Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Trouble with Diversity?

Over the last weeks, some of us have had conversations about Orlando Patterson's Race and Diversity in the Age of Obama and his discussions of segregation. According to Patterson, "In private life blacks are almost as isolated from whites today as they were under Jim Crow."

I recently came across an article in Newsweek Even Babies Discriminate, which explains how racial biases emerge among very young people. One elaboration about struggles concerning diversity and segregation really caught my attention. The writers note that
The unfortunate twist of diverse schools is that they don't necessarily lead to more cross-race relationships. Often it's the opposite. Duke University's James Moody—an expert on how adolescents form and maintain social networks—analyzed data on more than 90,000 teenagers at 112 different schools from every region of the country. The students had been asked to name their five best male friends and their five best female friends. Moody matched the ethnicity of the student with the race of each named friend, then compared the number of each student's cross-racial friendships with the school's overall diversity.

Moody found that the more diverse the school, the more the kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity within the school, and thus the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down.

Moody included statistical controls for activities, sports, academic tracking, and other school-structural conditions that tend to desegregate (or segregate) students within the school. The rule still holds true: more diversity translates into more division among students. Those increased opportunities to interact are also, effectively, increased opportunities to reject each other. And that is what's happening.

As a result, junior-high and high-school children in diverse schools experience two completely contrasting social cues on a daily basis. The first cue is inspiring—that many students have a friend of another race. The second cue is tragic—that far more kids just like to hang with their own.
If increased diversity leads to segregation then how do we really address the biases and divisions?

[Thanks to Rachel at White Sugar, Brown Sugar for the heads up on Newsweek article.]

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