When Suggestions about Race Relations Goes Wrong
October 13, 2008 11:39 AM   Subscribe

What is wrong with suggesting that African-American children do not benefit from their parents telling them about the infamous "3 strikes against them as a Black person?"

I have insulted my friend who is African-American. This topic seems to be a hot debate and I wanted to know why its so wrong to suggest that children who are NOT taught about why it sucks to be them, will have a less stressful life when faced with racism as adults? Because of culturally, what African-Americans have been through the anger flows from generation to generation and I feel the stress cuts many people's lives short when they become too self conscious of their skin color. I even offered examples of how cultures outside the U.S. handle the racism in America a little bit better because they were not given that "you are considered a n*****" talk. Was I absolutely wrong to suggest anything to my friend? Because he's so angry about what I said, he might not talk to me for awhile. Where did I go wrong? I am carribean, by the way.
posted by InterestedInKnowing to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to the racial/cultural aspect of this, but I can speak to the fact you've basically told your friend they're raising their kids wrong. Many, if not most, parents tend to find that offensive.
posted by rodgerd at 11:47 AM on October 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Also, a percieved implication of what you've said could be that the problems African-Americans face is all in their heads -- it's only because they've been taught to percieve racism that they see it; the problem isn't really "real". I can see why that could offend your friend.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:48 AM on October 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

Yeah, never tell someone how to raise their kids. Still an overreaction though.
posted by xammerboy at 11:52 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sounds like he has a strong opinion on the matter that differs from yours.

I think there's a middle ground between giving information and beating someone down with the message.

But then as a 38 year old straight white male I have nothing but advantages (only a little sarcasm).

Everyone faces adversity, parental talks warning what pitfalls may await may help, but to constantly be told you'll have a hard time in life because you're a woman/gay/black/Mormon won't be helpful at all.

He may have also already given this talk to his kids, so to be told he's wrong might be a bit irritating. He may have also gotten this talk, so being told his parents are wrong also irritating. He may have a background that makes him touchy on this one.

I don't quite get the reaction though. I'd probably apologize without admitting you were wrong. Your opinion is valid, but it is just your opinion. Just tell him you're sorry you upset him and that you value the friendship. Tell him you'd like to open up a dialogue to better understand his position. Seems like he's probably the only person who can really explain his beliefs and his reactions.

Of course if you wanted to elevate the argument to an all out feud you can probably find data to back up your argument (as I am sure he could too).
posted by cjorgensen at 11:54 AM on October 13, 2008

It's a good idea not to dictate to someone what their, or their children's, experiences are, just in general. Nobody appreciates it, even if you're right.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:55 AM on October 13, 2008

I even offered examples of how cultures outside the U.S. handle the racism in America a little bit better because they were not given that "you are considered a n*****" talk.

He might have been offended that you were comparing his culture's "handling" of racism unfavorably to other cultures, and blaming the members of that culture for its negative experience.

If you're not a member of the culture in question, it can be hard to see how close to the bone an expressed opinion can cut (when to you, it's just an idea you were having.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:02 PM on October 13, 2008

I've found the following two rules of thumb to be quite handy in my own life:

1) Do not lecture parents about how to raise their kids unless they ask for your opinion. Even if you are right.

2) Do not lecture black people about racism in the United States unless they ask for your opinion. Particularly if you are a white dude.

Violate either of these two rules of thumb at your own peril.
posted by Justinian at 12:15 PM on October 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

As a black man, I would just LOVE hearing a white person tell me what's wrong with my culture and how my kids are raised. And the "Your people are doing it all wrong, look how X does it" would be just the sweet, sweet icing on shitcake from hell.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:23 PM on October 13, 2008 [17 favorites]

This sounds like a conflict between two people that should apologize and continue being friends and learning from each other. But I'll add a few things...

You said that you are Carribean, which could mean several things as far as skin color, but my sense is that your African-American friend might not like to be told (in addition to the things above) how easy or hard it is to be black in the United States. He might also feel your viewpoint on how to make that experience easier or more difficult on his children is uninformed by experience. Also, if you are not American it might be hard to understand how tightly woven into the fabric of some families' histories (not exclusively black families by any stretch) is the idea that you are already unlikely to succeed because of some facet of your identity.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:30 PM on October 13, 2008

As a black man, I would just LOVE hearing a white person tell me what's wrong with my culture and how my kids are raised.

