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Sex Offender Gulf Oil Worker; Black or White: Kids on Race

Aired August 13, 2010 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the BP disaster -- the oil is no longer flowing, but a new investigation uncovers allegations of a shocking crime, a supervisor hired to oversee beach cleanup operations is now accused of raping an employee.

And it turns out the supervisor was already a convicted sex offender. Somehow his criminal history was never looked into. No background checks on him apparently were ever done. And he wasn't alone.

How is it possible? We're "Keeping Him Honest" tonight.

Also ahead: Dr. Laura, she's apologized for saying the N-word several times on her show. But is sorry enough for her critics? Some of them are calling for a boycott.

Tonight, we go in depth on race -- with new details on a pilot study we commissioned, surprising and stunning findings on of what kids, even very young ones, think of race and skin color and how you, as a parent, could help to shape your child's perceptions of it.

We begin, though, in the Gulf, "Keeping Them Honest" where the government's point man to the disaster, Admiral Thad Allen, said today, BP will go ahead with drilling the relief well though Allen says officials are considering other options. He says some tests indicate the planned "bottom kill" procedure to seal the damaged well may not be necessary.

Meantime, a man, a contract worker, who supervised oil cleanup workers in Mississippi, is in jail tonight, charged with raping another employee. A CNN investigation tonight uncovers his criminal history and raises questions about whether this incident could have been prevented by doing a simple background check.

Special Investigations Unit correspondent, Abbie Boudreau, goes looking for answers -- and here's what she found.


ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One of the thousands of cleanup workers who descended on the Gulf Coast was this man, Rundy Charles Robertson. He was in charge of numerous workers on this now deserted Mississippi beach. (on camera): The problem was all these people who were coming to town were strangers and the residents here had no idea who they were or where they were coming from. And apparently, they had good reason to be concerned.

Robertson was a convicted sex offender and he was breaking the law by not telling local law enforcement where he was living.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't understand how they can have a man like that as our supervisor.

BOUDREAU (on camera): Do you think what happened to you could have been prevented?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. And that's why it makes me a lot of times so angry.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): While this woman came to this town because she was looking for work, she wanted to help clean up the beaches and she needed a job. She has four young children, and it was important for her to get hired right away and that's exactly what happened.

Rundy Robertson was her supervisor. And she told us time and time again, "I trusted him because he was my boss. I respected him. He was the person who was put in charge of me."

(on camera): You just weren't feeling well that day. And he offered to drive you home.


BOUDREAU: And you thought he was a nice enough person to make that offer, I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. He's my boss. So I thought, it was all right.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): And she says Robertson asked to use her bathroom. And when he came out, she says he raped her.

She's represented by Attorney Adam Miller.

ADAM MILLER, ATTORNEY: I find it unbelievable because BP and their subcontractors had relationships with all local law enforcement. They had the opportunity and the ability to clearly check all of these people that they were hiring and bringing in to ensure the safety of the public.

BOUDREAU: If anyone had checked Robertson's background, they would have found a lengthy criminal history. And he was still on probation for a felony. Instead, he was made a supervisor.

(on camera): We're in Pascagoula, Mississippi, here to talk to the local sheriff. (voice-over): Several weeks before this incident, Sheriff Mike Byrd says he met with BP's local head of security about why BP was not doing background checks on beach cleanup workers.

SHERIFF MIKE BYRD, JACKSON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI: I asked him directly, I said, are you all doing criminal histories and background checks on these people? And his answer -- reply was: "No, we're not." And I said, "You're kidding me." He said, "No." He said, "There are so many of them, we were told to do drug screens and that was it." And I said, "Well, that's -- that's not good at all."

BOUDREAU (on camera): But you actually recommended that they get criminal background checks on their employees?

BYRD: Yes, we did. And I told them that we would do that for them, we would do the background checks for them. And they said no.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Robertson worked for a company called, Aerotek that hired workers to remove oil from the beaches.

(on camera): You want to come out and talk to us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll come out and talk to you, give me literally a couple of minutes, ok?

BOUDREAU: So, I'm not going to shut the door and never see you again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I promise, I'll come back to you.

BOUDREAU: Ok. You promise us.

(voice-over): So, we waited. But they only slipped us a note through the door referring us to the corporate headquarters.

(on camera): Did you realize you were hiring people who were registered sex offenders?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, ma'am.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): This is when the blame game begins.

