Why do people try so hard to say everyone is the same? That is a simplistic view of racial issues.
The truth is people are different. Races are different. Children are aware of races and the differences between them. To avoid the differences and pretend they do not exist would be foolish. We should embrace our differences and celebrate them. When we celebrate different races we show children that it’s okay to be different; different does not equal bad.
I believe there is a difference in same race and cross-race youth mentoring. However, I do not believe that the difference is negative. There are positive affects for the children in both mentoring situations.
As an international literacy mentor to children, I speak about this from my experience. The organization that I work with is in another country than where I was raised. The race of the mentors that volunteer here vary greatly – different races from the local country and foreign countries.
Benefits of Cross-Race Mentoring
I mentor children who are struggling to read and learn English in school. They are all different races than me. Over our sessions together, we have developed a friendship and trusting rapport with one another. The children often ask me what my country is like and want to know about the culture in the city where I grew up. They also love to tell me about their culture which is foreign to me. When they have the opportunity to teach me a new word in their language or tell me about local foods, the confidence lift I see in them is amazing!
The experience of being mentored by someone from another race has been a positive one for the children with whom I work. They otherwise might not have had the opportunity to meet someone of my race and have such a close and trusting relationship with them. Through our mentor relationship they have learned about differences and how to respect them in people from other races.
Benefits of Same Race Mentoring
At the same time, there are other mentors in the school who are the same races as the students they mentor. Those relationships have had a positive affect on the children as well.
Unfortunately, many of the children come from low-income, single-parent homes and some even from children’s homes. They have limited one-on-one interaction with positive adults role models. For children in these situations, it is an extremely positive experience to be mentored by an adult that is the same race as them. They learn that someone just like them, like their parents or older siblings, is willing to spend time caring about them and their wellbeing and education.
Both cross-race and same-race mentoring relationships have positive benefits that will not only teach children to tolerate differences in others, but also hopefully build a child’s confidence and self-esteem for a lifetime.