Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Friends are relatives you make for yourself.  ~Eustache Deschamps

“Peer groups have an important impact on children by at least 5 to 6 years of age” (Bigler, 1995)

As I continue to research the subject of race, and how children address the differences they notice in each other, I keep finding information that reminds me how important it is for each of us to have friends from other cultures. 
One study found that, "children with at least one reciprocated high quality interracial friendship were more socially skilled, rated higher on a sociability measure, and participated in more diverse social networks than children with no interracial friendships." (Hunter & Elias, 1999)
It seems appears that, when we give our children opportunities to be friends with children from other cultures, we give them academic, behavioral and social advantages, and even help decrease racial prejudice as they grow into adults.¹
But will they choose these friendships on their own, or do we have to help? Rebecca Bigler, a researcher at the University of Texas, contends that children may extend their beliefs about shared appearances and assume that the kids who look similar to themselves also enjoy doing the same things. Which infers that the children who look different will probably enjoy doing different things, and they might have nothing in common, so why try to be friends? Even a study on interracial friendships between college students (which you can read here) discussed how white students who were randomly paired with black roommates ended up having more black friends than white students who were assigned to white roommates. 
Do we accept people of different colors and racial backgrounds to be our friends, as adults? Should we? I think so. Do we specifically try to arrange playdates for our children with other children from different cultures? Do we invite children of all races to play at our houses after school? Giving our children the chance to discover what they have in common with someone who looks a little different than they do, is incredibly important, especially when they are young, but really, all their lives.
As parents, let’s encourage our children to mingle – let’s make sure we give them opportunities to meet children from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds so their lives are richer and fuller and they have a better chance of growing into adults without racial prejudice.

1. Aboud & Levy, 2000; Ellison & Powers, 1994; Pettigrew, 1997; 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2000. Lease & Blake, 2005.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Diverse Environment Theory

 Many a person has held close, throughout their entire lives, two friends that always remained strange to one another, because one of them attracted by virtue of similarity, the other by difference.  ~Emil Ludwig

As I mentioned in my first post, I have friends who come from all over the world. Some are different colors, some speak English with a foreign accent, and I love it. I have always thought that because I embrace other nationalities and races with open arms, my daughter will get a better understanding of different cultures and be accepting and loving of everyone, no matter how they look.

Researchers call this the “Diverse Environment Theory,” and I think it is true, to a certain extent. Environments are educational and I think it is vital to be an example for my daughter in every way. I think it is imperative for every parent to be a role model – both in their words and their friendships.

But there is more to it. If we, as parents, don’t talk about race, our children will naturally try to categorize the people around them using their most obvious attributes, which is what they see – color. I want to believe that because I encourage a diverse environment at home, my daughter will grow up to be accepting of everyone around her, but that may just be wishful thinking, and not actual fact. I need to talk about it.

Researchers have noticed that parents are often very comfortable discussing gender with their children, and we work hard to remind our children that boys and girls don’t have to fit into any stereotyped gender role. That should be our model for discussing race. Girls can be doctors or presidents, just like boys, but doctors and presidents can also be any skin color.

I thought of a few ideas to include discussions about different races and cultures in my home every day, and maybe you will want to try to incorporate them, too.

1)      Make it a point to talk about your meals. For example, where do tacos come from? How are the people in Mexico different from us?
2)      Talk about holiday traditions from other cultures, whether European, African or Asian. (You may have to do some research!)
3)      Don’t shush your children when they make a comment about the color of someone’s hair or skin, or the shape of their eyes. Take time to teach them about other cultures. Don’t let race become a subject that is unmentionable.
4)      Be explicit in conversations with your children. When you have discussions, be clear. Make sure they know what words like, “equal,” actually mean.

There is a really great website here where I spent quite a bit of time learning more about the history of racial discrimination in our country. Take a few minutes to click through the site, as it may help you understand how vital it is to teach our children the importance of accepting others and give you more historical information to discuss.

Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your children.

