Sesame Workshop asked kids ages 6 to 11 if they believe people are not treated equally based on race and their responses overwhelmingly show that kids are aware of racism. How parents talk about race with their kids matters.

Advertisement

A new study conducted by the non-profit behind Sesame Street found that an overwhelming majority of kids ages 6-11 believe "people of different races are not treated fairly in this country." The results provide yet more evidence that children have a sophisticated awareness of race and its implications.

An image of a child's hands that say "Stop Racism".
Credit: Getty Images.

Sesame Workshop conducted a survey of 147 parent-child pairs in two waves, in June 2021 and again in January 2021. The first survey round coincided with the intense racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, following the initial outbreak of COVID-19 and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. The second round took place during a period of less intense racial justice protests, but during the winter surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roughly 86 percent of the kids said that they believed people were treated differently based on race. In addition, large subsets reported that they believed this because they had either witnessed and/or experienced such treatment themselves. 

The latest results further shore up the understanding that kids are not colorblind. They understand their own race and other people's, and are observant about how racial differences translate into how people are treated. Anti-racism advocates have been saying for years that effectively countering racism in children requires the adults in their lives to forthrightly acknowledge and address the racist narratives that kids encounter. 

Fortunately, in Sesame Workshop's study, parents felt comfortable having conversations with their children about racism, as well as prepared to discuss it. Seventy-five percent of parents reported that their kids understand racism better in January 2021 than they did in June 2020.

"They want to be the ones teaching their children about the issue but are also comfortable with their children learning from other sources like trusted media, " Courtney Wong Chin, director of content research and evaluation at Sesame Workshop, said in a press release announcing the study results.

Nearly all Black or African American parents (98%) had talked about race or racism at least once by the time their children were 8. Only three-quarters of white parents had done the same. Parents were talking to their kids about these issues in June 2020 and still in January 2021, though a significant percentage of white parents had stopped doing so by the second round of the study. 

Sesame Workshop said it plans to use the study results to inform new content, especially for "Coming Together," which the organization describes as its "commitment to racial justice." Parents and caregivers can use the resources there to start their own conversations with their kids about race and racism.