Toddler Racism?

It was a rainy Tuesday when I took the kids to the local mall indoor play area. This thing is a lifesaver when your kids are filled with energy, but the elements aren't exactly cooperating. There are usually a few moms there with more than a few kids, and this particular day was no exception. The kids were playing pretty well together until I noticed a girl denying a boy access to a certain tunnel with a raccoon on top -- a highly desired location at this park. Not too unusual though, except this girl had let my daughters in the same tunnel several times, and at that moment they sat just behind her, oblivious to the turmoil at the other end.

Maybe she treated this kid badly because he was a boy, but I couldn't help but notice that he was the only black kid in the play place. I watched as she denied him entry with a harsh nastiness in her voice. Then, when she left a few minutes later, he tried again. She saw the attempt and hurried over to shoo him out again. Later, he was playing in a boat toy that she apparently had also laid claim to, and went out of her way to kick him out of there with the same angry tone.

I could be simply riding the tide of current cultural problems, possibly reading into things too much -- it could after all be a boy vs. girl situation -- but I couldn't help but wonder if racism could start at such an early age. It is a learned thing, right? Is 3-4 years long enough to observe the rejection of another people group and adopt it as your own habit? Or maybe it's not learned and we are just born disliking that which is different than us. I don't know.

On the other hand, my wife has often taught in inner city schools and noticed that her first and second graders usually didn't even realize that race existed until that age, or even later. Her kids would play happily, color aside, and were even confused when someone did notice the difference in skin color. It is encouraging to see such a thing, and brings to mind Jesus' claim about children and the kingdom of God.

I am mostly writing this to note an observation and see what others think of it. Have you ever noticed anything like this going on? At what age does racism become an adopted belief? Am I way off here?