Day 29: Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids {31 Days of #WOKE}

I had this conversation yesterday with my 4 1/2 year old son and 2 1/2 year old daughter. They had never read this book before and were excited to read it together. Here is the truncated transcript of the video of us reading the book together:

 

[Look at the cover of the book Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.]

Me: “This book cover has lots of different kinds of kids on it. How do they look different? What are they doing?”

Son: “Silly things!”

Me: “Like what?”

Son: I don’t know. She’s all dirty and laughing. And she is …. no one knows. He’s playing pirates.”

Me: Do any of these kids look like you guys?

Daughter: That’s E and that’s me!

Me: The pirate and the girl with the baseball cap? Do any of them look like you guys?

D: That one looks like me.

S: That one looks like me. Cause it has white skin. That means it’s me.

Me: But is your skin “white”? This is white, right? This cover [pointing at white duvet cover]. Is your skin the color of this?

S: But what is my color? [lifting up his shirt] Yeah, what is this color? [pointing at stomach]

Me: This is “peach”…is what we call our skin color. But we sometimes call our color “white.” And then what do people call this color? [point at African American kid in book]

S: Black.

Me: But is she really black? Is her skin black?

S: BROWN!

Me: So actually even your skin is even a tiny little bit brown. Do you know why we have different color skin? Because God made us different. We all have something in our skin called melanin. Can you say melanin?

S: Melanin.

Me: And that’s what makes our skin different colors. So if you’re white you don’t have a lot of melanin. But if you’re what we call black, then you have a lot of melanin.

S: What IS melanin?

Me: It’s just like a special thing that’s in our skin that makes our skin different colors. So some people are what we call “white,” which is what we are.

S: Do I have that…that…word? Do I have…

Me: Melanin? Yep, we all do.

S: [High-pitched voice] I have melanin?

Me: Actually, when you go out in the sun, it brings out the melanin, so we can be even darker. In sun sometimes our skin turns even a little browner. So in the summer our skin is more brown.

Me: So do you have any friends that are black? Do you know any kids that are brown colored?

S: One.

Me: Who is it?

S: C–

Me: Yep. So C– has more melanin in his skin.

S: I have more melanin.

Me: You have less melanin.

S: What does “less” mean?

Me: Not as much.

S: I have SO MUCH!

[I laugh.]

Me: Let’s read a book.

[Begin reading the book together, asking questions and talking about the pictures.]

Me: So this girl looks a little different, too. What does she look like? [point to Asian girl in picture]

S: She looks like what?

Me: Well, you know how mommy has some Chinese friends? And we speak Chinese together?

S: Yeah.

Me: So this girl looks Chinese, which means she’s “Asian.” So their skin is a little bit white, but it’s also a little bit brown.

D: Read it!

[Continue reading and talking about the pictures and words in the book. I ask what the kids were doing in the pictures and make connections to our lives.]

Me: They all have different kinds of hair, don’t they? So everyone has different kinds of hair, too. It’s all beautiful.

[Continue reading]

Me: [Point at another picture of a black child in the book.] Sometimes, also, when people have brown skin, we call them “African American.”

S: I found an African American! And another African American!

Me: Uh huh. “African American” is what we sometimes call people.

D: And MORE African American. [pointing]

S: Noo. She’s not African American.

[Continue reading, talking and answering many many questions.]

Me: [Reading end of book] “Because they make the world…”

S: Different Colors!

Me: Different Colors. And different colors is better than one color, isn’t it?

[They ask MORE questions about the pictures–unrelated to race.]

Me: [Finish reading.] “Beautiful!” Don’t you think they make the world beautiful? Just like you guys.

Reflection:

I felt like this conversation went really well. My son already knew the terminology “white” and “black,” though I’m not sure where he got it from (possibly from the hours of podcasts I listen to on this topic …). But it was refreshing to talk about how to describe people in a non-threatening, matter-of-fact way. From now on, I’ll try to be more intentional about talking about race as we read books together.

Have you had a conversation like this with your kids? Do you have any other recommendations for me? I’m sure it’s the first of many talks, so there is always room for improvement!

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

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.

 

 

Day 25: Divided by Faith {31 Days of #WOKE}

I have a confession: I choose my Twitter friends based on the color of their skin. Admittedly, this is reverse racism of sorts, but it is the best way I have found to hear the thoughts of people who are underrepresented in my daily life.

Since the election, the collective cry resounding from my Twitter feed is that people of color feel angry and scared, but also betrayed by the white evangelical church, who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump.

