Racial Awareness and Bias Begin Early: Developmental Entry Points, Challenges, and a Call to Action

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Overt expressions of racial intolerance have surged precipitously. The dramatic uptick in hate crimes and hate speech is not lost on young children. But how, and how early, do children become aware of racial bias? And when do their own views of themselves and others become infused with racial bias? This article opens with a brief overview of the existing experimental evidence documenting developmental entry points of racial bias in infants and young children and how it unfolds. The article then goes on to identify gaps in the extant research and outlines three steps to narrow them. By bringing together what we know and what remains unknown, the goal is to provide a springboard, motivating a more comprehensive psychological-science framework that illuminates early steps in the acquisition of racial bias. If we are to interrupt race bias at its inception and diminish its effects, then we must build strong cross-disciplinary bridges that span the psychological and related social sciences to shed light on the pressing issues facing our nation’s young children and their families.