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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Kids on Race, the Hidden Picture

Aired April 14, 2012 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight we want to bring you an important 360 special report called "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture." It's a project over a year in the making.

Now race, of course, is one of the most explosive issues in America and for many adults the most taboo to talk about with children. But what a lot of adults don't seem to realize is that kids, even as young as 6, are already talking about race, thinking about race. And what they say is that making friends with kids of other races is hard and only gets harder as they grow up.

360 teamed up with renowned child psychologist Dr. Melanie Killen to scientifically measure children's attitudes on race.

Now take a look at this. Dr. Killen and her team showed 6-year-old kids this picture and asked them questions like, what's happening here? Are these children friends? And would their parents want them to be friends? The picture is designed to be ambiguous. What's happening is in the eye of the beholder.

Then they show them this picture and ask the same question. Now the only difference in the pictures, the race of the children was flipped. Both white and African-American children were tested, and in addition to the 6-year-olds, the psychologist showed a similar set of pictures to 13-year-olds.

At our request, they also asked kids open-ended questions about race to try to understand how it plays into their own lives. The responses were raw, some of the experiences they described were frankly shocking. This is the reality of what kids see, hear and think about race. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have the same skin, you can play together. But if you don't have the same skin, you can't play together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So why can't you play together if you have different colored skin?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you're mom might not want you to play with that friend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK to tell people that they can't be your friend because of the color of their skin?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is that OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because your mom will not want them to be the same -- be -- be a different color friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it'd be easy for a kid to convince his parents that it would be OK to have other types of people with us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Huh-uh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably because you might get in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would a parent want to put -- want you to get in trouble if you wanted someone to come over to your house who has a different skin color?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably because they don't allow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not? Would parents -- some parents not allow other skin colored kids to come over?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably because they might not like that skin color.

DANTE, PARTICIPANT IN AC360 STUDY: I've been bullied like for the way I looked and the way my skin at my previous school that I went to. And they just kept on bullying me. And I didn't like it. I just asked them to stop like over and over again. And then I tried to, like, I tried not to break, but I couldn't hold on anymore. So I asked my mom, can I leave?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My grandparents have a lot of -- like, they're very racist against African-Americans. And, like, other races. But it's 2012. So they have to, like, push that aside. You know, they'll be like, no, that's -- that's wrong to be -- you want to stick with your own race. I'm like, no, I'm friends with everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, there was more. Our CNN study found signs of hope and progress as well. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If somebody has, like, a different kind of skin color, they should -- they always -- if they're their friend, you always should be friends. So, like, I have tons of friends that are black and I'm white.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't matter what skin color you are. It just -- it's just inside here. Like, in your heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: This is the second time that 360 has scientifically studied children and race. Back in 2010 we discovered that kids as young as 5 picked up on racial attitudes in the world around them. And all of the ugliness that can sometimes come with that.

This time around we wanted to understand why children have these attitudes on race. How those attitudes change as kids get older. And how the race of their classmates may shape the adults they're going to become.

We begin tonight with the results of the younger children in our study.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you don't have the right color skin.

COOPER (voice-over): We tested 145 kids at six schools spread across three states. The schools had three different racial make-ups. Majority white, majority African-American and racially diverse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think that Brenda pushed Sarah?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because she wanted to get on the swing.

COOPER: What the research found might surprise you. The first headline, overall young white children are far more negative about interactions between the races than young black children. When white children were shown these pictures, they had a negative interpretation 70 percent of the time. Meaning they were much more likely to say this --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did he fall off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bobby pushed him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Brenda pushed Sarah off the swing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that he did something that was good or bad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bad.

COOPER: Than they were to say this --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How good would you say what Bobby is doing is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Super good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Super good?

COOPER: White kids are also far more likely to think the white child and black child in the picture are not friends. And think their parents wouldn't approve of them being friends. But why? Responses like this might begin to explain. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it would be as easy to ask your mom to have someone over who's the same skin color than someone over who's a different skin color?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that might be hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about it might be hard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because all my people in my family are white, and not mostly people that my mom knows and dad knows are black or brown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. So it might be kind of hard to ask your mom to have a friend over who's black or brown?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you hear?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to be your friend, because I have white skin and you have black skin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. What is it about skin color that sometimes kids think they might not want to be friends?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they don't ,like, like their color. Like, they don't like brown, so they want a white color skin friend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's say this is an ambiguous situation.

