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Supporting cross-racial friendships between kids: the lessons of "prejudice mindsets"

Young kids in racially diverse settings form cross racial friendships easily. But when they get to be around 10 years old, a great many of them start to self-segregate by race. Whether in the classroom or lunchroom, they segregate into racial groups reflecting the social divisions of the larger society.

A common assumption about why this happens has been that kids give up on friendships across race at that age due to an increase in racial bias. But a growing number of studies show that prejudice in kids actually remains stable or slightly declines during middle and late childhood. As such, elevated racial bias is unlikely to be the reason so many kids leave cross-race friendships as early tweens.

New research suggests that “prejudice mindsets,” specifically whether kids believe that racial biases in themselves and in people across racial groups are permanent or changeable, have a big influence on whether kids are willing to engage cross-racially. By 10, many children have gotten the message that racial bias is permanent, that you’re either “racist or not.” Harboring the belief that people can’t change, they hesitate to be in situations where they might be exposed as “racist” – exposed to themselves and others - or the target of racism.

These findings suggest particular strategies to support cross racial friendships among kids into elementary school and beyond. Watch the conversation about this exciting research and about what it means for how parents and educators can support kids. We're excited to be joined for this conversation by MarYam Hamedani and Kristin Pauker!

EmbraceRace: Good evening. We're really excited for the conversation tonight about supporting cross-racial friendships between kids. We've had versions of this conversation before, years ago, with some really interesting folks. Tonight we're speaking specifically to a couple people about prejudice mindsets, about some new research, and how it becomes yet another tool for helping maintain or encouraging across-racial friendships among kids. A lot of you writing in have noticed what the research has also shown that, as kids get older, if they were in diverse settings, they tend to lose their cross-race friendships around 10 and later, even if it was easy to create them earlier. So why does it happen, and what can we do about it?

Someone just put in, "I'm from Florida. Help me." Love to you, Florida!

Mar Yam Hamedani 200 200 px

Tonight we have two amazing guests.

MarYam Hamedani, PhD, is Managing Director and Senior Research Scientist at Stanford SPARQ- a behavioral science "do tank" at Stanford University that develops research-driven partnerships with industry leaders and change makers to combat bias, reduce disparities, and drive culture change. Dr. Hamedani oversees the center's team and projects, and works with practitioners in criminal justice, education, economic mobility, health, media, and technology. MarYam, really glad to have you here.

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And she is joined by Kristin Pauker, who is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawai'i and Director of The ISP Lab (Intergroup Social Perception Lab). Originally born and raised in Hawai'i, she became fascinated with exploring how a person's immediate environment and culturally-shaped theories about race impact basic social perception, social interactions, and stereotyping in childhood and throughout development. Dr. Pauker prioritizes research that can inform change and mitigate bias.

There is very often a personal part of the story for the people who do this kind of work. Can you give us some sense of how you came to this work?

Kristin Pauker: I think it's a combination of where I grew up, and then where I ended up, particularly going to college. So I grew up, born and raised on the island of O'ahu in Hawai'i, and for me, I identify as multiracial. That is a very normative identity here. There are many, many individuals who are multiracial or multiethnic, and it is kind of a common practice among kids to ask other kids, "What are you?" But from this perspective of sharing, where it becomes a, "Oh. Well, I am this, this, this, and this."

Then, the other person's like, "Oh. I'm this, this, this, and this," and so coming from that environment. Then, I went to college on the east coast at Dartmouth, which is a primarily white institution, and that was really, really new for me, and I got a lot of warnings from family members, from others before I went to school, kind of telling me, "It's going to be different. You're going to experience some different things that you may not be used to," and I didn't really get what they were talking about. Certainly, my first few years of experience there, that became very apparent. Mainly, it had to do with this kind of constant questioning about my identity, and so it's kind of the first thing everyone wants to know, is that "What are you?" question.