I'm assuming from the poster's comment that she's Carribean that she's mostly likely indicating she's not white.
posted by rodgerd at 12:31 PM on October 13, 2008

This topic seems to be a hot debate

... so you knew what you were getting into.

and I wanted to know why its so wrong to suggest

Well, you can suggest, but you have to allow the option for the suggestion not to be acted on.

that children who are NOT taught about why it sucks to be them, will have a less stressful life when faced with racism as adults?

Because their attitude did not cause the racism.

Look, I've known African-Americans across the spectrum. From the militant (middle initial "X.") to the "oreo" (loved Gone With the Wind, unironically). I think your atitude can shape whether you are successful or not, but your experiences are going to shape your reaction to racism.

The parents -- who grew up here, unlike you? or your parents? -- will have had a different experience of American racism, and quite recent memory of the necessity for a united and determined struggle to achieve basic human rights, and certainly of a backlash which at times has directly threatened those hard-won rights. It seems like an undeserved burden to make them the agents of effecting the end of the stress of racism. You can easily find other examples in history, with Jews especially repeatedly blamed for racism against them. It's scapegoating.

(Today, in American politics, we have "playing the race card" as a thing that blacks just should not do. Because we still have a schizophrenic attitude toward the whole problem.)

Now, it's true that my oreo friend has turned out very successful. We haven't spoken in a while but I would describe her -- going back 15 years -- as being a sort of pre-Obama-era "post-racism" person [uh, saying post-racist doesn't work as well as saying post-feminist]. She belonged to a multi-racial evangelical church and believed in self-sufficiency. She wasn't shy about her own opinions, though, and there were a lot of "ghetto n*rs" (her words, I assure you) who resented her for her attitude and her success.

It sounds like you're saying you're a Caribbean black, but you could also be Hispanic or white or Creole (which is probably read as black here but not back home). This is simply a completely different paradigm. Some Caribbean countries are majority black, others have no prominent majority, and attitudes about race -- even if there is racism per se -- are just not comparable to the American black experience.

Or experience_s_. There was always tension in the civil rights movement as to how to proceed and respond. How to incorporate the support of white Americans. How to fight racism without appearing to stoke a race war (the ultimate white fear). Even when Dr. King was alive unity was always a difficult thing to achieve, and militants like Malcolm X were in constant conflict with the "go slow" moderates. There was never, in short, any one single attitude or approach.

This isn't something that's settled by any means, in other words, and reflects longstanding divisions in the African-American community. I think if you want to keep the friendship, you apologize and use this as an opportunity to open up a broader conversation about attitudes, and lay off the child-rearing aspects. The kids are theirs, and they're only doing what they're doing out of love and a desire to protect them. You have other ideas, sure, but you can be an influence and an example without having to be "right" about this. Respect their boundaries as parents and allow them to make their own choices.

I feel like I'm "going there" when others are avoiding it. Well, I don't think I'm going outside the parameters of the question.
posted by dhartung at 12:34 PM on October 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

I disagree: it is the way smart parents prepare their children to cope with discrimination and mistreatment in a white world.

Are you suggesting that discrimination and awful name calling is a thing of the past? I do not see how warning and preparing a child to deal with a nastiness that is sure to happen is going to make that child feel bad about himself or his race.

Apologize sincerely and blame it on being from another country.
posted by francesca too at 12:37 PM on October 13, 2008

Your point seems to boil down to "ignorance is bliss," which is the definition of anti-intellectual and possibly offensive when dealing with a different socio-racial context than the ones you have experienced and/or prefer. Did you take the extra step and recommend that they go back and be born in one of the other countries/cultures that has what you perceive to be a better way of handling racism?

You could also recommend that they deal with a faulty, angry attitude toward race by not having African-American children in the first place.
posted by rhizome at 12:48 PM on October 13, 2008

Your statement could be seen as an accusation. No-one likes to be told that they're contributing to their own failure, particularly when the intention is just the opposite. You're interpreting this speech as "this is why it sucks to be you," while a lot of parents are intending to project something more like "I know that you are strong enough to succeed if you work hard, and I'm warning you that you're going to have to work really hard."

Just to provide a possible other side to your argument, it could be seen as beneficial to let kids know that they're not crazy when they sense prejudice. There is a lot of ingrained bias and privilege and baggage that is subconsciously perpetuated and reinforced. People who are not full of hate and don't think that they are racist still often treat black people differently; if asked, many would have absolutely no idea that they do so.

Another issue with your argument is your assertion that people of other cultures handle racism in America better BECAUSE they don't get this talk. Certainly it would be only one of many, many reasons, right?
posted by desuetude at 12:52 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming from the poster's comment that she's Carribean that she's mostly likely indicating she's not white.

