Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race

State of the Discipline


Lawrence A. Hirschfelda1 c1

a1 Departments of Anthropology and Psychology, New School for Social Research


Racism reproduces through children. Racial bias is acquired early, and like many early-acquired predilections it is tenaciously resistant to counterevidence. Much of the institutional struggle against racism focuses on children, working to change their attitudes and judgments by addressing what children supposedly have come to know and believe about race. Yet much of what lay folk and educators alike imagine about children's knowledge of race and how they have come to acquire it is inaccurate. This essay is concerned to identify these inaccuracies, present evidence that challenges them, and briefly consider why they—like racialist thinking itself—are so tenaciously held and resistant to counterevidence.

(Online publication June 07 2012)


  • Racial Awareness;
  • Racial Prejudice;
  • Children;
  • Parents;
  • Conventional Wisdom


c1 Professor Lawrence A. Hirschfeld, Departments of Anthropology and Psychology, New School for Social Research, 6 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003. E-mail: hirschfl@newschool.edu

Lawrence A. Hirschfeld is Professor of Anthropology and of Psychology at The New School for Social Research since 2004. He received is PhD in Anthropology at Columbia University and taught in the Departments of Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Michigan (1989–2004), where he codirected, with Richard Nisbett, the Culture and Cognition Program. His work centers on the psychological mechanisms that support cultural systems of classification, particularly those shaping representations of race and ethnicity in young children. He was a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavior Sciences in Stanford (1999–2000) and was a visiting faculty member at the Centre de Recherche en Epistémologie Appliquée, Groupe de Recherche sur la Cognition, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris (1987–1989) and at Stanford University (2000–2001). Hirschfeld is author of Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture and the Child's Construction of Human Kinds (1998); coeditor with Riccardo Viale and Daniel Andler of Biological and Cultural Bases of Human Inference (2006); and coeditor with Susan A. Gelman of Mapping the Mind: Domain Specificity in Cognition and Culture (1994).