But it seemed to come from a slightly different place. It seemed to come from a place of, "I want to know what you are, because I want to know how to categorize you, so then I know how to treat you or interact with you," and so for me it was interesting to have those conversations, as well as hear people's responses to how I described my own identity. A lot of that was uncomfortableness, wanting to re-categorize me into something else. Initially, it was also just a language difference. In Hawai'i we have terms that we use that are very, very common, hapa being one of them. Initially, I would tell people, "I'm hapa," and people would respond with, "I don't know what you're talking about," and so then I had to find new language, and then people were not necessarily comfortable with that either.

I would say, "Oh. Well, I'm Japanese. I'm white. I'm from Hawai'i." And they'd be like, "Oh. You are Hawai'ian." I was like, "No, I'm not. That's an Indigenous identity." And so there would be this constant conversation that really got me interested in these ideas of how we think about identity, how we think about race, and how much of that is shaped by our environments that we grow up in. That kind of set me on this path.

EmbraceRace: What does hapa mean?

Kristin Pauker: The term itself means half, and so often it's used to describe identities where someone is a mixture of things, and there's combinations of it that you can use. Hapa haole would be one example, half white or part white. You can have different descriptors. Hapa came to be used as a shorthand for anyone who is mixed in Hawai'i, but it has been adapted in other areas of the United States for particular sets of mixed individuals, and there's some contention around the appropriateness of that.

EmbraceRace: MarYam, what can you tell us about yourself and how you came to this work?

MarYam Hamedani: Thanks so much, Melissa and Andrew and Kristin, for inviting me to be a part of the conversation today. I think there's just so much of Kristin's story that resonates, and I think we can all probably agree that interacting in our diverse society across race, and across other social differences and identities, is hard, especially today, but always. And really, no matter who you are, where you come from, where you're positioned, none of us are experts. We might know our own experience, but we don't always know the experience of others, and there's always a lot at stake, both for ourselves and for others in those interactions. And so I learned that too, growing up pretty early in my own family.

We were kind of a diverse bunch where there were a lot of these differences going on, interacting, and clashing. We had some brown Middle Easterners, white Italians. We had some Muslims. We had some Catholics. We had some Zoroastrians. We had some atheists. We had people working blue-collar jobs and white-collar jobs. We had some with no more than middle school educations and some with graduate degrees. We had some who were immigrants and some who were Americans. Some liberals, some right wingers. Some vegetarians, some meat eaters. We had all of that clashing, interacting all the time, and that's what it was like for me growing up. It's still like that to a large degree. We didn't always see eye to eye.

As a young kid, but also as a budding social scientist, it was pretty clear to me, although I didn't quite have the words or the frameworks for it yet, that these differences weren't innate. They weren't permanent inside of people or my family members or the groups they were a part of. They were coming from these different worlds they lived in or that they came from. They just had these really different experiences. Maybe they had different kinds of opportunities, different resources, different statuses they were afforded. Maybe they had access to different types of things as they grew up and went throughout their lives. So just all of these different perspectives were coming together. They were clashing. They were interacting. That diversity was rich, and I learned so much from it, but it was also hard to navigate, and it took a lot of trial and error.

Maybe it would've been better, a little easier for some of us with some learning, some strategies, or some tools. I won't get too much into it now, because I know we'll get there in our conversation, but that's why Kristin's new work that she's going to talk with us, about prejudice mindsets, is so exciting. Also, the work we do at SPARQ, and all of the tools and learnings that EmbraceRace is sharing is so important. How do we help people navigate this complexity and put these insights to work to really improve our practices, our interactions? How do we unearth sometimes some critical, but also invisible biases in our culture about race and about differences that might hold us back? Then, how can we use this great opportunity with kids to really undo some of that or help set them up for better interactions in the future? I'm excited to talk more about that with all of you.

EmbraceRace: Amen to both of these stories. It's hard, and you're not an expert in everything. You sort of underline that a lot, but you're an expert in your situation. There's just a lot to learn always. So I love hearing that from you all too.

How do we help people navigate this complexity and put these insights to work to really improve our practices, our interactions? How do we unearth sometimes some critical, but also invisible biases in our culture about race and about differences that might hold us back? Then, how can we use this great opportunity with kids to really undo some of that or help set them up for better interactions in the future?"

