ERG SES H 11, Globalisation and Education
In 1982 Alice Walker used for the first time in her novel “The color purple“ the word “colorism”, which means a form of prejudice based on skin color. This neologism allows to be aware of a particular form of discrimination and also to define a specific field of research. If U.S.A context produced lots of studies based on colorism, other countries have had a more open and general view on ethnic or cultural prejudices, discrimination and racism. In Italy, in 1997, the anthropologist Paola Tabet published “La pelle giusta”, a brilliant book which showed that children are not distant from skin color’s bias. In fact, several studies highlight that dark skinned children are often victims of discrimination from adults and society, but few studies specifically focus on skin color discrimination on children coming from the same children. Even today, the “colorblind children” ideology is widespread among adults, teachers and educators and maybe also among scholars, which seem really careful about study expressions of racism in childhood. This social and cultural belief let people to think that all the children, because of their age and their brief experience in the world, are disinterested in skin color (even incapable of perceiving them) and that it could be dangerous to talk about melaninic differences with them because they finally could notice this difference, producing prejudices and racism. Psychology and neurology research projects are showing for many years that even the newborns are already capable of perceiving skin color and ethnic differences by the age of 3 months. Starting from this theoretical framework we conducted a research project to understand if and how primary school children talk about skin colors, picking up any stereotypes or prejudices. Choosing to use the focus group as methodology to stimulate the group dimension and interaction, several stories about skin color discrimination's episodes within their classroom or school have emerged. Using the photo elicitation technique we chose to stimulate talk about the research object, which is the skin color, asking the children what was “the first two things that come into your mind” when they look the photographs presented during the focus group, which represented dark and light skinned women and men. Our research hypothesis is that intercultural education should integrate an antiracist goal both as preventive and action tool to fight discrimination. Teachers and educators might be more aware of their personal prejudices to become sensitive to every form of discrimination, especially those they consider “far from children” as, for example, colorism (skin color discrimination). Intercultural education should take into account its anti-racist objective against every form of discrimination, even those who refer to skin color and the inequalities or advantages associate to this physical element which is still alive and present also among children. Talking about these “hot topics” should become part of the work of those who work with children in an educative sense, to try to understand how children are influenced by an ongoing racist society and give them others readings of reality, plural ways to look at the same phenomenon.
Two-hundred and fifty-five children from 5 Italian primary schools were involved in this research project between November 2015 and February 2016. All the children attended the last biennium of primary school. The sample was created with an accidental procedure because of the “hot topics” involved in this research (skin color and gender), which have made difficult to obtain authorization from all the schools. Two-hundred of two-hundred and five children were born in Italy, 167/225 children had Italians parents, 18/225 children had at least one parent of foreign origin and 40/225 children had both parents of foreign origin. One-hundred ninety-five children were light-skinned and 27/225 children were dark skinned (It’s important to specify that the definition of the children’s skin color was assigned by the focus group moderator in accordance with the observer.). We chose to use the focus group as method to analyze the co-constructed social interaction around these thematic. Each focus group was composed by no more than 7-8 children arranged in a circle with a moderator and an observer. We chose to listen and analyze children’s words, not as completely adherent to the reality, but as mixed representations between reality, context, interaction, children perspectives and personalities. We use the photo elicitation, a methodological technique of research named for the first time by John Collier, photographer and anthropologist, who emphasized the use of photographs in ethnographic research. There is the idea that photographs contain meanings, which people have the ability to see, read, interpret and share. To try to include complexity in our research project, not forgetting that the main objective was to detect gender and skin color stereotypes and prejudices, the first moderator’s request was to ask children to “write on a post-it the first two things that come into your mind when you look at these people”. In this research experience, photo elicitation was used as an “ice breaker” as suggested by the research methodological literature. If we consider this technique as a phenomenology of perception we should focus on the personal, subjective and intimate subject’s look, trying to understand the process which allowed the encounter between photo and person.
Several studies show the present and widespread discriminatory tendency against children and adolescents with dark skin suggesting possible outcomes in terms of compromised mental health and deviant behaviours. Perceiving such important identity traits as a strongly negative element, an obstacle in relationship's building and in personal existential realization can only be a serious risk factor for the children well-being. To daily meet devaluation and contempt against his own skin, organ of protection and containment harms the possibility to build an identity which can positively accept all the different physical and psychological subject’s elements. If it is true that the Declaration of the Right of the Child state that every child should be discrimination free, it’s also true that every adult should protect children from every form of discrimination. How, as adults, we can defend children against discrimination if we cannot admit that even children are potential discrimination’s actors? Without awareness, we risk devaluing these episodes, implicitly confident that the only way to fight against discrimination is to keep her quiet. The right not to be discriminated goes through the right to talk about its own experiences of discrimination and the right to perceive the unfairness of the constant depreciation of skin color or any element of physical diversity. Intercultural education could act as spokesperson for this mission in the belief that difference and plurality could really become elements of potential enrichment for humanity, starting from children.
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