    I never saw them again, but the connection I had with that kid and his mom in that moment transcended language, and I loved it. I can only hope he grows up feeling that same sense of connection to others in his life that I felt with him at that moment, up to and including the strangers he encounters at the gas station, of course.

  • Dan Li

    I love your sharing. And I totally understand your worries. I am from Chinese. My skin color, eye color, and hair color make me more noticeable in this countries comparing to the time when I was living in my homeland. Sometimes, I can feel people’s eyes fastened on me, especially kids. Most adults will try to avoid staring at others, but kids are different. Kids are not tied to social rules. They will express their emotions more directly. In my experience, most kids look at you full of curious, they are growing angles, their world views haven’t been developed yet. Most of the time, I would try to smile at them if we made eye contact, then I would have another interaction with their parents. Some of the parents will smile back if they notice the smiling moments between me and their kids, but some will just ignore me. I always feel bad for those kids whose parents had the distant faces.
    Once when I was shopping in Food Lion, a little boy smiled at me first, I smiled back. Then when we run into each other the second time, I saw him mustering the courage to talk to me. He asked me if I was Korean. I was surprised that questions since I did not see that coming. I wondered if he had former experience with Asian people who came from Korean. I told him that I was Chinese, not Korean. I could tell that he had more questions coming up, but his dad showed up at the corner, and he said bye to me a little unwillingly. After I left the store, I wondered where the conversation would go without disturbing.
    The education about diversity always comes from the parents first. I feel I am powerless to help with the parenting part. However, I believe even just a brief moment can change someone’s life. I hope in all those short moments owned by the kids and me, I add something nice to their heart about humanity and diversity. I think that is something we can do starting from today.

  • I sometimes have run into such situations as you. Somehow, I feel it very difficult for us to make sincere friends with people here as I’m a foreigner with a different culture and social background, especially at this moment where the political issues have been heated up to such an intensive level that people are not able to frankly and literally talk with each other for the sake of so-called “political righteousness”. Decades ago, we were just a small developing country that could make no threat to Western developed countries. Nowadays, we have been stronger and more powerful to some extent that making Western countries feel threatened (possibly?). Sometimes, I really feel tired of growing up.

  • Hanh

    Your examples emphasize the need of education about diversity in schools so students can identify their biases, recognize their existence, and start watching their behaviors.

  • I love your story! While it makes me sad, I also have hope for your small angel. When my oldest son was about three years old, he came to me with the most amazing discovery, that brown babies have brown mommies! He was so proud of himself for noticing this pattern. When he was four, he started attending public school, and my parental influence was suddenly diluted by his exposure to the broader world and its inherent vices. As an adult, he appears to operate more from the three-year-old’s default of taking things at face value rather than relying so much on unconscious bias. His closest friends are from different cultures than his own, and he greets passing strangers. I hope that your angel’s parental teaching will stay with her always and buffet her from less enlightened examples that she will encounter.

  • Unfortunately we are products of our upbringings, both the good and the bad. It’s very easy for people to point their fingers at parents but it is much broader than that. While I was reading your post I thought about a documentary I had seen that Chris Rock produced in 2009 titled “Good Hair”. In the documentary Rock talks about a moment he had with his daughter who mentioned that she didn’t want the hair she had, but good hair. Confused, Rock asked her to explain. What ended up happening was that his daughter inevitably explained her desire for what many consider “white women” hair. The film then goes onto explain the history of African American hair and how people perceive it. As a white woman, I honestly would never have even considered the notion of “good vs bad” hair but it was definitely an eye opening film. Everything is about perception. There are far too many factors to single out one when it comes to childrearing. I don’t have any children of my own, but I hope when I do that I never categorize anything, hair, races, or food, as “good” or “bad”.

  • Iris

    This post indeed makes me realize how hateful the world has become and is becoming, because of how we are brought up. When I was in my country, I will see middle eastern tourists with beards and the women with veils and I would exclaim how beautiful their culture is. This is because, I was brought up thinking that everyone has a culture depending on where they grew up and this made us all unique in different ways and even made the world more beautiful. The last time I went to Kroger with my Egyptian friend, an old lady asked her what she was doing in a Christian country? How this old lady could ask that question simply beats my mind and to justify it with Christianity,further worsens the case. Who taught this woman to be that divisive? Her parents or her neighbors? And how come the first thing that comes to my mind when I see someone different is ‘unique’? Is it that I am also unique as I am an international woman of color in America, or is it that I was brought up differently?

    It hurts to see the future ones, raised with this much hate. So much hate that she will feel entitled to approach you and dare to beat you. This is indeed very sad. Embrace your uniqueness, Shi!

  • You know this too! I am so happy that you also think unhealthy foods taste better. I was beginning to think it was my mind, collaborating with my taste buds, to play pranks on me.
    I agree that indeed our minds are changing and processing things differently than it would have in the absence of online search. When I didn’t have access to the internet and had to do research solely on the knowledge from books, my mind was quick to absorb as much as I could from a book before I put it down. But now, I glimpse quickly through online articles, find what I need and write down the title of the article so I can come back to it again whenever I need it. I no longer make a big deal of absorbing all that I can from it before returning it to the library….