How do babies learn race?

Since we’ve been talking about babies so much, I thought this passage from Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time was interesting: 

“Negroes in this country…are taught really to despise themselves form the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks, and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared. Long before the Negro child perceives this difference, and even longer before he understands it, he has begun to react to it, he has begun to be controlled by it…He must be “good” not only in order to please his parents and not only to avoid being punished by them; behind their authority stands another, nameless and impersonal, infinitely harder to please, and bottomlessly cruel. And this filters into the child’s consciousness through his parents’ tone of voice as he is being exhorted, punished, or loved…”

Fanon talks about how “being for others” is particularly traumatic for blacks because they have no ontological resistance, that is, “his metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, his customs and the sources on which they were based, were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization he did not know and that imposed itself on him.” Instead of learning these customs or sources (as one presumably does during childhood), the black child, as Baldwin explains it, learns first to fear the power of the difference between white and black. The baby’s ontology, through the parent’s well-intentioned fears, is crafted in reaction to the other. The baby’s actions, even before he can understand them, have been overdetermined.


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