Yeah, I missed that part, so if the OP isn't white, apologies, though the point still stands.

However the Carribean part adds a new wrinkle, in my experience. Blacks from the States tend to have different outlooks than those from the Islands. While both of you may similar in skin color, you've had different experiences growing up, for better or worse, so your comments to him may (and seem to be) coming off as in indictment of his culture and him personally. Just apologize and blame it on being foreign and in the future, approach these subjects from a learning perspective as opposed to trying to tell someone how they're doing it wrong.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:53 PM on October 13, 2008

Also, do you have children? 'Cause there's nothing that parents love more than insisting that they're raising their kids wrong.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:55 PM on October 13, 2008

Because of culturally, what African-Americans have been through the anger flows from generation to generation and I feel the stress cuts many people's lives short when they become too self conscious of their skin color.

This is where you failed. Your assumption on how race relations work is not the only valid assumption when it comes to race in the United States. Your friends opinion is incredibly valid and, based on ancedote and personal experiences, is an incredibly apt and perfectly worthwhile way to live in the United States. That's the thing - where you view negatively in being "self-conscious about their skin color", someone could easily label that as a strength as in being culturally aware of the social life that they live in. And not only that - a person could also make a valid argument that a person won't have a choice about being conscious about their skin color as in society will signal out their skin color and make it an issue. Being aware of the social and cultural problems that comes with being a minority in the US does not have to be a bad thing. It can be negative but it can also be something powerful and strength giving. It doesn't have to cut a person's life short - it can make a person more aware of the world around them.

Race matters and I, for one, would have no problem arguing that your point of view tends to ignore and sugar coats the historical circumstances of race in the US and the current problems and trends that exist here. From the study that showed little African-American children who saw black dolls as "evil" to the current studies that show that middle class minorities were steered, in large numbers, to sub-prime morgages while their white counterparts were not, race is a very present and significant part of being part of the United States of America. It can't be ignored and it's something that is present in the here and now. If you want to fight it, you can't ignore it and act like it's not there: you have to confront it to change it.
posted by Stynxno at 12:57 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can't teach a child about the history of African Americans without including these kinds of lessons. It's impossible! By implying that a child should be withheld these messages, you are asking someone to whitewash their history (pun intended). How about asking Jewish families to avoid teaching their children about the Holocaust, so they don't grow up feeling persecuted?

Do you see?
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:00 PM on October 13, 2008


"what African-Americans have been through the anger flows from generation to generation."

Right, because all African-Americans are angry, angry people.

If this was the patriarchical/condescending tone of your conversation with your friend, I can understand his/her anger.

And if you're Caribbean ... and not of white or Indian ancestry, you are black.

I am Guyanese on my mother's side, African-American on my father's side. In other words, black.

Having grown up in New York City, I know of the divisions between Caribbean blacks and blacks from the continent and black Americans. It's stupid.

Apologize to your friend. Try to have a civil discussion about your differences. Listen to his/her point of view. Like adults.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:03 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most of us teach our children about their heritage. Teaching a child to be proud of their heritage, teaching a child to be fiercely protective of their rights, so that injustice will not be perpetrated upon them again, teaching a child the lessons of the civil rights movement, all sound reasonable to me. And, parents are like bears when it comes to their kids. Mess with a bear cub at your peril.
posted by theora55 at 1:04 PM on October 13, 2008

I feel the stress cuts many people's lives short when they become too self conscious of their skin color.

Well, your premise seems to be that the material effects of racism are less important than the material effects of being told about racism. I'm not sure there is any evidence to back that up, and anecdotal suggestions about other cultures by definition ignore the particulars of American racism. There is, however, evidence that being poor and black in the US leads to bad health outcomes. There is debate about whether poverty alone accounts for the differences in outcomes, or whether racism plays a significant role*, but it certainly isn't a surprise that your position might make an African American angry.

(General ideas about poverty and race, often faulty, may well play into this as well. In 2006, 12.8% of the US population was AA, and nearly a quarter (24.3%) lived in poverty. This is almost twice the percentage of the US population as a whole, of which 12.7% live in poverty. There may be more whites living in poverty as an absolute number, but there certainly aren't as a percentage of population.)
posted by OmieWise at 1:05 PM on October 13, 2008

Right, because all African-Americans are angry, angry people.

Well, they are, aren't they?

