Next generation

By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  April 5, 2006

Our kids are in many ways a reflection of ourselves. We raise them, and despite the fact that they often try not to be like their parents, they pick up their values and many of their behaviors from our cues.

Which may be why a survey conducted by the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence at Deering High School found that harassment, stereotyping, and bias are the norm at Deering, as in many high schools across the nation.

Parents and others have expressed shock. I’m only shocked at the fact that y’all are shocked about it. Can you really live in the whitest state around, go about your life with folks of difference not being a regular part of your daily activities, and then wonder why a good number of your kids are a bit bigoted and mean-spirited?

Four years in Maine, while they have had many positive aspects to them, have also taught me that folks here like to talk diversity but often not do diversity. I hear more talk of diversity initiatives and events than I ever recall back home in Chicago. Yet I see many more racial, ethnic, and religious misconceptions here despite all of that.

A buddy of mine here in Maine is doing some important diversity training work with kids in her county, yet she deals with low-key racism on an almost daily basis from her colleagues and the folks she serves, as if they’re saying: "Let’s bring ’em in to do some feel-good work, then get back to racial business as usual when it’s done."

I have said it before and I will say it over and over: If you know people of other races at work but you don’t have lunch with them, chat with them regularly about serious and personal shit, hang out with them outside of work and all that, they are not your friends. You know it, so don’t claim otherwise. They know it, so don’t patronize them.

And your kids know it, too.

So you can tell Junior all you want to treat all people with respect. But if you don’t really make friends with people of difference, those are empty words.

In my own high school experience back in the ’80s, I had friends of all hues whose houses I hung at and vice-versa. It was not unusual for folks to date cross-culturally and really be friends with folks of difference. Yes, there could be cruelty, too, and Chicago is far from free of racism, but you could honestly have a crew you hung with that was multicultural.

I don’t know if this isn’t happening in general anymore, or if it’s just not happening in the overwhelmingly white states of Northern New England. My son is a biracial teenager and often speaks of his world as a place where it seems like it’s hard for anyone other than white kids to get ahead.

Here it is 2006, and people still think it’s strange that a black or half-black kid like my son plays the violin versus dribbling a ball down a court.

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