Mamas, Let’s Do Better: Race and Christian Parenting

Mamas, have you had enough?

I have.

I’m not talking about the clutter or the toys underfoot, the bad attitudes or the never-ending requests for a drink at bedtime.

It’s not the usual mama stuff, but honestly it’s more usual than it should be.

I’ve had enough of listening to the news and hearing about another black man, woman, teen, or child harmed, harassed, and/or killed for no particular reason.

The list is never-ending, and every one of the names on it represents a child of God. And that child of God was also a child of a mama just like you and me.

Except maybe not.

Because maybe my whiteness, no matter how much I hate to admit it, makes me different from the mamas who have lost their kids to violence–far too often at the hands of people who have sworn to protect them.

I am a white woman, mother of two white little boys. I teach my kids that police officers are nice, their job is to keep us safe, they are the ones who will help you when you’re lost, and, don’t be afraid, they won’t arrest you unless you’ve done something wrong. And, mostly, I think that’s probably true.

But the reality is that I can be a lot more sure of those statements being true for my boys than moms of color can be for their boys and girls.

We have to work on that.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all on law enforcement. There are plenty of other factors at play, and there are a LOT, and I mean a LOT of great law enforcement officers out there serving in our country. I am thankful and grateful to each of the men and women who serve and protect all of us without discrimination. But the uniform should not be seen as automatic goodness or immunity from justice–just like the color of our skin should not be seen as automatic…well, anything.

A few years ago, I was on the phone with a friend. She was a new mom (just a little newer than me). We were catching up on life because you know how it is when you have a newborn–there’s not a lot of time to keep in touch with faraway friends–and when I (jokingly) asked her when she was going to move to Michigan to be close to me, she told me something that really made me think. She said, “Brianna, honestly I’m afraid to raise a black boy in the US right now.”

I wanted to tell her that was crazy and that everything would be fine, but when I opened my mouth to do that I realized that it wasn’t necessarily true, and that though, as new moms, the two of us had so many worries in common, but that I would never have to worry about my boy’s safety in the same way that she would have to worry about hers.

I don’t remember what I actually ended up saying, but I doubt it was adequate. I have thought about what she said so many times since then (how many tragedies have occurred over the past 4 years to remind me?!), and I haven’t come up with the right reply yet.

I’m heartbroken that she had to say it, but I’m grateful that she said it to me.

This isn’t something that I planned to write about, for a lot of reasons–the most obvious of which is that this is a blog about Christian parenting, not about current events or race relations, or justice/injustice.

So, when God started telling me (and this doesn’t happen to me often) that I needed to write about it somehow, I pushed back.

Not me, God. This is not in my wheelhouse. I’m not trained for this. I don’t even know what to say. Other people can write it more eloquently than I can. I’ll probably get it wrong.

Of course all of that was nothing He hasn’t heard before, but I tried it anyway.

But this afternoon, in my sunny-shady yard while I was planting tomatoes with my two little boys I lost the battle.

It happened when I realized that all of my excuses were absolutely true.

BUT

Just because I can’t say something better than someone else doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to say it at all. My friends, and the people in my sphere of influence need to hear this from ME, whether or not I get it exactly right.

Here’s the other thing I realized:  this is a parenting blog, and this is a parenting issue.

Parents are on the frontlines of this (and most every) issue, because we are leading, shaping, guiding, and mentoring the next generation.

So here it is in all of its imperfection, published despite my worries that I won’t get it right, that I’ll get a bunch of hateful comments, and honestly I’m more nervous than I ever have been about putting something out there into the world.

We have to make a change, and we can’t just sit around passively waiting for it to happen.

If we call ourselves disciples of Christ and we want our kids to do the same, we’ve got to follow His example, which includes speaking up for and acting as advocates for those without the privileges we enjoy.

Here are some ways Christian parents can address race and privilege with their kids:

Quit trying to use colorblindness as a strategy for (not) dealing with race.

It might be easier to get along if we didn’t see color, but it would be a lot less beautiful, too. I’ve seen a lot of posts by people who “don’t see color” lately, and while I understand that the sentiment is sincere, I believe that, from a Christian perspective, it’s misguided.

God created color, and He meant for us to see it. Of course, He made it (as He made everything) for us to enjoy and appreciate, and as something that we could praise and honor Him with. He started the first humans (I don’t know what their skin was like, do you?) off in a perfect garden paradise, and I feel certain that the beauty they enjoyed there wasn’t monochromatic. Color is beautiful. It’s something to be celebrated, and it’s God-given.

I know what claiming to be colorblind means, but I also know that it’s not a reality. Can you really make your two year old stop noticing things? If I could, I’d get mine to stop noticing (and pointing out) how dusty my bookshelves are.

E, when he was 3, was chattering all the way home from a play date when he abruptly (or so it seemed to me) interrupted his play-by-play of our day at the zoo to ask me why his skin was pink and his friend’s skin was brown.

In all honesty, it felt weird to me for him to say it aloud, even though it was obviously true and there was nothing sinister–no value judgement at all, in fact–to what he had said. It was just a question, like “Why is the sky blue?” and “Where does the sun go at night?”