First, we spoke with the general counsel for Aerotek by phone who says Aerotek wasn't the one who decided not to do background checks, quote, "We are not liable for anything that happens. Once we deliver the people to be supervised by our client, we don't have anything to do with them anymore."

Miller Environmental Group, which oversaw the cleanup and hired Aerotek, did not return our phone calls.

Then BP, which was paying for the beach cleanups, told us in a statement, it normally checks its own employees, but, quote, "This was not done for all contractors in this response; the responsibility lies with the employing company for their own staff. The requirement on subcontractors to BP's contractors is one further step beyond BP's scope of control."

MILLER: The buck ultimately stops with BP. It was their site.

BOUDREAU (on camera): Robertson was arrested and he was then charged with sexual battery and failure to register as a sex offender. He tells police that the sex was consensual, but now, he's being held on more than a $500,000 bond and he's sitting in jail.

BYRD: Yes, he's in jail. But you've got a victim here. What is she going to live through the rest of her life? It's just going to be pure hell for her. That's what it is going to be.

BOUDREAU: And it could have been prevented.

BYRD: And it could have been prevented, in my professional opinion.

BOUDREAU: And you warned them?

BYRD: Yes, ma'am.

BOUDREAU: How does something like this just change everything for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I go through anxiety, you know? I'm angry. I feel dirty. Scared. I'm scared.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Abbie Boudreau, CNN, Pascagoula, Mississippi.


COOPER: Well, we'll continue to follow that story.

As you know, Dr. Laura has apologized for her repeated on-air use of the N-word. This is what Dr. Laura said to a listener who called into her show on Tuesday. The listener, an African-American woman named Jade, asked Dr. Laura about the use of the N-word.

Here's some of the exchange.


LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic and all you hear is (EXPLETIVE DELETED).


SCHLESSINGER: I don't get it. If anybody -- if anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing.

Don't hang up, I want to talk to you some more. Don't go away.

Yes, I think you have too much sensitivity -- UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, it's ok to say (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

SCHLESSINGER: -- and not enough sense of humor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's ok to say that word?

SCHLESSINGER: Well, it depends how it's said.

CALLER: Is it ok to say that word? Is it ever OK to say that word?

SCHLESSINGER: It's -- it depends how it is said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's ok.

I'll say it again (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is what you hear on HB --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what makes it ok for you to say the word?

SCHLESSINGER: -- why don't you let me finish a sentence?


SCHLESSINGER: Don't take things out of context. Don't double NAACP me.


COOPER: In her apology, Dr. Laura said and I quote, "I was attempting to make a philosophical point and I articulated the N-word all the way out, more than one time, and that was wrong. I'll say it again -- that was wrong."

Ahead on 360: we're going to go in depth on the subject of race tonight. The pilot study that we commissioned asking a team of seasoned researchers to interview more than 130 kids, half of them in the north, half of them in the south, African-American kids as well as white kids -- to see how they view skin color. What you're going to see is that even very young kids have already formed ideas about what it means to be black or white.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the smart child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the mean child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you show me the dumb child?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the nice child.


COOPER: Also tonight, the flooding in Pakistan, houses torn from their foundations, people struggling to stay alive. More than 1,300 have been killed. Hundreds of thousands have been affected. Now, more rain and what's being called a second wave of flooding expected this weekend. We'll talk to our people on the ground -- coming up.


COOPER: It's been nearly 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed and almost two years since Americans elected their first black president. But do those numbers measure how we really see race in this country in 2010?

A lot of people throw around the term "post-racial," but do we really live in a post-racial society? That's what we wanted to know. And children seemed the best place to start.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are lots of different colors for skin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have questions for you about these pictures of different children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After I read the question, I want you to point to the picture that fits the story.

COOPER (voice-over): Are children color blind in America?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the smart child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the mean child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you show me the dumb child?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the nice child.

COOPER: Is bias measurable even at an early age?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is she the bad child?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because she's black, black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And why is he the ugly child?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Because he looks like he's white.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is he the dumb child?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Because she has dark brown skin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is she the bad child?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because she makes fun of everybody else's skin color.

COOPER: How much do kids learn from what they see and hear from adults?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the child who has the skin color most adults like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And show me the child who has the skin color that most adults don't like.

COOPER: These are questions that we, along with CNN's Soledad O'Brien and a team of psychologists hired by CNN, spent months investigating through tests, interviews with children, and their parents. But they're questions that have been asked for decades.