I mean, the ones I meet are.

because I keep giving them the finger

digital tourette's

Seriously, though, the idea that not telling your kids about their history and the kinds of things they can face in life is about as helpful as suggesting that you shouldn't teach kids that it's dangerous to cross the street so that they can avoid stressing out about the possibility of getting hit by a car.

As parents, you have a duty to teach your kids all that's good and bad in the world that you can, to help them develop a toolkit for dealing with the bad and seeking out the good. Racism is a very bad, very real problem, and if it were me I'd rather my kids "stress" about it up-front so that they see it coming, rather than send them blindly into the mouth of the tiger and have them come home one day sobbing because someone mistreated them because of their skin color and they don't know why. That, or worse: someone mistreats them because of their skin color, and they feel ashamed and never come home to tell me about it. Kids should be empowered to overcome adversity, not taught to keep it in the closet.

damn, I'm a white parent and you got me all riled up; I'm not surprised your friend is frustrated.
posted by davejay at 1:16 PM on October 13, 2008

And I don't get the "three strikes" reference? I know I was told I have two (black, female) OK ... maybe three if you count that I'm also from Brooklyn ... but I don't get that reference, so maybe it's not quite as "infamous" as you think.

And being told at a young age about my "two strikes" was often accompanied by a motivational speech like:

"There were many before you who had similar and often many more difficult obstacles and they succeeded despite the odds. We expect the same of you. Be smarter, work harder, be more polite, show up on time. Make lasting connections. Remember names -- from the CEO to the woman who cleans the bathroom. Be the best you can be."

I actually took some of it to heart.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:32 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just to defend the poster briefly: I see your argument and, not suprisingly, I am half-black (with a white mommy, just like Obama). For people who weren't raised that way, sometimes it seems like assuming that people are being shitty cause you aren't white instead of the myriad other reasons people are shitty can help embitter folks. And sometimes I think I was better served by being told I was awesome and about awesome black folks minus the "people will do x, y, and z" part. Cause then when people did pull out some racist bs, it was much easier to just be like "wow, you are an idiot" instead of taking it personally. There is also an element of faking it till you make it: if you expect people to treat you like all your white friends and classmates, mostly they do.

So I am not so appalled as all the folks here, but maybe in their responses you can see where your friend was coming from and address that. "I'm sorry it seemed like I was telling you how to raise your kids and obviously being conscious of history is important, but ..." And then if he is still mad, you may have to cut your losses. Sometimes people insist on being unreasonable.
posted by dame at 1:55 PM on October 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a mixed-race woman raised by an African-American guardian, my aunt. She doesn't like being black very much, I've come to see. I also learned how her thoughts caused her to behave in ways that upset her to think about afterwards. Her subservient behavior towards white people seemed to invite mistreatment. She repeatedly gave me that three strikes warning as a kid as a reflection of her own self-loathing. It took me a long time to see the difference between the self-loathing part and the warning part. So it is indeed important, I think, to question what we tell our children and the contexts and subtexts of those lessons. Fortunately, I had other people in my life who would give me the three strikes warning, but who made sure to let me know that white people or anyone else who would try to diminish my humanity or tell me I had no right to something I wanted because of my color or gender were 100% in the wrong (and that I was a delightful little person that they were happy to know).

One of my cousins is around my age; one day when I was hanging out with him years ago, he asked me apropos of nothing who I saw in the mirror when I got up in the morning. I was confused at the question. "I see [droplet]." "Huh. I see a black man." He looked so sad when he said it. It's got to be wearing on the soul to think about your race All. The. Time. Though I'm not pale or anything, I don't think I've had as much trouble as some people I know because I don't think about race all the time. I can't do it. I go about my business as droplet and not as Black Woman and I'm fine.

A child's sense of themselves as a worthy individual must be reinforced early and often. Then warn them about the world, in the manner of "advise and warn" and not "well, you're stuck in this skin, and BTW, everyone's out to get you, MF."

Encourage your friend as much as you can to talk to you to find out how s/he felt about what you asked. Giving your friend space to be heard will probably make a lot of difference in salvaging your friendship.
posted by droplet at 2:40 PM on October 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

"...I was telling you how to raise your kids and obviously being conscious of history is important, but ..."

Tends to go over better.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:41 PM on October 13, 2008

Sista reporting in.

I don't have kids, but my parents made it a point to teach me that racism in this country hasn't gone away, it's only gone underground. And if you don't believe that, you haven't been playing attention to some of the attacks on Barack Obama.

