Let’s Talk to Our Kids about Race

Baltimore MOm

We’ve all seen the video of that mom who gave her son the beat down in Baltimore. Aside from the hypocrisy that praises her when under other circumstances it would report her to CPS, I’m glad everyone is glad a mom courageously held her child to high standards.

So what about the rest of us? What are we doing to knock sense into our kids? Specifically, what are we doing to instill in our children a Christian view of America’s race relations? We can’t leave this to chance and history teachers. We’ve got to take charge – like Toya Graham – and offer our children biblical perspective. Here are just a few reasons why.

Because sin is the root cause of societal ills. When we talk to our kids about race, we need to say what the Bible says about human behavior: we sin because we’re sinners. From Africans who sold their fellows, to slave traders, to plantation owners, to whip bearers, to lynch mobs, to the lazy, to the greedy, to the criminals, to the  police, to the rioters, to you and me, none are righteous, no not one. In light of that, consider with your children…

The sin of running from authority: If a man is past due on his child support or dealing drugs, he is going to run from police the way Adam and Eve ran from God, unwilling to face their sin and its consequences.

The sin of covering up sin: If a policeman plants evidence or destroys videotape in order to hide his criminal abuse of power, he’s no different than King David who committed murder to hide his adultery.

The sin of blaming: Finger pointing began in the Garden of Eden, not in the United States. Those who blame black poverty on welfare, absentee fathers, and laziness, along with those who blame it on slavery, the government, and the rich, are all to blame to some degree. It’s human nature not to admit one’s own failings and instead, expect others to solve messes we made together.

The sin of slander: We Christians have to be careful not to devour the mean-spirited trash talk dished up daily on social media and popular news networks. We’ve got to get with God’s program on how we talk about, judge, or shame those made in His image. We have to do this not just because our children are listening, but because God is listening. He will hold us accountable for our alliances, and His word lists slander alongside the faults we’re so quick to decry in others, such as robbery, drunkenness, adultery, murder, and greed.  (Matthew 15; Mark 7; I Cor. 6).

Because Christ is an example to us.  When we talk to our kids about race, let’s remind them that Jesus became flesh and “moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1 The Message). Unless we are willing to move to Baltimore or some other struggling city, we need to stop being armchair mayors and police chiefs, criticizing those who try to make life better for the poor. Like these courageous, selfless Americans, Jesus associated with the poor, the Samaritans, the women and others on the low rungs. We, his followers, shame his name when we choose a life of criticism, isolation and bigotry.

Though all can’t move to poor neighborhoods, we can still find ways to identify with those who are different from us and develop Christ’s spirit of compassion and care. When we genuinely love someone, we are more likely to identify with them, come to their defense, and support them in spite of their negative circumstances or flaws.

That’s why cops and their families sympathize with law enforcement, even when they make mistakes. These public servants know the dangers, the sacrifices, the skill required to protect a city. And so sympathy runs deep even when videos expose a possible use of excessive force.

Similarly, my sympathy for protestors and rioters runs deep because I was born in 1963 to poor parents who lived in the projects. I still have relatives living in poor areas of Toledo, Ohio which is repeatedly named one of America’s worst cities in multiple categories. My brother was arrested in college in the 1970s because he “fit the description” of a rape suspect.My cousin was murdered, shot in the head in the 1980s, a victim of “black on black crime.” My husband was followed home by police in 1998 in the same Southern town where he grew upon on a gravel road, near relatives with out-houses, where he attended a segregated school for two years, and where our daughter is buried in an all-black cemetery. I gave the “don’t resist arrest” talk (again) to my college-educated, “articulate,” law-abiding son last week.

This is just a piece of my American story and it’s why I understand Baltimore.  I have a personal connection to being black, poor, profiled and prey to America’s racial realities.

With that said, Joe and I realize that we didn’t hang out with enough black people when our children were growing up. Our trajectory in life took us from poverty to the Ivy League and predominantly white environments. We live at a prestigious Southern boarding school. We have attended white churches and entertained mostly white friends throughout our children’s growing up years. We weren’t purposely avoiding black people and we obviously sustained relationships with family. But we weren’t purposely engaging with black people either. Even though 99.9% of our college friends are black role models our children should know like family, we rarely spent time with this group of people who are lawyers, doctors, engineers, and public servants.

As a result of this isolated life, our children developed negative stereotypes against black people that many whites develop because they are similarly isolated. Our kids’ negative encounters with black children included the classic “why are you acting white?” accusations thrown at those who achieve. This introduction to black friendships left a sour taste in their mouths, and rightfully so. But it’s our fault for giving them so little exposure to black children and families with a similar profile and it’s one of my great mothering regrets. Yet that’s how it works when parents raise their children in a homogenous environment. Whether it’s all-black, all-white, all-rich, or all-poor, if it’s not diverse, children develop misconceptions by default.

Finally, we need to talk to our kids about race because God is talking to us about it when he tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. That means loving the people next door and those protesting five states away. It means loving people from every race, color and creed. It means loving people who riot. It means loving police who use excessive force. If we have exempted anyone from the love of God expressed through acts of kindness, words of prayer, and hands of friendship, we are not God’s children. Plain. Simple.

For ” If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” I John 4.20-21

This post is #2 in a Series

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