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If you’re curious about the extent of racism in your own child (or group of children), you can use the tools and instructions on this page to test a child’s implicit bias and degree of racism. Be sure to test minority children too, since they can absorb these stereotypes as well and are the ones most affected by them.

The implicit bias racism test for children

This is a simple test to determine the ideas a child has learned regarding different types of skin color. Start off by printing the following resources as needed for your own situation:

Race-test silhouettes for kids

Additional tools & resources:

  • Racism test parent handout (Great for teachers, this sheet allows you to record a child’s answers on a page to send home to their parents)

  • Race bias survey sheet (Allows you to code answers across a classroom or group of kids; good for those who want to keep a reference on hand or those doing research.)

How to administer this racial bias test

Sit down with an individual child and place the silhouettes of different skin tones in front of them.

Part 1: Testing

Before you start, explain that there are no right or wrong answers, and that you just want them to respond with the first thing that comes to mind. Then ask the following questions in the order that they are given, recording a child’s answers after each one:

1. Which one is the nice kid?

2. Which one is the mean kid?

3. Point to the smart child in this group.

4. Show me the child that isn’t as smart.

5. Which one is the naughty kid?

6. Show me the ugly child.

7. Point to the good looking child.

8. Which is the kid most children don’t like?

9. Show me the child you want as a classmate.

10. Show me the kid you’d want to have as a friend.

11. Show me the child that has a skin color closest to your own.

12. Show me the skin color you’d like to have.

13. What is the skin color you don’t want to have?

14. What is the skin color you think most girls/boys want to have?

15. Which child are adults most likely to be upset with?

16. Somebody stole a candy bar. Which child did it?

17. Which kid lives in the nicest house?

18. Which kid is the poorest?

19. Which kids is best at sports?

20. Which kid is toughest?

21. Which kid is the best dancer?

With younger children you may want to condense this list. But ask as many questions as they have patience for.

Part 2: Follow up

After you record a child’s answers, the next step is to go over it again and follow up by asking questions that will disclose what children are thinking: Why is he the naughty kid? Why is he the dumb one? Why is she the prettiest? What is it about this skin tone you find appealing?

Some kids will simply say they don’t know, which is fine. Others might make up stories about what a child did or who she is as a person. Others still might recant their previous opinions once asked to explain them and say that all of the kids are smart, pretty, etc. (Which is why we wait until the end to go back over them and don’t discuss it earlier.)

H2: Interpreting the results of children’s racism tests

When these tests are conducted with groups of children, a common pattern usually emerges: Between two-thirds and three-fourths of the children (minority students included) will say that the lighter skin tones are most likely to be smart, pretty, and good; whereas the darkest skin tones are most likely to be ugly, naughty, and mean.

If you’re a teacher doing this with your class, or a parent testing your own child, the results should give you some clues as to where your kids are at and what you need to work on. Here are some additional observations:

  • Scatter shot answers when it comes to positive traits are usually a good sign. It means that a child doesn’t associate one skin color as all good or all bad.

  • If a child picks a skin tone opposite their own as a best friend, that’s also a good thing. It means that even though a child sees race he or she doesn’t discriminate and is drawn to differences.

  • Look for any answers/ideas that seem to correspond with media bias, (black people steal, for example), and look for ways to combat this.

  • Pay extra attention to minority students who give an ideal skin tone on any of these positive traits that doesn’t relate to their own. Such ideas will remain a sticking point that gets in the way of a child forming a healthy sense of self-identity. The earlier you correct this, the fewer problems you’ll have later on.

  • Consider testing kids again in a year or so and see how these answers have changed. Although generally speaking a child’s perspectives change little from the ages of 5 to 10, if you use this activity to then combat racial stereotypes throughout the year, you might see quite a bit of change in a child’s beliefs (at least as they are expressed)..

See also…

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