I grew up in a small town in a midwestern state. As is the nature of a mainly farming and rural area in that part of the country, the population was fairly homogeneous. My parents spoke to me often of the evils of racism and did a great job of training. But that still didn’t lessen the shock I felt when I moved to a larger city in the South. My husband had flown down and secured us an apartment earlier, so I’d never seen the neighborhood. When I arrived, I immediately felt threatened. Why? Because I was suddenly a minority. And it was uncomfortable to me.
The fact that I felt so uncomfortable troubled me. I had assumed I wasn’t racist, because in theory, I wasn’t. But in practice? That turned out to be a different story, one I didn’t like in myself. I spent the next several years grappling with my own preconceptions and biases, and in the process, making friends from many ethnic backgrounds, religions and cultures. And that’s where everything changed.
Now as I’m raising my own children, I want to be intentional in teaching them about racism, about ethnic differences, about socio-economic disparities. As I pray and seek the Lord for wisdom in this, and as I try to live out this type of parenting, I wanted to share some ideas on how to raise our children to embrace the differences around them and in our world:
First & Foremost, Examine Yourself – Racism and bias are often much more subtle than we expect. We may be communicating attitudes and preconceptions to our chidlren without even realizing it. So start with yourself! Pay attention to how you make judgments about others. Are they based on objective facts? Or blanket assumptions?
For example, in my early days of community development work, I did counseling with several individuals who were on food stamps, housing vouchers and other government assistant programs. These women had issues, and were manipulative, lazy and dishonest. While I learned a lot through the experiences, I also was left with a low opinion of anyone who was on welfare. I just assumed they would all be similar. Thankfully, God brought me into contact with many other hardworking, responsible individuals who – contrary to what they would have preferred – were also on government assistance, simply because there wasn’t any other way to survive. This broke my heart and made me realize how easily I made blanket judgments.
I try to avoid that now, but it’s easy to slip into – human nature, I guess. So as moms seeking to intentionally parent, we’ve got to stay alert to the ways we judge others. Hmmm, sounds like something from the Bible, right? 🙂
Cultivate Experiences with Families in Other Walks of Life
There’s something about unfamiliarity that breeds suspicion and distrust. We’re comfortable with the known, but few of us are automatically accepting of the unknown. That’s why it’s so easy to classify other groups, whether by race, immigration status or socio-economic level into “good” and “bad”. Hence some of the over the top political rhetoric!
The key to change is by building friendships with those different from us! Becoming friends with a refugee family from Afghanistan changes the way my kids and I perceive the current refugee crisis. Playing soccer with immigrants from South America changes the immigration debate from mere statistics into real stories of people I now care about. Making meaningful, long-term investments in low-income communities (versus a drop-in/drive-out missions event) gives our whole family a new understanding of poverty and turns formerly scary neighborhoods into familiar hang-outs.
It takes time, work, prayer to provide these experiences for your family. Honestly, you’ve got to have an entire mindset shift! But it’s so worth it. As my children have built relationships with those who are so different from them, I’ve seen their worldview, their understanding of life change. And you can start small! Hang out with refugees, learn a new language, start doing the majority of your shopping in low-income areas. I’ve got a whole list of intentional outreach ideas that’s I’ll share in another post. The thing is, you’ve just got to be purposeful and prayerful! God will lead you.
Read Literature About Other Walks of Life
My kids have no idea what racism looks like. They’ve never faced starvation. They don’t know what it looks like to be homeless. But there’s a very effective way to open their eyes and give them new understanding of what others have been through. It’s called books.
There is such a wealth of engaging, well-written literature on different cultures, experiences, struggles. Reading these books as a family has opened the door for great discussions and for new understanding on the part of my crew! It’s helped them become more sensitive to issues of racism, more compassionate to kids in poverty, more thankful for their own lives.
Here are some book lists to get your started. (Note – I’ve read several of the books on each list, but haven’t ready every book. Always preview first to make sure a book is a good fit for your family):
There are many other awesome books out there. Please pass on some of your favorites in the comments, and we may include them in a later literature roundup.
Share Your Story
An important part of my personal journey and our family journey towards greater compassion and understanding has been the stories shared with us by others. Those stories took otherwise abstract facts and made them real for us.
I remember one particular friend sharing about incidences of racism she’d experienced. Now we were both the same age, similar economic backgrounds, yet she’d been discriminated against in ways I didn’t even know still occurred. This shook up my perspective! I was sure racism was a thing of the far past. And I appreciated her sharing those stories with me. I needed to hear them.
What about you? You might have stories of discrimination or poverty or injustice that those around you aren’t aware of. Being willing to share when the time is right is a gift you can give to others. Now I know everyone doesn’t want to hear such things, and you don’t want to offend those who aren’t open. But the way my friend shared her stories with me in such a gracious, non-bitter way helped me to learn and grow. So if you’ve got a story, ask God for the right time and right place to share. You never know who it might impact.
This is just a small sampling of ways that we as moms can intentionally parent our kids to be peace makers and to love their neighbors as themselves. Do you have other ideas and thoughts? Share them in the comments section below or send feedback to info (at) personagratagoods (dot)com. I’d love to hear your input.