Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade? asks Lisa Miller in New York Magazine. Can it be stopped by getting kids to think about their racial identity?
Fieldston, a very liberal private school in New York City separated third, fourth and fifth graders by race to discuss their racial identity for five weeks this spring. After the weekly “affinity groups” meeting, there was a mixed-race debriefing.
Slightly less than half the students at Fieldston’s Lower School are white, 20 percent are black or Latino, 20 percent multiracial and “the remainder are Asian or won’t say.”
Sorting by race offends many parents, who posted an online petition protesting the program, writes Miller. They wonder why the school is “forcing these children to define themselves and their families so narrowly” and at such an early age.
Ben Hort, an Irish-Jewish parent described as “blue-eyed” and “devilish,” calls it segregation. His wife is a Colombian-American with “dark-brown skin and black hair.”
Two of their children look white, or whitish, and one is browner, with his mother’s black hair and almond eyes. To them, making racial identity a multiple-choice proposition diminishes who they really are. . . . “The kids are Colombian, they’re Jewish, they’re Irish. They’re from New York; they’re American. We are mixed.”
Like his older brother, 9-year-old Jacob Hort rejected “multi-racial” to join the “not sure” group. Asked to write on a Post-it the things that make him unique, he wrote “American. Dog lover. Me.”
Two black parents — both with Ivy League educations — tell Miller they support the program. Their kids are identified by race and need to be able to deal with it. (Wouldn’t the parents do a better job of this than anyone at the school?)
A black third-grader likes “to be with people I can share my race with” without feeling uncomfortable.
However, a fifth-grader in the Asian group complains it’s “so fricking boring . . . The conversations we have are mostly about the tensions between whites and blacks, and never about Asians or Hispanic people.”
“Here is fancy, expensive, and elitist Fieldston Lower School instituting a program that’s whole purpose is to crystallize out-dated, divisive ideas about race,” complains White Boy Rants.