Developing Cross-Race Friendships Has Profound Benefits for All Children, and Books Can Help

Developing Cross-Race Friendships Has Profound Benefits for All Children, and Books Can Help

Something we talk about often is the importance of strengthening our own racial literacy, and that of our children, in order to foster more positive cross-race friendships and peer behavior. White children (and adults) in particular, are not well poised to be good peers to kids of color if they haven't spent time thinking about both their own racial identity and also how different people's races can lead to very different experiences of the same place, person, or process. Many parents hope that their children can create lasting friendships with children who are different from them in a variety of ways. However, the truth is that many White parents have a dearth of cross-race friendships themselves. In fact, just 15% of White adults report having a close friend of another race. 

Around the time of our organization’s inception we read a 2014 School Library Journal article that detailed the many benefits of cross-race friendships. Including the fact that “white, black and other children who partake in these relationships are likely to exhibit high levels of self-esteem and social competence.” The article is also clear that cross-race friendships are critical to kids being more accepting of other people outside of their race. So cross-race friendships are clearly key to increasing kids positive feelings about themselves and others. 

Excitingly this study also found that even exposing kids to books featuring these friendships was enough to increase children’s attitudes towards people of other races. That’s a big deal - especially because many of us are seriously lacking real-life experiences of cross-race friendship. It's both a consequence of living in such a segregated manner and also of our socialized bias. And so to step outside of these patterns is to go against the grain of how our social circles of schools, neighborhoods and workplaces are inherently segregated. Breaking out of this mold will require some purposeful action, diligence, but without it, we doom our children to stay trapped in a perpetual cycle of non-acceptance and prejudice with few tools to create a different reality. 

And of course our patterns of segregation aren’t the only challenges we face. Further underscoring the barriers to forming inter-racial friendships is the disheartening finding that that white children are more likely than black children to negatively view cross-race friendships. While this may not be surprising, given the overt and covert messages we’re bombarded with about black and brown skin, it still acts as an additional obstacle to these important and beneficial friendships. 

So because cross-race friendships are such a critical tool for the dismantling of bias and because we face many structural and perceptual challenges forming cross-race friendships, we can’t afford to not invest time and intention on this issue. All of the above tells us that without intervention these friendships are very unlikely to form on their own. Of course we know that any friendship that’s made for the sake of gaining the benefits, won’t be one that lasts. Being friends with people who experience and are experienced by the world differently than you requires a fair bit of actual listening, self-reflection, and continuous learning. But putting in the effort makes it worth it - for both people in the friendship. 

Books for Kids:

While you get started on figuring out how to talk about the importance of and foster cross-race friendships in your house, you can also look to the pages of books to see it modeled. To get you started, we’ve pulled a list of books highlighting cross-race friendships found below. We encourage you to spend some time reading these books as a family and asking your children about their friends and friend-making experience. 

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:

  • What it means to be a friend. What  does your child look for in a friend?

  • In what ways does it matter that friends are the same, if any? 

  • In what ways can they be different? 

  • Discuss together what it is like to make a new friend. 

  • Can you tell your child a story about a friend you recently met?

  • Discuss with your child your own experience making friends with people who are different than you, and what, if any, absence you may feel if your friend circle is rather homogenous.

cross race friendship grid.jpg

books for family conversation

Resources for Parents:

Picture Books for Family Conversation (Cross-Race Friendships):

Lottie Paris and the Best Place - Angela Johnson, and Scott Fischer (AOC)

Bilal Cooks Daal - Aisha Saeed (AOC), Anoosha Syed (IOC)

A Friend for Henry - Jenn Bailey, Mika Song (IOC)

Sam and Eva - Debbie Ridpath Ohi (AOC, IOC)

The Day You Begin - Jacquline Woodson, Rafael López (AOC, IOC)

I’m New Here - Anne Sibley O’Brien

Someone New - Anne Sibley O’Brien


This blog post was written by Rhema Anazonwu, Program Manager for We Stories. We are grateful for her work, perspective and contributions.