Mentor programs should not consider race when connecting mentors with
children because both mentors and children should learn to be comfortable with people of other races and backgrounds.
Our society is gradually learning how not to stereotype people by external characteristics. The social upheavals of the 1960s have changed our society to the point that all races and most genders are treated equally under the law. The next step in this progression is for us as individuals to treat all people equally and appropriately. If we are to succeed as a society, we must learn to get along with people from different groups as well as we get along with our own.
Mentoring is a microcosm of this social change. If people were allowed only to mentor only young people of their own race, it would perpetrate the backward social conditions that we as a society have been struggling to transcend.
The assumption is often made that mentoring is a one-way street; that is, that the mentor only gives to the one being mentored and receives nothing in return. This is simply not true – the mentoring relationship works both ways, and the mentor benefits at least as much as the mentee. Any teacher worth his or her salt will tell you that they learn at least as much from their students as they teach them. Having been a teacher, I know how true it is. I am grateful to my students for having enabled me to better learn the material I was teaching.
What can mentors learn from young people of different genders, races, nationalities or economic backgrounds? First of all, they can step into their mentees’ shoes and learn what it is like to be them. The chances are
that both mentor and mentee have been pre-selected on the basis of ability, openness and willingness to learn, so that each will be open to learning about the other. Understanding one person makes it easier to understand others’ values and approach to life.
Some of the benefits to the one being mentored are obvious: the opportunity to associate with a successful person, the contacts that become available, and the socialization into the the mentor’s behavioral world. But a less obvious benefit is the life lessons. If the mentor comes from a different background than the one being mentored, he or she can provide insight into the situations and their responses to them that led to success. Both must learn to understand the other’s group social signals as well. This makes both more sensitive and better able to communicate with each other, a benefit that will extend to their social relationships with others.
I therefore believe that mentor programs not merely not consider race or other external characteristics when connecting mentors with children, they should respect the differences and match people of different races and backgrounds.