The racism experience in the Carribbean is very, very different than the racism experience in the USA. African-descended people born and raised outside the US generally don't understand that until they've lived in the US for several years, and even then they may escape some of it because they aren't seen by American whites as the same kind of [n-word].

Bottom-line: you did not know what you were talking about. African-American parents teach their kids about the shit they'll have to put up with, in order to give them the tools to survive the experience.

Are the parents angry? You're damn right they're angry, because being calm about it didn't get the Civil Rights laws on the books. Being calm didn't stop the lynchings. Being calm didn't end segregation. Our anger motivated us to fight for what was right. We made our anger work for us; it brought us this far and we're sure as shit not gonna let it go now just because someone, even a Brother from another country, thinks it's stressful.

Racism is still alive and well in the US, and it's RACISM that's stressful. The idiotic suggestion that no one should get angry about racism, is even more stressful.

I completely understand why your friend is mad at you. I would be absolutely livid at anyone who made such a suggestion to me.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:49 PM on October 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm trying to figure out the "three strikes" thing, too, but then I'm a white woman and have no frame of reference. Absolutely no sarcasm intended.

I don't think you can understand what it is like for your friend, either. Your upbringing in the Caribbean hasn't prepared you for what his was like here. His experiences differ incredibly from yours. It's just not comparable.

I *think* I understand where you were coming from, IF you were suggesting that seeing yourself as a victim, and raising your kids to a culture of victimhood, could be damaging in that there is a learned helplessness effect. I could see that, since it is palpably different than saying, "hey, just forget about your heritage and all the hardships that people like you have suffered in the past." Obviously, you realize that would be absurd, right? Had you said something like, "I think it's important to focus on the positive strides that have been made rather than all the negativity," it might even have come out better.

But instead you came across as sounding like you don't even think that disparities exist (I note that you put the "infamous 3 strikes" in quotes as I have here, suggesting you reject the premise entirely), and, what's more, that you think your friend is raising his/her kids wrong. How could that NOT be construed as offensive?

Please educate us on the "three strikes" premise, as I think it would help us understand your argument. But yes, you need to apologize to your friend, who is obviously very personally emotionally invested in the topic you disparaged.
posted by misha at 3:25 PM on October 13, 2008

I always thought the "three strikes" thing applied if you are: female; person of color; queer. I don't understand how you're applying it in this situation, though.
posted by rtha at 4:21 PM on October 13, 2008

First, to inform other posters - I believe he's talking about this:
10 Reasons to Oppose "3 Strikes, You're Out" no. 7, about how it disproportionately affects African-Americans to European-Americans

As for my answer:
a) You're telling other people how to raise their kids.

b) The BIG one - You seem to be working from the assumption that knowing you will be the target of racist, bigoted, attitudes will negatively affect children, or people, more than NOT knowing.

This premise is false.

There have been several studies that show people are less negatively affected in things such as exams results, when they know they are dealing with a non-bigoted person (obvious right?), AND when they are dealing with an OVERTLY bigoted person, that if they are dealing with someone with unknown attitudes.

See this result on sexism: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19926725.500-chauvinists-less-unnerving-than-ambiguous-men.html

Being uncertain as to whether someone is behaving negatively towards you because of some extrinsic factor that you have no control over such as your sex, ethnicity, skin colour (well, except if you're Michael Jackson) etc, or intrinsic factors such as your personality and performance, is more unnerving harder to deal with than if you just know they're probably bigoted.

So basically, yes - it is more effective to tell minority children and adults that they will probably face discrimination and racism, and know that it is extrinsic, rather than anything they did, and will tend to foster more motivation and achievement.
posted by Elysum at 4:52 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Scratch that,
I must be wrong about the '3 Strikes' link I mentioned if it's a concept people have grown up with - and I've got a niggling feeling I've heard of something else.

(I'm not an American either)
posted by Elysum at 5:01 PM on October 13, 2008

Best answer: 3 strikes could mean various things:

young, black, male

young, black, female

young, black, poor

black, poor, gay

crispy, original, mild
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:28 PM on October 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I always heard the parents-to-kid version as: African/American/Man or African/American/Woman equals "three strikes."
1) Being black.
2) Being black in America.
3) If female, sexism. If male, perceived thuggery.

Like rtha, I'm familiar with the meme of "person of color, female, queer" as a different version of someone having three strikes against them. But that's not a parent-to-kid pep talk, that's a description usually applied to artists/musicians/poets/activists.

