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

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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.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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12:16AM PST on Mar 10, 2013


1:19PM PST on Feb 23, 2013


2:47PM PDT on Apr 16, 2012

Thanks for the post.

9:09AM PDT on Apr 15, 2012


10:23PM PDT on Apr 14, 2012

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

5:24PM PDT on Apr 14, 2012

Very interesting article and some interesting comments

3:11PM PDT on Mar 24, 2012

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.

6:10AM PDT on Mar 23, 2012

Thanks for the post.

11:52PM PST on Jan 30, 2012

Interesting topic and comments, thank you.

4:17AM PDT on Apr 18, 2011

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...

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