COOPER: Our expert, Dr. Melanie Killen, says children's own experiences with race, along with the messages they hear at school and at home, the characters in the TV shows they watch, what they see online, all of those have an effect. But the subtle messages adults might not even realize they're sending also have a huge effect on children. Dr. Killen calls it implicit bias.

DR. MELANIE KILLEN, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: When we're in a situation in public, we're in a room and we have an opportunity to ask two different people for help for something, and we might just, you know, be more likely to ask the person of the same race than somebody in an opposite race for help. All that really has a very powerful influence very early in children's lives. Much earlier than we think.

COOPER: But if all kids internalize what they see and hear about race, why are young black children more positive about race than young whites? Remember, 70 percent of young white kids saw these and thought something negative happened. When black children looked at the same pictures, only 38 percent saw something negative. Meaning they were much more likely to see this --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going on with Carrie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was sad that her friend got hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going on with Chris?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He -- he was waiting his turn.

COOPER: Positive attitudes, despite experiences like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My friend's mom wanted to be only her daughter's friend because he's only white and I'm black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So it happened with your friend's mom?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That only wanted him to be friends with people who were the same color?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so he didn't want you to be friends?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, how did that make you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And was it something that they said?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did they say it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't be my daughter's friend because you're not the same color.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said that you can't be friends because you're not the same color?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She dropped her --

COOPER: Six-year-old Ciarra (ph) was so vocal about race I asked her more questions afterwards.

(On camera): You've heard people talk about other people's skin color. And what kind of stuff do they say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They say, they say to the teacher, I don't like their black skin. Can they go to another school?

COOPER: You've heard people say that?

(Voice-over): So why are young black children more positive about race than young whites? Dr. Killen says the misperception from some parents that kids are color blind has a lot to do with it.

KILLEN: African-American parents are very early on preparing their children for the world of diversity and also for the world of potential discrimination. In contrast, what we find is that a lot of white parents, they sort of have this view that if you talk about race, you are creating the problem. And what we're finding that children are aware of race very early.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're joined now by Dr. Melanie Killen and CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

You found that the racial make-up of a school can have a profound effect. How so?

KILLEN: It really can. Because it gives children opportunities for having contact with other kids and potentially making friends. And we find that it really makes a big difference for kids in thinking about who they're going to play with and who they're going to be friends with.

COOPER: So, I mean, if you're a white parent whose child goes to a majority white school, this study gives you a lot to worry about. What's -- what do you say to a parent who's concerned?

KILLEN: Well, we hope it gives them a lot to think about, and thinking about their -- how they're exposing their children to people of different races and ethnicities. And you can think about the level of community. So maybe your school isn't diverse, but the larger district you live in is more diverse.

And maybe there's an opportunity to have your children encounter other kids or if not that, then to use other kinds of media. Whether it's books or televisions. But to think about the whole issue of exposing your children to other children from different racial backgrounds.

COOPER: Soledad, for you what was one of the big takeaways of this?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, ANCHOR, CNN'S STARTING POINT: I think it's pretty fascinating how kids as young as 6, and we think of 6 as a pretty young kid, are very articulate and really understand the nuance of differences in race. I mean they were really talking very specifically about what they thought either their parents may or may not like.

And I was surprised at the kind of the high level conversation. You look over and the kid is 6 years old. But I do think what it sends as a message to parents is, if you're in a majority white school, that's the school you're in, but there are many other opportunities to reach out and have your kid just meet other kids. And if you're not doing that, then you're really limiting your kids' opportunities in a lot of ways.

COOPER: And young -- I mean, you found that young African-American kids are a lot more optimistic than white kids.

KILLEN: Yes. What was really interesting about the study was that the young African-American kids are just much more positive about the potential for friendship. When they're looking at a picture card of a white child and a black child and you ask them, well, can these two be friends? They're much more likely to say -- in fact, the majority of them will say, yes, they can be friends. Whereas we found a different finding for the white kids. Much less likely to say that they could be friends. It really makes you think about why is that and what goes into that.

COOPER: Why do you think that is?

KILLEN: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with children's exposure and contact. And also the messages they get from all over. I mean, you're going to get messages from the broader community, in the media, and -- that have a lot of stereotypes and negative stereotypes often.

