Talking about Race with My Children
Recently, my husband and I made the grave mistake of nonchalantly mentioning that we don’t like Ohio State. Our son latched onto this idea and became a vocal critic of anyone who cheers for Ohio State. One day, we briefly stopped by a friend’s house. When I got back in the car, my son was beside himself over the fact that our friends were flying an Ohio State flag in their front yard. How dare they! When we saw our friend again, our son marched straight up to him and said, “You have an Ohio State flag, and we do not like Ohio State.” We had no idea how a benign comment about a sports team would impact our son.
See, children listen to what we say, and will often mimic our behavior and values. This applies to preferences like the sports teams we cheer for, but it also applies to the ethnic divide we face today. If we in the majority culture remain indifferent or complacent regarding racial discrimination, our children will follow suit. It doesn’t matter how much society or even our church is emphasizing something. If parents aren’t also expressing the values communicated in the church, it will have much less of an impact.
In my conversations with others, several questions have arisen as it relates to how to approach the subject of ethnic reconciliation with our children. One of the questions I have heard, and have wondered myself is: By placing emphasis on our racial differences, aren’t we placing unwanted attention on people’s differences rather than simply allowing kids to experience diversity as it happens naturally?
As a part of the majority culture, I find it tempting to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to issues of ethnic discrimination. It’s only when I intentionally and regularly connect with my friends with darker skin that my eyes are opened to the ways that they experience the world. I have a friend who recently said something that stuck with me. She said, “I am constantly aware of my blackness no matter if I’m in a multi-ethnic setting or a predominantly white setting. I’m always aware of this.”
When is the last time you were fully aware of your ethnicity? I can remember very few times when my awareness of my whiteness was heightened because I was not in the majority for once. Most of the time, I have the luxury of forgetting this, blending in with the masses, and only sticking out a bit when I choose to dress or act differently. I imagine that always being aware of how different you are—never able to simply blend in when desired—is exhausting.
So, will talking about race draw unneeded or unwanted attention to the subject? I would say that our children’s ideas on race will be shaped regardless of whether we speak on it or not. I, for one, want to proactively shape their thoughts and ideas on ethnicity from a biblical perspective rather than leave it up to their peers or secular influences.
When the gospel is not a part of the conversation, we default to our human nature. And our human nature is to gravitate to people like us. It takes effort and intentionality to seek out those who are different.
We see this all throughout the gospels. Jesus clearly chose to lean in and seek out people who were not like him—even going as far as to spend time with social outcasts like lepers and the woman at the well. In his book One Blood, John Perkins says, “Jesus intentionally brought together disciples who were very different—fisherman, tax collectors—not people who would naturally love one another. But he did this to show us what love looks like in practice. We have the privilege of putting this same kind of love on display as we love those in the body of Christ who don’t look like us.”