I picked up Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America at exactly the right time. Divided by Faith is a highly researched book digging into the racial divide in our country, but especially as it pertains to the evangelical church. As a culture geek, this was exactly the analysis I was looking for. The book digs into the history of race relations in the church in the United States including the responses of “the greats” like D.L. Moody and Billy Graham towards the racial inequities of their time.

In a national survey of over 2,500 Americans, only 4 percent of white Protestants named racism as an issue. In contrast, a third of African-American Protestants cited racism, with one-quarter naming it as the single most important issue for Christians to address.” (p. 87) The book confronts this discrepancy head-on.

Here are some parts of the book that stood out to me:

“Most evangelicals, even in the North, did not think it their duty to oppose segregation; it was enough to treat blacks they knew personally with courtesy and fairness.” (p. 75)

Early leaders developed four major steps to achieve racial reconciliation:

  1. “Individuals of different races must develop primary relationships with each other.”
  2. “People must recognize social structures of inequality and that all Christians must resist them together. These structures include … unequal access to quality education and housing.”
  3. “Whites, as the main creators and benefactors of the racialized society, must repent of their personal, historical and social sins.”
  4. “African Americans must be willing, when whites ask, to forgive them individually and corporately. Blacks must repent of their anger and whatever hatred they hold towards whites in the system.” (p. 54-55)

Divided by Faith emphasizes the individualism of white evangelicals, pointing out that most do not recognize structural racism. This paragraph gives a good summary of the findings of numerous surveys and interviews conducted by researchers of this book:

“Because the vast majority of white evangelicals do not directly witness individual-level prejudice (with the exception of some relatives who used the “N” word occasionally), the race problem simply cannot be as large an issue as some make it to be. Granted it was a problem in the past, and a residue may remain today because orginal sin remains, but the race problem is not severe. A number of respondents, as a result of their isolation and cultural tool kit, stated that the race problem was overblown, exaggerated by vested interests. A common theme was that the media exaggerated the race problem.” (p. 81)

“One consequence of thoroughgoing evangelical individualism is a tendency to be ahistorical, to not grasp fully how history has an influence on the present.” (p. 81)

“After hundreds of years of efforts, far from being brought closer together, white and black evangelicals, and Americans in general, are widely separated, perceiving and experiencing the world in very different ways.” (p. 88)

This letter from the book exemplifies why I am writing this series:

Letter from Christianity Today, 1971 (p. 57)

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

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.

Day 22: Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2) {31 Days of #WOKE}

Nikole Hannah-Jones is my hero. Haven’t heard of her? Well, do any Google search including the words “school segregation” or “school integration” and you will likely find an article written by her.

The first time I heard of Nikole was on a This American Life Podcast called “The Problem We All Live With,” a two part-er about the benefits of school integration. (If you haven’t listened to it, please download it right now). Having grown up in an aggressive desegregation program in the public school system in Tampa, Florida, then teaching in the city of Chicago, I felt like someone finally outfitted my blurry eyes with the correct prescription glasses for my horrible vision.

I could see.

Since listening to that podcast and a few others, I have been on my own journey towards sight. But I recently heard her on another NPR podcast, Fresh Air, this time talking about intentionally sending her own daughter to a segregated school.

I surprised my family the day I heard that podcast. I listened while chopping apples for oatmeal while my husband got the children dressed.

“YES!” I yelled out. “YES!” ‘

“What?” my husband said, coming down the stairs with our two-year-old on his hip.

“This.” I said, pointing to the voice on my phone. “Her.” I pushed pause and hit rewind for the fourth time. You have to hear this,” I said. Nikole’s voice rang into the kitchen.

“And I say this — and it always feels weird when I say it as a parent, because a lot of other parents look at you a little like you’re maybe not as good of a parent — I don’t think she’s deserving of more than other kids. I just don’t. I think that we can’t say “This school is not good enough for my child” and then sustain that system. I think that that’s just morally wrong. If it’s not good enough for my child, then why are we putting any children in those schools?”

My husband looked at me quizzically. “That last part,” I said. “Listen again.”

If it’s not good enough for my child, then WHY are we putting ANY children in those schools?

***

My first year teaching, in 2002, I taught in a school that was 100 percent African American. The students there had no memory of a white student ever attending. When I taught there, I drove from the diverse north side of the city to the west side of Chicago, a neighborhood called North Lawndale with very few white residents. You can read about my first year teaching back on day two, but I ended up substitute teaching in a different school in the north side every day for two months after teaching in Lawndale. I eventually taught for four years in another north side school in a mainly white area.