Diclaimer: white chick
posted by desuetude at 7:41 PM on October 13, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, I love all these answers. Great insight from everyone. I did apologize to him (he is not a parent) and all is well and forgiven. What I meant was, I feel, many parents do not give a good pep talk to their children about how proud they should be of their African-American heritage and some grow up to be angrier when faced with adversity instead of being instilled with pride of how great their vast cultures are so they can keep it moving towards success instead of me against the world attitude. Nowhere did I suggest that racism does not exist, because I see all the time that it's apparent, even in killer subtle ways, which are the worst because the bigots make you believe that you are crazy when you know how they were talking to you. Teach a child the real history and reality of society but I don't agree that consistently telling your child that he or she has to stress their skin color is a disadvantage and whites are never going to let you in the doors is not beneficial to that person's well-being. 'Cause that child can grow up abusing that ideology with limiting attitudes of how they see the world. If Sen. Obama was served that plate every night and reminded every day that he is just another black kid in the neighborhood, he could not be in the position he is today because he would be too angry at his father for leaving him, mad at his mother for not understanding what it's like to be bi-racial and his white grandparents for being racists. But Barack understands both sides of the coin, that's one of the traits that make him a great leader and he's been cool all the way, unlike Sen. McCain in which HIS anger about how he views the world in his limited viewpoint could cost him an election. McCain has been an angry person for a long time especially when it comes to race relations. Why? He has been taught a similar hate rhetoric and he grew up with that anger and tension. It works both ways, IMO. The only difference is superficially McCain is not seen as a threat because of his skin color but it's his attitude that is the final nail in the coffin. Kid's learn.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:03 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree that it's bad to teach one's children to have a bad attitude towards race. I mean, I'm a white guy, and some family members taught me to have a bad attitude toward people of other races. I've worked my entire life to try and erase those ingrained attitudes.

But there's nothing wrong with, in an age appropriate way, teaching your children that racism does exist, and that because some other people are weak fools, some of their accomplishments and rights may go unrecognized. But the lesson needs to be "be the best person you can and ignore the bigots". But if it's not done right, it IS a disservice to ones' kids. Instead of teaching them that the world is full of all kinds of different people and ideas, the effect would be to perpetuate racism. "You are [insert race here], people will look at you differently, and that's the reason your life won't go the way you want to." It tells kids to not try hard and blame it on [insert other race here].

Any time one teaches their children to blame personal failures on external sources, it teaches them to not try.

There's so many flavors of hate and discrimination out there, and the vast majority of them aren't race based. Skin color is just the easiest to see. EVERYONE suffers from it in every experience they have with outsiders. Try being a Catholic in WASP town. You are marginalized. Try being a Puerto Rican in a Mexican neighborhood. Marginalized. Atheist in the bible belt. Gay. Short. Fat. Skinny. Pretty. Ugly. There's just something wired up in us to mistrust people of different groups. And until we acknowledge that it exists and teach our kids to get beyond it, we will have a troubled world.
posted by gjc at 8:12 AM on October 14, 2008

Best answer: Putting on my sociology cape to recommend you read up on stereotype threat You should dig a little deeper than Wikipedia, but as always, it's a good start.

Here's the synopsis. When you tell people that they're not expected to perform well, they don't.

When you remind people that they are hard working and have earned their place (wherever they are) without bringing race or gender or whatever into the conversation, they meet and exceed the expectations set for them.

So if you constantly tell girls that girls aren't expected to do well in math, guess what happens?

*This being sociology, we're talking about the aggregate. Of course there are some women who take math stereotype as a personal challenge and rise above the bullshit to become Nobel prize winning scientists and shit. And plenty of black people who have been told that they will be held back are doing quite well. But on the whole, the pattern is there.
posted by bilabial at 9:29 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chiming in -
the difference between what I talked about, and stereotype threat, and why they're both true, relates to what is called locus of control.

If a girl is told that she is not expected to do well in math, because she's a girl, something about her that she had no control over, you are saying that there's something internally wrong with her.

If you tell a girl, that some people are bigoted against girls, then she knows that at least that's not about her, that's something wrong with them.

And every time you praise someone for hard work without bringing any other qualifiers into it, you're not only praising something about them, you're praising something they have direct control over. That's even more powerful.

Also look up praising children for controllable internal factors versus 'fixed' factors. People often tend to think of intelligence or 'smartness' is fixed - you either are, or you aren't. And therefore, if you had to really try at something, it might mean you weren't 'smart enough' just to coast by.
Therefore, children praised for their efforts, for being hardworking, usually do better over successive tests, and take up more challenges, than children praised for being smart or intelligent.
posted by Elysum at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

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