The first doll study ignited controversy in the 1940s when psychologist Kenneth and Mamie Clark pioneered studies in the effects of segregation in schools by asking African-American kids to choose between black and white dolls. The so-called doll test found black kids overwhelmingly preferred white over black.

Those results were the center of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown versus The Board of Education that desegregated American schools.

Now, with a first African-American president and nearly 60 years after segregation was overturned, we wondered where are we today? How do kids see differences in race?

What we discovered might shock you. But, first, how we got there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Skin color, child's skin color estimate.


COOPER: We asked renowned child psychologist and University of Chicago researcher, Dr. Margaret Beale Spencer, to design a pilot study for CNN and analyze the results.

MARGARET BEALE SPENCER, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Our children are always near us, you know, because we're a society, and what we put out there, kids report back. And you ask the question, they'll give you the answer.

COOPER: Spencer's team tested more than 130 kids in eight schools with very different racial and economic demographics. Half of the schools were in the north, half in the south.

(on camera): Oh, nicely done.

(voice-over): While the country is much more diverse today than in the 1940s, the children in this project are from two age groups and two races, white and black -- to better allow comparison to the original doll study.

Four and 5-year-old children were asked a series of questions about these images.

Nine and 10-year-olds children were asked questions about the same images, as well as this color bar chart.

The tests led us to three major findings. First, white children as a whole responded with a high rate of what researchers call white bias, identifying the color of their own skin with positive attributes and darker skin with negative attributes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the dumb child.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok. Why is she the dumb child?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because she has black skin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the mean child. Why is he the mean child?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Because he's brown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the bad child. Why is he the bad child?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Because he's black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok. Show me the ugly child. Why is he the ugly child?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Because he's brown -- black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the child who has the skin color most adults like.

And show me the child who has the skin color most adults don't like.

Show me the child who has the skin color most children like.

Show me the child who has the skin color most children don't like.

Show me the child who has the skin color most girls want.

Show me the child who has the skin color most girls don't want.

COOPER: The questions that got overwhelmingly white biased answers --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the dumb child.

COOPER: About 76 percent of the younger white children pointed to the two darkest skin tones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the mean child.

COOPER: About 66 percent of the younger white children pointed to the two darkest skin tones. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the child who has the skin color most children don't like.

COOPER: Again, about 66 percent of the younger white children pointed to the two darkest skin tones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the bad child.

COOPER: More than 59 percent of the older white children pointed to the two darkest skin tones.

But some white children did have more race neutral responses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, could you show me the good looking child?

So, what are you thinking? I know you pointed to them all. But tell me what you're thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I'm thinking that I do not care if they are black, white, mixed or any kind of race. I think that it matters who they really are.


COOPER: Well, that's how white kids responded to the test. When we come back, we're going to show you how African-American children answered those exact same questions.

And later, we'll check in with Andrew who took part in the test, whose mother was deeply upset with his answers. She called it a wake- up call. We'll show the changes she's made at home to actually talk more about race.


COOPER: Before the break, we showed you how white kids responded to a test designed to measure how they view race. They showed a high rate of what researchers call white bias. As you're about it see, the responses of African-American kids in the pilot study were just as revealing.


CHILDREN: Ready, set, go.

COOPER (voice-over): Our second major finding, even black children as a whole have some bias toward whiteness -- but far less than white children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the smart child. And why is she the smart child?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because she is white.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok. Show me the dumb child. And why is she the dumb child?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because she's black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, show me the ugly child. And why is she the ugly child?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because she's black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the good-looking child. And why is she the good-looking child?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because she's light-skinned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And show me the skin color you believe most teachers think looks bad on a girl.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I don't think that it matters, because I think each teacher wants to help a student learn either way what they look like --


UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: -- but it doesn't matter what you look like on the outside. It just matters what you look like on the inside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the good-looking child.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: They look the same.


Show me the child you would like as a classmate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You like all of them as classmates?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you say all of them?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Because I don't really care what color they have.

COOPER: This 5-year-old girl gave some provocative answers during her test. I asked her about them later.

(on camera): Why do you want that skin color?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Because it looks lighter than this kind because this looks a lot like that one.

COOPER: And --

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: And I just don't like the way brown looks because the way brown looks, looks really nasty for some reason, but I don't know what reason. That's all.

COOPER: So, you think it looks nasty?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Well, not really. But sometimes.

COOPER: Sometimes.

