Watch These Gutsy 12-Year-Olds Get Real About Stereotypes

Adults might not want to talk about race and ethnicity, but these youths aren't holding back.
Jul 14, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Donald Trump and other politicians are busy delivering speeches filled with stereotypes about “illegals” crossing the border. Activists are trying to get posters challenging Islamophobia on the NYC transit system. The Asian Americans–as–model minority trope is alive and well, and the Black Lives Matter protests have birthed a global movement. But despite issues of diversity being firmly in the zeitgeist, some adults are still reluctant to talk to youths about culture, ethnicity, and race in America.

However, as a video produced for WNYC’s “Being 12” series proves, kids have plenty to say about the subject. In the clip above, a group of diverse 12-year-olds responds to the question “What are you?” They’re not shy about sharing how they’ve been stereotyped, bullied, or discriminated against because of their differences.

So, Why Should You Care? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2020 the majority of kids in the nation will be from racial or ethnic minority groups. But many adults are uncomfortable talking about race in an authentic way: Remember Starbucks’ maligned "Race Together" campaign, where baristas were supposed to try to bridge the divisions in American society while writing down whether customers wanted a venti Frappuccino?

We seem to be passing along our head-in-the-sand approach to diversity to the next generation. In a 2014 MTV study of millennial attitudes toward bias, only 30 percent of whites and 46 percent of minority respondents said they were raised in families that discussed race.

Despite the reluctance to talk about it, prejudice continues to have significant negative consequences on the lives of youths. Research from the Center for American Progress found teachers tend to not think their black and Latino students are smart and so have lowered expectations for them. Even when those children of color achieve, their résumés may be passed over if their names sound ethnic. Let’s also not forget that because of people's ingrained biases, the loud music teenage boys of color play can get them killed. Even if adults don’t like to admit it, kids know what’s going on.

RELATED: Is 'Thug' the New N-Word?

Last November, after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death in a park by a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer, I asked my two middle school–age sons if any of their teachers had discussed the incident in their classrooms. Both told me no—they thought there must be an official school district policy in Los Angeles prohibiting teachers from talking about stereotypes. Outside the classroom, however, many of their peers were talking about how a kid their age had been gunned down.

Those same discussions are happening all across the nation. In a blog post on the WNYC website, video producer Jennifer Hsu wrote that “after a year that saw high-profile police shootings plus the deadly attack on a black church in South Carolina, middle school teachers told WNYC their classrooms were abuzz with personal and sometimes difficult conversations.” Yet those educators, despite the many resources that are out there to help, “didn't always feel prepared to handle what came up.”

As this clip reveals, if we want kids to grow up in a world where they don't have to worry about being followed in stores, being told they "sound white" or "talk ghetto"—or being shot by someone who perceives them as a thug—it's time for adults to step up and be willing to engage in some real talk too.