Bronson, Po and Merryman, Ashley “See Baby Discriminate” Newsweek. 04 September, 2009. 21 October, 2010. <>

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


                                                                 (c) Rishi Menon 2008

"A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue."
Truman Capote

This blog began because I read a Newsweek article online. It was called, “See Baby Discriminate,” and can be found here. The article talked about how parents think their kids view racial differences and what they do (and don't do) to help their children address their questions. And then I started reading other research articles, and I realized that this isn’t an isolated issue or one I can ignore.
As the parent of a mixed-race child, the article made me even more conscious of the need to protect my daughter in some ways and educate her in others. I wanted to write about this issue because I realized that my friends, some of whom are white parents of white children, also need to be concerned about this topic.
The article gives many examples of race studies, including some conducted by Phyliss Katz, who, while a professor at the University of Colorado, followed 100 black children and 100 white children for their first 6 years. “When the kids turned 3, Katz showed them photographs of other children and asked them to choose whom they’d like to have as friends. Of the white children, 86 percent picked children of their own race…”
Katz went on to say that, “at no point in the study did the children exhibit the Rousseau type of color-blindness that many adults expect.” She emphasizes that we need to discuss race with our children while they are young and still forming their conclusions about race and differences.
My purpose in raising this issue to let every parent know they should talk to their children about race and be willing to ask and answer questions. That’s our job, as parents. Because even though I may do my best to give my daughter a healthy perspective on who she is, other children might not want to play with her, or they might not know how to interact with her in social situations, because of the color of her skin, only because other parents never talked about it. I want parents to know that it’s ok, and even important to bring up the subject and discuss it with their kids.
Research has shown that 75% of white parents never, or almost never, discuss race, yet children as young as 3 years old notice racial differences and compare themselves with other kids. They form ideas about what they see, and those ideas keep maturing as they get older. If we give our young children more knowledge about who they are and who their friends are, we give them tools to live in an accepting, loving world, and we can help break down some of the racial discrimination that infests our culture.
We all want our children to be comfortable with themselves and unintimidated by differences. We want them to have good social skills and an ability to interact with everyone. We want them to live in a peaceful world that is filled with love and acceptance.
 Let’s talk about race.

Bronson, Po and Merryman, Ashley “See Baby Discriminate” Newsweek. 04 September, 2009. 21 October, 2010. <>

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Initial Post

                                        Christmas, 2009

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.  ~Anäis

Many of you already know me, but for those who don't, I want to introduce myself and give you a bit of background about why I'm here. My name is Jessica, and I'm a single mom. I don't typically identify myself this way - usually, I am just Jessica, a girl who works as an office manager, and likes to stay busy in my free time. But I am here, online, because I am the mom of a very wonderful, very active, 3-year old. And I want to address a very important subject and discuss it with other parents.

I'm a white girl. My daughter's father is from Haiti. So, my daughter is a beautiful combination of ethnic backgrounds - German, Italian, Scottish, Irish, French and Haitian. She has great, (soft) curly hair, big brown eyes, a perfect smile, and perma-tan. She is smart and coordinated, and has a huge vocabulary and excellent motor-skills for such a little girl.

I was living near NYC when I got pregnant, but shortly after that I moved to Vermont to be closer to my immediate family.  So my daughter and I are now living in an area without much racial diversity.  (When her father visited here once, he joked about seeing another black man in the grocery store.  He said he should have gone over to say hi and make a friend, because there are so few people here of any color other than white.)  I have many international friends, and love learning about other cultures. I have always considered myself to be color blind, and very accepting of other races. I love to travel and have a long list of places to visit on my Bucket List. I have made friends with great people from the countries of Brazil, Dubai, New Zealand, South Africa, England, Hungary, Belarus, the Philippines, Columbia, Lebanon, India, as well as people of many different ethnic backgrounds who live here in the United States. I love the world! I want to share that love of people and cultures with my daughter.

My purpose in starting this blog is to create a deeper awareness in each of us regarding racial prejudice and our friendships.  I want to ask, what we are teaching our children in this area? What are we doing as parents to give our children a healthy, open understanding of different cultures? I want to ask questions and find answers, not just for my own benefit, but for my daughter's sake, too. I’m glad you are here to join me!