And, Brielle they asked what color do adults don't like? Do you remember what you said? This one? That's right. That's what one you said. Why do you think adults don't like that one?


COOPER: Dark. And adults -- you think adults don't like dark?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Well, maybe some adults do, but maybe some of them don't.

(voice-over): The questions that got overwhelmingly white-biased answers --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the one you think most children would think looks bad on a boy.

COOPER: More than 70 percent of the older black children chose the darkest skin tones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me a child that has a skin color that most children don't like.

COOPER: More than 61 percent of the younger black children chose the two darkest shades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the ugly child.

COOPER: More than 57 percent of the younger black kids chose the two darkest shades.


COOPER: Dr. Spencer says the research shows the bias toward white is still very much part of our culture.

SPENCER: All kids are exposed to these stereotypes. But what's really significant here is that white children are learning or maintaining those stereotypes much more strongly than the African- American children.

COOPER: And that is our third finding -- the finding that interested Dr. Spencer the most -- that overall, younger and older children keep the same patterns, stereotyping. In other words, their ideas change little from age five to 10.

SPENCER: Ordinarily, by the time children are older, there is that sort of a natural filter, you know, their own ways of thinking so that it aids them in sort of rethinking the extreme stereotypic so that responses to become less highly biased.

COOPER: That left Professor Spencer wondering what's causing this pattern. She speculates that kids are bombarded by stereotypical messages and that adults in kids' lives have to fight to override the deluge. Black parents may be more diligent about that, while white parents may not notice the need.

SPENCER: The messages are the same for all children, and therefore, the task is the same for all parents. Parents have to reframe what children experience.

COOPER: We realize these findings may be disturbing and that some people will question this project's conclusions. What stereotypical messages are being sent in a country that elected a black man president?


COOPER: Like all research projects, ours is not perfect. Some kids were told ahead of time they'd be asked about race. Some children identified as one race, but came from biracial families -- like this boy whose mom is white.

But Professor Spencer tells us these are common issues in research and the results can still be trusted because of the sample size.

To be clear: this is a scientifically informed and executed pilot study, which suggests the need for further research. The results point to major trends, but are not the definitive word on children and race. Still, they underline what Dr. Spencer sees as an alarming conclusion.

SPENCE: We are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and light things are valued.

COOPER: The question we're left with is: where do we go from here?


COOPER: Well, still ahead: we visit with Andrew, a 5-year-old whose answers to the test stunned and upset his mom, and she says led to some big changes at home.


LAURA: You've got to talk about it. It will be uncomfortable for people. But that's where the real learning takes place, in the discomfort of it all.


COOPER: And later, an update on Brielle, whose parents were equally upset with her answers to the test and what they revealed about her self-image. Her family has made some changes, too.


COOPER: We'll have more on kids and race in a moment.

But first, a "360 News and Business Bulletin".

President Obama spoke out tonight on the controversy over the proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero as he hosted an Iftar dinner, the traditional breaking of the bread fast in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Listen.


OBAMA: I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes -- that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.

This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.


COOPER: And it turns out there is surveillance video after all of flight attendant Steven Slater's infamous exit from a JetBlue plane. It's hard to see. But if you look closely, you can see the chute deploy and Slater slide down. Slater is facing criminal charges for his meltdown on Monday's flight.

Back to school shopping pushed up retail sales 0.4 percent last month, the first increase in two months, still below expectations.

And more floodwaters are expected to hit southern Pakistan this weekend where many residents are ignoring warnings to evacuate.

Reza Sayah has the latest tonight from Islamabad -- Reza.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is Pakistan's Katrina, it's the worst natural disaster this country has ever seen and one of the worst disasters anywhere in recent memory.

The scope of these floods is astonishing. The U.N. says one- fifth of Pakistan is under water. To put that in perspective, that's the entire state of Florida.

These floods hit when Pakistan's notorious monsoon rains started coming down a couple of weeks ago and for a 48-hour period, they didn't stop. Over the past couple of weeks, parts of Pakistan have received as much rain as they received in an entire year and the results have been catastrophic.

Entire villages under water, more than 1,300 people killed, 15 million people impacted, many left homeless without food or clean water -- Anderson.


COOPER: If you want to see how you can help the organizations working in Pakistan, go to Reza will continue to report from Pakistan next week.

We'll be right back with more on how kids see race and what you as parents can do to help shape their perceptions.


