I've noticed that the word â€œracismâ€ has not appeared lately in this newspaper, and whether that means people are doing better than just tolerating each other in our diverse communities or some individuals are learning to be less careless with their words, it's a small victory.
One thing is for sure: Kids today are more accepting of differences in each other than they were in my day. And in my day, we were better in that regard than my parents' generation. That trend, if that's what it is, suggests a much larger victory.
Fifty years ago, seeing an interracial couple walking hand-in-hand caused a certain revulsion from a society that was only beginning to address its inequalities. Thirty years ago, seeing that same couple would more likely have caused a double take, but without the judgment that something was wrong with the picture.
Today's young people see that same couple as just that â€” two people who are together, nothing more and nothing less.
To be sure, this is a generalization that has a great number of exceptions in each of the generations, but by and large, it is true, and in each of those generations, it is the young that lead the way, that defy taboos, and that break new ground in the battle to overcome prejudice and discrimination.
A survey sponsored by New America Media came up with the following data on questions put to 16- to 22 year-olds: Two-thirds say they have dated someone of another ethnicity, and 87% say they would marry or have a life partner of a different race.
And it's not just skin color or nationality that these young people are less concerned about: It's how they perceive themselves as well. When asked about the most significant aspect of their identity, they chose music and fashion. Race and ethnicity didn't even come in second â€” that slot went to religion.
Most of the kids I teach have many friends outside their own racial/ethnic group and that is more evident today than it was 10 years ago, which tends to confirm the notion that things are improving with each new generation. California's children likely lead the way in this trend given the great diversity that exists in the state.
In the last presidential election, the question I put to my students was one that was echoed throughout the land: â€œIs America ready for a black president?â€
The assumptions that are inherent in that question are that there is a clearly defined category we can label â€œblack men,â€ and that that category of human being triggers a set of associations that affect how people think about him.
Most of my students, I'm happy to report, just didn't think about race in such simplistic ways. Obama's rich heritage just couldn't be reduced to a single word.
Admittedly there is a growing number of hate groups in this country that spew out their separatist, racial purity garbage, and who prey especially on the young, but we've done a pretty good job of marginalizing them and educating our young people about them. We try to keep their numbers manageable, much like we try to control cockroaches in our homes, but (like cockroaches), they persist, and they lurk in the shadows festering until someone shines a light on them.
But I digress.
The current young generation is weaving a richer tapestry than all who preceded it. The number of interracial marriages has gone up dramatically over the last few decades and as a consequence, so has the number of multiracial young Americans. I realize that to some of us older folks, that may not sound like something to celebrate, but it's happening nevertheless.
If we could all just get beyond our provincial attitudes, our cultural and ethnic imperatives, our religious exclusivity and our senseless preoccupation with race, we might all come to accept something that is not just some modern phenomenon, but (I know this will put some of you off), how it was intended to be.
Teenagers are a mirror of our souls. They speak plainly about things that adults would like to hide. They're not about political correctness and they're more likely to tell you what they think unfiltered. Their lives are indeed in disarray, filled with uncertainties and insecurities, but they are more inclusive and less exclusive when it comes to people who enter into their lives.
Years earlier, when they are about 5, they are even more inclusive, seeing another human being only as another human being. Their â€œeducationâ€ has yet to come, where they will gradually learn to separate people and put them into categories, and then judge them accordingly.
And that would be called adulthood.
And so, just to close the circle â€” and once again distance myself from friends who see no design or purpose in this life â€” there is the final stage that some of us reach that will feature brief moments of reuniting with that blissfully ignorant inner child who once greeted all people equally with no pre-conditions or judgments.
Some may want to call it dementia and others may see some purpose in that reunion. And then there are some of us who are reminded, according to a very good book, â€œAnd a child shall lead us.â€
Get in touch DAN KIMBER is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.