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Formation of Raced Identities in Young Children Essay

Formation of Raced Identities in Young Children

This section answers the question of formation of raced identities in young children, the way they learn it and its implications. At the outset of this paper, it is critical to note that this ideology of race was strongly rooted in Social Darwinism, and its core elements, which continue to construct an ideology of race today, were, firstly, that it is possible and desirable to classify people into distinct groups by noting their biological, genetic and physical characteristics (MacNaughton and Davis 2001).

Secondly, people’s behaviour is related to those biological, genetic and physical differences. Thirdly, the simplest way to distinguish between groups of people is on the basis of their physical characteristics, especially colour. Finally, some races are more competent and advanced than are others, with the most advanced groups of people (races) being the Europeans an Aryans (MacNaughton and Hatch 2005).

Racial identity is primarily a related to community. Society plays an important role in forming children’s identities, especially on race, which is the subject of this paper. The construction of “a white racial identity is a form of political action that requires a conscious effort to develop an anti-racist identity that embraces the possibility and need for social justice” (Hayes 2001, p. 17).

Race exists in both adults and children alike, and their effects cannot be hidden. Some people identify themselves in terms of their ‘race’. Racial self-identification and categorisation is considered fluid across one’s life-span, shifting with context rather than age.

Postmodern/poststructuralist theorists see identity switching as a sign of human agency and the capacity of humans to play an active role in constructing themselves. “While they can make discourses their own and shape their own meanings in the world, they cannot shape them outside of discourse” (MacNaughton 2005, p.27).

Young children get to know about race from diverse ways and they start to make their own classifications and preferences at various points in life (MacNaughton and Davis 2009).

Ways in Which Children Learn About Race

Influence plays a major role in forming a child’s identity, mostly from society. In their research projects in Victoria, Australia, MacNaughton and Davis (2001) explored young children’s comprehensions of indigenous Australians and the influence of their cultures and they report that during some of the interviews, children said that that they had learnt about Aboriginal people from television, newspapers, stories, an Aboriginal visitor to their centre, friends, cousins, kindergarten and parents.

This argument is quite agreeable to other recent researches. For instance, Skattebol (2005), “also points out that children learnt about the issues of race from television, newspapers and textbooks” (p. 189). Thus, children are easily conformed to the world trends. They are indeed aware of those aspects in the society which influence them.

Primarily, it can be said that children learn about races from their education. The school and home environment, which are the main educative arenas, affect how children create their racial identity (White and Wyn 2008; Matoba 2001). Wyn and Woodman (2006) suggests that it is in the school that children form the core meaning of their identity because teachers and classmates in the school both contribute in forming their raced identities.

Moreover, in these schools, teachers’ attitudes are usually different. While some of them think it inappropriate or unnecessary to talk about racial issues to children in class, other teachers are willing to discuss about racial differences in class (MacNaughton and Davis 2001). Therefore, through teachers with different backgrounds and attitudes, children will receive different information and form different racial identities (Mansfield 2000).

On the other hand, parenting is also significant as an educational effect in the formation of children’s racial identity. Parents are the closest teachers to the children and are more often than not seen as models and will be imitated. In fact, children are very sensitive about the racial differences and stereotypes and are aware of how their parents deal with the problems. The children will almost always end up doing what their parents do.

As an example, Matoba (2001) notes that parents can teach the children to keep a low profile and not fight for the stereotypes about their race at school. This is especially true of most of the families from minority cultures which, as Skattebol (2005) suggests, are reluctant to share their cultures with others.

The importance of discourse, another important way in which children learn about identity, as is suggested in a later study by MacNaughton and Davis (2009):

Children are born into a world of pre-existing discourses, and as they learn language, they learn discourse. They become subject to discourses and discourse form their subjectivities (ways of giving meaning to themselves and their worlds). Identities, including racial identities, are therefore shaped in and through discourses of ‘race’ that pre-exist the child’s entry into the world. (p.43)

However, they also note that children do not merely absorb discourse; they actively make it their own (MacNaughton and Davis 2009).

The development of a racial identity may depend on defining the other that they are not. This is referred to as ‘othering’. Othering may be construed as a process of seeing oneself positively and seeing another as undesirable and lesser (MacNaughton and Davis 2009).

Earlier on, MacNaughton and Davis (2001) note that many post-colonial theorists believe that ‘othering’ is key to the maintenance of racist ideologies. They further point out that therefore, part of what is required to challenge racist ideologies about indigenous Australians is to challenge their ‘othering’ and the traces of colonialism within them (MacNaughton and Davis 2009).

However, While MacNaughton and Davis (2009) suggest that children cannot exist outside of a “raced” discursive field; they also point out that “children’s engagement with their discursive field will shape the children’s ‘racing’” (p.253). Therefore, the cultural backgrounds in the community mislead children in a certain extent and it influenced the formation of children’s raced identities.

Furthermore, it is important to factor in the concept of politics. Race is a proven biological concept of scientific refutation, yet, it does continue to be a great social construct and signifier (Viruru 2007).