COOPER: The tests on racial bias that we asked researchers to conduct months ago showed that white kids had high rates of white bias. We sat with some of their parents as they watched their kids' answers on videotape, and as you can imagine it was upsetting for many of them, including one mom named Laura.

Back in May, she called her young son's answers shocking, evidence that she needed to do a better job at talking to him about race and color. We caught up with Laura and Andrew recently to see what's changed for them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to meet you.

COOPER (voice-over): This is how we first met 5-year-old Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the dumb child. Why is he the dumb child?

ANDREW: Because he's really black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the nice child. Why is he the nice child?

ANDREW: Because he's the lightest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the bad child. Why is he the bad child?

ANDREW: Because he's really dark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Show me the ugly child. Why is he the ugly child?

ANDREW: Because he's -- he's dark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the good-looking child. Why is he the good-looking child?

ANDREW: Because he's the lightest.

COOPER: Andrew overwhelmingly identified his own skin with positive attributes and black skin with negative attributes, a high rate of what researchers call white bias.

His mother Laura was shocked when we showed her his answers. She was part of a panel of parents whose kids participated in the test.

COOPER (on camera): I saw you shaking your head.

LAURA: It -- it's disappointing. I should be disappointed. I mean, I -- it makes me think I need to be doing a better job at home. I need to teach him, you know, it's -- it's really upsetting. I spent 15 years as a teacher trying to teach first graders about all different societies and cultures and races and then here's my own child. His finger went so quick to the white side, it's fascinating.

So I just, you know, we have to -- I want to do more, talk about it more openly, definitely.

LAURA: Andrew, you want me to spin you around?

COOPER (voice-over): We met up with Laura and Andrew today.

LAURA: Hold on tight.

COOPER: She said seeing her son's answer was a wake-up call. She realized his ideas on race are already being formed.

LAURA: I want to try to demystify all these stereotypes. They -- they create them so young and to me it was sort of eye opening. Like, wow, he is already -- if he's not talking about it, it's already going on in his head.

COOPER: Like an estimated 75 percent white families, Laura never got specific about race. The doll test changed that.

LAURA: I've never said black people are bad, but I've never said black skin is OK. Black skin is great. I've always said it's OK to be different, but I just really need to be more open and up-front about it and attack it head on.

COOPER: Attacking it head on for Laura means instead of glossing over racial differences, today she looks for reasons to point them out and celebrate them, both with Andrew and her 3-year-old, Eleanor.

LAURA: What color is her skin, Eleanor?


LAURA: Black? Is it OK to be black?


LAURA: Yes. She's beautiful.

COOPER: Before the doll test, Laura thought age 5 was far too young to talk about race. Now, she feels at age 3, she's already missed opportunities with her daughter who's showing signs that worry her. LAURA: I was like, look, Eleanor, you know, these three women are black and they're doing ballet and she's like, no, just this one. I mean, already, at three, she's already sort of got some preconceived notions already.

So, just as simple as pointing it out, I think, is a good -- a good start, for sure.

There it comes.

COOPER: While a tough thing to go through, she says her involvement in the doll test started conversations on race with family, friends, even colleagues.

LAURA: You've got to talk about it. It will be uncomfortable for people, but that's where the real learning takes place, in -- in the discomfort of it all.

COOPER: And she'll continue to fight all stereotypes --

LAURA: I could even be president. Do you want to be president one day, Eleanor?



COOPER: One conversation at a time.


COOPER: When we come back, we'll revisit another family who's making changes in the way they talk about race. I first talked to 5- year-old Brielle after she took her doll test.

Here's what she told me about dark skin.


COOPER: And Brielle, they asked you what color adults don't like? Do you remember what you said? Which one? That's right. That's the one you said. Why do you think adults don't like that color?



COOPER: Well, Brielle's answers surprised her parents. We'll catch up with them just ahead.

And later, Marcus' story: if you think that growing up in a -- in a biracial family would protect a child from white bias, well, think again.

"Black or White: Kids on Race" continues after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our pilot study into kids and race found that African- American kids have a substantial amount of what researchers called white bias, though not as much as white kids.

Take a look at what 5-year-old Brielle told me when I asked her to show me which color of skin she would like to have.


COOPER: How about you? Why -- why do you want that skin color?

BRIELLE: Because it looks lighter than this kind, because this looks a lot like that one.

COOPER: Yes. And --

BRIELLE: And I just don't like the way brown looks, because the way brown looks, looks really nasty for some reason, but I don't know what reason. That's all.


