Today, perhaps more than ever, America is a nation of racial and ethnic diversity. For example, the 1980s and 1990s saw a huge increase in the number of Hispanics and Asians who immigrated to the United States and changed the complexion of our society. Furthermore, indications suggest that the trend toward racial and ethnic diversity will continue.Because of the dramatic change in America's population, it is likely that when children go to school, the mall or the park, they will meet children who are racially or culturally different. These differences may be visible in skin color, hair texture, dress or some combination of these or other characteristics. Unfortunately, racism and prejudice too often influence how children relate to people they view as different.Racism and prejudice are based on exaggerated myths and stereotypes. African-Americans, for instance, are particularly victimized by racism and prejudice. During the time of slavery, many white Americans considered Africa the dark continent, inhabited by savages who needed rescued from their wicked ways by Christians. These types of myths and stereotypes formed the basis for racism and prejudice against Africans and served to justify the indignity and harsh treatment imposed upon them during slavery.Despite the passing of more than 300 years, the numerous contributions of African-Americans to society, the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and continued efforts to eliminate institutional racism, many myths and stereotypes still form the basis for racism and prejudice against people of African descent.Myths and stereotypes exist not only for African-Americans but also for many other American ethnic and racial groups such as Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Rican-Americans. Myths and stereotypes cannot be ignored. They form the very basis of racism and prejudice and affect how children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds relate to one another.Prejudiced children have a self-imposed limitation on their educational, social and political development. Prejudice interferes with the learning and development of healthy relationships and can lead to psychological, social or physical harm to others. In essence, the effects of racism and prejudice on children affect both individual and societal potential, thus limiting us all.
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