Oct 042015 5 Responses

Are We Are Born Racist?

It’s a common picture on Facebook: some celebrity talks about how his child isn’t racist as proof that racism is something which is taught. Denis Leary says, “Racism isn’t born folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year-old son, know what he hates—naps. End of list.”

It’s a cute quote and makes an important point—we must be careful not to teach our children to hate.

But it’s incomplete. We are born racists. (See: Children, Disability, and Abortion)

The basic idea is accurate. A newborn doesn’t exit the womb with bias. Yet just because a two-month old or two-year old doesn’t exhibit a behavior does not mean those aspects of life are created by nurture rather than nature. A small child doesn’t show sexual desire, but they were created with sexual desire and when they mature to the right age, that desire will express itself.

Racism, sexism, bigotry, and hate are elements of both nature and nurture. While we may not express those evils at birth, they still lie within us with the potential of motivating our thoughts and actions unless we choose otherwise. (See: A Forgotten Sign of Adulthood)

Built within humanity is the skill to differentiate. As our brains mature, we learn to tell the differences between places, objects, and people. These skills are useful to our fight or flight mechanism and can help protect us in times of danger. Yet this good skill can be used for evil. It is helpful to spot differences; it is detrimental to use those differences to outcast others, demean them, or to assume they are fundamentally different than every other human being.

The importance is to recognize racism (and every other discrimination) comes from both nature and nurture.

If racism is fully a taught behavior, then the cure to racism is to simply stop teaching racism. The answer would be to stop talking about race or racism.


if racism is not only taught, but also inbred within us, simply stopping to teach racism won’t end it. Refusing to talk about it can actually enable it to grow unhindered.

Because racism is both nature and nurture, it is not enough to stop teaching racism. We must also start teaching inclusion, love, empathy, and understanding.

The danger is thinking it’s only from nurture is that good parents can assume since they don’t teach their children to be bigots, their children will never discriminate against others. It’s not enough to refrain from teaching bigotry; we must actively teach our children to love others.

When we believe racism is 100% nurture, the temptation is to deny differences. We don’t want to call attention to them for fear of accidentally teaching our children to become sexist or racist or in some way discriminatory. However, by denying differences, we actually raise the likelihood of our children writing a negative story about differences.

Instead, parents should teach children to notice differences and to have compassion and appreciation for others. We should train children to put differences in the larger context of shared humanity.

  • “Yes, our skin color is different, but we have the same heart, soul, and mind.”
  • “Yes, men and women are physically different, but we have the same capacity to learn.”
  • “Yes, your friend does struggle to say what they feel, but they still have the same need to have a friend.”

Denial is not the cure to racism. Refusing to talk about it will only make it worse. Nurture does play the primary role in discrimination, but it is not the only aspect at play. Not only do we need to refrain from teaching our children bigotry, we must also actively teach our children so that they might become loving people. (See: Why We Can’t Say Racism Is a Thing of the Past)

Without repetitive teaching—both in words and actions—our children will not learn to love other people. As they grow and their mental capacity matures, they will notice differences in others and use those differences to create divides. Racism is more than just a failure of human nurture; it’s a failure of human nature.

5 Responses to Are We Are Born Racist?
  1. clive Reply

    i believe you have taken a leap into an area that you shouldn’t – you claim racism to be inbred? siting what as to this assumption??
    where have you seen this anecdotally, if not from a study?
    We are malleable, learning, creatures. Ones that pick up slight and subtle interactions from others. Some we wished they never observed….while racism, is many times propagated, because it needs to be ‘agressive’ to survive.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Clive, I’m a pastor. I believe this is the Biblical teaching that sin has caused us to be racist.

  2. Ann Kinder Reply

    Excellent points and well stated. I have always believed racism to be 100% nurture but you make an strong case for nature.

    I raised two beautiful daughters whom, as adults, view people equally and judge on actions rather than ANY other criteria. I only now realize that this was so important to their father and to me that we instinctively countered racism with exactly what you describe. We actively sought experiences for them to interact and develop relationships with people of as many backgrounds and cultures as was possible in a our area.

    I believe your article clarified a difference in attitude that we all need to learn. It’s an easy adjustment for anyone who does not want to perpetuate racism- simply go one step beyond not teaching racism to people in your life…actively teach equality. Not just by living it, but with words- especially to young children.

    Well done Pastor Thompson. Thank you.

  3. Wafa Hariri (Mrs.) Reply

    Thank you very much Pastor Thompson. My opinion in human nature is exactly like yours. However, friends of mine insisted that RACISM is a taught behavior. I think differently. We’re born with good and evil. We either nourish the good or the evil inside of us. “Society” controls our behavior and may lead us to the best or to the worst, but it’s there. It is not nurtured, it’s born. I read many articles in this matter, but I needed a professional and sincere opinion. Thank you.

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