I am white.
Somehow it feels wrong to label myself with the word that defines my skin color. The term white feels entitled and off-putting, even to me. It feels as if I am setting myself apart before you can even begin to understand my heart position and intention.
I am also privileged.
I was raised in the Woodlands, Texas, a predominantly white, low poverty suburb. My father gifted me my first vehicle. My grandparents funded my undergraduate and graduate college tuition. And I now reside at a luxury real estate development on Possum Kingdom Lake.
I can hear the thoughts and feel the judgments that are sure to follow. I fear rejection and dismissal based off of assumptions that mark me unfit to discuss a subject for which I lack experience and wisdom.
But, please keep reading.
I hope you will take away a small piece of wisdom to better equip your children with an understanding and appreciation for the diverse range of human beings we call friends, family, and neighbors.
May we seek to unabashedly delight in our skin color and celebrate each other’s heritage in unity as God’s children.
Stumbling through diversity
My father remarried when I was twenty-four. My stepmother is beautiful, hilarious, kind, vivacious, and . . . black.
Her family has so wonderfully meshed with my family. Holiday gatherings are full of laughter, games, and excitement. At the risk of sounding cliché, there is sincerely never a dull moment.
But, despite my family’s intrinsic diversity, I still find myself stumbling through the words that might best equip my son to love and respect the diverse range of God’s people.
Is it appropriate to use the term black? What about African American? Is the term Latino offensive? Should I say Asian? Is Hispanic a race or ethnicity or perhaps both?
Should I even provide the verbiage to label different groups of people based on color, culture, or ethnicity? Maybe we should be colorblind. Do I quiet my son’s attempts to comment on our differences or encourage them?
Parenting is hard, you guys!
A child’s worldview
Children are discerning. They are constantly absorbing their surroundings and building perceptions that will uphold the foundation of their worldview.
George Barna, founder of the Barna Research Group, a marketing research firm focused on the intersection of faith and culture, reported that children begin developing their worldview as early as two. By the time they reach the age of thirteen, their perception of the world is virtually established. By tracking worldviews from adolescence to adulthood, Barna discovered very few changes occur as individuals age.
During these formative years, we as parents are commissioned with the task of guiding our children to value and appreciate differences within and between people. But we are also called to celebrate similarities. By gently providing links that connect us as humans, differences are apparent but draw us nearer rather than further apart.
It is through our uniqueness that the world can be marked with adventure and exploration. To say that our differences are trivial seems inaccurate; they are important. They allow us to delight in the cuisine of a culture unlike our own. They bring variation to the music that makes us want to dance or relax.
Differences call us to vacation internationally, seeking new foods, experiences, and cultural events. None of which would be possible if we were all exactly the same. My heart seeks to instill within my children an appreciation for such variations through travel and cognitive exploration of the value everyone brings to this life. For we are all human and are all valuable.
We are all image bearers, beautiful, and worthy of his affections.
We can begin teaching our children to embrace cultural and ethnic variations best when we, as parents, are equipped with a toolbelt of knowledge, understanding, and a willingness to learn.
A teachable heart is critical to all aspects of good parenting. It is especially important in the sensitive area of race, ethnicity, and culture.
A great way to explore the complexities of varying cultures is education through guided discussions with peers of ethnic backgrounds unlike our own. To truly learn about and understand differing cultural groups, worldviews, and belief systems, we must seek them out.
Miles McPherson, author of The Third Option, recently spoke on racism at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. McPherson explained the origin of division: spiritual battle and an us-versus-them culture. He provided six principles by which we might honor similarities over differences.
- Acknowledge that we have blind spots.
- Rename “those” people brother, sister, friend.
- Give in-group love to our out-group neighbors.
- Acknowledge your brother’s/sister’s color.
- View every conversation as a race consultation.
- Give your heart to those not like you.
McPherson suggests, “Unity is not going to be fixed by politics, money or education. It has to be fixed by God and it starts in the Church.”
It is within the church that many of the tensions of discrimination might be ameliorated, by means of biblical truths about our ancestry. We are all of one race, created in the image of Christ. While it is true that cultures vary, physical attributes differ, and our languages contrast, we are all of the same genetic makeup with minimal variation.
Our differences are the recipe for the richness of life. I do not believe that God made a mistake by coloring me white and my stepmother black. He did not accidently make Asher’s sweet friend tan. He crafted us all in his image with skin that serves the same purpose yet is shaded in an array of different hues.
A huge part of raising children who are culturally cognizant, who respect and value ethnicity, lies in personal introspection. What are we as parents conveying to our children through our words, attitudes, opinions, and actions? Are we teaching our children to value others?
A culturally rich existence
The question remains: How do we teach children to embrace and enjoy the variations that organically occur in a world filled with unique human beings?
- We enjoy different ethnic foods.
- We discuss the mosaic of skin tones that paint the mural of God’s people.
- We engage in cultural experiences that add to the fruitfulness of our life experience.
- We read books that introduce the idea of various hair types, skin colors, and eye shapes.
Becca Graham, a personal friend and founder of Fit4Moms in Fort Worth, Texas, provided one way her family seeks to engage in an awareness and respect for diversity:
“We eat dinner together as a family every night and try to create a safe conversational environment at the table. It’s common for us to ask the kids about their thoughts on race, discrimination, and natural advantages they see in their own spheres of influence. Our kids are 8, 7, 5, and 4-years-old and I don’t think it’s ever too early to begin those types of conversations . . . If we can give them eyes to see discrimination, and tools for empathy from a young age, I feel hopeful that their generation can continue to make progressive changes as teenagers and adults.”
By engaging our children with conversations that embolden their curiosity, we encourage the identification of differences to be understood as exciting and beneficial to a cohesive, colorful world. If questions are squelched, curiosity squandered, and comments rebuked, children will naturally begin to view differences as negatives.
Celebrating distinctions equips children and families to love others well, despite and maybe because of their differences. Creating opportunities for children to gather in diverse settings, appreciating what each individual brings to the table, further honors the wonderful complexities of the union of varying cultures and ethnicities.
Our three children, Asher, Harper, and Liam, are fair-skinned and light-eyed. They could easily be labeled with a single word: white. But much of their story is lost in such an apathetic label. They are Swedish, Native American, Polish, British, Afrikaans, and the list goes on. By celebrating and learning about each of the distinctions of their lineage, our family can equip our children with the confidence to not only embrace differences but to delight in them.
Tolerance isn’t enough
I’ll end with this: much of what I have read on the subject of race and ethnicity speaks to creating tolerant children. But the word tolerant leaves me unsettled.
I do not want my children to simply tolerate their peers. I want them to love their neighbors fiercely.
I want them to be tiny image bearers who draw their friends closer to God, even if those who surround them do not realize Who or What is bringing them closer.
Remember: “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19–21).