With George Zimmerman still free after killing the unarmed 17-year-old Black teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in February, it seems like things are as horrible as ever for African-American young people. With young white men allowed to kill Blacks in the streets with impunity, are things ultimately so very different from when the Klan was doing it decades ago?
Despite the obvious reasons why Black children might feel uncertain about the opportunities the future holds, it turns out that many of them are actually very excited about America’s coming years. Say hello to America’s unyielding optimists.
In a study commissioned by CNN, school kids were shown pictures of a sullen child sitting next to a playground swing, a blank-faced child at their back. The children were then asked the following questions: “What's happening in this picture?," "Are these two children friends?" and "Would their parents like it if they were friends?"
The results might surprise anyone who’s been keeping up with American racial news lately.
Overall, black first-graders had far more positive interpretations of the images than white first-graders. The majority of black 6-year-olds were much more likely to say things like, "Chris is helping Alex up off the ground" versus "Chris pushed Alex off the swing." They were also far more likely to think the children pictured are friends and to believe their parents would like them to be friends. In fact, only 38% of black children had a negative interpretation of the pictures, whereas almost double — a full 70% of white kids — felt something negative was happening.
Researchers believe that Black children are more optimistic due to the fact that their parents are more likely to teach them about racial dynamics in America and how to navigate diversity. White children’s parents might be less likely to do this, thus making white children more pessimistic about racial differences.
Unfortunately, the cheerfulness of Black children seems to fade by the time they hit their teen years, after they’ve had time to sustain real hurts from real racism. The researchers found that 13-year-old Black kids were just as pessimistic as their white counterparts.
Still, there’s something very beautiful about knowing that Black children are still hopeful despite it all. The next question is how best to keep that hope alive.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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