The Genetic Disorder That May Prevent Racism

“You have to look beyond race because as a human being you have to experience the person from the inside first.” —Henrik Larsson

In A Nutshell

Racial biases exist in all people of every age and every nationality; studies have shown that most of us start forming our racial biases before we even learn how to talk. Yet some children have absolutely no racial biases whatsoever—and those children have something called Williams syndrome. The syndrome, which isn’t all about a lack of racism, is a genetic condition in which children are born with about 26 fewer genes than normal. Other characteristics associated with the condition include a lack of social anxiety, no fear of strangers or new situations, as well as physical problems like joint stiffness, cardiovascular disease, and high levels of calcium in the blood.

The Whole Bushel

No one likes to think of themselves as racist, and there’s a group of people that absolutely don’t form any racial biases or opinions at all.

Those are the people who have been diagnosed with Williams syndrome. The genetic condition can be found in about 1 in every 10,000 people, and occurs when a child is born with 26 fewer genes than normal. The result is a strange blend of physical and psychological differences.

Those who are diagnosed with Williams syndrome typically suffer from some type of cardiovascular disease, as well as high blood calcium and other heart and blood vessel–related conditions. Babies are typically irritable and colicky, and may have trouble eating. They can have difficulties when their teeth begin to come in, and often have incredibly sensitive hearing. Some develop learning disabilities, and often suffer from attention deficit disorders.

But children—and adults—with Williams syndrome are very, very social. They are outgoing and friendly, and don’t suffer from any of the social anxiety that others might face in new situations or upon meeting new people. Most children relate very well to adults, but their need for over-socialization can present problems in long-term relationships in adults.

And they’re some of the only people that truly don’t form any sort of racial bias.

Researchers from the University of Heidelberg tested a handful of children to see how racial biases start. From the time we’re toddlers, it’s been shown that we show certain racial favoritism toward those of our own ethnicity. In turn, that also means we tend to be leery of those who are different from us. It’s all part of a test called the Preschool Racial Attitude Measure, which looks at the racial and gender biases of toddlers.

Children are shown pictures and told stories in which different traits and races are presented to them. Most children have an 83 percent chance of viewing light-skinned individuals more favorably, picking out others as being more likely to be bad people. Those with Williams syndrome, however, scored considerably lower, favoring pale-skinned people about 64 percent of the time. Their results were ultimately about as biased as they would have been were they picking blindly.

Researchers believe that their lack of racial bias is directly connected to their characteristic lack of social anxiety and fear of strangers. They are genetically incapable of thinking the worst of a person, and that extends to even those that have a different skin color.

Children with Williams syndrome did, however, have the same gender biases that other children showed. They, too, thought that girls like pink and play with dolls, while boys like blue and play with toy cars.

The implications are staggering (although many researchers are of the mindset that more studies do need to be conducted). What we know now suggests that racial attitudes ultimately stem from social anxiety and our fear of those who aren’t like us, while gender stereotypes are less innate and more learned by the environment we’re raised in, what we see on television, and what toys are marketed to what children.

Show Me The Proof

Discover: Williams syndrome children show no racial stereotypes or social fear
Williams Syndrome Association: What is Williams Syndrome?