Telling kids that “we are all the same” does not make them more open to people who look and/or act differently than what they are accustomed to. A great study in Austin brings up some really good points. They recruited families with children to talk about race. One group got some videos to watch. One group was given a checklist of topics to cover in discussion. One group was given the videos and the checklist of topics. Each group was to openly talk about race/ethnicity with their kid for 5 nights in a row.
At this point, something interesting happened. Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.”
Vittrup was taken aback—these families volunteered knowing full well it was a study of children’s racial attitudes. Yet once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race, they started dropping out.
Hmmm …. so people didn’t even want to talk about race/ethnicity with their kids you say? So .. what’s the kid left to think?
More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.
Did the study not work? Are parents really evil bigots? Not quite …
Of all those Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. Talking about race was clearly key. Reflecting later about the study, Vittrup said, “A lot of parents came to me afterwards and admitted they just didn’t know what to say to their kids, and they didn’t want the wrong thing coming out of the mouth of their kids.”
I’ve heard things like this a lot from folks that I know. They don’t want to say the wrong thing and appear to be a bigot so they say nothing. These are usually the same people that choose to have friends of the same background as themselves so no one in the family is getting to really know anything about any other cultures. (On a side note I had a friend’s husband tell me that I’m “not like the others” and that’s why he didn’t mind being my friend. When I asked him what he meant he said that I spoke well, had a job and wasn’t angry all of the time. aaaahhhh …. honesty! Lol)
I had a Black friend on Facebook just make a comment that a non-Black person at her job told her that they don’t know any Black people. She said that there was no way that could be true. They replied that they see Black people all of the time, but they don’t hang out with them. She was the closest Black person that they came in contact with and even she wasn’t really a friend. She was taken aback.
It’s not as uncommon as one might think. Most people are in our own little worlds. When someone does want to speak about different ethnicities/cultures/nationalities or gender issues (not biological sex issues) then it makes people uncomfortable. I’m an anthropologist and studied at two schools (for undergrad and grad school) where I was one of a few people of color in the program and even with these “educated” people in a class where our job is to talk about ethnicity/culture/nationality we would get into arguments. Ugh!
What’s the solution? Do we tell our kids that “race doesn’t matter” or do we tell them that there is a matrix of differences all around us (ethnicity, age, gender representation, geographic location, economic level, etc.) and that we all have the right to be treated well regardless of those differences? Will it ever make a difference?