Though I’d hardly call the north side schools flashy, I could see a marked difference in the amount of resources available to the schools who had majority white populations. Parents were more involved, more demanding and had a say in the governance of the school. They knew how to pull strings.

As a teacher, you feel trapped in the system. You work hard, love the faces in front of you and fight for justice in your small square. But as a (white) parent, I feel I am holding more of the cards. Now I can choose. Where do I want to send my children? How involved do I want to be in the school? What “rights” do I want to fight for?

I have the power to stay or go.

But I am not only a (former) teacher and current parent, I am also a follower of Christ. So in that way, shouldn’t my demands be different? Shouldn’t my view of my neighbor shift? Shouldn’t my faith move mountains and my love destroy walls?

Deep down, do I believe my children deserve more than other children? And if I find that voice whispering deep in my subconscious, do I have the courage to confront it and ask where it is coming from?

Things get real when it comes to our kids.

Here are some questions I’ve been grappling with lately:

Would I be willing to send my children to a failing school, trusting that they would get enough of what’s lacking from the ways our family would supplement their education?

Would I be willing to send my children to a school where they would be the minority (which will remain hypothetical in my case right now, since the city where we live is majority white)?

Would I be willing to send my children to a school in an unsafe neighborhood?

And if I answer “no,” to any of these, would I be willing to back up my answer with the Bible? Would I have the courage to ask “why” I wouldn’t be willing–from a Jesus-loving/following point of view?

I’d love to hear someone else’s perspective on all of this, so join the conversation in the comments section. I may attempt to address these questions in the days and weeks to come.

***

Here are some other articles by Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City, for The New York Times Magazine (June 9, 2016)

Segregation Now, for ProPublica (fall down the ultimate rabbit hole and get lost in the comments on this one!)

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.

Day 20: The Problem with the Wordless Book {31 Days of #WOKE}

“The black represents sin, red is the blood of Jesus, which brings us to the next bead—white, when we are washed clean of our sin.”

We sat in pairs and prepared to share the gospel by color. I was 16 and going on my first mission trip to Costa Rica. Our church youth group had practiced our mime for months—an allegory of the story of Jesus–and our bags were loaded with extra Bibles in Spanish. We all memorized some basic Spanish so we could share the gospel as we gave away bracelets with colored beads, called “Power Bands.”

This method of evangelism, a bracelet version of the “Wordless Book” has been an evangelistic tool since the end of the nineteenth century. It is said to have been invented by the famous English preacher, Charles Spurgeon. In this method, each color represents an aspect of the gospel. The Teen Missions website gives the following guide:

Each color of the Wordless Book / Wordless Bracelet represents an important Bible truth about Salvation

BLACKSin  Romans 3:23 | All have sinned

RED Blood  I John 1:7 | Jesus’ blood covers all sin

WHITE Pure Psalm 51:7 | Jesus washes away confessed sin

YELLOW Heaven John 14:2 | Believe on Jesus and receive Eternal Life

GREEN Grow 2 Peter 3:18 | Grow in the knowledge of the Lord

In a sermon delivered in 1866, Spurgeon read the verse : “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7), then shared:

“There is something about this in the text, for the person who used this prayer said, “Wash me,” so he was black and needed to be washed; and the blackness was of such a peculiar kind that a miracle was needed to cleanse it away, so that the one who had been black would become white, and so white that he would be “whiter than snow.”

If I were in the presence of an African American as this sermon was delivered, I would certainly be cringing every time the word “black” was spoken.

The imagery of purity being associated with the color white and sin or evil being associated with the color black is commonplace in western culture. But what is happening at the level of our subconscious when we associate “black” with sin and “white” with purity and then turn around and categorize one another as “white” and “black”?

I can hear the naysayers now:

“Don’t be so touchy.”

“Does everything have to be about race?”

But as a mother, I have to wonder what my children internalize when they are taught that black is sin and white is purity.  Which color would you rather be?

Perhaps it is time to abandon the Wordless Book.

If you were (or are) a person of color, how would it make you feel to sing the following song (as is recommended by websites advocating the Wordless Book):

“Wordless Book” Song by Frances M. Johnston

(Show the colors as you sing.) 

(Black) My heart was dark with sin until the Savior came in.

(Red) His precious blood I know

(White) Has washed it white as snow.

(Gold) And in His Word I’m told I’ll walk the streets of gold.

(Green) To grow in Christ each day I read the Bible and pray.

