T-Mobile Super Bowl Ad Pushes Myth That Babies Don’t See Race Or Gender

ashley.rae | February 5, 2018
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With the growing pervasiveness of social justice themes in popular culture, including the cannibalization of well-known brands for reportedly getting it wrong for not being deep enough when wading into the virtue signaling pool, it’s no surprise that a company took the opportunity at the Super Bowl to showcase to everyone how they utilized “wokeness” the right way in order to sell their product.

During the Super Bowl LII game on Sunday, T-Mobile aired a commercial politicizing babies to make a statement about equality, gay marriage, and “equal pay.” According to the advertisement, babies understand through their “instinct” that “we are equal,” while adults may be “threatened” by differences. Babies also reportedly have the unique ability to be able to see beyond differences--unlike adults--to love whomever they choose and “demand fair and equal pay.”

John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, was quick to offer himself self-congratulatory praise for the advertisement. On the T-Mobile website, he wrote that because of current events, T-Mobile just could not stand back and let an advertisement for a cell phone provider be apolitical. No, according to Legere, there is “something remarkable” happening right now that required a serious ad:

At T-Mobile, we love making a splash during Super Bowl. We’ve built a reputation as a brand that goes big and stands out. And we’ve done it with big names – Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Drake, Steve Harvey – and big, edgy spots. And we had another big spot planned for this year.

But, we took a step back.

Because something remarkable is happening right now. Change is in the air. And, this moment in history calls for something different. Something more impactful. Something more meaningful.

The press release on the T-Mobile website goes on to say that T-Mobile “has always stood for inclusivity,” because it’s “in our DNA.” It also mentions how T-Mobile has received “accolades” for being the “[b]est place to work for diverse employees, for parents, for military, for LGBTQ.”

Although the premise that babies do not recognize differences is a tantalizing one for people who believe all people are created equal, study time and time again has shown that babies do recognize differences. In fact, in 2009, Newsweek ran a story—featured on its cover—asking, “Is your baby racist?

One of the studies referenced in the Newsweek article mentioned babies as young as six months notice race:

Katz found that babies will stare significantly longer at photographs of faces that are a different race from their parents, indicating they find the face out of the ordinary. Race itself has no ethnic meaning per se—but children's brains are noticing skin-color differences and trying to understand their meaning.

At age three, the study found children begin to prefer to be friends with children of the same race:

When the kids turned 3, Katz showed them photographs of other children and asked them to choose whom they'd like to have as friends. Of the white children, 86 percent picked children of their own race.

At around five and six, the young children sorted people by race. This led University of Colorado professor Phyllis Katz to conclude, “I think it is fair to say that at no point in the study did the children exhibit the Rousseau type of color-blindness that many adults expect.”

In 2017, similar results were found in two studies. According to Science Daily’s breakdown of the studies, both showed that not only do babies differentiate by race, but they also show racial preferences:

In the first study, "Older but not younger infants associate own-race faces with happy music and other-race faces with sad music," published in Developmental Science, results showed that after six months of age, infants begin to associate own-race faces with happy music and other-race faces with sad music.

In the second study, "Infants rely more on gaze cues from own-race than other-race adults for learning under uncertainty," published in Child Development, researchers found that six- to eight-month-old infants were more inclined to learn information from an adult of his or her own race than from an adult of a different race.

When it comes to gender, babies may not yet be aware of the fundamental differences between boys and girls; however, when it comes to making decisions based on gender, a study on “gender-typed toys” found babies as young as nine months show preferences for toys that correspond to their gender:

The 101 boys and girls fell into three age groups: 9 to 17 months, when infants can first demonstrate toy preferences in independent play (N = 40); 18 to 23 months, when critical advances in gender knowledge occur (N= 29); and 24 to 32 months, when knowledge becomes further established (N = 32). Stereotypical toy preferences were found for boys and girls in each of the age groups, demonstrating that sex differences in toy preference appear early in development. Both boys and girls showed a trend for an increasing preference with age for toys stereotyped for boys. Theoretical implications of the findings are discussed with regard to biological predispositions, cognitive development and environmental influences on toy preference.

While claiming that babies understand the inherent self-worth of all people regardless of race and gender may be a good talking point, it actually is a pipe dream.

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