The point is, though we had never really discussed skin color before (a testament to our privilege), he noticed. 3 year olds notice everything. And when we try to hush them they pick up what we’re putting down, which is that those differences are bad. Why else would we not be allowed to talk about them?

Just like with guilt, racism thrives in darkness and in quiet. Whether it’s intentional or not, when we don’t talk about things or when we act like we shouldn’t talk about things, we send a value message to our kids, and it’s usually not the right one.

This article from Christianity Today, by Michelle Reyes, touches more on the issue of addressing race with our kids.

Pursue meaningful interactions with people who are different than you.

Why Christian Parents Need to Talk About RaceOf course you already try to be kind and friendly to people, or you wouldn’t care enough about discipleship to even read this blog. I’m not talking about the big obvious things here, but more the little, seemingly inconsequential interactions we have with the people around us as well as the interactions that are absent from our daily lives. Maybe you smile politely at everyone you meet, and chitchat freely. But think about the people that make it past those church welcome and grocery line moments and all the way into your home for a shared meal or a playdate.

Sure, your kids’ playgroup is diverse, but when you go out of your way to get to know someone, who is it?

I’m not saying that you should choose your friends based on their skin color, or that as a white person, having white friends is bad. I’m just saying that our kids need to see more than tolerance and basic politeness to get the idea that, regardless of race or ethnicity, all people are potential friends.

For me, at least, any new connections I make have to be intentional, especially at this point in my stay-at-home-mama life. I’m not just making friends with people because they’re around and I get to know them. Right now (social distancing and COVID-19 aside), I am not spending time with people unless I plan to spend time with them. Expanding my friend group takes purpose and determination no matter how I do it. No one needs a “token” friend, and that’s not what I’m advocating. I’m simply saying that if you’re looking for friends, reach out beyond people who look like you, and if you don’t do that naturally, do it intentionally.

Once, (and not in Michigan) someone offhandedly mentioned to me that she’d “invited a family over for dinner, but had no idea what black people eat.”

I know she didn’t mean anything hateful or sinister, but in my experience for many white Christians the problem isn’t really hatred or even bad intentions, but ignorance through a lack of authentic interactions with people who are different from themselves (in really any significant way–not just race). This woman literally wondered what black people ate because she’d never really eaten with anyone so different from her. She ended up making pasta, and everything was fine.

The point is that though we are different, we are the same, too.

We all need food, so sometimes let’s eat together.

All children like the playground, so let’s play together.

In the words of one of my boys’ favorite songs, “Everyone likes ice cream, yes indeed they do,” so let’s get a cone together.

Check your biases when you’re scanning the room at the next social event you attend, and strike up a conversation with someone you might not usually seek out. Widening your own social circle will help your kids learn how to widen theirs.

Go out on a limb and spend some family-to-family time together with a family that doesn’t look exactly like yours. Teach your kids that everyone is a potential friend.

For more information on the importance of exposing your kids to people who don’t look like them, read this article from Today’s Parent.

Empower your kids to stand up for what is right.

Chances are you’ve talked to your kids about how you want them to stand up for others who are being hurt.

This moment in history is a chance for us to show our kids that when people are hurting we can hurt with them, and we can use our voices (and whatever privileges we have) to help the hurting be heard, recognized, and work toward justice.

Maybe that means joining a peaceful protest.

Maybe it means writing a letter to local law enforcement asking them what they’re going to do to hold each other accountable so that these situations stop happening.

What you do doesn’t matter as much as that you do something to teach kids that when you love Jesus you put your Christianity where your mouth is and you love His people. All of them, yes, but especially the hurting ones.

If they grow up watching you do it, they’ll learn that it’s normal, it’s expected, and they’ll seek out opportunities to do the same.

Yes, getting involved is messier than closing our eyes, or just shaking our heads and moving on, but sometimes being a disciple is messy. Let’s teach our kids that Christianity is more about loving people than it is about loving neatness and order and insularity.

Pray.

Pray for understanding. When we lack wisdom, we should ask God for it (more good advice from James).

Praying for someone we don’t understand or relate to is a good first step. In fact, no matter what your perspective, praying for someone is a good thing to do. Between Matthew 5:44, which tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and Matthew 22:39, which tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, everyone is pretty much covered, right?

Parenting requires a lot of prayer, and when it comes to tough issues, there’s no way around it. If Jesus is our best friend, we’ll talk to Him about the hard things. And hopefully our kids will learn to do the same.

Listen.

When someone is telling their story, listen. If you disagree, fine. But listen anyway. Feeling defensive? You’re allowed, but keep listening. Set down your politics for a quick minute and think about it as a friend. Even better? Think about it as a mom.

“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” James 1:19

I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s biblical, and if we want to teach our kids to be more like Jesus, we need to be more like Him too. Jesus listened. He spoke carefully. And when He got angry, it was not in His own defense, but a righteous anger in defense of God’s principles.

White privilege is a thing.

