I wrote this post a few years ago in response to the Charlottesville riots. All of it still holds true for me today, as we walk through this time in history, filled with such personal and national emotion. As a mother raising four children, I am responsible for how I speak out against racism in our world. As women charged with raising up the next generation, God help us do this one well.
Where is the disconnect?
I have to ask the question, because I don’t know a single person in my life who, if I sat down with them and asked if white people are better than black people or vice versa, I don’t know of a single person who would say yes. Seriously. I’ve honestly tried to think through different people and all arenas of my world, business, school, church, wherever. Not a single person.
And yet…so many voices filled with cruelty and bitterness.
Words spoken on national platforms. Cameras. Viral stories. Hateful speech. But beyond all the media and and public attention, today this is all hitting me much more personally and profoundly, because today I am hearing it as a mother.
We have four children, and our two oldest are black, adopted from Haiti. It is stunning to me that in this day and this time, my boys continue to hear, and at times receive, comments from other kids that are truly unreal.
Why is that? Is it just because kids will be kids?
Do kids get better filters as they get older?
Where is the disconnect?
If left unchecked, do these kids, the ones in my kids’ school, making comments to my boys and others, do they end up on a college campus shouting racial slurs, saying all manner of demonic evil things, and appear to have no clue as to where we came from as a nation? Could that happen to them? Could that happen to any of us? Any of our kids?
I’ve hesitated so many times in writing all this out, because honestly, what else can be said? We are all sickened by the images we’ve seen on our screens and the rhetoric we’ve heard espoused in the name of privilege, the shredding and degrading of the value of real human beings. But today I am here sitting in all of them and I’m hearing it differently…because of my sons.
How could someone look at one of my sons and tell them they don’t matter? That they are fully deserving of the vile they spew and the violence they ignite? Simply because they were born with darker skin.
Let me ask you, does the topic of race come up in your home?
We talk about race a lot, and the older my kids get the more we find ourselves engaged in dialogues about it. We live in a predominately white suburb, and because our boys have different skin color than most of their peers, the topic probably comes up more than if we were an all-white family. We love sports and my boys are ridiculously active and athletic, so we have a high intake of sports-related media. Discussions of race come up. We have the news on, we attend public schools, attend church, and live our lives in the middle of our culture, just like everyone else. Stories and issues of race are broadcast often and loudly.
And my children are taking notice.
The older I get the more I realize how very little is within my control, but I have to ask myself this honest question: What am I doing about racism in my own world?
I don’t have a TV bullhorn, or a national platform, or a political position. Even if I did, that means exactly zero to my boys when they come home from school beaten down verbally by others who have no idea how very real their broken hearts are.
The other night, I was driving some of my kids’ friends home, and one of my sons mentioned that if you are black in one of our nearby high schools, you probably get made fun of. My knee-jerk reaction was to turn around and tell him that’s not at all true.
But as I drove, I considered his words. Is that true?
My initial reaction to correct him was based in my own personal convictions and hopes. I love my community and believe that the people in it are so kind and absolutely care for each other. I don’t think racism should ever exist among us, and if I think that, surely so must everybody else.
But does my white-suburban-world really make allowances for racial comments towards people of different colors?
God help us.
What can we do? We all have access to every last news report and can read and view all the stomach-churning videos. We can rail against it, take a stand on every social media platform possible, and we should. But for me, I have to take it one step more and dig in a little deeper. Because I can be sickened by it, I can think it’s awful and denounce it within myself and with my friends. But how am I influencing my small corner of the world? How am I helping my children walk this divisive topic of racism?
I think there are three things we must do:
One, we must take an honest look at our own lives.
Honestly ask yourself: Is there even a drop of racism in me? As you take a magnifying glass to your own life, what do you see? Whether it’s subtle bias, blatant comments, inappropriate humor, or judgmental thoughts towards others…get real. Pray about it, ask God Himself to show you. Ask Him to reveal anything in your life that de-humanizes another God-created individual.
Honestly ask yourself: What is my family’s history with racism? As you were growing up, what were the jokes told as it related to people of other colors? Depending on what part of the country you were raised, chances are there was a group of people that were made fun of based on their skin color. Generalizations and stereotypes. How did that play out in your family?
It is so easy to forget. It’s easy to forget we are only one generation removed from the Civil Rights Movement. Our children are only one generation away from all the progress made by those that marched, and stood, and fought for racial freedom. We owe it to them to be honest and to draw a line in the sand and say “It stops with me. Racism stops in our family.”
Examine your heart and see if there is any wicked ways (Psalm 139:23).
Two, we must ask better questions.
I don’t wake up in the morning and think about my skin color. Ever. But my sons do, and so do a lot of other people. So here’s what I’m learning: I have to ask better questions. Because I don’t want racism in my family, I am tempted to just simplify it, to shut down any talk among my kids that suggests it’s a reality. I can (falsely) believe that if we just keep moving forward like it’s not happening, it will stay dormant, and everyone just needs to chill out and get along.
But that line of thinking is wrong, and it is not helping my children navigate our current culture. My older kids are in the trenches of high school, and there is so much flying at them every single day. One of my biggest goals right now is to keep my kids talking. Talking about what’s happening in their lives, what’s happening around them. The ONLY way to do that is to ask better questions and then listen with my whole heart. I have to be asking questions like…
- What is school like among people with different skin colors?
- How are people treated?
- How is racism handled among students?
- How is it dealt with among the teachers and staff?
- How do you feel about all of that?
- How are you leading your own friends through these issues?
Then after asking those questions, I must absolutely listen, because here’s the truth: How I listen to my kids today will influence how much they talk to me tomorrow. My kids need to know that they are seen and safe, and they need to know I understand.
My black children need me to look at them and say… I have no idea what it’s like to walk in your shoes. I will never understand what it’s like to be a completely different color than most of the people around you. I will never be raised by parents of a different color. But I think you’re beautiful. I am so gloriously grateful that God allowed me, of all the moms on this planet, to be your mom. I wouldn’t change a single thing about any of it.
All my children need me to reassure them and say…there will be people who do not understand any of this, but we are going to love them anyway. We are going to love them even if they are purple-polka-dotted-neon-yellow. We will love those we do life with, and we will treat them with the respect and love they deserve.
Three, we must keep modeling racial reconciliation.
As parents, we can be great at talking at our kids, but this one will be caught more than taught. We have got to lead the way here and model love and acceptance for every single person around us.
Here’s a few ways we do this in our house. The first is to be intentional about hospitality. Joel and I have always had a ton of people in our home, whether they’ve lived with us, shared a meal, or watched a football game. Having people in our home teaches my kids the value of putting others first, serving them well, and models that our door is open to whoever walks in.
Secondly, I encourage my kids to see the kids on the fringes. On the first day of school, I challenge them to find at least one new kid and ask them to sit with them at lunch. When we pray on the way into school, I ask that they would have eyes to see people around them that need help. At bedtime I ask them to pray for the people they know who are hurting. When my kids begin to see the hurting around them, it opens their heart to go beyond themselves and show them love.
Finally, work to be intentional about interacting with people of different races. That can look differently depending on the circumstance, but it simply means this: intentionally connecting with that person that doesn’t look like me. Saying hello. Making eye contact. Inviting them to dinner. Sitting down with coffee. Hearing their stories. Because they are precious humans loved by God, and He has put them in my path. And I need to take notice.
Because my children are watching.