And it's really parents' job to in a way challenge that for children and to sort of counter it. And doing it through all the sort of daily interactions. The conversations you have with children about who you're going to play with, who you're going to stand with and know at the bus stop. Just everyday interactions that are really important.

O'BRIEN: But I think it's a matter of minority. A black child who's in a white school is going to have to be friends with people who look different than they do. A white child in a white school doesn't necessarily have to get to know kids who are different than themselves and I think a lot of it is just in the effort extended to understand and get to know people.

KILLEN: And I think what Soledad said earlier is so fundamentally important that these kids talk about it early. I mean, at 6 years of age they're talking about race. And --

COOPER: And are aware of it so early.

KILLEN: And they're aware of it.

COOPER: Because, I mean, I think a lot of parents you talk to will say well, my child is color blind or I don't -- or I want my child to be color blind or I'm color blind. And wet what we're seeing in this is that kids are forming impressions about race very early on.

KILLEN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I have never heard a child ever in my whole life say color blind. I've only heard parents describing how their children are.

KILLEN: Yes. Yes.

O'BRIEN: Use the world "color blind." I think that's really, really true. I think parents in some ways are more blind to what's happening than their kids certainly are.

COOPER: Up next, we continue our special report, "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture," looking at how children's racial attitudes evolve as they get older. The short answer is, they evolve a lot.

And later, we'll hear from some parents of teens facing the harsh realities of racism head on. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY, SEVENTH GRADE PARTICIPANT IN AC360 STUDY: They were, like, saying racist jokes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And what were some of the jokes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you get a black person down from a tree? Yes, you cut the rope. That one. I didn't find that one very funny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to this 360 special report, "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture." We set out to study children's attitudes on race and understand how and why they form their opinions.

Now children can be a mirror of society and that was the starting point for this report. To look to this youngest generation and see how far we've really come when we talk about racial attitudes. Before the break we showed you that when tested, 6-year-olds, the research showed an overwhelming majority of white kids were negative about interracial friendships. The majority of black children of that age were positive.

Thirteen-year-olds were shown these pictures, also designed to be ambiguous, and asked the same questions as 6-year-olds. We discovered a lot changes between childhood and adolescence. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): The study found when 6-year-old African-American children were asked about interracial friendships, the majority responded like this --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Carrie was trying to help her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Chris and Alex are friends?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how much would they like it if the two were friends?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really like it.

COOPER: But watch how they respond by age 13.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Carrie, she's a bully, so she pushed Hadley.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Chris and Alex are friends?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And do you think Abbie's parents would like it if she were friends with Carrie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

COOPER: The optimism we heard from young black children fades with age. At age 6, 59 percent of black children think the two kids in the picture are friends. By 13, a total flip, 63 percent do not think they're friends, which matches white teens' attitudes.

Our expert says experiences like 13-year-old Jimmy's of rejection begin to explain the disappointing trend. He says a white friend's mom forbade her son to be friends with him.

JIMMY: They end up to say because you're black. So you can't hang out. Can't be friends. Her and her son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. So she kind of very openly said that --

JIMMY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- the reason why her son could not hang out with you and your family was because you guys are black.

JIMMY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how did that make your mom feel when she heard -- when she heard that?

JIMMY: It made her mad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes? What was her response?

JIMMY: I'm not allowed to say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of your skin.

COOPER: Dante was bullied so badly because of his race, he had to change schools.

DANTE: I've been bullied for, like, the way I look. And the way my skin -- at my previous school that I went to. And they just kept on bullying me, and I didn't like it. I just asked them to stop, like, over and over again. And then I tried to, like -- I tried not to break, but I couldn't, like, hold on anymore. So I asked my mom, can I leave.

COOPER: By age 13, African-American kids actually match the pessimism of white kids when asked if the different races could be friends.

Our expert, Dr. Killen, says the decline happens because they've been given a sobering reality check on race.

KILLEN: They're getting a lot of negative feedback through elementary school and adolescence. And I think if you get that -- have that kind of experience and you have it repeatedly over a number of years your optimism is going to decline. Because you've been told, you know, you really don't belong here, you're really not part of us. COOPER: Dr. Killen also says anxiety about interracial dating from both black and white parents can have a profound effect on how their kids view friendships.

KILLEN: Parents of young children do often send messages about we can all be friends, be friends with everybody. You know, they do send positive messages. But by adolescence they start getting more nervous about this and they start thinking, well, you should be friends with people like you or like us.

O'BRIEN: How are you? I'm Soledad.