MarYam Hamedani

EmbraceRace: Kristin, can we dive into prejudice mindsets? What are they? How did you come to study them?

Kristin Pauker: Yes, so this idea of prejudice mindsets came from looking and diving into some of the literature on kids and how kids start to develop biases. When we look at most of the research, you can see that, by and large, not all of it, but a large portion of it really focuses on understanding kids' racial prejudice, if we're talking about race, for example. And so we ask questions like, "When do kids form prejudice? What leads to prejudice?" Really focusing on prejudice as an attitude, this internal thing that kids have, that they develop.

If you dig down, a smaller portion of the research focuses on kids' behavior. What do kids do in race-related situations? When might they discriminate? When might they not? When do they choose to have a friend of a different race? When do they choose to exclude someone who might look different than them on any number of dimensions? Less of the work focuses on that, I think in part, arguably because we assume that prejudice is what leads to this biased behavior. We assume there's this direct connection, so if we can understand prejudice and deal with that, we're good. We're tackling the problem, and so we really have focused so much of our effort on that. Actually, if you look at some of what we know, even not just looking at prejudice and behavior discrimination, but even looking at just attitudes and behavior, the connection between the two, it's not such a clear connection. And so yes, we can understand a lot about prejudice, but it may not help us understand how to create better interactions, how to create more cross-group friendships.

There's this kind of a disconnect there. Interestingly, if we look at when kids start to, even if they had cross-race friends earlier in their childhood, when they start to have less of them, it happens at a time where prejudice isn't changing all that much. In fact, what we know from the research is it's actually not increasing at that time. It may even be decreasing, according to some, or staying stable. We started to think about, "What are things that might explain behavior a little bit better?" And so that's when we started to think about prejudice mindsets. What that means is, when you think about prejudice, do you think about prejudice as something that can change, it's malleable, or do you think about it as something that's fixed, that someone has, it's inside of them and it's always going to be the same?

Basically, what we found in our research is that this difference in how you think about prejudice is what matters in terms of children's motivations to want to maintain cross group friendships or interact with someone who is a different race than them. And so this research was originally conducted with 8 to 13-year-old children, and we found that the more they thought about prejudice as fixed, the less likely they wanted to interact with a cross group individual, a peer, the more anxious they were when they were put in those interactions, and the less likely they really wanted to do it again. Versus, if they thought about it as malleable, we saw kind of the opposite. They're more likely to want to continue to have those interactions. I think an important aspect is, do we know that it's the mindsets, or could it be maybe people who are more fixed also are more prejudice too? We do also measure prejudice and look to see, does that matter?

Basically, what we found was that, even when we measure prejudice, the mindset seemed to be more important. Someone who doesn't show very much prejudice, in terms of their level of prejudice as we measure it, they actually could look like they're really biased in terms of their behavior. They'll avoid the interaction. They'll have a bad interaction. They'll say, "I don't want to interact with cross-group friends, but I'm fine interacting with someone who's the same group as me."

So all of that looks like prejudice when we think about how that is enacted in behavior, but yet this kid has a low level of prejudice when we look at attitudinal prejudice. What we find is that that same kid thought about prejudice as fixed. Something about thinking about it as fixed makes us really more worried about the implications of how that interaction is going to go, the possibility that I might discriminate or I might be discriminated against, and so thus I want to not go there. I don't want to have that interaction, and so it seems to matter quite a bit.

This difference in how you think about prejudice is what matters in terms of children's motivations to want to maintain cross group friendships or interact with someone who is a different race than them... The more they thought about prejudice as fixed, the less likely they wanted to interact with a cross group individual, a peer, the more anxious they were when they were put in those interactions, and the less likely they really wanted to do it again.

Kristin Pauker

EmbraceRace: Some people might be familiar with the teacher's Growth Mindset. And Carol Dweck was one of your collaborators on this?

Kristin Pauker: Yeah.

