I have a five-year-old boy.
For any of you who have five-year-old boys, have had five-year-old boys, or have been around five-year-old boys, you understand why I lead off an article about racism with this necessary information.
Around the age of 4, kids begin to notice the world around them through verbal comparison and contrast. This can be a great thing, but as any parent will tell you, it can also put you in some very uncomfortable situations.
Still, there is a degree of innocence and world-view shaping at this pivotal stage of life that can be vitally important for us as parents to lean into rather than run from.
One of the things children verbally begin to observe at this stage is varying colors of people’s skin. I distinctly remember the first time my son came home and told me about the kids he had been playing with earlier that day. Completely unprovoked and out of the blue, he told me one of his friends “…has black skin, but I have light brown skin.”
My son had no idea what kind of a cultural land mine he had inadvertently stepped on. I immediately wanted to sit him down, talk about the Civil Rights Movement, the evils of racism, and the horrible atrocities committed over centuries of ignorance and senselessness. I wanted to flood his heart with a fire-hydrant of American history, modern conversations of protest, and make him listen to old-school DC Talk.
I wanted to fight an entire culture war on the battlefield of my son’s little heart.
What I said instead was, “That’s good. Isn’t it great how God gives us all different kinds of skin color, eye color, hair color, but we’re all still the same and He loves us. What a creative God!”
It seemed trite and incomplete, but for him it pacified a situation he didn’t even know existed. For me, it took much more time in my heart and mind before I could find a degree of rest in the situation.
I hate the ugliness of racism. I hate that my son will grow up in a world stained by terminology and actions – intentional and unintentional – that will hurt others and cause him to wrestle with thoughts in his own mind and among his peers.
I hate it. But I can’t ignore it.
While there is much I cannot do, there are some things I have determined to do as a parent to help my son grow up to be a man who understands human dignity, the brotherhood of all mankind, the image of God in human beings, and the unity in diversity we find at the cross of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.
Here are three things I’m trying to do to help my kids fight racism.
1) Don’t avoid the topic.
Conversations about race and racism can be awkward. They can be even more awkward when your kid loudly brings up the topic in the middle of a grocery store (…or so I’ve read…). The immediate desire is to stop the conversation, try to preserve the innocence and hope our children grow up to appreciate the diversities of all peoples and cultures in a fairytale mode of autopilot.
But avoiding the topic of racism will not help our kids avoid the topic of racism. It will simply send the signal that it is something off limits or taboo with mom or dad.
When my son asks a question about skin color, I am trying to embrace the moment rather than run from it. I want him to know it is okay to notice differences in people, but more importantly to know what to do with these observations. Namely, I want him to give glory to a creative God, and see how differences in each of us can be opportunities to learn from and appreciate new perspectives.
I’m okay if he distinguishes the fact that other people are different from him. The conversation I want to make sure I reinforce and reinforce again is that those differences can be opportunities for unity – not division. I want him to know we love one another not just despite our differences, but even because of our differences.
2) Encourage social diversity.
Kids are great in that they are willing to ask people questions and learn from their answers. We adults could learn a thing or two from that paradigm. The more diversity your child is introduced to at a young age, the more knowledge they will gain from a more diverse set of people (black, white, old, young, rich, poor).
It’s great for kids to have friends who are like them in many ways, but what great opportunities we as parents can afford our children by giving them a broader spectrum to learn from. Before someone can tell them an ignorant lie about people with a different skin tone, let them experientially learn the truth. Give them faces and names to put with concepts and prepare them to have their minds made up about race before someone else can sway it for them.
3) Again and again return to the Gospel in God’s Word.
Your local church should be one of the best weapons in fighting racism among your children. Continually reinforce that church is not just an organization, or a place, it is a people – people united under the banner of Jesus Christ.
Let them see you interacting with and learning from older people, younger people, dark-skinned people, light-skinned people, rich people, poor people, socially awkward people and even people who may have hurt you.
The more you read the Bible with your children and are introduced to the horrors of sin, slavery, ethnocentrism and more, the more you will have opportunity to highlight the words of Paul calling for unity between races. You will see the diversity of the church. You will see Jesus’s heart for all people, and you will find a level ground at the foot of the cross that calls sin what it is and points to a resurrected Savior who has overcome this world.
We cannot shelter our kids forever. It may not even be best for them for us to do so. Rather than shield them from every aspect of sin they will encounter in this world, let us equip them with the gospel and God’s Word in advance so they are prepared to fight whatever battle may come their way.
Let us pray for our children. Let us pray for our churches and contend for truth. Let us thank God in Christ for the Gospel. And let us lead the way in fighting racism in our homes and communities.