COOPER: Soledad O'Brien asked some kids about the issue after it came up during their tests.

O'BRIEN: Do you think your parents would be fine if you decided to start dating a black girl? Brought her home?

LUKE, SEVENTH GRADE PARTICIPANT IN AC360 STUDY: Honestly, my parents probably wouldn't be too happy because if I was to marry a black girl, you're connected to their family now. And who knows what her family is really like.

O'BRIEN: So they probably wouldn't be that excited about it?

LUKE: Probably not.

COOPER: Chantay admitted anxiety and a double standard for interracial dating in her family.

CHANTAY, SEVENTH GRADE PARTICIPANT IN AC360 STUDY: If I were to date a white guy, a lot of people wouldn't really have a problem with that. But if my brother were to bring home a white girl, you know, there's definitely going to be some -- you know, some controversy.

O'BRIEN: From whom? Your parents or you?

CHANTAY: From me.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANTAY: From me. Really because I think it's more of a problem for people when a black man brings home a white woman. Because it's been like that for years.

O'BRIEN: So it would matter to you?

CHANTAY: I think -- I think it would, you know. Unless, of course, she were not to act, I guess, so, quote-unquote, white.

O'BRIEN: What's that mean?

CHANTAY: You know, flipping the hair. Oh, my god, you know, ha ha ha ha, that is so ghetto. No. No.

COOPER: There was some good news in our results as well. The racial balance of a school can make a major positive difference on how white kids view race. The study tested kids from majority white, majority black and racially mixed schools. The difference was remarkable. Students at majority white schools were the most pessimistic about race. Only 47 percent think their parents would approve of kids from different races being friends.

In racially diverse and majority black schools, 71 percent are positive about it. The reason, according to Dr. Killen, is friendships.

KILLEN: There's almost nothing as powerful as having a friend of a different racial ethnic background to reduce prejudice. You have that experience. It enables you to challenge stereotypes.

COOPER: These teens go to mixed race and majority black schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your color of your skin doesn't change the personality of who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're all people and we can all get along together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My grandparents have a lot of -- like, they're very racist against African-Americans. And, like, other races. But it's 2012, so they have to, like, push that aside. And they'll be like, no, that's wrong to be -- you want to stick with your own race. I'm like, no, I'm friends with everyone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're here with Dr. Killen and Soledad O'Brien. It was pretty sobering to hear that as black kids age, they become as pessimistic as white kids.

KILLEN: It's really true. I mean, we were struck by that. And you have to think about why is that. Why is it that young kids tend to think, you know, you can be friends with different people, and then they start getting messages. I think part of it is from ages 6 to 13 you start getting an increasing number of messages.

If you don't have opportunity for friendships, you don't have that opportunity to challenge a stereotype, they start getting more deeply entrenched. But by 13 there's also other issues that start coming up. Things about dating. And so that's when the messages from parents and society starts getting much more negative.

As you move towards increasing intimacy, that's when people get a little bit more uncomfortable and more nervous about it. And unfortunately it kind of backfires. Because that's when kids start to back away. They start to think, well, friendships aren't possible. And we really have to think about that. Because having a friend of a different race or ethnicity really does enable you to challenge the stereotypes but also to create a comfort that you're going to have for the rest of your life.

COOPER: It was interesting to see how that notion of intimacy does kind of change the dynamic.

O'BRIEN: Well, 13 is puberty. Let's face it. And I think that really changes the dynamic for the kids and it changes the dynamic in a big way for the parents. So what I think you're measuring just anecdotally would be parental conversations change dramatically at 6, it's get along, we all have to get along, and isn't the world great because we all get along.

At 13 it's, oh, now we're talking about intimate relationships. That really changes the dynamic, I think, especially for parents and I think you really see that messaging change.

KILLEN: It does. It's sort of unfortunate because what we find is that parents are often already sort of already thinking about, well, I wouldn't want them to marry somebody of a different race or ethnicity. And maybe that's true. But the point is that these are kids who are 13. And it's really too early to start worrying about that. If you start worrying about it at 13 you're cutting them off from really valuable and important friendships that they can have.

COOPER: What do you want people to take away from the study?

KILLEN: I really want people to think about their everyday interactions. I want parents, and teachers, and educators, adults to think about their everyday interactions with their children. And how -- what kind of messages are they conveying? And when can they be proactive?

