Making Racism History

By Mario Aceves | March 1, 2008 | 0 comments

Research recently published in the journal Child Development has for the first time ever examined how, if at all, children are affected by historical lessons about racism.

The research consisted of two separate studies led by Julie Hughes, a psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin. In the first study, the authors worked with 48 white children, ages 6-11. Half of the children received a week-long lesson on African-American historical figures, such as baseball icon Jackie Robinson, and heard about their experiences of racism. When the other half of the students learned about these figures, they didn’t hear about racism.

Library of Congress

The results showed that learning about racism made a significant impact on the kids. Children who were exposed to the racism teachings reported higher positive and less negative attitudes toward African Americans. Through further analysis, the authors concluded that the racism lessons worked because they increased the children’s sense of racial fairness and also their experience of racial guilt, which in turn resulted in higher positive attitudes toward African Americans. Though some may have reservations about inducing guilt in young children, Hughes is quick to point out that any negative effects of racial guilt are likely to be short-term, while this guilt has “the positive long-term outcome of less biased racial attitudes.”

In a second study, the authors repeated their experiment, but this time with a group of African-American children of the same age range. Those African-American students who learned about racism placed greater value on racial fairness, and were more satisfied with the lessons, than were the children whose lessons did not mention racism. However, the African-American students did not generally feel more positive about their own race, or report negative attitudes toward whites. In their Child Development paper, Hughes and her colleagues suggest this may be because African-American children may be more familiar with racism by the time they enter school, and thus are not as likely to be affected by these lessons as are white children.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Mario Aceves is a Greater Good Science Center Graduate Fellow.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement