Here’s something I want you to know right off the bat–there’s no such thing as being color blind but we can raise our children to be color brave!
I don’t tell you this because the first time I observed my baby’s fascination with a turban on a lady’s head, he was only 18 months. But there’s actually lots of research that has been done on this very topic of children as young as babies not being colorblind.
I’m assuming you’re not a self-proclaimed racist otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article. So with that said you are probably a caring person who is trying to figure out how you and your family can help end this cycle of racism. A good place to start is by being color brave in your discussions with your children on race and cultural diversity. Below I will share some of the research and ideas I’ve discovered and practiced in my own multicultural home since my kids were toddlers
Color Brave Not Color Blind
Here’s some fascinating information from a research study that was done at the University of Texas, Children’s Research Lab:
“We’re all friends” is too vague for young children to understand that it refers to skin color. Yet Vittrup figured explicit conversations with parents could change that. So the second group of families got the videos, and Vittrup told these parents to use them as the jumping-off point for a discussion about interracial friendship. At this point, something interesting happened. Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.
…According to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same”—but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences.
They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way. More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents. Of all those Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. ” (I only quote bits and pieces of this study but I highly recommend you read the whole article as it shares numerous studies done. By far the most fascinating one was the last one she mentions on the black Santa.)
I know color blind statements usually come from well-intentioned parents who feel like noticing the differences will encourage the very thing they are trying to avoid–racism. The reality is our children do see the differences! So what you need to decide is whether you’re going to be the voice that will guide and help them process or if you’re going to let the culture and media do it. The latter is already doing it whether you want them to or not so our kids need us to have these intentional conversations.
As Christian families, whites, and people of color, we each need to realize having these intentional conversations about race make a difference in how our kids interpret what they see. When they are babies they may see the differences but they do not necessarily categorize it as good or bad unless it’s associated with a traumatic situation.
But as they develop they are influenced by their peers, media, and important people in their life–you the parents.
I feel passionate about this topic because as a Mexican American I have experienced racism since I was a child, in the workplace, in ministry, at church, and from neighbors. I have had the opportunity to serve on government-appointed boards to help bridge the gap between the Hispanic community and the community at large and raising awareness through workshops and “celebrate the difference” community events and I’ve encouraged by these movements but we still have a long way to go.
Also, this topic strikes a chord in my heart because I am a mother. My husband is white and he has blue eyes and light skin, but my kids favor me. We have three boys who will soon be dark-skinned Mexican American men walking the streets, working their jobs, and entering buildings without their “mother-bear mama” protecting them.
So it’s my job to teach them to develop a positive sense of self and respectful understanding of others while they are under my roof. I need to regularly remind them of the fact that we are ALL made in God’s image, who they are and whose they are.
As much as I hope they never experience racist acts against them I know the reality of the world we live in and the intentional or unintentional hate that flows from classrooms, pulpits, political platforms, and the kitchen counter of a neighbor.
My hope is that they remain Color Brave in the midst of the color-fear-filled world and show a respectful understanding of those who are different.
How to start talking to your kids about race and cultural diversity
These steps are designed to be a catalyst to begin creating space towards celebrating and respecting our differences, they are not meant to be an end-all solution.
Change begins in our heart and in our homes!
Change doesn’t stop at a passionate discourse on social media against racism.”
1. Understand stereotypes that encourage discrimination/racism are deeply engrained in our culture. Many people will be quick to say they are not racist because they aren’t calling someone derogatory names but racism goes beyond just the words we use it has to do with how we think, assumptions we make, and beliefs we hold to. In some cases, people don’t even realize they have these beliefs because it’s been deeply ingrained into their value system or culture. Have you noticed all the stereotypical shows, movies, jokes that are constantly aired on tv and social media? The Hispanic woman is the maid with the accent, the black kid is the all-star basketball player or lives in the ghetto, the Asian is the health professional… These assumptions and stereotypes have evolved over time and can become part of our value system, government institutions, which then are associated with a group’s power or authority.
According to the Webster dictionary, “Racism is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Understanding the definition of racism is a good place to start so we are on the same page. There are so many modern forms of identifying racism that I don’t necessarily agree with so I’ll stick to the basics. “Racism includes any action, intentional or not, that has the effect of singling out persons based on their race, and imposing burdens on them and not on others, or withholding or limiting access to benefits available to other members of society… Race only needs to be one factor in a situation for racial discrimination to have occurred. Racial harassment is a form of discrimination. It includes comments, jokes, name-calling, display of pictures or behaviour that insults you, offends you or puts you down because of your race and other related grounds. Racial discrimination can often be very subtle, such as being assigned to less desirable jobs, or being denied mentoring and training. It might also mean facing different job standards than other workers, being denied an apartment because you appear to have Aboriginal ancestry, or facing unfair scrutiny from police while driving or from security staff at a shopping mall.” ~ via Ontario Human Rights Commission
Racism can be rooted in attitudes, assumptions, and stereotypical beliefs whether we are cognizant of it or not. Sometimes those beliefs are under the surface and come out when we least expect it. For example, thinking that all black men are out to get you is racial discrimination in the form of microaggression. Or if I own a store and I find myself carefully watching my Hispanic customers who walk through the door over the whites, that’s racist.
