Raising color-kind kids

Children aren’t color blind, write NurtureShock authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in Newsweek.

In one study, six-month-old babies spotted skin-color differences in photos of faces. By the age of three, children preferred friends of the same race. In another, white children five to seven years old in liberal Austin thought almost no white people are mean, but “some” or “a lot” of black people are mean.

Attending a diverse school “gives you just as many chances to learn stereotypes as to unlearn them,” a psychologist says.

Duke University’s James Moody “found that the more diverse the school, the more the kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity within the school, and thus the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down.”

All told, the odds of a white high-schooler in America having a best friend of another race is only 8 percent. Those odds barely improve for the second-best friend, or the third-best, or the fifth. For blacks, the odds aren’t much better: 85 percent of black kids’ best friends are also black.

When parents talk to children about racial differences explicitly, it makes a big difference for the better, Bronson and Merryman say. But many parents who tell their kids not to believe gender stereotypes are afraid to tackle racial stereotypes.

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  1. If diversity is either forced by affirmative action/SES selection, and the diversity-included are thus lower-performing, it is no wonder that kids see those groups more negatively. I am thinking of a math/science magnet high school where the magnet program was instituted to achieve balance across racial groups. In fact, it is two schools under one roof; the magnet kids are overwhelmingly white and Asian and interaction, even in extracurriculars, with the others is minimal (except PE). I have read about similar situations in other places.

    Where “diversity” is included in the selection criteria for such programs, it is likely that those kids are at the lower end of their classes; therefore seen as less capable. Maybe it’s not “fair”, but it is understandable. It is REALLY unfair to those “diverse” kids who don’t need “diversity points”; they are wrongly stigmatized from one direction and shunned/ridiculed as oreos from the other.

    I think there is far too much emphasis on race. Let’s get back to seeing people as individuals and evaluating them on their individual merits. BTW,all of my kids have close friendships with kids of other races.

  2. Tom Billings says:

    The greatest tragedy for racial relationships has been the multicultural fantasies that assume that all cultural influences on their children are “equal”, when many are distinctly destructive to the ability of humans to grow the behaviors that will allow them to survive and thrive in an industrial society. We do *not* live in any “post-industrial world”, but a more and more industrial world, characterized by the worldwide networks that are industrial society’s essence.

    Indeed, most of the behaviors condemned as “too white” are in fact not consistently “white” behaviors at all, but behaviors adaptive to our worldwide industrial environment. Their desire for cultural tolerance has led educators over into a field where all the old sneers in agrarian cultures at industrial culture behaviors are “OK”, while those industrial culture behaviors themselves are often at best spoken of in overly formalized language that drives some “white” kids away, much less a black child afraid of being an “Oreo”. This separates children by race far more effectively than any “separate but equal” school system ever did, even though kids are in the same building.

    This multicultural bias against reinforcing behaviors needed in our worldwide industrial society is the greatest tragedy in race relations today, though that is only a part of the damage it does. A smaller percentage of “White”, or “Asian” students also feel permitted to ignore building industrial behaviors, and like their black classmates, they are often condemned to a life in jobs where their “multicultural credentials” are the most important job qualification they have.


    Tom Billings

  3. Phillip Gonring says:

    The studies are disheartening but understandable. As the parent of two bi-racial children, I have watched one struggle with and eventually become comfortable with his own racial identity and the other be comfortable with it from day one. The oldest has self-identified as black for most of his life, grappled with stereotypes as he attended a nearly all-black school, and then come into his own as a high school student. His own grappling has been a personal conversation on race; as a result, he has grown to have friends who are black, white, hispanic and Asian. My son has been “forced” into these conversations as he has forged his own identity in diverse schools. Perhaps our country will do the same are we are forced by our President to have more and more sophisticated conversations about race that move beyond the “we are all equal” rhetoric.

  4. Slightly off topic, but one of the coauthors of this book, Po Bronson, wrote some years ago one of my all time favorite books, Bombardiers. It is written in the exact same style as Joseph Heller’s classic Catch-22 and is set in a brokerage house in San Francisco. It is a critique of the way those firms make money just like Catch-22 was a critique of war. Actually, it is especially apt today considering our recent economic struggles. Funny book as well. I highly recommend it.

  5. Say it ain’t so!

  6. I’ve noticed with dismay that my child has fewer non-white playmates here in a fairly diverse S.F. Bay Area suburb than she did when we lived in a much less diverse Boston suburb. It’s really sad to go to a playground and see all the different cliques by ethnic group among preschoolers. My DD is very outgoing and her feelings get hurt when her attempt to join a group doing something she finds interesting is rejected. What do you say when that happens? “Those kids are being snotty and won’t play with you because you’re not [fill in the ethnic group]”?

    So much for Dr. King’s dream of folks being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin…

  7. Sad to say, it continues as kids age. As a college student, one of my kids went to an event sponsored by the Hispanic student group, because my kid wanted more practice in Spanish, and was told to leave. Non-Hispanics were neither welcomed nor tolerated. The same kid was welcomed at both Asian and Pacific Islander groups.

  8. My experience has been that kids at our neighborhood (urban liberal middle-class Canada) school were fairly color-blind, but nor culture-blind. As long as you passed the culture test (has similar interests, goals, ethics, and language), then race was essentially ignored.

    (My oldest was shocked to discover he was biracial at age 11. Race just hadn’t come up and he’d never thought about what the fact that his mother was Asian would imply. My wife’s cousin’s daughter was surprised the same way as well.)