COOPER: Well, that's part of my conversation with Brielle after she had taken the test, and those answers that she gave me matched what she said on the test.

They're painful to watch. Imagine how her parents felt. For them, like for Laura, who you saw earlier, the test was a wake-up call.

Soledad O'Brien caught up with Brielle and her parents recently.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): This is Brielle today. Her parents, Byron and Latisha, focused on changing her self-perception, shocked at Brielle's answers.

LATISHA, BRIELLE'S MOTHER: It made me feel like, wow, what are we doing wrong? But we thought about some of the experiences that she has had, where she has noticed her skin color at an early age and we thought that it was affecting her a certain way, but we didn't realize that she realized it.

BYRON, BRIELLE'S FATHER: Her perception was that a lot of times the golden-haired or the lighter-skinned kids got to be on line first for whatever, or there was one incident in -- in the way that they cast even the -- the Christmas play.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Light-skinned kids were the stars?

BYRON: Right. But the part that she got was the one that nobody would have possibly wanted.

O'BRIEN: What did she play?

BYRON: A donkey -- could have been a sheep. Could have been a -- any -- any other barn animal, you know, and she ended up being the donkey.

O'BRIEN: And she knew at age 3 that that was not the animal to be.

BYRON: Sure. And messages similar to those, I think at 3 years old, those are things that you actually do remember, I believe, in the -- in the subconscious.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): For Brielle's parents, counteracting those messages for her and her sister, Brianna, is now, more than ever, a priority.

BYRON: They're the most beautiful girls in the world, as far as I'm concerned, and they need to know that, and I need for them to know that.

Good job.

I've tried to find ways to link that physical beauty, you know, the skin tone, your pretty hair, your pretty eyes, whatever it is, to the beauty -- I'm not speaking of beauty that is just because of what's inside. You're -- you're beautiful on the outside as well.

O'BRIEN: Brielle's answers got a strong reaction from family, friends and parishioners at church.

(on camera): Did someone say, what are you teaching this child?

LATISHA: No. They were shocked at her answer, but it wasn't like a negative thing. A lot of people who spoke to me, they stood up for her. They said, well what do you expect? Look -- look at society.

When you get married, what do you wear? You wear white. When the bad guy goes to rob a bank or a store, what does he put on? He puts on black. So what are the messages?

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Beyond looking at what their daughters see and hear from the world, Byron and Latisha are looking inward.

(on camera): What advice would you give other parents who say I don't know what to say to my kid?

BYRON: Honestly, I'd say the first level is -- is within. It's hard to have a conversation about acceptance or even about having healthy pride in your own race when there are some very real predispositions within one's self.

If I'm uncomfortable around white people, it's going to be hard for me to show my daughter to be comfortable. So make sure that we're doing all we can to adjust our own mind sets into one that really sees the equality of people. And -- and not just in speech, in reality. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's interesting how Brielle's parents kind of deal with her. They're not really trying to talk her out of her feelings or her beliefs.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Absolutely. And I think a lot of parents would do that. I think maybe I would even do that.

But that's -- they have a very interesting parenting strategy, and they're together in this, which is they believe what this little girl is feeling is as valid as anything else, and what they're going to do is be good role models for other things, but not say, oh, you shouldn't believe this, you shouldn't believe that, don't worry about skin tone, talk her out of it.

They say, hey, we think she's actually nailing it. We think there are disparities in how people are treated, and she's so little, we are going to try to make sure that she loves who she is but not talk her out of how she's feeling.

COOPER: Right.

O'BRIEN: I like that.

COOPER: It's interesting.

Well, we showed you how two families, one white, the other African-American, that made changes in the way that they talk about race after their 5-year-olds took the test measuring racial bias. Both kids showed white bias. Their parents were stunned by the results, but they weren't the only ones, really.

O'BRIEN: No. Absolutely not. And we want to introduce you to Marcus and his mom, Mollie. His test, she said to us, just broke her heart. Take a look.



O'BRIEN (voice-over): We first met 6-year-old Marcus when testing children in the South. His school identified him as African- American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the dumb child. And why is that the dumb child?

MARCUS: Because he's really dark brown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the nice child. And why is that the nice child?

MARCUS: Because he's white.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the mean child. And why is that the mean child?

MARCUS: Because he's light brown.