EmbraceRace: What does it mean for kids that have more bias? Can they look or act in a way that's considered less exclusionary, depending on their mindset?

Kristin Pauker: Yes. Vice versa, the opposite would be the case of the example I just gave. Someone could have really high attitudinal biases. We would measure it, and call them prejudice in terms of their attitudes, but if they really think that prejudice could change, they could exhibit behavior that looks less prejudice in terms of their interaction, in terms of their willingness to have those friendships. It's not a one-to-one relationship, but it seems to be important, and perhaps more important than bias, at least in this particular circumstance.

EmbraceRace: I think very often when people hear about cross-racial anything, the images that come to mind are of a white child and a child of color, but of course there are many different kids of color within different racial identities, right? And there's also, I think, an expectation that these dynamics might be a bit different, depending on what kind of cross-racial pairings or clusters we're talking about. Did your research tease any of that out?

Kristin Pauker: It doesn't do it well. I will say that. These were children were 8 to 13 years old. This was research that was conducted in the Bay Area, so they came from a range of schools that varied in their diversity in the larger Bay Area. That included both public and private schools, and so there was kind of a variation of the type of school that we did the research with as well. The three biggest groups of children that we had were white children, Black children, and Latinx children. And so we were able to look at white children and children with minoritized identities and show, for example, that the mindsets about prejudice were seen to be influential for both groups in a similar way, but arguably maybe through slightly different ways of thinking about the interaction.

I think it probably did increase students' willingness to make mistakes, potentially engage in an interaction, and think about the possibility of learning from the other child, but maybe their concerns would be different, right? One child's concern might be more about, "Could I do something that might be perceived as racist in some way?" Another child might be worried more about, "How this is going to go in terms of how I might be treated?" Both kind of these concerns about expectations about the other group. We had some data in this study that does look at cross-race friendships in terms of their self reports, and we did count friendships that are not just white children of color, but we also counted cross-race friendships was between a child of color and another child of color from a different group. We have some evidence that this matters for both types of cross-race friendships, but I don't think enough. We don't have the ability to really dig into that with the data that we have, for sure.

EmbraceRace: I'm thinking about, when you say, for example, the child who was concerned about interacting with another child is going to be relieved with some anxiety if child number one is told, "Yeah. Prejudice is fluid. It can be improved if you work on it and so on." Now, that child, you're saying, is going to be to feel freer in interacting, and yet it seems to me that that child should be more concerned about what the other child thinks about that, right? If I think that you believe prejudice is malleable and can move, I would think that's what I would be concerned about. Not so much whether or not any prejudice I have is malleable, but whether you think it is.

Kristin Pauker: Yeah. It more about what you think that matters, that whether I think my prejudice can change or whether I think other people's prejudices can change, and particularly the person that I'm interacting with, whether I think they think prejudice can change. That's a fantastic question. The research itself doesn't quite tease that apart effectively. The scale itself talks about whether prejudice can change broadly, so it's your belief in whether prejudice, not my prejudice specifically, but prejudice generally, can change. It's broadly referring to myself and to other people, but as to how the child interprets that, I don't know that we know for sure.

EmbraceRace: So fascinating. Many people have read Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, and there's an understanding that somehow self-segregating, for Black kids anyway, if they're in a more white environment, is just part of their racial identity formation. How does your research square with that?

Kristin Pauker: Yeah, so that is a great question. I think it's particularly interesting, because we're reading Tatum's book right now in the class I'm teaching, so we have a lot of discussions surrounding this. And so we do know that it is a healthy aspect of development for Black children, for minoritized children within a setting. And so it is important, and it is a way that allows for an understanding and a sense of racial and ethnic identity, and developing a positive sense of that identity, as well as it can be a direct dealing with discrimination, right? So this is a way of dealing with discrimination and a way to process that. "I have a community and peers which I can process that information."

