Since 2012, 10BH volunteer Role Models have visited children and parents at their homes. Every week, child, parent, and volunteer engage in fun activities that prepare children for kindergarten and encourage parents to develop new parenting practices. What 10BH seldom mentions, though, is the racial composition of its families and volunteers.
For 4 years, 10BH has been pairing people of differing races and socioeconomic backgrounds with the common goal of preparing children for kindergarten. Interestingly, racial differences have never affected families or volunteers in working together.
Although preschool children do not have well-formulated ideas about race, it is among their earliest emerging social categories. By the time they are 4 years old, children appear to realize that race is an enduring feature that is inherited from parents and established at birth. They also seem to be aware that race is a dimension along which humans are arranged hierarchically, but they do not have a very clear idea about who belongs to which category. Unlike gender, race is not a particularly salient or important dimension by which preschoolers spontaneously categorize people, especially when it comes to choosing playmates. The translation of racial categories into racially biased behavior appears to occur after the preschooler years. The early development of perceptions and attitudes about race is a highly sensitive concern in a pluralistic society. This critical issue demands extensive, multidisciplinary investigation.
By the year 2030, children in families of European origin will make up less than 50 percent of the population under age 5. These demographic realities suggest both promising opportunities and potentially sobering challenges. The opportunities offered by a multicultural society that is cohesive and inclusive are virtually limitless--including the richness that comes from a broad range of skills and talents, and the vitality that is fueled by a range of interest and perspectives. The challenges posed by a multicultural society that is fragmented and exclusive are daunting--including the wasted human capital that is undermined by prejudice and discrimination, and the threat of civil disorder precipitated by bigotry and hatred.
The changing demographics of the early childhood population in the United States present both the opportunity and the challenge of a great social experiment. The outcome of this experiment will be influenced to a large extent by how human diversity is addressed in the rearing of children. The foundations of relationships and the fundamentals of socialization are culturally embedded and established during the early childhood years. Consequently, further research on how young children learn about and develop attitudes toward human differences will help to elucidate both the roots of categorical discrimination and the origins of social inclusion.