These past weeks have felt heavy and overwhelming. And it’s not because school started and the early morning schedule, packed lunches and carpools have taken over the daily routine. Instead, this feeling is the realization of the ugly underbelly of our nation – hate and racism – are alive and kicking. A lot of people will say it’s always been there. I know, I get it… but it feels different now. And I have a growing sense of urgency to not only talk about race and racism with my kids, but to also do something about it as a family.
Watching the video from Vice about Charlottesville was shocking. It left me feeling numb – I’m not even sure how to process what I’m seeing especially since there is a growing number of hate demonstrations. Also, I just learned today that California has the most active hate groups than any other state in America. Wait, what?! In my own backyard?
My family of six (me, my husband, 3 girls and a boy) is a multi-racial family. I was born in the Philippines and I moved to Canada when I was six years old. My job brought me to the United States in my mid-twenties where I met and married my husband who is a caucasian American.
I am fortunate to live in a diverse community where my neighbors, schools, church include people from multiple backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. I often feel that because my community is diverse, there doesn’t seem to be a need to talk about race with our kids because it’s just not a “thing”. Seeing what’s been happening in our world, made me really think that it does need to be a “thing” and I need to learn more about how to talk to my kids about this.
Earlier this year, the film Hidden Figures sparked a conversation with my kids about segregation. That night after watching the movie, I talked to them more about what segregation meant. My kids couldn’t understand why there were separate schools, restaurants, bathrooms and more. But what really caught me off guard was when they asked, “Are we black or white?” I tried to explain to them that our skin color didn’t matter. But they wanted clarity, they wanted to know if segregation happened today, would it impact them. I didn’t really answer their question partly because I didn’t know how to answer it. To be honest, I was more confused with why they were so focused on how segregation would impact them. And I just wanted to shout, “It doesn’t matter if it impacts you… it’s WRONG!!” Looking back, I realized now that their wheels were turning, and it was one step to build on.
More recently, we talked about segregation again given the events at Charlottesville. This time I was more clear about how racism impacts them and also shared the example of Martin Niemoller’s life events from Nazi Germany. I tried to make the point that if we do or say nothing, we actually permit racism and hate; doing nothing isn’t an excuse. My middle schooler gave her opinion and said to me with truth and honesty, “I know what I should do if anyone is being excluded or bullied or being racist, but I don’t know if I have the courage to actually say or do something about it.” At first my heart sank as I searched for anything to give her courage. What I realized is that by being honest she was showing courage. And while we don’t have all the answers we are committed to figure it out and to find courage and strength to do what is right even when it feels scary.
The picture at the top of this post is Emily with other middle schoolers from our church during a mission trip. I love this picture because it’s one example of unity in diversity. And it’s this unity that I hope and pray will be a priority for her and all of our kids.
I am not an expert on these topics. But we are trying to be more intentional about having these conversations with our kids. We are so blessed with what we have and where we live. And with these blessings come responsibility. I don’t know specifically what this responsibility looks like right now, but I do know I can’t just watch the news and be completely paralyzed. I also want to avoid having this feel like another thing on the to-do list. For me, it is more about changing the focus of our talks to something more meaningful, and helping shape my kids’ thinking for the day (which will come too soon) when they peel away from home and become adults.
I know this is a journey and kids will process information/discussion in multiple different ways, hence it may take a million and one conversations. But I know that I need to start somewhere, and these are a few things that I’m starting with:
- Pray – Pray for courage to speak and do what is right.
- Listen – Listen to their questions. My kids range in age from 4 – 13 years old and each of them digest and process things differently. It’s fascinating to listen to their questions even when I don’t know the answers. It’s a personal invitation into their little world and what they are processing in their hearts and mind, so I don’t want to miss that invite.
- Share – The list below are some of the things that friends have recommended as well as things that I have found from my google search to help get some of these conversations started. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s a start and it’s not in any particular order.
- Showing Up for Racial Justice – This website has a section specific for families and provides specific actions that you can take as a family.
- Race Conscious – A resource for parents/adults who want to talk about race with young children
- Todays Parent – An age-by-age guide on how to talk to kids about racism
- Read Brightly – Books and resources that can help you talk to kids about race
- Huffington Post – Provides some suggestions to help your family celebrate and value diversity
- NY Times Article – This article provides a starting point for little kids and helping them to focus on the “helpers” when presenting them with current events that are upsetting. This article also provides some good picture books and young adult reading.
If you have any thoughts, feedback or suggestions on this topic, I would love to hear from you!
Photo Credit – MSM Menlo Church