  9. The whole guilt/shame/failure/blame thing plays heavily into this. It’s ironic, most whites do want a post racial America. They want to prove their bona fides that they’ve overcome racism. I think it’s largely African-Americans who don’t want a post racial world. They want to sustain a kind of power via white guilt. Refusing to accept the significant diminishment of white racism also provides the excuse for the poor performance of blacks socially. If they let racism go as a guilt lever, they must come to terms with black failure, and question modern black culture. Most whites are just tired of the whole conversation, even those largely sympathetic are turning away.

  10. Yes, race does matter, and the sloganeering about how we’re all going to love one another in the Land of the Rainbow is utterly foolish. Kids where I teach segregate into groups of people that look most like themselves. Asians own Key Club and the tennis and badminton teams. I had a Mexican girl in my class quit tennis because of alleged favoritism by the Asian badminton coach. I once had two Asian sophomores try to get into as many clubs as possible, but they hit a brick wall when they went to a MEChA meeting. They were not wanted. The few whites are generally not wanted anywhere. In cities nearby, Chinese immigrants have established their own Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis Clubs. Being American was never overtly based on race even though the population has been, until now, overwhelmingly white. Ideally, being American is about accepting American values, which are indeed color-blind. But people aren’t color-blind, and the more my neighborhood looks and feels like Taiwan and Korea, the more I feel I am living in occupied territory. Hence, I admit to being terribly flawed.

  11. I have a mild neurological disorder that sometimes makes it difficult to recognise people (even family) under certain circumstances. The other thing this disorder does is make me completely oblivious to the color of people’s skin. To me everyone looks the same with only minor differences, like shape and size of individual features. I truly wish I could bottle this disorder and discreetly sprinkle it around. The minor problem of not immediately recognising friends is worth it for the gift of true color blindness.
    Maureen Hume http://www.thepizzagang.com

  12. Badabing,

    Happen to drive a Gran Torino?

  13. Interesting conversation. In my experience with kids–of all ages–it takes commitment and honest dealing to break away from social norms. That means having to talk about it. It means developing clarity about why it is important to think about who we sit with at lunch, or play with on the playground, or the means by which we choose who is included in after-school clubs.

    Most schools are of a different mind-set when it comes to fostering student decision-making. Schools tend to be reactive when it comes to behavior and silent when it comes to anything sort of “moral.” I have had principals swear to me “oh, we don’t allow that here. Just let me know and I will take care of it.” Needless to say, “taking care of it,” is reserved for extreme cases, with overt name-calling or violence.

    I recall my son’s kindergarten experience. I happened to be there during line-up time, when the little girls were explaining to him in no uncertain terms that I could not possibly be his “real” mother–since I am white and he is black. I went through my usual spiel about how we happened to be together–but I have no confidence that my explanation alone was sufficient. The following year, at another school, I took advantage of family sharing time (I forget exactly the topic–something about where families had come from) to come in and tell the story of our family. It was wonderful that the teacher, as I was speaking, was pulling books off the shelf to show that featured families like ours. It really matters.

    As a camp counselor for an agency that had chosen to operate programs integrated across race, ethnicity and SES, the first cabin meeting was almost always about choosing places in the bunk beds so that we got to know people that we didn’t already know, and who might not look like us (and yes, we did sometimes point out if all the black kids were together on one side and all the white kids together on the other, and figure out how to make a different set of choices). This is profoundly different from my district’s leadership in desegregation, which was to announce–after losing a string of court battles–that they would “follow the law.”

    Racism may have diminished, but racial prejudice is alive and well, as I sadly discover whenever I read the anonymous comments posted to my daily online newspaper. We don’t have to go along with this tide–but it takes ongoing choices to swim in another direction. We have to get comfortable with the conversation.

  14. “Perhaps our country will do the same are we are forced by our President to have more and more sophisticated conversations about race that move beyond the “we are all equal” rhetoric.”

    I think that anything we’re forced to do by the President is doomed to failure. At my daughter’s big, urban, all girls Catholic high school, the lunch tables seemed segregated by racial lines, but those lines were pretty fluid. Mexican girls and Filpinas mixed fairly easily, Koreans and Anglos also mixed, but African American students and white girls would mix, if everyone else around was Asian. Weird, but it made a wacky sense, in a way.

  15. Disheartened says:

    My daughter who is almost 6 years old – asks me ” why am I the only one in class with brown skin and black hair”? Is there something wrong with me?” This is a difficult conversation for me because I’m not sure what to say….it’s nowhere in any parenting book on how to be prepared for such a question. So, I start with the whole “we’re all different but we’re all the same inside” thing and she says no – I’m the only one who is different…and I think they all look at me funny.

    For a little girl to notice this and also have such deep feelings about how/why she is being treated differently was a shock to me.

    Having grown up here, I knew there would be a day that would come where she would feel like she was being treated ‘differently’ – I just didn’t expect it so early in life. These are the years where a parent hopes to build their child’s self esteem and confidence and teach them important lessons such as ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Instead I have teach my daughter how to be more mature about it and tell her to keep reaching out and tell her that once the other kids get to know you – it won’t be like this – what a tough lesson for a 5 year to have to learn. It breaks my heart to have to relive these moments 30 years after I first had them myself.

    Though my family migrated to the US ~60 years ago from India – and though we may have absorbed the culture and consider ourselves Americans…the skin color is still different and always will be. People will always ask “where you are from” and it will always take effort to “win over” the other more traditional looking Americans. 🙁


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