If you went to the park and you saw somebody hitting somebody else you would talk to your child about it and say, you know, they really shouldn't hit them and how would they feel? They might get hurt. You would use that as an opportunity, a teaching moment. And what we're finding is that when the issues come up about racism or prejudice, even more benign examples, but when that comes up parents often get -- they step back.

They feel they shouldn't say anything about it. If they say something it'll make it worse. What we're seeing is treat that like you would treat as if somebody hit another child. Use it as opportunity. Talk to them.

COOPER: It's also not just one conversation. Because I think some parents feel like well --

O'BRIEN: Done.

COOPER: I talked about that and I can check that off.

KILLEN: Yes. Yes. I think one of the biggest problems we have right now is that we look at Martin Luther King Day. And so we have one day a year where we're going to talk about these issues. And then what happens at the other 364 days of the year? We need this to be a daily kind of experience or conversation. Not every day. But when you're a parent or an educator or teacher, that when issues come up, to talk about it and talk about it openly and honestly just as you talked about it. That's really important and very valuable. It will go a long way. We're a global world. We're going to interact with people from different races and ethnicities as adults. And these kinds of stereotypes, when they start in childhood and become deeply entrenched by adulthood they're very hard to change. Childhood is the time to make a difference.

COOPER: Dr. Killen, thank you so much for making this happen. Appreciate it.

Soledad, thanks.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

COOPER: As you just heard, the prospects of interracial dating can have a profoundly negative impact on how some parents talk to their kids about race. Up next, we're going to hear from the parents of teens you've already met and get their reaction to what their kids had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Do you think your parents would be fine if you decided to start dating a black girl? Brought her home?

LUKE: Honestly, my parents probably wouldn't be too happy.

GARY, LUKE'S FATHER: Maybe his comments come from a previous conversation we have. We have an older daughter. And she -- she came home one day and had informed me that she had started going out with an African-American or black young man at her school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to this 360 special report.

Interracial dating came up often when talking to these teens for this study. But instead of a racial divide, it exposed a generational divide. All the kids said they'd date someone of a different race. But when we asked parents if they'd be OK with their kids dating across racial lines, the reactions ranged from trepidation to outright forbiddance. It turns out it's not only common for parents to discourage interracial dating for teens, but according to our expert for the study the anxiety about it could seep into the messages they send to their kids about race when they're much younger.

Soledad O'Brien and I sat down with the parents of teens who had some fairly provocative things to say about dating and the harsh realities of racism that this youngest generation continues to face. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: First of all, thank you very much for doing this. I want to play something that Jimmy said about a joke he had heard in school. I want to play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY: It was like, saying racist jokes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And what were some of the jokes?

JIMMY: How do you get a black person down from a tree? You cut the rope. That one, I didn't find that one very funny. But I didn't find none of them funny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It was surprising at least for me to hear those jokes are being told. Does that surprise you?

SABRINA, JIMMY'S MOTHER: It really does. I remember that day. And he came home. He was really upset about it. And it was shocking. It really was. Because, you know, I don't think racism -- even though it's not a part in our home, I don't think it would probably ever go away. We wish that it would. I think it'll -- somehow it'll just be around. Because some people just cannot get past a person because of their color.

JIMMY, JIMMY'S FATHER: I tell him, you know, son, stay away from those kind of friends. If that's how they are talking that racist stuff like that, stay away from them. Because really I don't want it in his head. Because me, in my family, I grew up, my mom, Alabama, where she from, she never, never -- I cannot remember ever her speaking about us hating a different race. Ever. So we don't promote it in our home with our kids. Ever.

O'BRIEN: Any of your kids have boyfriends or girlfriends?

JIMMY, JIMMY'S FATHER: Definitely.

O'BRIEN: Thirteen? That seems so young.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We had a lot of conversations about interracial dating. And it was really interesting. I'm going to play you a little clip first from Jimmy. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Do people start dating in middle school? Are there people who are couples?

JIMMY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Do you have a girlfriend?

JIMMY: No.

O'BRIEN: If you were to have a girlfriend and she was a white girl and you brought her home, what would your mom and dad say?

JIMMY: Well, I don't know. It's just when I tell my parents what I did, I had dated a white girl, and then they said -- they're not racist. It's just that they said why not your own kind, because all my girls have been white. So, yes.

O'BRIEN: They were not that excited about it?

