In recent days racism has reared its ugly head in my neighborhood; in the high school that my sons attended, the school a few blocks from my home, where five of my grandchildren will be attending in the future years. It was stunning to hear a student verbalize prejudicial epithets against the African American race. His words were filled with anger and hatred. I was shocked that a student could be laden with such animosity against another race. I was in disbelief that this was occurring at “my” high school. When my sons had attended there, they had African American friends who were frequently coming over to our home, to play basketball, street hockey, or video games. Everyone would congregate in the house laughing and having a good time. They never spoke of the school having racial issues. Howard County was a place where many people of different races came to live and they seemed to be living together peacefully, accepting each other’s differences. There were kids from China, Korea, India, Africa, Turkey, Russia, and the Middle East in my son’s classes in school, as well as African American and Caucasian students. So, kids in Howard County were used to diversity and accepting differences in other students. At least, this was all from my perspective. I was also a first grade teacher who taught for 25 years and the elementary students on my level were accustomed to classrooms filled with kids from all ethnicities. My classroom often looked like a mini- United Nations!
Therefore, it was difficult for me to wrap my brain around the recent racial incident, except for the fact that our culture seems to have reverted in some ways back to the 1960’s in regards to racial issues, if you look at all of the events that have occurred that have prompted the “Black Lives Matter” movement. There have been many circumstances that have taken place where African Americans have been discriminated against, where they have not been treated fairly. As a “white” American I cannot fully understand what that means; to be overlooked, to not be chosen, to be profiled, because of my color. Nevertheless, as a believer in Christ, I know that it is not right to be prejudiced. For Christ said to “Love my neighbor as myself.” Matthew 22:39
Let’s face the reality. Our society is broken. It is a literal mess. There is no easy fix for the mess that we are in. Yet, in the midst of our brokenness, there is hope. There is a light in the darkness. We can have a dream, just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. His speech, I Have A Dream has always been an inspiration to me. It can encourage us today. I am going to share some excerpts from his speech.
I HAVE A DREAM
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today that little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Every time that I read Dr. King’s speech I get overcome with emotions and begin weeping. God gifted Dr. King with the ability to so eloquently express God’s own heart and vision and desire for mankind. That of having every nationality, every creed, every religion joining hands and living together peacefully. Yet, we are only free to do that when we look at the rest of Matthew 22:37-39
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
When we love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, He gives us the ability to love others as ourselves. He enables us to treat others with love and kindness. He literally makes us the light of the world to shine through the darkness and the mess in our own communities. So that where we see prejudice and unfair situations, we can intervene. We can start discussions with others about how we can make changes in our own small corners of the world.
In my community’s situation my church decided to step in and make a difference. We had a Prayer Vigil for Prayers Against Prejudice in regards to the high school situation. We began the service listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream’s” speech. Then we sang moving worship songs. Next we listened to 4 speakers who spoke on prejudice, and between each speaker, we prayed. It was a very moving service.
Along these lines, what can you do as a parent to help guard your child’s heart against prejudice?
Melanie Pinola shares some important points for us to remember in her article, “How to Talk About Race With Your Kids”. She states that it would be wonderful if we could say to our kids that people might look different and come from different places, but we’re all equal and should be treated the same, and just leave it at that. But, she mentions that if recent news has taught us anything, it is not so simple. We need to face the topics of race and racism head on.
She continues saying that the race conversation is so important because kids notice from an early age that other kids are similar or different than they are– in every way they can be alike or or not, because this is how they figure where they fit in the world. Racial identification plays a large part in our self-esteem, how others treat us, and how we function in society.
Parents sometimes avoid discussing race because they think young children don’t even see race or won’t understand racism, but the critical period for starting the conversation is the five-to eight year old stage, Civilrights.org says. In all likelihood, the subjects will come up unprompted with your children at this early age, out of their natural curiosity. You might be mortified if your young child makes a crude observation out loud about someone else being different, but instead of shushing them, use these opportunities to reinforce the lesson that different is both normal and good. This can turn into a beautiful learning opportunity.
Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, Chinese New Year, and other events are good times to approach the subject. You could discuss what the kids have been learning in school, what they thought and felt about those subjects and take the conversation further. Even though schools talk about racial issues, it is important that you as a family talk about these issues with your kids up through the teenage years.
You always need to meet the child where he or she is first. Try to find out what prompted your kids’ comments or questions about race- school incidents, something they read or experienced? Then further the discussion with questions like– “How do you feel about that? or “Why do you think that?
Try to respond in nonjudgmental ways and stick to the facts. Talk about the fact that the social world that we live in is often unfair to people of color, just because of their color, and that the persistent racial-ethnic inequalities are unjust and morally wrong.
For parents of kids of all colors it is a good idea to celebrate the differences and benefits of your culture. One study shows that teaching kids, especially black kids to take pride in their culture is an integral part of their success.
All people are valuable and worthy of respect. Have diverse friends. Be a good role model.
In the book, Beyond the Golden Rule– A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice by Dana Williams the author gives 5 Tips to Parents
- Model it. Talk to your child about the importance of embracing differences and treating others with respect. Remember, it is your actions, subtle or overt, that your child will emulate.
- Acknowledge differences. Rather than teaching children that we are all the same, acknowledge the many ways that people are different and emphasize the positive aspects of our differences– language diversity and various music and artistic styles. Likewise, be honest about instances, historical and current, where people have been mistreated because of their differences. Encourage your children to talk about what makes each of them different, and discuss ways that may have helped or hurt them at times. After that, finding similarities becomes even more powerful, creating a sense of common ground.
- Challenge intolerance. If your child says or does something indicating bias or prejudice, don’t meet the action with silence. Silence indicates acceptance. A simple command- “Don’t say that.”– is not enough. First try to find the root of his action or comment: “What made you say that about Allie?” Then, explain why that action or comment was unacceptable.
- Seize teachable moments. Look for everyday activities that can serve as springboards for discussions. School-age kids respond better to lessons that invite real-life examples than to artificial or staged discussions about issues. For example if your watching t.v. together, talk about why certain groups often are portrayed in stereotypical roles.
- Emphasize the positive. Just as you should challenge your child’s actions if he indicates bias or prejudice, it’s important to praise him for his behavior that shows respect and empathy for others. Catch your child treating people kindly, let her know that you noticed and discuss why it is a desirable behavior.
Let’s end today with two beautiful reminders on this subject.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“Love is patient. Love is kind.” I Corinthians 13:4
Here are some resources that will compliment the post this week.
14 Children’s Picture Books Exploring Race and Racism
Beyond the Golden Rule
How to Talk About Race With Your Kids
May the Lord keep you in the palm of His hand.