What I would say is that, that is important, and it is also important to be simultaneously developing cross-race friendships and maintaining them if we can. I don't think it's an either-or, and I do think there is a positive aspect of self-segregation, particularly for minoritized children, but that both are important. The other thing we know too from the developmental literature is particularly in environments where it might be a white majority environment, that having a cross-race friend actually can be really important, both in terms of feeling of social support. It can also buffer discrimination that you might experience, so children who might have negative peer experiences, like discrimination in those environments, when they do have a cross-race friend, they're able to recover from those experiences well. That seems to serve as another support, so it's not one or the other. I think both are important supports.

EmbraceRace: People are wondering, do you have any children in your life that impact your work?

Kristin Pauker: I do have a child, only one. I have a, now, 12-year-old. I had to think about that. I have a 12-year-old boy who was born in the Bay Area actually, and then we've been raising him here in Hawai'i, so yes. And then I've been dealing with how to think about these things, and other things as well that are related to development, that are really important.

Kristin Pauker: Prejudice is often the umbrella term that we use to describe attitudes, behavior, and cognitions, so we use it as an umbrella term. The attitude part, so how I feel about a group, whether I have positivity or negativity towards a group, is called prejudice. And so often, when I'm using the term prejudice, I'm using it to describe an attitude, but the umbrella term also corresponds with behavior and cognitions as well.

When we talk about behavior, we're talking about typically discrimination. Am I treating one group differently based on social group membership? In this case, race. And then cognition would be my beliefs about a group. Do I have stereotypes, or what are my stereotypes and my associations about a particular racial group, for example? The umbrella term describes attitudes, behavior, and cognitions, which maps onto prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes. But when I'm talking about it here, I really am primarily talking about the attitudes, because that's the term we use for attitudes. It's a little confusing, I do admit.

Bias is a more general term, and it could mean how I feel about a group, that I feel more positive or negative. It could mean I simply show a preference. It's a little bit more of a neutral term, and it could describe differences in either directions. I could have a pro-bias towards my group, or I could have a pro-bias towards another group, where I explicitly favor a group that is not my own, so it's thought of as a slightly more neutral term than prejudice.

EmbraceRace: Thank you. Thanks for the definitions, and for giving us the word about your 12-year-old. MarYam, any kids in your life that you're thinking about when you do this work?

MarYam Hamedani: Not of my own, but I certainly have some wonderful nieces, nephews, and neighbors that I do think of a lot, and also just the interdependence with our community of kids and future generations as well, so yes. In that case, I do, but not directly myself. I think Kristin did a fabulous job of defining terms. I would only add, with bias, that people may also be hearing these days some talk about bias in systems, as well as in people, and how those may also interact. And so that can also mean when different systems, institutions, organizations, ways that society is organized also tend to show a push or a preference to favor a group or an outcome over others. And as Kristin mentioned too, it doesn't always mean sort of a negative outcome, but it is often used that way.

EmbraceRace: MarYam, you're doing a lot of work in developing tools that respond to bias and prejudice. Tell us about it. What are you hearing in this research, and how does it square with your own work? How do you think the work you've done might apply?

MarYam Hamedani: Sure, sure. I'm happy to do that. Just a quick overview. At SPARQ, as Andrew mentioned in the beginning, we are a behavioral science "do-tank" in the Psychology Department at Stanford, and so our core is social psychologists. We also collaborate, interdisciplinary, with a variety of other folks too, depending on our project, but our passion and our goal is to really put the insights from research around bias, around culture, and around inequality to work in the world. Also to learn from that, bring those insights back into the research world, and into the university. We really do that by developing research-driven partnerships with practitioners in a variety of different spaces.

We do work in education, but also criminal justice, economic mobility, health, and media and tech, but all really focused around that goal of combating bias, reducing disparities, and driving culture change toward greater inclusion. And so that's what our focus is. I think that that's the link to the conversation here, and so I think that I'll do a couple things in talking about some of the application work that we've done in this space. One is, first, Kristin's amazing work here is very hot off the presses in our research world, and so there is a lot of amazing opportunity to apply it, but some of the things that we've done and had the chance to test out so far is just a tiny bit different but very connected.