JIMMY: I mean, it's not they was like you need to choose a black girl. They was just asking me why I like white girls. No reason. No particular reason.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Tell me about that conversation.

(LAUGHTER)

JIMMY, JIMMY'S FATHER: I remember that conversation.

O'BRIEN: Yes?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

JIMMY, JIMMY'S FATHER: I remember that conversation well. You know, like you said, we don't care. But, you know, when you see your kid always steering towards the different race, you want to make sure that he -- he doesn't have a problem with his own race. And that's what it was basically why we sit and drill him and talk to him about, you know, you got a problem with your own race? You know, because we never seen him with a black girlfriend.

O'BRIEN: Which brings us to Luke.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We asked him also about interracial dating. And here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Do you think your parents would be fine if you decided to start dating a black girl? Brought her home?

LUKE: Honestly, my parents probably wouldn't be too happy because if I was to marry a black girl, you're connected to their family now. And who knows what her family is really like.

O'BRIEN: So they probably wouldn't be that excited about it?

LUKE: Probably not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Where do you think that comes from?

GARY: We have an older daughter. And she -- she came home one day and had informed me that she had started going out with an African- American or black young man at her -- at her school. A young man that we knew. We liked a lot. And it wasn't that we didn't so much want them dating because of race per se, we didn't know if she'd really thought about some of the cultural differences that there may be. And so we talked about it in that respect.

In fairness, and to be honest, I mean we do recognize that sometimes there are cultural differences. And we did talk about that. Not that it's right or wrong, good or bad. But just different. And we played the scenario out with our daughter in that respect. And we have several friends who are -- who are married that are in interracial marriages. They have great marriages. They also have shared challenges at times.

We try to be as open and honest as we can in talking about those kind of issues. Again, not to dissuade or to discourage, but just to get it out there on the table and make sure we've talked about those kinds of things because they're real. And -- so that, you know, I think that's been more of our conversation than with our 13-year-old. But with the older children.

O'BRIEN: But they listen.

GARY: They do. Oh, they do.

O'BRIEN: They always listen. Let's talk about Chantay. Chantay says she has a double standard. Listen.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHANTAY: If I were to date a white guy, a lot of people wouldn't really have a problem with that. But if my brother were to bring home a white girl, there's definitely going to be some -- you know, some controversy.

O'BRIEN: From whom? Your parents or you?

CHANTAY: From me. From me.

O'BRIEN: Isn't that contradictory? You could date a white boy, but your brother, forget it if he dated a white girl?

CHANTAY: Really, because I think it's more of a problem for people when a black man brings home a white woman because it's been like that for years. Oh, you know -- you know, a black girl and black guy just broke up. He left you for a white girl? You know, that's just really what people say.

O'BRIEN: So it would matter to you?

CHANTAY: I think -- I think it would, you know, unless, of course, she were not to act, I guess, so quote-unquote, "white."

O'BRIEN: What does that mean?

CHANTAY: You know, flipping the hair, oh, my god, you know, ha, ha, ha, that is so ghetto. No. No.

O'BRIEN: So she has to be the right kind of white girl?

CHANTAY: I guess so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Wow. There's so much to go into on that.

CHRISTAL, CHANTAY'S MOTHER: Which way you want to go?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Where to you think that comes from?

CHRISTAL: I think when she speaks about if her brother were to bring home a white girl, what it says, I think, to our kids, our black kids, is, are we not good enough for our black brothers? What's wrong with us? You know, why -- do you like the silky straight hair? I can press my hair. It -- it gives them a sense of, you know -- like they're not --

O'BRIEN: They're lesser?

CHRISTAL: Exactly. Exactly. I think.

COOPER: Did it surprise you to hear her say that?

CHRISTAL: Absolutely not.

COOPER: So you knew she felt that way?

CHRISTAL: You know, it's so funny, I just wasn't surprised. And it's -- and it doesn't say anything about, you know, how she feels about the other cultures or ethnicities. It just says more, I think, about what she thinks about herself. This will definitely spark a conversation for us. Ignite -- to touch on some issues. Because I -- it never donned on me to ask her specifically if she felt a certain way about her brother bringing home another race. It -- it -- I didn't think she cared.

GARY: I definitely think listens to Luke's comments there that we will be more purposeful and intentional about talking about it. I mean I feel like we're trying to be over the years with our other children. But I think probably there may be some questions he would have for us. I would not want him to think we would be displeased if he came home and had a black or Korean or Filipino friend or girlfriend.