O'BRIEN: His answers showed the highest rate of white bias we've seen so far from any black child in the survey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show me the child that has your skin color. OK. Show me the child who has the skin color you want as your own.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): This is Marcus' mom, Mollie, she's white. Marcus' father is black. She was part of the panel invited to view the children's tests, and she was stunned.

MOLLIE, MARCUS' MOM: I'm kind of speechless today as how he responded to that.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Is it upsetting for you to see that?

MOLLIE: It's -- it's really hard to watch. After this, when they did the taping, he -- he looked at me and he said, I wish I was -- I know I can't be, but I wish I was white. And it just -- I don't understand.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Mollie says this experience has changed the kind of parent she is to both Marcus and his brother Malik.

MOLLIE: Majority of my friends are black, so I just assumed that my kids, you know, saw that like me.

I don't assume anymore that my kids see things through my eyes. I always thought if you lived the life that they would follow, but you do have to communicate, you do have to talk about it.

O'BRIEN: Mollie has a unique challenge. Marcus has been attending a predominantly white school and his father, divorced from Mollie, lives three states away. She's trying to teach her son to embrace his own skin color. We asked him why in his test he said he wanted his skin to be light.

MARCUS: Because that's my favorite color -- white.

MOLLIE: That's what he told me. I think there's more behind that. But that's so far what he has told me and every time I ask him, it's the same answer.

MARCUS: Everyone in my school are white. They have different eyes -- eye color.

O'BRIEN: Mollie says Marcus' doll test has started broader conversations on race with 14-year-old Malik. He admitted he went through a phase where he thought it would be easier to be white.

MALIK, MARCUS' BROTHER: At my middle school, I would be called a cracker or the "N" word and that kind of got on my nerves, too, and it kind of sucked.

O'BRIEN: Mollie says while she's experienced prejudice because of her biracial kids, she can only teach them so much.

MOLLIE: I have never been called a name because of the color of my skin, so I'm hoping that that's definitely what his father can teach him and to give him that feeling of you're -- you have to be the strong, thick-skinned, black man.

O'BRIEN: Marcus spends summers with his father, Ray, who this summer focused on breaking down stereotypes and building up positive role models for his son.

RAY, MARCUS' FATHER: I said, "Do you know who the president of the United States is?"

He says, "Yes." And he's like, "Why did you ask me that?"

I said, "Because he's just like you and he's the President." I said, "So now what do you think you can be?"

He says, "I can do anything I want to do."

O'BRIEN: Ray and Mollie are optimistic they can teach Marcus to love himself just as they do for exactly who he is.


COOPER: It is really a challenge for -- for parents to try to counteract messages in -- that their child receives all around them.

O'BRIEN: All messages, but I think especially race. I mean, I -- I grew up a biracial, black kid in a white neighborhood, in a white school and you get a lot of those messages. My parent's strategy was to say, you are black, you are Latino, don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

And I think one of the things that Mollie and I have -- have talked about a lot and she was mentioning to me was that she has to do a little bit more of that, kind of helping frame the world for a little kid who at 6 only sees white people around him. She's got to help him there.

COOPER: All right Soledad. Still ahead what -- what you can do to help your kids recognize racial bias and try to see beyond it. As we have shown you silence and pretending that racial bias doesn't exist is not the answer. So when is the best time to start talking to kids about race? We'll get some answers from experts ahead.


COOPER: You're watching a special 360 Follow-Up Report, "Black or White: Kids on Race".

Through a pilot study we asked researchers to conduct, we learned that both -- that overall both white and African-American kids display white bias, associating light skin with positive qualities and dark skin with negative qualities. Even kids raised in biracial families or with parents of different races may display white bias. This leaves many parents asking how can you detect warning signs that your child has absorbed a biased view of race and how can you begin to correct that bias and when should you?

Soledad O'Brien joins me again along with Angela Burt-Murray, editor-in-chief of "Essence Magazine" and Ashley Merryman, co-author of "Nurture Shock."

Ashley, all the parents that -- that we revisited are talking a lot more to their kids about race. Do you think the messages they are now reinforcing are effective?

ASHLEY MERRYMAN, CO-AUTHOR, "NURTURE SHOCK": I think it's very important to talk overtly about race and absolutely all of the parents who are increasing this conversation, I think they need to do all of it and more so. We don't want to wait for kids to develop a bias and then try and correct it. What we want to do is head them off at the pass.

COOPER: Angela, in your magazine, when you deal with black women and beauty all the time.


COOPER: Brielle, this beautiful little girl, thinks that dark skin looks nasty.