One way we apply this work is through developing some tools for educators geared at helping people talk and teach about race, particularly educators and how those tools are geared to help them teach about race in classrooms and help students interact in these inter-group situations. Then, also some different ways that we have tested out how these different kinds of mindsets about race matter in student outcomes, both for minoritized students and for all students. First, prejudice mindsets, we have this idea that prejudice is fixed or malleable, as Kristin has described. The interesting thing about these two mindsets is that they have sort of a different relationship to the history and culture of how race has been talked about in the US. The prejudice is fixed mindset actually has stronger roots in American narratives about race. That might be familiar to some of you here, so I'll just say a little bit about what that is.

So the idea that race is something that we are, sort of an essential characteristic of people or of groups, rather than actions that people do, something that's constructed and reinforced throughout different levels of society, across history and throughout time. That idea has been part of our American story, and so seeing race as something fixed and as something essential, combined with a couple of our other cultural, I'll just call them for the moment, bad habits of being very individualistic or individual focused, blaming racism on people or bad apples rather than systems, as well as continuing to fall back on things, like colorblindness, as ways to go beyond race. These are all powerful status quo biases. You could think about them in terms of how we talk about and think about race, that have some powerful roots in our culture, and they shape how a lot of people and how kids, how families talk and think about race.

But we know, from decades of social science research, that that's not really how race works. Instead, race is more contextual. It's more malleable. It's more dynamic. Racism or prejudice, while it can be individual, is also very powerfully systemic, very powerfully institutional. Being race aware, or I know as EmbraceRace likes to say, race brave instead of race blind is a much more productive way in many contexts to address racial inequality. And so the good news is amazing research, like Kristin's here, shows us that we don't have to be stuck with these status quo biases and the divisive outcomes that they can lead to. We can really encourage more productive ways to think, talk, and connect across race, and we can intervene early. We can intervene with our kids, so now I'll just talk about two ways that we have put some of these ideas into application at SPARQ.

One bucket of work has really been around translating these insights from research into tools and materials that educators can use in classrooms to help students learn to talk and think about race differently. For example, we've developed some evidence-based digital toolkits with higher ed leaders at Stanford to help educators facilitate more productive conversations about race. One toolkit, for example, we developed with Stanford's Race Study Center called RaceWorks, and it houses a series of short films and educational activities, which is based on research. We are translating those insights to teach people about what we call how people "do race," and how we can in turn undo racism. The toolkit walks you through these films, these materials, and these classroom activities that you can do. It really seeks to translate this idea that race and racism are not fixed and static, but instead dynamic, malleable, and constructed.

Both the tools that we've developed, and then some of the studies I'll talk about next, are with high school college aged kids. We have done a little bit with middle school. We would love to do and think together about more with younger kids, but that's what our current tools are geared toward.

We don't have to be stuck with these status quo biases and the divisive outcomes that they can lead to. We can really encourage more productive ways to think, talk, and connect across race, and we can intervene early... Race and racism are not fixed and static, but instead dynamic, malleable, and constructed.

MarYam Hamedani

EmbraceRace: We got a question from someone in registration who asked, "Where do kids get this idea that race is fixed?" And it's funny, right? Everywhere.

MarYam Hamedani: We go through it in RaceWorks. We talk about media, literature, history, and it's really throughout our whole culture. It's a very powerful idea that comes from a lot of places.

EmbraceRace: Right, this idea that you are racist or not, right?

MarYam Hamedani: It's reinforcing, yeah.

EmbraceRace: Kristin, you talk about 8 to 13-year-old kids in your study, and I assume that's true because that spans the age where we see this transition, right? So the 8-year-old is much more likely to be friends across race and the 13-year-old much less likely, and you're saying it's not about prejudice change.

Yes, it's in the culture, these messages of race is fixed, and so is racism or prejudice. What is it that explains why that message seems to take hold somewhere in that 8 to 13 transition? The 8-year-old isn't thinking that, but has also been in bombarded for a long time. I mean, that obviously would be a critical intervention point, presumably, around this age.

