Friday, January 16, 2009

Paradox: Diverse School = Better Racial Identity Formation?

Apropos of Lisa's comment that diversity in Zoe's school was the reason there was little racialized teasing, I've always thought that was why, and that diversity was one of the reasons I chose that school. But here's the abstract for an interesting study on a similar issue -- Chinese adoptees' racial identity formation and school diversity -- that shows a quite paradoxical result:

This article examines the formation of ethnic attitudes among 266 school-age children who were born in China and adopted by Americans and, at the time of the
study, were attending 254 different elementary schools across the country. The authors hypothesised that a disposition to associate socially desirable traits with being Chinese would be fostered by a school environment that was itself racially and ethnically diverse. In order to test this hypothesis, they linked attitudinal data from a photo preference task with archival data quantifying the number and distribution of students of different 'races' and ethnicities in each child's school and other relevant data elements from a parents' questionnaire. The results do not support the assumption that diversity at school encourages children adopted from China to associate socially desirable traits with being Chinese. On the contrary, children attending schools with greater diversity were less likely to show a Chinese preference and more likely to show a white preference. Further analysis suggested that such paradoxical results may be explained by the privileged economic status of the adoptive children which gave them more in common with white than with other minority classmates.

This one surprised me, and yet the ultimate conclusion about socio-economic status made sense to me. What's your reaction?


Wendy said...

I would agree that diversity does not equal acceptance.
We had planned to move to a neighboring city (first we were going to just pay for their public school and then they would not allow us to pick the exact school we wanted so we said no) because it is much more diverse than ours--trust me, it is not that diverse ours is just 100% white. Here is what changed our minds 1) my niece and nephew moved her from CA (very diverse) and they had a hard time transitioning due to all of the racism they encountered (and they are white); they told us that there was diversity, but it was highly segregated. Also, another AP "highly recommended" the schools and then went on to say how her daughters had eyes made at them and name calling (according to her that was just one thing they got teased for, but everyone gets teased). Uh, no.
Anyway, I think we have to go a level deeper beyond the appearance of diversity, it obviously is not an indicator of acceptance.

Anonymous said...

Not having read the whole article, it's hard to say... I think I might have set up the study differently. I think that maybe being in a school where there were a large group of Chinese kids might foster better racial identity formation for Chinese kids. Being in a diverse school IF there is a good school climate, sense of community, and low tolerance for teasing, might promote better racial acceptance (but not necessarily better racial identity).

My kids (age 5 and 10) go to a racially diverse school. There are not a lot of Asians, but there are some, including several other who were adopted from China. There has been little teasing (or nosey questions) about adoption, race, or really anything else. We have been very fortunate (so far)! I think it helps kids feel comfortable about their differences but I don't see any reason why it would help with racial identity formation. (I don't notice any segregation, but I think that might happen with older kids... e.g., the book "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?")

Things we've done that hopefully foster positive racial identity formation are going to Chinese school on Saturdays, going back to China to visit, reading books that portray Chinese people, etc.

On a related note, if I recall correctly, Barack Obama did better among white voters in the primaries in states in which there was little diversity (e.g., Iowa). It seems that lack of diversity somewhat equals lack of racial conflict (at least for those in the majority). Perhaps those whites who have experienced racial conflict had a harder time voting for someone of a different race than those who had not experienced much racial conflict. Possibly a similar phenomenon goes on in racially diverse schools in which racial conflict occurs.

Lisa said...

Interesting. I am a bit opinionated based on what I see. :) But certainly nothing is black and white (no pun intended). Unfortunately, negative people can by anywhere in our lives. Even on this blog! We just need to make sure our children are equipped to deal with / understand our no tolerance for racism (and hopefully other negativity generated by some unhappy individuals). As an aside - Malinda - I had already known about WISE but hadn't taken it out until this past school year. We apply it to other aspects of our lives and it seems to work well. Like the "Chinese eyes making dude" I discussed. I can't thank you enough for reminding me of the WISE philosophy.

Wendy said...

I have to agree and disagree with Lisa. I absolutely agree that we have to have a no tolerance policy for racism in and out of our homes, but we also have to prepare our children for the fact that they will deal with racism when not in our presence and especially as adults. They need to know how to see the world as Asian Americans, not as we experience it(if we are white).
Asian American girls in particular have to deal with not only breaking the stereotypes of the model minority and perpetual foreigner, but also of the exotic and the sexual. These are realities in our nation and they need to be prepared for those stereotypes once they are out from the "protection" of their adoptive families (which is something that occurs mostly in youth and primarily when standing with us, not in situations where their parents are not known).
I don't see this as negative, I see it as reality. Of course their are positives--we are all trying to make change, but it is slow in coming and tends to be one person at a time.

Lisa said...

I have always known and never denied our children must be prepared for racism. I do see racism as realistic, and very negative. I am not getting that you think racism is positive. So, Wendy, I am unclear what we disagree on here.
I'd like to agree that change is slow, one person at a time. But I am doubtful it will ever be eliminated, racism pre-dates Jesus. Again, I agree, though, that our children must be as educated and equipped as they can be for racism.

Wendy said...


I am sorry. I read the comment as only addressing racism as we as parents not accepting it, not addressing the fact the children will face it when not with us.
I agree that racism will exist in our lifetimes and I am sure our children's--I guess one can hope that when we have a world nation it will end (then again there will probably be racism among species of the universe!).