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Can Separating Students According to Race Stop Racism?

Imagine receiving an email from your child's school principal that reads, "What is your race?" with selections for "African-American/Black," "Asian/Pacific Islander," "Latina/o," "Multi-racial," "White" and "Not sure," only to find out that children will be separated into their respective race group.

That's exactly what principal, George Burns of Fieldston Lower School in Bronx, New York, has done.

The letter urges parents to speak with their children regarding the categories because they will be required to check a box that best fits their race, and it has some parents outraged.

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According to nymag.com, Just fewer than half the kids at Lower are white. Twenty percent are black or Latino, and another 20 percent multiracial. The remainder are Asian or won't say, making Lower one of the most racially diverse private elementary schools in New York.

The exercise involves dividing third- through fifth-graders once a week for five weeks into small groups by race. During the 45-minute session students talk about their experience being a person of a particular race. They discuss similarities and differences, and how other people view them based on their appearance.

After the session is over, the kids would get together in a mixed-race setting and speak about what they've learned from the session, followed by the regular classes and activities.

Although some parents are OK with the exercise, there are some (mainly white parents) who feel uncomfortable because they worry about being perceived as racists, according to the article. Some blacks have also made reference to old wounds dating back to slavery.

With the topic being centered around whites and black, other races were feeling excluded. "It's so fricking boring," said a fifth-grader in the Asian group.

I wish we were able to experience a program like this where we could discuss our experiences as members of the black and white communities in a classroom setting.

When I first read about Fieldston Lower school's plan to separate students according to race, I was shocked. However after reading about the principal's intentions, my sense of shock turned into hope.

I've always been a firm believer in teaching kids about race. A few months ago one of my daughter's classmates asked me why my complexion is darker than my daughter's skin.

Rather than break out with a lesson on how interracial couples make biracial babies, I held out my hands and said, "I don't know. Because God made it that way." Then I put my hands next to her olive skin and added, "Look, yours is different, too."

I wouldn't want another parent speaking with my kids about race. So, I was careful not to address the topic head on because I wouldn't want to overstep my boundaries.

This little girl is 4-years-old, which is below Fieldston Lower's age range for the program. But, I think about what happens as this little girl gets older. Will her questions regarding race get answered? Or will her parents remain mum about the subject matter?

With the program, kids are able to speak up about their experiences like racial stereotypes and discrimination. I think people will gain a better understanding of race, if situations like these are being addressed.

Growing up, my husband said his family avoided the topic. He lived in a mostly white neighborhood, but he says attending a predominately black school taught him about racial tolerance.

My family didn't shy away from the subject at all. In fact, it was talked about quite a bit. Even though there are different races in Jamaica, the United States is a whole different ball of wax. Back home we were connected through culture, here in America we had to assimilate, and that required being educated about race and culture.

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We both had a different upbringing. But I wish we were able to experience a program like this where we could discuss our experiences as members of the black and white communities in a classroom setting.

Even though Fieldston students are more diverse, I think this program would work in all schools. I strongly believe that discussing race means teaching tolerance among all races. In doing so, it puts us one step closer to ending racism all together.

Image via Twenty20/rahuligan

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