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.