Let’s Talk to Our Kids about Race


When my kids were little they thought I was white. That’s so understandable. On the surface – and compared to Joe – I am white. But not really. I am black and it’s Black History Month. It’s a great time to talk to your kids about race.

With little kids you can use the lesson of the eggs: When they start to notice there are brown people and white people in the world say, “People may look different on the outside, but on the inside we’re all the same.” Crack the brown egg. Crack the white egg. Beneath the shell of our difference is sameness.

This little lesson is sufficient for four-year-olds, but older kids need a more complex analogy. We can’t keep teaching our children that everyone is exactly the same on the inside. It’s not true. Sure, we’re all human, made in God’s image; but who we are on the inside is how we think and feel. Of course we’re not all the same, especially in our views about race.

So let’s stick with egg analogies and go for the lesson of egg casseroles: When they start to realize that others don’t think and feel the same as they do about race, our children may reject differing opinions like a toddler gagging on spinach quiche. But tell them, “Yes, people are different on the inside, but there’s something to be savored in everyone’s story. Let’s take a taste together.” Now that’s the way to help your children to become studious, Mom!

One thing you can do is ask someone who’s different to place their personal history within the context of the larger American narrative, like this:

I was born in New Deal public housing, but once went swimming at the mansion of Berry Gordy, the father of Motown.

  • I was a strong student back in the 1970s, but Affirmative Action opened doors for me.
  • My mom grew up in poverty in the ’40s, sharing a mattress with five of her ten siblings; but she became an executive secretary.
  • My dad was discouraged by job prospects during the Civil Rights Era, so he forged a college diploma to become a labor relations negotiator.
  • My paternal grandfather owned a shoe repair shop in the black community during Jim Crow.
  • My paternal great-grandfather was a chauffeur; he owned a Model T Ford in 1919!
  • I inherited my fair skin from his mother, a victim like Sally Hemings of that Peculiar Institution.

The main ingredient of my personal history – the egg, if you will – is a journey from poverty to the middle class. That’s a journey shared by many Americans. But beyond the yolk of that sameness is a yoke of struggle unique to those whose ancestors were bought, sold and hated for 300 years. In that way I am different from many Americans. That doesn’t automatically make me the same as all black people, mind you, because even people who look the same on the outside aren’t the same on the inside.

In fact, no matter our race, we’re all different. We grew up in different homes and neighborhoods. We were given varying degrees of moral guidance and academic opportunity. At our core, we are products of our parents and grandparents who all lived and loved uniquely within the American saga. And those things combined shape who we are, what we think, and how we feel about race. That’s why we have to challenge ourselves as Christian moms to grow up and out of simple-minded analogies suitable for toddlers. It’s our responsibility to equip our children to learn about people from all walks of life, not just the walk and way of thinking our family knows so well. In light of this,

  • Let’s be sure our children know that God is narrating the story of America and it’s complicated, like a casserole. We’ve got to crack open some books. We’ve got to crack open our hearts and homes to embrace our neighbors’ stories. It’s one way we can love them as we love ourselves.
  • Let’s show our children how to partner with God in revealing his redemption to all people in light of how they feel on the inside. Race and social issues are hot button topics in our country, and if our only partnership is with politicians and pundits, we will never be able to care for souls like Jesus did.
  • Let’s train our children to listen more and debate less. Sure, they can try to change someone’s mind about race and social issues, but they cannot change someone’s past. To dismiss someone’s background is like talking about their momma. And them’s fightin’ words.

So studious mamma, remember that how you narrate America’s diversity is a legacy that will live on long after you’re dead. Even if you don’t believe in the value of a month set aside for one group, believe in the value of learning. There’s plenty of room at the Table of Brotherhood for all of us to savor American history together.

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