Shaping our first impressions

photo credit, The Future, by Denkyem84, via Flickr

It’s been more than a year since so many of you weighed in on my struggles around where and how to educate my kids–how I’m torn between the advantages that they may accrue in the public schools where we live now, and my growing angst over the social costs of such a racially-exclusive environment.

And, no, I haven’t reached some happy conclusion.

Really, I’m more conflicted than ever.

I read a disturbing piece of the book Blink about the conclusive psychological research demonstrating how the racial stereotypes we all hold influence even our most subconscious decisions. It’s sobering for us all.

More alarming for me, though, was the research on how we can consciously influence these internal processes, by priming our minds to approach race, and racial difference, differently.

How does such priming occur?

Through intense and sustained positive interactions with people of different races, of course.

And what, precisely, are my kids likely to be denied, at least through their schooling, given the dire demographics?


As a parent, I want to give my children the best.

Not the best toys, certainly (we wouldn’t even know what those are, since we don’t watch TV!), but the best chance–to learn, to grow, to experience a full and wonderful life.

That requires a good school, certainly. But don’t I also want them to have the best chance, at least the best fighting shot at it that any of us can hope for, to beat back the demons of racial prejudice that so plague much of humanity?

It has already started, certainly, the awareness of divisions. My oldest son remarked how one of his friends at ‘nature camp’ (a boy of Indian-American descent) has “darker skin than mine, but lighter skin than Hayden (an African-American friend)…it’s funny, Mommy, because his skin is kind of the same color as Grandpa George’s (my husband’s maternal grandfather is Mexican), but they don’t know each other!”

Indeed, this sophisticated classification of skin tone gradients.

At the same time, there’s a definite opening now, an innate sense of fairness that is part developmental stage and part, I suspect, a product of our influence on them.

I was preparing to go to a pro-immigrant protest, and Sam asked me where I was going.

“I need to stand up against a man who doesn’t like people who come from other countries, to show that I won’t accept that in our community.”

“Why, Mommy?” he asked. “Why am I going?” I asked.

“No,” Sam said softly. “Why would anyone not like someone from another country?”

What’s the best answer, for influencing their minds and hearts so that, in the blink of an eye, they’ll always see justice and fellowship and equality?

Science, and human instinct, tell us it’s a multiracial environment, the likes of which are rare in this highly segregated and stratified society, a search even further complicated because we also want for them a chance to learn the knowledge and skills that they’ll need to succeed.

Gladwell’s book is subtitled, The Power of Thinking without Thinking. But this is one dilemma I can’t seem to think, or unthink, my way around.

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