Kristin Pauker: So part of what we think is happening is that, one thing we do know is cognitive development. There's important cognitive developments that are happening in this range. They can perspective take before this, but they're becoming very good at perspective taking, really starting to understand not only how I understand things, but how someone else understands things, how they could have a view of me that is different than the view I have of myself.

So really, this ability to perspective take and understand someone could have different ideas and thoughts about the very same thing allows kids to start to understand, in really concrete ways, what discrimination is, what it might mean for someone to think, "I might discriminate against them," or to even have an understanding that the possibility that they might have expectations about how this interaction might go, that might be different than mine, and then I would be worried about that. So yes, they could obviously be having an understanding that it's fixed.

We don't see a difference in the extent to which they agree with whether the prejudice, particularly, is fixed or malleable over that. They don't change in what proportion of kids are agreeing with those ideas, but what seems to change is there are other things that are coming together to make those messages operate in this way, where they're like, "This message combined with now what I know and my worries, my understanding really, in a concrete way, of how this interaction might not go well." All of those things together, then, is part of what is impacting that change.

EmbraceRace: What does this mean for parents or educators? Christina asked, "Do we talk less to children about who is or isn't racist, and more about what people do or think or say that is racist, and about systems that encourage them to think, say racist things?"

Kristin Pauker: I think part of what happens, very quickly, is when we see incidents that happen, we want to explain why, and those conversations about why are important. We see something happen, a child is going to ask why, or they hear all these things being said, and so you want to have a conversation about why. I think the natural point that people often go to was, "Oh. Well, they're just a racist person. That police officer was racist, and that is why," and it's situating the racism in the person again, when it could be racism at the system level. It could be part of how the police department does their policing, and so that kind of easy explanation, that most of us go to quickly, is perhaps one that we need to start questioning a little bit more, maybe not the first explanation that we talk about, talking about other possible explanations, focusing on the doing and less on, "It's the person itself." MarYam, I'm sure you have other thoughts.

MarYam Hamedani: I think that's right. Bringing up that concept of perspective can be really helpful. In psychology, we use this term of internal attribution, so let's say you're trying to describe an in incident, casting people as a good person and a bad person, or as a kind of an enemy and a good guy, and this clash happened, because this is how a lot of our narrative storytelling works in books and in movies. It's something compelling and that kids can catch onto to, to actually pull out and try to tell more of the story of what happened.

So what was the event, and what might somebody be thinking when they came into the situation? And so I think it's learning to talk and think more about the situation and the context, and maybe to step, as Kristin is saying, outside of the person. So maybe how can we think and tell stories, not just by casting people in those roles, but maybe think more like directors and set the scene, and to talk with kids from different perspectives. What might this person have been thinking and feeling, or why might they have that idea about that person, instead of using some of these shorthands that reinforce those mindsets.

EmbraceRace: MarYam, I'm thinking about your work. Standford and SPARQ is very high profile. There is a pronounced movement across states to squash conversations about race in schools.

MarYam Hamedani: Even some new things happening today in higher ed.

EmbraceRace: And to be sure, there's also movement in the States the other way. There are also states that are introducing legislation, for example, that would open these conversations up.

MarYam Hamedani: Correct.

EmbraceRace: Given how high profile your center is and given this movement of a very prominent movement, to squash these conversations, in the last year or two that this has been going on, what kind of attention are you getting from schools, from teachers? Thinking about high school students, can you say more about what kinds of conversations you're supporting people to have? Has the demand actually gone up with all this concern? What have you seen?

MarYam Hamedani: I think that's a great and very complicated question. The temperature has certainly been turned up a great deal, as you mentioned. I think it's one of those things where, of course, this is at play in politics very actively right now, where we are seeing this push back and forth. I think, even before when we were developing these tools and getting feedback from educators, communities, and things like that, on the one hand there's a great thirst for information and connection to research, and also to know what the impact is, because there's a difference between the rhetoric and what the research shows in the sense of, we actually know quite a lot about how students can benefit from learning these different perspectives, what that experience can be like for both minoritized students and for white or majority group students, students in different educational contexts.

