Starting the Conversation on Race

by Shannon Lewis | May 22, 2019 | Articles

The subject of racial unity in diversity is not an easy talking point. As a Christian, it can be difficult to address. As a Christian parent, it’s even harder.

Many parents, like myself, wonder, “Where do I start?” The answer, quite simply, is to start somewhere. Do something. At the simplest level, I know I can begin the conversation with my children by discussing what God says about our differences. Then, I can celebrate these differences. I can lead my children in marveling at how each and every one of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s image. And if I’m standing in the grocery line and my child points out that another person’s eyes are different than ours or their hair doesn’t look the same, I can exclaim, “Why yes! Isn’t she beautiful? I am amazed by how God has created us so differently.”

I can get books that celebrate men and women of color who have positively impacted our world. This simple action helps break down the stereotypes that often surround those in the minority culture; they help my kids to truly understand that people of all colors are just as capable of being successful and impactful.

So, when do you start talking to your children about the different ways God created us? We began these discussions as soon as our son could have basic conversations. Even though our kids are young, we have still discussed slavery, being created in the image of God, and being one in Christ. Of course, the content is broad and simple to begin, but over time our conversations have grown in complexity.

My husband and I often use car rides for these conversations, since we know we have a captive audience. I’ll ask the kids how their day at school went. Did they have any arguments? Did they notice anyone left out in the cafeteria or at recess? Was anyone treated poorly because they are different in some way from other students? Then, we enter into the conversations of how they could have handled things differently or I encourage them when they seem to handle a situation well.

We also realize that there must be a place for lament. Recently, I read a short story to my kids about Mary Bowser, an African American slave who later became a Civil War spy. I remember the look on our son’s face when I explained again what a slave was. I had explained it before, but this was the first time he began to understand. We sat together in silence for a bit as he contemplated the idea of a person being treated as property and as empathy grew in his heart.

As he and his sister get older, we will continue explaining how this dark time in our history has caused deep and significant consequences for our African American brothers and sisters. Our hope is that this lament will help our children develop greater empathy and desire to join in the work of gospel reconciliation.

Lastly, we pray. My husband and I have been compelled in recent months to pray consistently for our children as it relates to their hearts for those who are different from them. First, we pray that they would have a genuine and personal relationship with Christ. Then, we pray that they would have compassion, empathy, and love for those who are different from them. Finally, we pray that they would not only love those who are different but would demonstrate this love by actively pursuing those who are different from them for God’s honor and glory.