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April 8, 2016


Very early in life, children begin to notice similarities and differences in the objects and people around them. Within an increasing multi-ethnic society, it is inevitable that children will perceive differences in skin colour, hair form, clothes, speech, etc and thus will be curious about those differences that they notice about one another. Until then, parents and teachers should guide their ‘anti-racist development’, which can be fostered through:

a) accurate knowledge and pride of one’s cultural identity

b) accurate knowledge and appreciation of other cultures and

c) a good understanding of how racism works and how to fight it. One must explore and accept oneself prior to accepting others (this idea is known as the concept of self-identity).


Understanding the origins of prejudice: How children acquire attitudes towards other groups: There appears to be general agreement that ethnic attitudes begin to take shape during the nursery school years. According to many theorists, the development of ethnic attitudes is integrally related to the establishment of a child’s self-identity. The presence of racial awareness in children as young as three suggest that its antecedents must have come at an earlier age-perhaps in non-verbal form.

John Williams (1972, cited in Katz, 1976) suggests that early racial awareness may in fact be reflecting primitive feelings about day and night. According to Williams, children exhibit fear of dark and this he argues may well generalise to dark-skinned people. However, if we assume that also black children are afraid of the dark, this cannot explain the positive attitude they exhibit to their dark-skinned parents, could have negated the previous hypothesis. William’s view is a provocative though admittedly speculative one, requiring some empirical documentation.

A number of theoretical formulations have been posited regarding the acquisition of racial attitudes:

a) Direct instruction: Why are children prejudiced? It is argued that because their parents are. If parents are, then they will pass on such negative feelings to their children.

b) Reinforcement components: the mechanism of reinforcement has frequently been offered as an explanation of how children learn prejudice. Within this view, peers or family as seen as positively rewarding the expression of negative attitudes.

c) Perceptual factors: perceptual differences of groups may be the most basic prerequisite to the development of negative attitudes. Young children have a fear of the strange, a fear that is often elicited by people who look different. If interracial contact occurs at an early age, it should decrease strangeness and thus hinder the development of negative attitudes.

d) Cognitive aspects of racial attitudes: the major problem in prejudice is, in fact, a thought problem, the tendency for categorisation. Categorisation refers to the classification of things into groups based on categories (i.e. fruit, animals). Social categorisation is when people are assigned to groups based on social categories/attributes (i.e. ethnicity, language). Constructing categories makes people’s life easier. Although social categorisation is a normal part of everyday life, it can easily develop into unwarranted prejudice. As we categorise chairs as furniture, we would categorise people as ’us’ and ’them’, and go one step further into loving one or hating the other.

As a parent, how can you raise diversity awareness in your child?



ALLPORT, G. W., 1954. The nature of prejudice. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

BANKS, J.A., 2004. Teaching for social justice, diversity, and citizenship in a global
world. The Educational Forum, 68, pp. 289-298.

DAVEY, A.G. & NORBURN, M.V., 1980. Ethnic awareness and ethnic differentiation amongst primary school children. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 8 (1), pp. 51-60.

KATZ, P.A., 1976. The acquisition of racial attitudes in children. In: KATZ, P.A. (Ed). Towards the elimination of racism. New York: Pergamon Press, pp. 125-156.

WRIGHT, M.A., 1998. I’m chocolate, you’re vanilla: raising healthy black and biracial children in a race-conscious world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Category: articles



About the author



Eva Sakellaridi is an education consultant and a researcher at the University College London (UCL), Institute of Education (IoE). She has a BA in English Language and Literature (2006), a Diploma in TESOL (2010) and a Certificate in Educational Psychology (2011). She also holds a MA in Education with Distinction from the University of Bath (2014). Among Eva’s main broad fields of interest are character education, educational psychology, school leadership and school improvement. Prior to becoming an education consultant, Eva worked in a range of public and private, preschool, primary and secondary educational organisations, universities and charities in a variety of capacities including classroom teacher, remedial teacher, student mentor, education programme manager and deputy school manager. Throughout her teaching career, she has observed that most children acquire academic skills more effortlessly and quicker compared to lifelong skills and has witnessed many and various cases of parental anxiety and concern about children’s character development and learning. As a result, Eva has always used scientific research to explore and personalise old and new pedagogical methods to empower both children and their parents.

Penelope’s Loom


Welcome to “Penelope’s Loom”! This is the name of our collection of educational articles that includes only research-based information on education, educational psychology and parenting, taken from sources such as scientific publications, reviews of research and government reports. Our aim is to offer our readers objective, authentic, scholarly information in a clear and simple way. If you would like to learn more about any of the themes tackled in our articles, feel free to contact us at and we will send you an e-copy of the references and/or further readings.


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