Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How to Raise Kids That Don't Have Cross-Cultural Friendships

According to authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, one of the best ways to raise children that don't value friendships with kids that are culturally different than them is to never talk about race. Bronson and Merryman's book, NutureShock: New Thinking About Children, examines commonly assumptions about how parents talk to their children about race.

Jonathan Liu of Wired Magazine comments on the book:
"What Bronson and Merryman discovered, through various studies, was that most white parents don’t ever talk to their kids about race. The attitude (at least of those who think racism is wrong) is generally that because we want our kids to be color-blind, we don’t point out skin color. We’ll say things like “everybody’s equal” but find it hard to be more specific than that. If our kids point out somebody who looks different, we shush them and tell them it’s rude to talk about it. We think that simply putting our kids in a diverse environment will teach them that diversity is natural and good.

And what are they learning? Here are a few depressing facts:

* Only 8% of white American high-schoolers have a best friend of another race. (For blacks, it’s about 15%.)

* The more diverse a school is, the less likely it is that kids will form cross-race friendships.

* 75% of white parents never or almost never talk about race with their kids.

* A child’s attitudes toward race are much harder to alter after third grade, but a lot of parents wait until then (or later) before they feel it’s “safe” to talk frankly about race."
What Bronson and Merryman have found is something that I absolutely agree with. For those of us parents that want to teach our children about equality, it is important that we talk about race. By living in an American society that has been so formed by racial dynamics, we do our children a disservice if we don't address why things are the way they are. But in talking about race, ethnicity and culture, we can talk with our children about the beauty that exists within our diversity.

Many well-meaning parents, especially those of us that are white, never help to educate our children about race. We are uncomfortable in talking about it so our kids our uncomfortable talking about it. And in the process we can unwittingly raise children that are blissful in their ignorance. As they get older and interact with those of other cultures, they are likely to say insensitive, rude or racist things without even intending to because we, as parents, never discussed these things with them (see above photo). Based on my experiences, evangelical Christians can create some of the biggest blunders when it comes to addressing the topic of race.

In addition to talking about race with our children, we as parents who see the value represented in the diversity of God's creation can help our children to value cross-cultural friendships by having these kinds of relationships ourselves. If our children never see us in friendly interactions with those that look different than us then it will be hard for them to value these types of friendships themselves. If they never spend time in the homes with those of other ethnicities (or vice versa), then they likely will not develop these cross-cultural friendships on their own.

The task of parenting is not an easy one but the things that are most important (namely how we view God and others) should not be left for others to educate our own children about. The most valuable type of education takes place in the safety and nurturing environment of the home. And because race plays such a dominant role on so many levels within American culture, this topic certainly needs to be addressed by parents.

[NOTE: The original Wired article is entitled "How to Raise Racist Kids." I chose not to use this same phrase since I don't believe that just because someone does not have friends of another race that they are automatically a racist. They may be uninformed, but that does not make them racist. However, I'm of the persuasion that the likelihood of forming racist attitudes dramatically increases if one has no meaningful friendships of a cross-cultural nature.]

(h/t to Racialicious for the link)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is good. Its funny people (any ethnic group) are afraid to talk about race like we are afraid to talk about sex with children. Glad you posted this, it is important to keep this in mind as I play vital roles in my smaller cousins lives.