Sociological and psychological impact of school racial composition

We live in California and my daughter is one of very few Caucasians in her classes. The vast majority of her classmates are either of Indian or Chinese descent. In every group that she plays in, she is usually the only white kid.

She gets along with her friends, but every time I see her in a group of friends, she seems to stand out as the odd-man-out, and I wonder if there is any impact on her social and psychological development.

This will apply whether you are the only white kid in a school of Asian kids, or the only Indian kid in a school of white kids. Either way, I assume it is tough.

Do you guys have any experience with this? Are there any studies that show the effects of being, racially, the odd-man-out in your school? Should we try to put her in a school that is more racially balanced?

I’d guess that being the odd-man-out skin color wise would be similar to being the odd-man-out hair color wise or favorite baseball team wise. And like those, until someone makes it into something divisive, it’s not going to have any effect since it’s a meaningless category. If your daughter doesn’t feel like she’s been divided from the others, then she probably hasn’t. Sometimes you’ll see a red haired kid made fun of for being all ginger and freckly and stuff, other times, none of the kids could care less. It all just depends.

On the other hand, I would generally guess that schools which are more racially diverse have higher odds of being in low-income areas and thus have lower academic standards. If you live in a low-income area though, I’d generally guess that the local white school would be about the same. Poor people don’t generally get the best of anything, due to it not being a meaningless category.

It can be tough to be the odd man out, but it can also be something that has benefits. On one hand, she may feel a bit left out when Diwali or Lunar New Year comes and everyone gets to celebrate but her. And, well, yeah sometimes you are going to feel like a freak. But every kid spends some time feeling like a freak. Unless she is facing a lot of teasing or something, I don’t think it’s something you’d need to change schools over.

This all could end up more of an issue in middle school and high school, when different schools come together and people of the same background naturally end up gravitating towards each other. It really depends on the area. Where I lived in Sacramento it wasn’t a huge issue- we grew up together and didn’t clique up too much in high school. But when I worked in Oakland I saw a lot more ethnic cliques and a lot more tense feelings- probably because people from vastly different neighborhoods were coming together and hadn’t really experienced what it’s like to be around people of a different background. In any case, if it is a fairly segregated situation like that, there could be problems in middle school/high school when she discovers she doesn’t quite fit in right anywhere.

As for benefits, I think the number one way to fight racism is to grow up around people of a different race. The more mixed our neighborhoods and elementary schools are, the more we will understand each other. The trick is to get kids to become friends before they discover their differences. I imagine this experience will give your daughter a wider worldview and make her more curious about different cultures- I know growing up in a diverse area did that for me.

I also think it could teach her valuable skills about how to have a wide comfort zone, work with people from different cultures, and handle situations where you are in a different culture. I’ve been living abroad for a while, and learning to handle being the “odd man out” is the hardest part. Those of us with a background other than “I grew up in a very white area” do A LOT better than people from typical American suburbs. These skills have helped me immeasurably in my life. I have no idea if your daughter is going to grow up to be a world traveler, but if she is, this is the best training she can get.