Day 19: How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble {31 Days of #WOKE}

How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

Two years ago, we moved our family from the diverse north side of Chicago to a nearly all-white area of Colorado. And it pains me. Truly.

Not that white people are all the same, but I worry my children’s worldview will be white-centric because that is all they know.

Perhaps you are like me and find yourself living on White Island. What are you doing to build windows to the world in your child’s culture of whiteness? At risk of sounding braggy or like I have it all figured out (I promise, I don’t). Here are some things I’m trying.

International Students

First of all, we’re moving. It’s only about 20 minutes from where we are right now, but we are intentionally moving from a nearly all-white area to a slightly-less-white area. For us, that means we move closer to the university.

Nearly four years ago I volunteered for one month at an ESL class in Chicago. At the end of that time one of the girls from Saudi Arabia asked to live with us. You can read more about that here and here, but four months turned into a year and she became like family.

Looking for houses, we are considering how we can have international students live with us. Could we have our kids share a room? Will our house be near a bus station? Within walking distance of the school?

As a mom to three kids four and under, I don’t have much time or energy to volunteer my time outside of the home. My husband doesn’t feel called overseas, so the best-case scenario is to let the nations come to us. If you’ve never considered it, I recommend looking for an opportunity to host an international student for a short period of time. If you don’t have space for that, consider having them over for dinner. Most international students will never be invited to an American’s home even if they live here for years. It is a mutually beneficial situation.

The university in our area has an outstanding program for international students. They have weekly dinners and an international women’s club. They welcome people from the community, so I bring my three kids to the rec room of the international student apartments every Friday morning for the women’s meeting. All the women take turns teaching skills like cooking, knitting, scrapbooking and sewing.

So far, I have met women from India, Romania, Iraq, Turkey, Korea, China and Indonesia. There are a few other Indian boys there, so my son is learning what it feels like to be the minority. And I, as his mom, am learning what it feels like to have my child excluded because he doesn’t look like the other boys. Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Visit Another Church

My extremely white city has one black church. I visited a few months ago, grabbing my kids’ hands and nervously entering the building after the service had already started. I wondered if I’d feel out of place or unwanted. The day I visited, 40 people were in attendance and about 10 of those were white. I encountered the stereotypes of black churches—dynamic preaching with the congregation talking back, repetitive, up-beat music, a long service, fans on the pews and a fried chicken dinner after church. I loved every minute.

I didn’t mention anything about race to my son before or after and he didn’t say anything either. But it was the week after this that he first told me he couldn’t be friends with a boy because he had black skin—like those people at that church. I wanted to cry. In spite of the hours of personal research I have done on this issue, it wasn’t enough to make my son racially inclusive.

Be Proximate

Another way I’m seeking out diversity for myself and my children is to spend time where people of color hang out. Museums in Denver an hour away are filled with diversity. And some restaurants and playgrounds in town tend to have a higher percentage of non-whites than others. If I have a choice, I go to those places.

Toys, Books and T.V.

Some other small things I’m doing are to buy non-white dolls and have them watch T.V. shows and read books including people who look different from them. I’m also gearing up to have some more intentional conversations with my four-year-old about race. Until now, I haven’t wanted to shatter his innocence, but maybe I’ve resisted because there is so much shame wrapped up in talking about racial differences. Perhaps if I talk about it now with him, he will learn how to have positive conversations about differences instead of absorbing negative stereotypes on the playground. I’m planning on using some books and talking points from the resources I shared last week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Self-educate and Friendship

I’m trying to educate myself on racial issues through books, articles, podcasts and diversifying my social media. But God has also brought some women of color into my life serendipitously. We talk openly about race and I am enjoying getting to know them better.

These are just some of the ways I am trying to seek out diversity in the white bubble I’m living in. It’s not enough. And it’s embarrassing that it should take so much effort. But it’s a step. I’d love to hear some ways you are seeking diversity in your life right now. I’m certainly open to more ideas!

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

Day 11: Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race {31 Days of #WOKE}

Resources for Talking to Kids about Race, plus 10 Picture Books Featuring People of Color

My four-year-old son recently noticed that people are different colors. We visited an African American church and I decided not to mention anything about skin color beforehand. I didn’t think he noticed. But just a few days later he brought up the fact that he has “white skin” and another boy has “black skin.”

“Who told you that?” I asked. “Did you learn that in preschool?” When I was little, the term “black” confused me. I didn’t know anyone with black skin, just different shades of brown.

“He probably got that from your podcasts,” my mom suggested as I shared how his innocence had somehow been shattered.

I’m a bit obsessed with podcasts (if you haven’t noticed). I listen while I’m doing laundry, getting ready in the mornings and even in the shower (if the host has a loud enough voice–thank you, Megan Tietz of Sorta Awesome). And most of the ones I listen to these days are about race.

But in all my own self-education, I clearly haven’t done a good enough job of educating my four-year-old on this issue.

In addition to this and this list on race resources to educate yourself on race issues, The Global Mom Show Podcast recently broadcasted a few episodes on educating our children on this topic. I would highly recommend listening to these for ideas on talking to your kids about race:

Talking to Your Kids about Race, with Lucretia Berry

Talking to Your Mixed-Race Kids about Race, with Sonia Smith-Kang

 

Here are some other resources I’ve found, as well as ten picture books featuring people of color that are sitting in my Amazon shopping cart as I type this:

Websites:

Barefoot Books believes that “children need diverse, inclusive and inspiring books. This is what we’re all about. From the very beginning, our books have opened windows to other cultures and perspectives, while also providing children of all backgrounds and abilities with a much-needed mirror of their own experiences.”

