This past week we reached a demographic milestone that barely made a blip in the media: American children aged 5 and under, there is no racial majority. The reality is that the aggregate of black, Latino, Asian and American Indian children as a group out number white children. This is phenomenal because just last spring it was infant births that made a similar occurrence. It is ironic that the milestone almost coincided with the bi-racial family Cheerios ad debut. Children under five years old today are living in an America where there is no racial majority. This is a world different than I grew up in and different than the world in which I raised my children. The Cheerios ad is important for a couple of reasons. This is their world and they need to see these images of an interracial family and more of them. Kudos to Cheerios to posting it.
The fact that the ad sparked a deluge of racist comments underscores the need for us to discuss why racial unity is critical for the prosperity of the American people, especially parents of young children. The good news is that Cheerios is marketing to families that fit this new reality.
So why is race unity critical? Our society will prosper at a quicker rate if we teach our children how to interact with love and respect across the races. UNICEF indicates that societies are healthier when all children have access to health care, proper education and nutrition. Take a look at any city where children of any race are treated poorly and I guarantee that that city is not prospering. I believe that developing and implementing equitable practices are key to prosperity.
Racism will continue unabated if we do not take action and work towards racial unity. We need to talk to our children about race. White families especially need to talk to their children about race without fear and eschew color blindness. Children see skin color as early as they see other colors. Birgitte Vittrup’s ground breaking work on race and children is a must-read for all parents. Our children generally see color and are not born with the social construct of race with its preconceived notions of color bias, stereotypes and the like. We teach this to our children. How wonderful it would be for us to take a moment and watch the children under 5 see how they treat each other. Our children can teach us.
The changing demographics are an opportunity for parents to be proactive in teaching our children how to work through our racial issues peacefully. Some of us fear this change and will choose racial segregation but I encourage us to have courage to make interracial friendships. It is poignant that with the negative firestorm about the Cheerios ad two major research groups counteract with positivity. Not only are interracial marriages are on the rise with 8.4% of marriages in 2010 being interracial, up from 3.2% in 1980. Gallup reported that in 2011, 86% of Americans approve of interracial marriages.
Without parental interventions, the children in this demographic transformation will self-select across color lines, as Vittrup points out, as we all did when we were younger. We are putting our children at risk of not being able to interact with children of other races in 1st grade and up. The same fear that we have that we will say or do something racist will persist and occur at a faster rate in this diverse milieu than in our more racially segregated adult venues. A counter strike would be to make interracial friendships. Our future generations depend on the actions we take today.