We can enable our children to cultivate a meaningful sense of their identity as people who live for justice and in resistance to racism despite being from a people from whom such behaviors are rarely expected (and, unfortunately, too rarely come).
—Jennifer Harvey, “Raising White Kids”
For the past month plus, I’ve been leading an online discussion using the book “Raising White Kids” by Jennifer Harvey. We are a mix of parents from UUCC and other congregations, plus a bunch of religious educators from around the country who are parents or caregivers. We are parents of multiple races, with children of multiple races.
My kids are grown, and this book group still managed to lead to some interesting family dinnertime conversations about race and racism and being white. So much so that a recent conversation about whether they had ever experienced being the only white person in a group led to my daughters pulling out their yearbooks to count how many Black and Brown children were in their schools (or at least their classes). They were surprised at how many they counted—none of them estimated correctly, which led me to wonder how off my estimate of my high school years was those many years ago.
In her book, Harvey talks about the dismay children and young adults who are just learning about racism feel when they begin to understand some of our awful history in the USA, especially if no one was talking to them about race and racism prior to those initial conversations. No, we didn’t directly contribute to the appalling treatment of Black and Brown peoples throughout history, and yes, we are complicit in today’s treatment, even if we are only passive beneficiaries of white privilege. Harvey’s solution to that discomfort that our children experience (and perhaps we as adults also experience?) is to help our children and young adults understand that one solution to that discomfort is action. To take action as antiracists. To work in concrete ways for a better world.
All of us people working through this book together are committed to having developmentally appropriate discussions about race with the children in our lives, no matter their ages. This is a privilege that only white people have—to choose whether to have conversations about race or not. If we didn’t understand before, the summer of 2020 made abundantly clear how badly we need to be having these discussions and taking action as antiracists. We live in a world where Black and Brown parents absolutely must have these conversations with their children in order to help them survive. Why should we escape the same conversations, especially if we have the privilege to not be required to have the talks? Especially if we can help fight for much needed change when we have the talks?
I’m recommending the book to all of you, whether you are parents or grandparents or aunties or uncles or teachers or have some other way in which you have an influence on children, no matter the age of those children. This book was eye-opening for me. We can make a difference and we must make a difference; our faith calls us to make a difference.