Colours of Us is a website with tons of lists of multicultural book ideas as well as multicultural toys, games, puzzles and crafts.

Here Wee Read Blog 55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, by Mrs. G at Here Wee Read Blog (and another great list from the same site). Follow her on Instagram for more great book ideas.

Like Me, Like You Kids  is a place to buy toys and decorative items for kids that reflect diversity. From the site: “Our hope is to curate beautiful products that allow children of color to see themselves in the art, books and toys they interact with daily. We also hope that children of all shades would grow up appreciating the gift of diversity – like me, like you.”

Raising Race Conscious Children is “a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. The goals of these conversations are to dismantle the color-blind framework and prepare young people to work toward racial justice. If we commit to collectively trying to talk about race with young children, we can lean on one another for support as we, together, envision a world where we actively challenge racism each and every day. Many of the blog’s posts are geared toward White people but a community of guest bloggers represent diverse backgrounds and the strategies discussed may be helpful for all.” This post was especially helpful to me.

Articles:

How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism  by Kristen Howerton at her blog

What White Children Need to Know about Race, by Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli for the Independent School Magazine

5 Ways Parents Pass Down Prejudice and Racism, by Danielle Slaughter for Huffington Post

Raising Race Conscious Children by Joanna Goddard on A Cup of Jo Blog

Book Lists:

12 Books Featuring Black Fathers (for all ages)

28 Black Picture books that Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball


50+ Picture Books about Mixed Race Families 

 Children’s Books to Help Talk about Race with Kids  from an Alabama Public Library

18 Children’s Books with Characters of Color, by Joanna Goddard for her blog, A Cup of Jo 

10 Picture Books with Characters of Color (currently sitting in my Amazon shopping cart):

A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown

Beautiful, by Stacy McAnulty

The Bot that Scott Built, by Kim Norman

The Colors of Us, by Karen Katz

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson

The Lord’s Prayer, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

Happy in Our Skin, by Fran Manushkin

Psalm Twenty-Three, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

When God Made You, by Matthew Paul Turner

 

Now that my kids can talk (often more than I’d like them to), it’s time to start discussing race. My brothers and sisters of color have already had numerous conversations about this, so it’s time for me to begin planting seeds of love and tolerance before the weeds of prejudice can take root.

Join me?

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

**Contains Amazon Affiliate links

Day 9: Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1) {31 Days of #WOKE}

It is easy to be friends with people who are like us. At one time, I realized I could have traded clothes with three of my best friends—we were all runners and had similar body types, ate the same things, went to the same church, believed essentially the same things and shared a common worldview. Friendship on these terms was easy.

But my most transformational friendships have come at the cost of my comfort.

The best and worst part about living in China was visiting my students in their homes in rural areas of northwest China. They had a different way of showing hospitality to guests. Unlike the west, with our “make yourself at home” mentality, their goal was to make their visitors feel like special guests.

“Go have a rest in the living room,” they’d say, leaving me alone in a cold room on a hard couch next to the coffee table (“tea table” in China). I’d pick at oranges, dried dates and sunflower seeds as I waited. I longed to be with them in the kitchen, where laughter and delighted chatter floated from the doorway.

They would eventually emerge with plates of stir-fried spicy cabbage and lamb and steaming potatoes or with at least a hundred hand-made dumplings filled with beef and carrots. I’d eat until I was stuffed and they’d look offended when I stopped.

As a guest, I was expected to eat until I was sick. More than once, as it was nearly time for bed, my student’s mother would enter the living room with even more food and never allowed me the satisfaction of an empty bowl. I wanted to cry.

These experiences visiting small villages in China birthed many stories. But they also transported me out of the zone of my comfort into the reality of my students’ lives away from school.

Those trips obliterated my assumptions and granted me the gift of forced proximity to poverty and another way of life. I ate their food, played their card games, froze by their coal stoves, slept in their beds, met their grannies, held their nieces and nephews and borrowed their clothes.

It may sound adventurous, but I often felt so uncomfortable that I was counting the minutes until we boarded our train or bus home. I longed for my own bed, my heated apartment and the time when I could curl up under my plush throw blanket and binge-watch Alias.

But it wasn’t just physical discomfort that toppled my walls of pride and wrong assumptions. It was the discomfort of cultural confusion. I didn’t belong and constantly questioned whether or not I was acting the right way.

Operating in another culture is like having all the rules of a familiar game suddenly change, then being scolded when you make a wrong move. And yet I sensed God nudging me to choose to look stupid for the sake of relationship.

Each visit to another student’s home shattered another brick in my too-pristine wall of self-preservation and pride. It forced me to be dependent on another human being who looked, spoke, dressed and ate differently than I did.

***

The discipline of discomfort allows us to deeply know and be known by the “other.”

It is only as we are willing to deconstruct our walls and enter into the world of someone else that we will ever find friends who are different from us. And it is only then that we can begin to break down the barriers of racism, prejudice and oppression.

When we have slept in someone’s bed, we cannot accuse them of being a terrorist. When we have eaten someone’s homemade food, held their babies and joked with their grandpas, we cannot assume the worst of them.

It was easy to exercise the discipline of discomfort in China. But here in the U.S.? As we go from home to garage to car to work, grocery store, day care, school or library, then back home again, we flirt with the idea of diversity without ever entering the messy work of relationship.

Why would we choose to be uncomfortable with an unknown (and risk looking like an idiot) when we can be comfortable with someone just like us?

***

Check back tomorrow for part 2 on friendships.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.