Honestly, I get defensive in my own brain just reading about white privilege. I think all the things and make all the excuses (silently), but I think that’s exactly the point. A lot of the reason I feel defensive is because the point hits home, and often much harder than I’d like it to.

But I have to admit, I live, in many ways, a privileged life. It’s not all white privilege, but my whiteness is definitely a factor.

It’s little things, like how my church is just a church, but the church down the road is a Black church.

There is plenty of diversity in my church, but most of us are white. It’s not a white church though…nobody says that because it’s not worth saying. It’s assumed. This is not to say that white church=good and Black church=not good, but just the fact that white is the default setting (it doesn’t need to be articulated) takes a toll on people by constantly pointing out their other-ness.

I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime and only recently realized that most books I’d grown up reading and loving were full of only white people (except for books specifically about slavery), and almost none of my picture books featured people of color. Even today, when I read books (and we have hundreds) to my kids, they rarely feature kids of color. My boys have no trouble finding characters that look like them, but that’s not every child’s experience.

Here’s a great article explaining some examples of white privilege that helped me understand it better. (Note: There’s some strong language in this one.)

Imagine it’s the women’s suffrage movement. Would you scoff at the suffragettes? Would you say that systemic oppression of women was a myth, and that honestly it’s just sad that ANYONE doesn’t have the right to vote? It’s not a gender issue. In fact, you don’t even NOTICE gender. It’s too bad though that women feel the need to protest. Don’t they know that it’s the worst way to get what they want?

The cause of women’s suffrage was helped greatly by (gender privileged) men who used their privilege to help women be heard. These men acted as allies of suffragettes, treating them as the valuable and intelligent humans that they were (but didn’t yet have the rights to match).

Fast forward to 2020, and it’s time for those of us with white privilege to ally with our brothers and sisters without it to make a change for the better. It starts in our homes, and it starts with how we are teaching our kids.

Here are 4 things we can teach our kids about privilege:

There are many types of privilege. White privilege is not the only one. You can have privilege of one kind without having privilege of another kind.

Having problems or enduring hardships doesn’t mean you don’t have privilege. Everyone has problems. Privilege doesn’t exempt you from problems, it just smoothes the way for you more than for someone without that particular advantage.

It’s okay to have privilege. Actually, there’s not a lot you can do to get rid of it. The problem comes in when we convince ourselves that we have done something to deserve our privilege, or when we don’t acknowledge it and insist that everyone else just isn’t trying hard enough. We can’t get rid of our privilege, but we can “in humility, regard others as better than [our]selves.” Philippians 2:3

You can use privilege in a positive way. Once you acknowledge privilege, you can use it to help out people who don’t. Privileged people can stick up for people without privilege. In fact, we’re supposed to. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and to the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

We can teach our kids to use their privilege to help others, but first we have to help them recognize it.

Admitting privilege does not mean admitting guilt. You aren’t personally responsible for systemic racial discrimination. You’ve never owned slaves, and chances are pretty good that you aren’t trying to teach your kids how to be racist. Admitting privilege doesn’t mean everything is on you personally.

No part of admitting privilege means we need to feel (or make our kids feel) guilty about having it. That much is out of our control. It’s what we do with it that matters.


Here’s an article from tolerance.org explaining white privilege much better than I can.


This is an issue Christian parents need to tackle.

I’m pretty sure that most earnest Christian parents have the basic “We are all God’s children” thing down. That’s truth, and it’s important. But we’ve got to go beyond that and really dig into the heart of the gospel to do an adequate job of preparing our kids to be adults who act and advocate in ways that honor all people.

Everyone is special, all ethnic groups are beautiful, and God loves everyone. But it’s important to realize that doesn’t mean that all groups are treated with the same love and respect that every child of the King deserves. The ones with privilege need to learn how to ally with and advocate for the ones without. We can’t do this if we repeat things like “all lives matter” in response to the calls for help from our brothers and sisters. The truth is that, although all lives DO matter, in day-to-day living, not all lives matter as much to the system that we are living in.

As long as black men are questioned, assaulted, and even killed simply because they “don’t belong” in nice neighborhoods, pulled over simply because they’re driving nice cars, or feared because they’re big, we can’t live up to being disciples of Christ by pointing out that all lives matter and expecting the black community to “calm down.”

John 13:35 says that people will know we are disciples of Jesus if we have love for each other. Go back to verse 34 for an example of how complete that love is supposed to be. We’re not setting any mind-blowing examples of radical Christian love by keeping quiet, or by speaking without action.

As Christian parents, let’s speak out, reach out, and lead out in finding ways to improve the broken system that we’re all a part of. If we really feel that all people are our brothers and sisters, we have a responsibility to view this brokenness as a problem. Not a “black problem,” but a problem that affects all of us because of the deep love we have for one another. Otherwise we’re just a whole bunch of priests and Levites, walking on by while “other” people suffer.


Respectful comments are welcomed and encouraged. 


You may also enjoy:

Discipleship Parenting: Getting Started with the Basics

A Christian Mom’s Guide to Mom Guilt

Be the Church: 8 Ways to Minister During a Pandemic

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