I wouldn't want him to think we'd be upset or that we would welcome her any less than we would anyone else.

O'BRIEN: Will this change the conversations you have?

JIMMY, JIMMY'S FATHER: If there's an issue, definitely. In my household I think what works for us is that we don't talk negatively about racism. So they don't have a negative view because it's not coming from us. And I love that because I see the joy in them. You know, I figure if you're -- if you're a racist or if you've got it in you, you know, at some point you're just going to be miserable.

If we encounter something, we address it, we get past it. But we'll tell them straight, OK, that's just that one person. It's not everybody of that color.

COOPER: Yes. Well, thank you so much for taking part in this. We really appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

JIMMY, JIMMY'S FATHER: Thank you for having us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, now that you've seen how children react to the same situations when the race is reversed, how do you think you would interpret them? The answers might surprise you. That's up next in this AC360 special report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hey, welcome back to this 360 special report.

What judgment do we make about people depending on their race? It's sure to cross people's minds, especially as the tragic story of Trayvon Martin continues to unfold. It's a -- it's a key question that our study investigated. We wanted to see how kids' answers change depending on their race. And the race of the people they saw in pictures. Now, if the kids' answers do change and children are truly a mirror of society, what does that say about where we are as a nation? Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Mikayla is a seventh grader at a majority white middle school. Responses completely changed depending upon the race of the children in the picture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marcy and Renee are in school together. And they're in the hallway, and I'd like you to tell me what you think is happening in this picture.

MIKAYLA, SEVENTH GRADE PARTICIPANT IN AC360 STUDY: She probably looks like she's going to steal it because Marcy is, like, oh, no, what happened, and she was, like, hey, look, 20 bucks. And so --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Renee is doing something good, bad or just neutral?

MIKAYLA: I think she -- I don't -- I think she's going to take the money.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Renee and Marcy are likely to be friends or not?

MIKAYLA: Not really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what do you think about Marcy's parents? Do you think they'd be comfortable with her being friends with Renee or not?

MIKAYLA: Well, if they found out about the situation that happened they might be a little concerned about if Renee's a thief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this one we have Erica and Allison. And they're also in the hallway at school. Can you tell me what it seems is happening in this picture?

MIKAYLA: Allison looks like a sweet girl. So I think that she would pick up Erica's money and give it back to her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So then do you think Allison is doing something good, bad or neutral?

MIKAYLA: Pretty good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what about Allison and Erica? Do you think they're probably friends or not so much?

MIKAYLA: Yes, they're probably friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Do you think Erica's parents would like it if she was friends with Allison?

MIKAYLA: Yes.

COOPER: Her answers, according to our expert, Dr. Melanie Killen, could indicate a subconscious racial bias. A bias that kids develop from messages they hear at school, at home, the characters in the TV shows they watch, and what they see online. And Mikayla's reversing the scenarios based on race wasn't unique. Twenty-four percent, almost a quarter of all children both white and African-American saw their own race more positively than the other race. And this happened across all ages and all school types, no matter the racial demographics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think happened in this picture?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They pushed her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what do you think is going to happen next?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brandon is going to help her with her books.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So do you think that Randy is doing something that's OK? Not OK? Or kind of in the middle?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not OK? Was Andre doing something good, bad or just OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

COOPER (on camera): Mikayla's answers were very much in line with --

(Voice-over): Mikayla's parents, Jim and Jennifer, agreed to watch their daughter's test and talk about her responses.

MIKAYLA: Well, if they found out the situation that happened they might be a little concerned about if Renee's a thief. Allison looks like a sweet girl. So I think that she would pick up Erica's money and give it back to her.

COOPER (on camera): When you see that, what goes through your mind? Is there a conversation you want to have with her? Is there stuff you want to know more about?

JENNIFER, MIKAYLA'S MOTHER: I would definitely want to pursue that conversation with her and find out why her perception was different based upon the color of the -- of the girls' skin. What changed in that scenario in her head.

JIM, MIKAYLA'S FATHER: It's a teachable moment. It's a -- you know, it's a realization. Like, well, maybe we have to do, you know, a better job or focus more on distinguishing, like, about racism and -- and, you know, diversity and just influence our kids and let them know that you have to judge a person by their character, not their skin color.