There's still a lot more, of course, that we can know, but there's a fairly solid research base about what these different inter-group learning experiences can be, experientially, intellectually, things like that. They can have a lot of positive outcomes. The downside is how it's getting politicized here. I think that I would say that there's a thirst for materials. I think we could get out into the narrative more about the science, and people have been trying to do that, and also what the downsides are about shutting down these conversations, and to talk more about the outcomes, because I think that we politicize the motivations for doing it.

But also we can think about, "Okay. Well, if we don't, what kinds of situations are we going to be putting our kids, putting ourselves in?" And I think that we have a fair amount of research to show how it can hurt everyone. I think that's hard, sometimes getting that evidence, and with the skepticism of evidence right now, it can be harder to tell that story. But any science journalists out there that would like to help do that, I think that's something maybe that we need to do more of.

EmbraceRace: How is prejudice measured for children, and are the tools or methods used for children different than adults, given the premise that prejudice is a non-threat?

Kristin Pauker: The tools for adults and children are actually fairly similar, in the sense that we have tools that measure prejudice explicitly, where we simply ask a child. We might give them a picture of another child and say, "How much do you like this child? How much do you want to befriend this child?" We could use similar things for adults, but there are also implicit measures, which are less direct, that have been developed for children as well. I'm imagining many might be aware of Project Implicit, which is run by Harvard, where you can go and take an Implicit Association Test. And so that measure, an IAT or Implicit Association Test, also has been developed to be used with children as well, and so we can also measure implicit bias in children in various ways. The research does show that children develop both explicit and implicit bias quite early on.

EmbraceRace: It does feel like this mindset is sort of an additional tool, and that, MarYam, you suggest tools that you all have created at SPARQ. I guess it really sets a complicated picture, right? I think you guys are not saying, "Don't pay attention to bias," but you're saying, "It's complicated, and this is another way that you can really influence kids to reach across race."

There's so many great takeaways from this, and I just want to mention two that seem really interesting to me. One is, at the end of the day, I think we're really concerned about behavior, and behavior, it turns out, is determined by lots and lots of things, which in part means there could be lots of powerful solutions. It also means lots of leverage points, lots of places where you could conceivably intervene, right? And MarYam, I'm sure that if you are able to say more about the interventions you're doing and where the intervention point is, the leverage point is at which that intervention operates, we could then look at all the other things that show some promise like, "Oh. There are lots of possibilities."

MarYam Hamedani: Yes, there is hope!

EmbraceRace: At Embrace Race, we are so grounded in what really good research and really good experiences have to tell us about how we can do this work, but then having to apply it, right? What are the interventions with educators, with parents, with others? Then, do those things work, under what circumstances? Really, treating this like, if not altogether solvable, we can definitely do better than we've done, and I think we will.

Thank you, not only for this conversation, but for doing the work you doing. It's so important. Thanks to all of you for showing up and listening, and hopefully doing the work in your own lives. Thank you so much.

Related Resources

MarYam Hamedani

MarYam Hamedani, Ph.D., is Managing Director and Senior Research Scientist at Stanford SPARQ—a behavioral science “do tank” at Stanford University that develops research-driven partnerships with industry leaders and changemakers to combat bias, reduce disparities, and drive culture change. Dr. Hamedani oversees the center’s team and projects, and works with practitioners in criminal justice, education, economic mobility, education, health, media, and technology. She is a social psychologist with expertise in culture, race, inequality, and organizational and societal change. More about MarYam >
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Kristin Pauker

Kristin Pauker is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawai‘i and director of the ISP lab. She received her A.B. from Dartmouth College (2002), Ph.D. from Tufts University (2009), and completed postdoctoral study at Stanford University. Originally born and raised in Hawai‘i, she became fascinated with exploring how a person’s immediate environment and culturally-shaped theories about race impact basic social perception, social interactions, and stereotyping in childhood and throughout development. Dr. Pauker prioritizes research that can inform change and mitigate bias. More about Kristin >
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