Exploring children's racial attitudes in Australian context - the link between research and practice

Year: 2001

Author: Targowska, Anna

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper is based on the research project conducted recently in WA that aimed to contribute to a better understanding of young children’s ‘racial’ awareness and prejudice. Children’s ‘racial’ attitudes have been of researchers interest for a considerable number of years, in Australia however this topic has been, until recently, relatively unexplored (see Palmer, 1991; Black-Gutman and Hicks, 1996; MacNaughton, 2001).

This project used a phenomenological, qualitative approach in order to explore in the most possible natural and developmentally appropriate way how young children perceive and interpret ‘racial’ differences. The study involved a small sample of children aged 3, 5 and 7 years from an European-Australian background who were randomly selected from two childcare centres and one school in WA and examined their perception and evaluation of difference in relation to Asian, European and Aboriginal - Australian children.

The study findings appear to indicate the importance of environmental rather than cognitive factors in the development of children’s ‘racial’ attitudes. It suggests that children start absorbing prevailing social attitudes early in their life and that environmental-learning factors play a significant role in how children perceive and evaluate difference. These research findings appear to confirm some earlier results of studies conducted overseas (see Ramsey1991; Katz, 1987) as well as in Australia (Black-Gutman & Hickson, 1996; MacNaughton, 2001).