Should You Be Worried if Your Kids’ Friends Don’t Look Like Them?

August 14, 2013  |  

A recent Reuters poll put numbers to something that something a lot of us can see with our own eyes. Forty percent of white Americans say they don’t have friends of different races while 25 percent of nonwhite Americans say their friends group is all the same shade. That means that while a lot of us are mixing it up, a good portion of us are sticking to what we know. Of course, the poll focused on adults and kids don’t see race the same was their parents do, not at first. So it’s possible, and maybe even likely, your kid’s playgroup looks like the United Nations. But do you ever worry about them not having enough friends of their own race?

When I was a kid, my parents were desperately worried about my not having many black friends. We’d been living in a pretty white suburb of Boston for a few years at that point, and by the time I reached middle school, the group of black girls I hung out with disintegrated. One girl had become really mean, one moved away but my friend Aisha stuck together. And with those girls out of the picture, we both became closer to our white friend Martha, forming a note-passing trio teachers had to split up. The friends I made through the school band, through the Future Problem Solving Program and everywhere else were almost all white.

I loved my goofy, nerdy, hilarious group of friends. But I still wanted to be friends with the tight-knit group of black girls, a group even Aisha had access to, though I’d always thought people thought she was as much a nerd as I was. Those girls didn’t like me. They rolled their eyes when I tried to chime in. Eventually, one girl got fed up with me and told me to stop acting white. So I gave up. And that’s when my parents signed me up for Jack and Jill.

My parents wanted me to know how to be around black kids. I was shy, though, and the once-a-month events weren’t enough to foster lasting friendships. Saturday, I had a Jack and Jill party; Sunday, I was at the movies with my usual group of my friends.

I get why parents would worry about their child not having enough friends of their own race. My own parents wanted to protect me from what happens when friendships with white girls hit thorny patches and miscommunication because of culture confuses things. But it’s more complicated than being a sheer numbers game. Jack and Jill didn’t foster real friendships because when it came down to it, the only thing I really had in common with those kids was skin color and suburban upbringing. I had one black friend and it was okay, because she was the best friend for me for a very long time.

Are your kids’ friends diverse? Do you worry about your child not having enough friends that look like them?

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