Because we live in a fallen world unfortunately racism can permeate infrastructures of our society like education, politics, the judicial system, job opportunities, and the court system. I share an example of this in Phil Vischer’s article below in tip #3 that shows how deeply ingrained racism can be in our system. Also, the movie or the book “Just Mercy” that is based on a true story depicts the deeply engrained systemic racism in our country.
We can start being more aware of little things. One of them would be to remove words and language that seems “innocent” but is loaded with terms like “them, these or those Hispanics, blacks, Asians, refugees..” because it can be racist. When we find ourselves classifying a whole people group and categorizing them into one narrative we really need to ask God to help us do a heart check.
For example, “Those blacks play their music so loud. Those refugees are so trashy.” All of these are examples of microaggression. Wikipedia defines microaggression as, “a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups.”
So now that you have a better idea of what racism is, you’ll need to explain to your children the definition in words they’d understand. I spent a lot of time giving examples so you can come up with your own age-appropriate ways to share with your child. I also found this video that explains racism to kindergarteners.
2. Start with your own heart. Now that you have a better grasp of what racism entails you may need to do a heart check. Maybe you have found yourself thinking stereotypically or making racial jokes even though you wouldn’t call yourself a racist person. Ask God to search your heart to confront any biases based on race you may be harboring whether it’s conscious or unknown. Consider if you carry any bitterness or hurt based on someone’s race and bring it to God. Ask God for forgiveness and healing. Ask Him to help you start moving toward reconciliation. The reality is we have blind spots and we need the Holy Spirit constantly helping us check out hearts, actions, and words as we engage with His children on a day to day basis especially when we are on social media.
You may not necessarily be a racist but you can participate in racist acts throughout your day–aware or unaware. I was once in an interview where the interviewers started speaking slowly to me as they asked me questions. I thought it was odd but still, I responded. They looked at each other shocked and asked, “Where did you learn to speak English?” I was treated differently because of the color of my skin. Do I think those interviewers were racist? Not necessarily, but I do believe they were treating me differently because of my skin color and their underlying biases. I wish I could tell you this has only occurred once in my life. But I can’t tell you how many times people have begun our conversation by speaking slower or louder to me because they assumed I did not speak English.
“When we begin to think of ourselves as better than another group or culture, we have placed ourselves as gods and idols. Only God is supreme.” Latasha Morrison
3. Begin having the conversations. As mentioned in the research study above, our kids are not colorblind they do see the differences. So stop using excuses for not having these conversations with your children. The research above debunked your excuse that you just don’t want them to notice there are any differences. Your kids have already noticed the differences so now they need us to guide them.
Studies show that having your kids attend a diverse church or school doesn’t mean they are automatically making the correct assumptions about those races even if you repeatedly say, “Everyone is equal!”. Don’t just make blanket statements like that without discussing the terminology you’re using with your kids.
What does “equal” mean exactly? How should this value “we are all made in God’s image” affect our actions? We need to be intentional about these conversations instead of remaining silent or throwing around simplistic phrases because deeper conversations feel awkward.
These conservations, like all conversations, can’t just happen once but they need to happen over and over again. They continue to evolve as your kids get older.
I love bringing to our dinner table these discussions that get my children critically thinking about life events. I’ve been doing this with them since they were as little as 5 years old. Some life events are not age-appropriate so I paraphrase the circumstances in my own words instead of showing them a video or reading an article.
I always ask them their thoughts before I share my own. Do you see a problem with this situation? What do you think should be done? What can we do as an outsider looking in to change things here in our community? What are some of the feelings you felt as you read/watched? Did you spot racism or inclusion? If so, how?
I usually walk away shocked how on target their responses are in picking out between what is just and what is hateful. And when they are completely off, my job is to guide them. I share below an image with more questions.
4. Educate yourself. Go online and read articles, books and watch documentaries about and by POC. Watch movies that discuss racial discrimination for POC. Some that we have enjoyed Hidden Figures, Ruby Bridges, Just Mercy, Harriet Tubman and others based on historical events.
I highly recommend using real-life events to help you start those conversations but if you prefer you can also use children’s books and movies that talk about different cultures and races.