COOPER (voice-over): And it's this possible subconscious racial bias versus explicit bias, actually consciously thinking and verbalizing racism, that our expert says shows how far we need to go, but also how far we've come.

KILLEN: Explicit racism and prejudice has diminished dramatically over 50 years. But what remains is more the implicit. The implicit biases and the implicit forms of racism and prejudice. And those are the things that we're not aware of. The things that we do when we don't realize it. Because it seems that it's these implicit biases that are still what we really have to work on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Earlier we told you the study found that African-American kids lose a lot of their optimism about race and friendships by the time they're just 13. Thirteen years old.

Next, we're going to meet one boy who seems to be ahead of that daunting trend and how his family wants to fight back. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to this 360 special report.

Before the break we looked at children whose answers changed depending on the race of kids involved. But what if your child had completely negative views about other races and said you, his parents, were the reason for it? Many kids we talked to talked about how their parents had a negative effect on their own views on race.

Soledad O'Brien met one such boy and sat down with his parents to try to get some answers on where it was all coming from. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Davionne is a first grader at a majority African-American elementary school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think sometimes that people choose friends based on the color of someone's skin?

DAVIONNE, FIRST GRADER PARTICIPANT IN AC360 STUDY: Mm-hmm.

O'BRIEN: His responses stood out to our experts because he was so overwhelmingly negative about interracial friendships. The majority of 6-year-old African-Americans were positive.

DAVIONNE: They're not the same color and they can't play together if they're not the same color.

O'BRIEN: It sounded like his mother was a big reason behind that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So why can't you play together if you have different color skin?

DAVIONNE: Because your mom might not want you to play with that friend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What if someone really wanted to be your friend, but they're of a different color? What would you do?

DAVIONNE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You'd say no? And why would you say no?

DAVIONNE: Because they're not the same color.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's OK to tell people that they can't be your friend because of the color of their skin?

DAVIONNE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is that OK?

DAVIONNE: Because their mom would not want them to be a different color friends. O'BRIEN: This is Davionne's mother, Aisha. She's a teacher in her son's school district. She says Davionne has friends of many races. That race is not an issue she's delved into with him.

AISHA, DAVIONNE'S MOTHER: What I teach him is everyone is the same. You teach everyone how you want to be treated. I've never sat down and had a conversation with him specifically about anyone's race or anything like that.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Does he ever ask you questions about race?

AISHA: No, not really. I don't think he really understands or it's a factor to him or it matters.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Davionne's father, David, is separated from Davionne's mother but the two share custody of their son. They agree to watch his test and give us their reaction. We warn them in advance their son had some pretty provocative things to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it's good to have friends that look different than you? Or is it better to have friends that look the same as you?

DAVIONNE: Look the same as you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So why can't you play together if you have a different color of skin?

DAVIONNE: Because your mom might not want you to play with that friend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN (on camera): So what do you think is going on there? We'll start with mommy. Because mommy's mentioned a lot.

AISHA: I definitely have not, you know, told him that he can only have friends of one color. So I'm not sure. But I'm a little bothered by it.

O'BRIEN: Are you?

AISHA: I am.

O'BRIEN: It's upsetting?

AISHA: Yes, it is. Just because I don't want him to feel like I would think that or I would expect that. You know, I definitely don't instill that in him. Whoever is his friend is his friend. So I'm not sure why he would feel that way. So it just concerns me that he thinks like that.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): David was skeptical that Davionne's answers were a true reflection of his son. DAVID, DAVIONNE'S FATHER: I know for a fact that that's not my son as far as the answers he was giving. And I think, like I said, he answers the way he want people -- the way he thinks he want people to answer.

O'BRIEN: Our study found the majority of 6-year-old black children are optimistic about race relations. But at age 13, that changes to the same pessimistic view of their white peers. According to our expert, it's repeated messages of rejection from the majority that explain the disappointing trend.

(On camera): So then if -- if the theory goes, by psychologists, that kids from 6 to 13 become more pessimistic, do you worry about him? He's starting really pessimistic.

AISHA: I'm a little concerned. Whenever you have something happen like this you get to really look at what's going on. And if you're already approaching it at a pessimistic state, what's going to happen later?

O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's a question she'll now face head on with her son.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We'll be right back with more on this AC360 special report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hey, that's it for this AC360 special report. For more information on this issue and more on what parents and teachers can do to talk to kids about race, check out our Web site, AC360.com/kidsonrace.

Thanks for watching. Good night.