This is because it is difficult to factor out the role of politics in racism. Chappell et al.(2003) point out three ideas about identity that are central to putting politics into researching young children’s identities in order to acknowledge the social dynamics and the social contexts in which they live, learn, and produce their racialized lives: firstly, identity is changeable because it is chosen rather than fixed (Robinson and Davies 2007).

Secondly, identity choices are limited or made possible through discourse because it is formed in and through discourse; and finally, it cannot be passively given, rather it is actively performed (Barclay-Mclaughlin and Hatch 2005).

The Implications on Relationships with Others

The raced identities inherently formed in children will adversely influence their relationships with others; both adults and their peers. Based on the aforementioned, it is inferable that children will try to understand themselves but will always want to judge others by creating prejudices; hence othering. MacNaughton and Davis (2001), in the research earlier on mentioned, give us an insight into this:

…irrespective of how these Anglo-Australian children learnt about indigenous Australians, they can and do construct knowledge from an early age about indigenous Australians. More significantly, much of the knowledge being constructed recreates a colonial ‘othering’ of indigenous Australians. In this process, they also create a colonial self-identity based on a binary opposition between ‘black’ and ‘white’ as signifiers of who they are. (p. 89)

A different race always has different cultural backgrounds and herein is an insight given to how children learn about raced identities. They draw themselves into classes, and through various tastes and preferences, they understand culture. Thus they form their identities and curve out the social classes of races where others will be superior while some will be inferior.

The best example that is clear to all and sundry is the racial problem that exists between the whites and the blacks, which is agreeably the worst form of racism. MacNaughton and Davis (2001, p. 83), found out how that Anglo-Australian children generally used these black-white binary to understand aboriginal culture and their own culture.

These children will have a greater bias if they have a lesser understanding on others’ cultures. They will be discriminative of the children who they choose to be friends with, talk to, or be nice to and this might depend on the degree of whiteness (MacNaughton and Davis 2009, p. 35). As a result, hostility might be created among the peers.

Some issues appear insignificant but play major roles in identity formation, whether racial or gender based. Racial identity will always eventually affect adulthood behaviour. Ochsner (2000) portrays the importance of discourse in dealing with identity when she points out at the end of her paper: “Finally, I hope this summary of the gender discourse of make-up exposes how something seemingly as innocent as lipstick or mascara might play an important part in the gendered make-up of girls and boys” (Ochsner 2000, p.210).

It is also notable that youth identity is a complex and integral part of the lives of different groups of young people, “…it is almost impossible to understand the decisions made by young people, and the actions they take without understanding how they see themselves in the world” (White & Wyn 2008, p.191).

They quote Beck who notes that under these circumstances of complexity and fragmentation, power and inequality operate more through exclusion rather than exploitation, and hence individuals must learn to respond to these issues. Therefore, Hayes (2001) suggests that this calls for the constant revision of identities for white people and constant scrutiny, for it will take a momentous amount of resolution to deal with the racist practices within themselves and in the society in which they live.

Bhana (2007) argues that to ensure that children in the junior primary sectors are not made invisible to the serious social and health problems in the country there needs to be a political will. This political will should be connected to the issues of gender and sexual processes of identity.

In order to implement Bhana’s suggestions, MacNaughton and Williams (2009) suggest decolonisation, which involves challenging whiteness, rather than white people per se as not all white people reinforce whiteness, and the colonial ideas of ‘race’ that it implies.

Identity also affects our later lives with respect to adulthood sexuality and dealing with financial issues, as Ochsner (2000) remarks:

These perspectives view heterosexuality as a man-made political institution and a form of sexism, while also acknowledging that every society has an ideal form of femininity and masculinity (i.e. the cool and macho male/the sexy and demure female) that is constituted relationally through the heterosexual matrix. (p. 212)

It exposes the youth (grown-up children) to a jeopardised entrepreneurial self. Kelly (2006) suggests that Imagining Youth at-risk in terms of deficit provokes a range of interventionist regimes that take as their object the transformation of the cultural resources of the disadvantaged a transformation that has as its end the development of an entrepreneurial Subject.

Identify and hence race, will indeed have great influence in a child’s upbringing (St. Pierre 2000). Kelly (2006) goes on to argue that Discourses of Youth at-risk mobilise a form of probabilistic thinking, about certain preferred or ideal adult futures and the present behaviours and dispositions of Youth.


In recap, it is inferable that racial identity is a social relationship and has more of an influence of context rather than age. This is why discourse plays an important role in racial identity. Even more importantly, children learn about races from culture and education. Moreover, education provided by teachers and parents also is a way for children to learn about races.

Othering becomes useful in maintaining racial ideologies, but identity has major effects in later decisions in youth and adulthood. It was also sufficiently argued out that racial identity is hugely influenced by politics and thus political will must be favourable to ease its effect. In addressing racial identity, it should be remembered that identity is changeable, that identity choices are made possible through discourse and that effort is required in the resolve to address the issues of identity.


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