Paul Oakley Stovall says there's more to racist babies than meets the eye

May 11, 2012

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"Racist Babies?" proclaimed a recent Huffington Post headline, in response to news of a recent study.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggests that although infants are born with the ability to tell apart people within multiple races, "by age 9 months they are better at recognizing faces and emotional expressions of people within groups they interact with most," Scientific Daily reported last week.

The study's authors responded to the media's reaction by saying they don't think babies are racist. But that didn't stop playwright Paul Oakley Stovall from meditating on the topic at The Paper Machete.

Read an excerpt below or listen above:

I think we have to simplify this, because we're actually making it too complicated. It is more than just a face, when a nine-month-old, a six-month-old, is looking up. There's more to remembrance than the visual.

There's the smell of our mothers and their food. There's the funk of our brothers in their teenage years. There's the sound of the adults arguing in the kitchen, which is so different in different cultures. There's the gait of that older cousin who is just out of reach intellectually from your six-year-old self, but arouses something in you that's off-limits, because that's your people. That's your people. That's how they move. It's a good thing. 

And now that we are mixing wonderfully in this country and creating new smells, new sounds, new thoughts, new rhythms, new gaits, sometimes it's nice to go back. I mean, you notice other countries don't feel the need to have these studies. I think it is because of our current president and first lady that we're having to have this conversation, and it's a good thing. It's been so easy to smack a label on us and not communicate with each other and find out you're more than white; you're German, Russian and Polish and that's interesting. You're more than Latina; you're Columbian and Venezuelan and there's a whole story there.

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