The problem, as I see it, is kids.
See, kids are adorable, and in most cases it's fine. We all circulate the latest cutesy quotes of "the things kids say" - how they take what they've been told and put the most dead-literal spin on it. For most things, it's terribly funny! Not for race.
When kids get a hold of race, their ignorant curiosity and propensity to spin whatever answer they get into the next logical (but unconscionably wrong, unconscionably insensitive!) conclusion or question...that is what perpetuates wrong-headed attitudes about race, that is what keeps them going. Because let's face it: once you're not a kid anymore, you don't bother asking about this stuff! Your ignorant attitudes freeze in place, like the face your parents made when you asked:
What are black people called?
Why do white people dance like that?
Is Chinese food like that because Chinese people need special food?
Kids put parents on the spot, and the parent has to give some kind of answer. What can a parent say? They haven't thought about this stuff since they were a kid! Nor should they have to, really, especially since they've since learned since then there aren't any real answers that you could tell to anyone. Any answer you could possibly give is an answer that somebody's going to have a big problem with. Worse, any kind of answer you give is liable to result in the kid drawing all sorts of huge conclusions from it, when you were trying to minimize things!
Some parents resort to a watered-down version of the same garbage they were told - thus perpetuating that same old legacy that's been holding us back for years. Others lay down a wall-of-sensitivity answer that explains nothing, and pretty much invalidates the question: "There are no black people or white people - not as such!" Or, "We can't talk about a whole group of people, because it won't apply to them all." Answers like this can't possibly do anything but confuse the child, who know they have a question, here - and who may then go elsewhere for answers: other kids. Television melodramas. Internet. And what will they get there? Same thing, or at least: nothing better.
The most insidious tactic is to tell the kid they're too young to know, and you'll tell them later. We never tell them later. We just hold out until they figure it out on their own that it's confusing, it's dangerous and possibly hurtful to talk about, and the person you ask won't know either. But why does it have to be that way?
Kids are the problem. Kids perpetuate the cycle. It's this damn inquisitive phase that keeps the whole thing going, by forcing all the old, bad answers to be brought up yet again and torturously reinforced, qualified or justified to a new set of minds. If kids wouldn't keep asking these ignorant questions, maybe adults would stop having to contort, contrive and lie (just as was done to them at that age), and then in a couple generations maybe the whole thing would die out as a tender subject and people could just talk about it, in an unforced way, leaving the old bad answers of the past behind!
I wonder what they'd say.