COOPER: How do you -- what would -- what would you tell her parents, trying to help reinforce --

BURT-MURRAY: Oh, my gosh. It's so heartbreaking when you saw her reaction to her own complexion and I'm sure these parents are working really hard to try and reinforce positive images. But it's about continuing to do that, but also keeping the lines of communication open and making sure that everywhere she's going she's getting those positive messages.

The magazines, the books, the shows that they watch on television, all of those things have to work together to reinforce the message, the positive message that their parents want to embark on this young girl.



COOPER: But you can't -- you can't control all the messages.

O'BRIEN: No, you can't, but you can control the important ones.


O'BRIEN: And certainly at her age, Brielle's dad --


O'BRIEN: -- told me how he really makes a concerted effort and I think more even now to verbalize to both of his daughters, you are so beautiful.


O'BRIEN: You are the most special, wonderful thing in the world --


O'BRIEN: -- with your sister.

BURT-MURRAY: Because -- and that's so important because the first relationship that young girls have with the opposite sex is obviously through their father. So you want them to grow up with the idea that they should be looking for partners that affirm their beauty and don't negate them in any way.

O'BRIEN: They also felt that -- that Brielle was sort of talking about something that she was --


O'BRIEN: -- experiencing in school, which was that she thinks other people think black is nasty.

BURT-MURRAY: Right. Right.

O'BRIEN: She thinks teachers favor kids who are light-skinned and they didn't want to squash that out of her. They didn't want to say, oh --

BURT-MURRAY: Right. So right.

O'BRIEN: -- don't be ridiculous, honey, that's wrong. They wanted her to have her opinion.

MERRYMAN: I don't disagree with anything that you're saying, but April Harris-Britt, a researcher out of North Carolina, who's an African-American herself, has found that kids who hear constant messages of preparations for bias are looking for them, and they read bias in -- even in ambiguous or neutral circumstances.

So we want her to understand and we don't want her to be thrown by experiences of discrimination because as awful as they are, yes, they're probably going to happen. But we don't want her to be so ready for them that she discounts her own ability to have an effect.

BURT-MURRAY: I understand what you're saying about the research, but I do think that as African-American parents in particular, you have to proactively have these conversations with your children, particularly with your boys who are going to be in situations --

MERRYMAN: I'm not -- BURT-MURRAY: -- not only with educators, but with the police, and other situations where it can really turn into something really dangerous if your children are not equipped to handle it. And I don't think that you should give your kids this kind of blanket, you know, you can dismiss anything that happens to you because somebody is just being racist.

MERRYMAN: What I would also say is for any message of preparation of bias, you have at least one or maybe twice as many conversations about ethnic pride, ethnic history. You know, examples for -- especially the families, you know, biracial kids --


MERRYMAN: -- it's not just watch Barack Obama on television, it's -- look, Barack Obama has a biracial background, a white mom and a black dad, and he worked really hard -- and you give them tools not just on how to react to incidents of discrimination, but how can they themselves go forward and build themselves their own identity.

COOPER: Ashley, Andrew's mom, Laura, is now talking to a 3 year old about race and even wishes that she started earlier, but your research suggests to start even younger than that.

MERRYMAN: A lot of times, you know, think about your conversation, if it's in a picture book, you often would say, oh, look at the balloon, what color is the balloon? Look at the boy's shirt, what color is the boy's shirt, and you describe everything about the color, and the height and the size, except for the fact that maybe that boy is brown.

And when you don't let the kid mention that and you pretend to ignore it, even at 1 or 2 years old we're leaving this message, yes, you see it, but it is so toxic, you can't even mention that you would see it. You can't even acknowledge it and don't ask me what this means.

BURT-MURRAY: I think you're right. You have to talk about it early. You have to talk about it often. But you also have to think about what does your world look like? You know, who do you worship within your church? What does your community look like? What does your child's school look like? What does your child's play group look like?

It doesn't help if you just talk about it, but he doesn't -- he or she doesn't have any actual interaction, any actual friends or he doesn't see you having any friends or close relationships with people who are different than them. That's what you have to talk about. That's the inclusion that you have to have in your life if you really want to raise a child who doesn't see race.

COOPER: Great discussion.

Angela Burt-Murray, thanks very much. Soledad O'Brien, Ashley Merryman, thanks so much. And we'll continue to closely follow the issue of race in America. Thanks for watching "Black or White: Kids on Race." Have a great weekend.