Buy books that celebrate the differences and focus on how ethnicity reflects an aspect of God’s image. You’ll want to avoid filling your library with only books where the white person is the “savior” or where the POC or marginalized people are impoverished or needy. Watch movies where POC are the main characters.
A great article you can use is written by Phil Vischer the creator of Veggietales. He shares in his article (for older elementary-on up) an eye-opening perspective to help you start thinking and talking through some of these hard topics of systemic racism.
A more recent event that may be age-appropriate for kids and an example of racism is the incident with Amy Cooper a white woman walking her dog and Christan Cooper a black man bird watching at the park. You can find an article about it here. Use these events to help you start the dialogue.
5. Model by example. What comes out of your mouth concerning POC? How do you respond when you hear racial injustice on social media or news? Your response makes a difference in shaping your child’s views and attitudes towards people of color.
I was once sitting with a group of people when one lady in our group blurted out “those Mexicans just….”. I was shocked how freely those words came out of her mouth. She didn’t necessarily say anything derogatory but her attitude towards POC was made clear with her statement.
When your child points out someone’s color or cultural difference how have you responded? I know it can be embarrassing but instead of scolding them turn it into a teaching moment. When my son was little we were at a park that was filled with children of all races. He came over to me and said, “Those kids over there are poor.” We weren’t around other people so I wasn’t embarrassed but I was very curious how a little kid came to this conclusion. We volunteer a lot in the inner city so I wasn’t sure if that’s where his response was coming from. So I asked him, What made you come to that conclusion?” He said, “They are cussing a lot.”
Make sure and ask questions to find out what they are thinking and how they got there.
I thought it was interesting that he would link their bad language to poverty. So I prodded more and heard more about what was going on in his little mind. I realized because we volunteer a lot in lower-income areas and that’s the only place in his little world that he had heard people openly cussing he linked those two things together. So we had a talk and guided him.
6. Reflect. Reflect on what kind of people are in your social circle. If there any POC? If not, ask yourself why? What can you do to change that?
“The work of racial reconciliation requires us to listen, unlearn damaging stereotypes and lean into hard and difficult dialogue…
Reconciliation beckons us into conversations and relationships with people who look different from us.
Reconciliation calls us to take a deep look at ourselves.
Reconciliation requires a surrendered heart.
Reconciliation requires listening to the voices of the marginalized and a heart of empathy.
Reconciliation requires a transformation that only Jesus can do in our hearts.
Reconciliation requires dismantling of secular worldviews we have embraced.
Reconciliation calls you into the awkward, the painful, the tension, the resistance…all for the Glory of God.” ~ Latasha Morrison
7. Stand up for what is right. Don’t tolerate racist comments, jokes or actions from friends, family, or co-workers. Confront it, point it out and ask questions like “Why do you feel the way you do? I noticed you said, “those Hispanics or those white people” various times in our conversation do you realize that it comes across racist?
8. Be willing to listen. Sometimes when we hear others share their stories of racism our immediate response is to rationalize the action, defend the non-POC or even get defensive. Instead of trying to insert your viewpoint just listen. Listen to the stories that POC are sharing because it took some courage to share it especially if you’re a non-POC. Instead of pouncing on them with your numbers and stats to disprove their story why don’t you try empathizing.
Don’t confuse acknowledging with accepting. There is a difference between acknowledging and approving. You can listen and show empathy without approving/agreeing.
I don’t share my experiences very often but I remember once sharing on social media a story of racism. A person responded by saying that racial discrimination is just a way for POC to complain, or to get their way. Instead of listening and asking questions, he was ready to attack me.
9. Find opportunities to engage in activities where there are POC. These are some of my favorite things to do as a family. Volunteer at places that expose your children to those who are different from you, visit a museum with exhibits that are educating you on POC, find local cultural events like Hispanic festivals, Black History events, Asian festivals, global missionary events or multicultural nights, visiting a multicultural church, a restaurant or grocery store that gives you a taste of food and snacks from other cultures. The opportunities are all around but it may take some intentionality and planning.
I’ll end with this quote from Marisa at Called to Mothering:
We have to turn to the One who can root out the evil lurking inside us.The selfishness. The pride. The bitterness.Jesus has always been the answer. And He knows what it’s like to be judged unfairly. In fact, that judgement got Him killed.
I can’t control how people may react to my son someday. Or even today while he’s a preteen. There’s little I can do to prevent someone from misunderstanding my children, or my motives, or my choices.
But I can depend on God to help me treat.. people with dignity and mercy. I can trust that He has the final say, and will ultimately carry out justice even if human justice falls miserably short.”
Change starts in our hearts, transforms our homes and brings healing to our communities. #BeColorBrave
Here are more questions from Susan Seay a blogger who is a mover and shaker in her community and our country.: