Nurturing Your Racist Child: Parental Pitfalls Often Yield the Worst Results

Back in the day, I went to about as racially and ethnically diverse an elementary school as you could get. It was urban and populated with children of various nationalities and lineages. From my white-boy perspective, things were pretty copacetic and harmonious with cliques of children more apt to discriminate along gender lines than racial or ethnic ones. Somehow all of that began to change once we all moved into the realm of middle school. It was not anything conscious or even contentious, but we all started self segregating. Latino kids starting hanging out together. White kids formed their own social groups and the black kids did as well. These were the same kids that had grown up together and bonded in friendship, and now we were inexplicably separate. This gulf only widened once the transition into high school came about, and the rarity of a mixed race pack of friends became an overwhelming novelty.

I was reminded of this very real phenomenon when plowing through the Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman bestseller NurtureShock (an enormously controversial investigation into child development). In a chapter dedicated to the issue of how children, even in the most diverse environments, explore and internalize the issue of race, authors Bronson and Merryman point to our failures in racial harmony, not as evidence that we are not diverse enough, but that we just don’t talk about race nearly enough to make sense of it for ourselves or our children. It is tempting to believe that because the current generation of kids and teens are so seemingly diverse, they will naturally grow up knowing how to get along with people of every race. But numerous studies, namely ones sited in this book, suggest that this is more of a fantasy than a fact.

One of the main factors that serve as a persistent obstacle toward more awareness, tolerance and general harmony is the singular fact that most parents rarely talk with their children about race. It has become a subject that is surprisingly taboo and only spoken of in the most general of terms. For the most part, many parents avoid the particulars of race as well as the more taboo aspects of the subject in favor of depending on the diversity of the school environment to tacitly inform and instruct their child as to how the world works. Sadly, things are rarely ever this easy or (excuse the pun) black and white.

This diffidence and reticence among parents is, according to Bronson and Merryman, doing quite a disservice and subtly helping to build up racial constructs, fueling confusion and, in some cases, nurturing racist attitudes among children. We, as parents, entertain this fantasy that children should be raised as colorblind and that everyone is “equal” in our eyes, and by proxy, our children’s. But is this just an oversimplification that conveniently glosses over meta-levels of identity, as well as issues of belonging and perception. Has our knee-jerk response to racism yielded something just as vexing and insidious as the blatant racism that dominated for years? In essence, are we inadvertently raising racist children?

Here is some food for thought courtesy of Nutureshock:

  • 75 percent of white parents never or almost never talk about race with their kids.
  • The odds of a white high schooler in America having a best friend of another race are only 8 percent. For African-Americans the odds aren’t much better: 85 percent of black kids’ best friends are also black.
  • 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…

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Aud Nordby
Aud nordby2 years ago


a             y m.
g d c.2 years ago


Sean Chung
Sean Chung3 years ago

Thanks for the post.

Molly S.
Molly S.3 years ago


Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Pendragon3 years ago

It's not an "oversimplification", it really is that simple: accept everyone, we are all part of one family, the human race.

Courtney G.
Courtney G.3 years ago

Very interesting article and some interesting comments

Jennifer E.
Jennifer E.3 years ago

Unfortunately, racism is frequently thought to be white ethnicity being intolerant to other ethnicities. Every ethnic group on the planet has ethnic intolerances - the Chinese have a list as long as your arm, including the Chinese who live in Taiwan; many groups have bans on marriages with people from other ethnicities; people go to war with others who don't live like they do so they can try to force them to be like them. It is certainly not just white against everyone else.

So we have a VERY long way to go for tolerance to be the norm anywhere on the planet, let alone globally.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thanks for the post.

New G.
New G.3 years ago

Interesting topic and comments, thank you.

Amy Hughes
Amy Hughes4 years ago

From early on in my own childhood I was taught that slang words that described nationality or race were very unwelcome in my family home. I was raised in a home where racism was openly discussed and examined for what it is: a personally limiting and debilitating attitude toward others.
That idea was transferred to my own family, to my children. As a result my children's group of friends come from richly diverse ethnic backgrounds, all whom have added to an increased appreciation for world art of all kinds from food to music to dance! Thanks MOM and DAD, you done good...