The politically correct answer is no; the reality is yes, according to my racially diverse high school students. I agree with them. Race makes a difference; however, is that difference an issue? It might be, depending upon the objectives of the mentoring program.
I talked to my high school students, a mixture of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist, Korean, Indonesian, African American, Caucasian, Chinese, and Mexican, ranging from affluent to publicly assisted, all attending an inner-city magnet school. They universally agreed that race did matter in a mentoring program. Their specific example: the mentor to help them adjust to the magnet program would have been someone of their own race and own socio-economic background. They felt this person would have understood the challenges they faced and would have been, in their eyes, more credible than simply any random, even if successful, student at the school.
My Korean students told me they definitely would want a Korean mentor, someone who had to speak Korean at home and English at school, who came to our school system and had to take classes while knowing only a few phrases of English, who had to attend Saturday Korean math classes, who had the same pressure placed on them to excel. I see their point. An African American student told me she came from a low-income school that did not meet federal standards for Adequate Yearly Progress in their academics and where Caucasian students were the minority; she wanted a mentor from the same background and, yes, the same race
The school teaches tolerance, and these students all work together, engage in extra-curricular activities together, tutor one another, attend each other’s performances, date one another, and provide an incredible support network for each other. These students definitely interact freely while sharing their differing cultures and learning from one another.
However, when it comes to having a mentor that is suppose to help them cope/learn/grow/guide, they want someone with a similar background. If the similar background involves racial components, they want someone of the same race. Some of them even wanted a mentor of the same race regardless of the mentoring program’s objectives.
Their example: if they are trying to transition from playing chords to notes on a guitar, then their mentor would be someone who has done the same, and race really should not be an issue. However, even at this level, several minority students still indicated that they would be more interested in working with someone of the same race, even if that person were not as successful in the transition from chords to notes as a person of a different race.
As adults, we can expound upon the idealist viewpoint that race should not matter. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but to teenagers struggling to figure out their world, it apparently does.