Along with the fact that this method implies that black is bad and white is good, another problem with the Wordless Book is that our associations with color are not universal. When I lived in China, for example, I learned that white is the color of death and used in funerals and red symbolizes good fortune. In this regard, short term missionaries can sometimes do more harm than good when they fail to study language and culture before trying to share Christ in a foreign land.

We can do damage when we assume our western symbols are universal. Using the Wordless Book in a place like China would be nothing more than confusing (which is interesting since according to Wikipedia at least, it was used by China Inland Mission and missionary Hudson Taylor in China).

Open-air preaching in China using the Wordless Book

So what are some alternatives?

Rather than using colors, some people use the metaphors of being “dirty” and “clean,” utilizing object lessons like a dirty T-shirt washed clean to present the truth of salvation. Another alternative is to use the more biblical language of “light” and “darkness” when talking about sin and salvation. Though the Bible uses the word “white” in reference to purity, it never uses the word “black” to describe sin. The closest the Bible comes to color-coding sin is in Isaiah 1:18 that says “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

God can and does use even our faulty methods to share His love. But if there is any chance that our methods offend, confuse, belittle or perpetuate stereotypes, then perhaps we should abandon them for the sake of unity.

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.

 

Images: 1) Bracelets  2) Open-air preaching in China

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 17: Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call {Guest Post for 31 Days of #WOKE}

 

By Tasha Burgoyne | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

(This post first appeared on Tasha’s site Coffee and Kimchi in July of 2016, but is still very relevant now. She shared it with me recently and agreed to republish it in this series. Be sure you head over and check out her site!)

My Existence: Formerly Against the Law

50 years ago, the country I was born in had laws in place to prevent my birth. With a righteous-sounding title like “The Racial Integrity Act,” racism was formalized and normalized in the United States of America, and up until 1967 there were still 15 states that had anti-miscegenation laws.

Miscegenation means, “the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.”  Does that make anyone else want to cringe? So, it was illegal for a white person to marry a non-white person.

The first time I read about The Racial Integrity Act of 1924, I cried. Evil, oppressive and dark, the laws were similar to the Nuremberg Laws in Germany, “laws to protect German blood and honor,” that led to the Holocaust itself.  Some of the very same ideology and blatant racism was written into the American laws to “protect whiteness.”

I find it ironic that some of America’s beloved Hollywood films throughout history have made a point to further vilify some villains on screen with thick German accents (and this still happens today). Yet, America had Nazi-like laws in place long after the Holocaust.

It wasn’t until June of 1967, because of Loving vs. Virginia, that the Supreme Court decided to remove all existing laws that prohibit interracial marriage. My parents were married in 1971 in California. While it had been legal in California since 1948, it’s hard for me to comprehend that in many states, just 4 years prior, my parents’ marriage would have been illegal.

Can you imagine for a second what it feels like to know that there were laws in your own country to prohibit someone like you from existing?

100% Both

As a mixed person, I am not one or the other; I am both. 100% both. I have spent time wishing I was one or the other. I have spent years ashamed of one or the other, or the fact that I was both.

Today, I refuse to linger in that division. No matter what laws have been removed or put into place, and though progress has been made, reconciliation is the only thing that I believe will bring true, lasting change. In the simplest terms, reconciliation starts with moving towards different in honesty and humility 

As a mixed person, my own personal reconciliation has had to begin with moving towards the different inside of me.

This takes on even more significance when I consider that mixed race individuals are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. How will we model reconciliation for future biracial generations? What example will they give an even more mixed generation that follows them?

After the horrific events that took place in our country last week, I realize that I am no expert on racism. I can’t speak to the black experience as if I know what my African American brothers and sisters have long endured because of institutional racism. However, I can speak-up for the value of life and the fact that black lives have been under attack and oppressed by systemic racism for as long as our country has had a history.

I can’t speak to what it must feel like to be a white police officer in our country, working under the weight of reverse racism. However, I can speak-up against reverse racism and the fact that it has attacked our nation by taking the lives of those who serve Americans in one of the most courageous ways. What I have personally experienced as a biracial Asian American pales in comparison to these recent heart-breaking tragedies and the people connected to them.

But here’s the thing. What took place this past week isn’t a new thing. The evil of racism has been here, laying right under the surface of everyday life, kept alive in part, because so many of us avoid moving towards different and the responsibility of reconciliation.

I have been told that I should just let little things go when it comes to racist remarks or incidents. People have said “most aren’t that way,” or, “they didn’t really mean it like that,” as a way to brush off seemingly little offenses. I have tried those responses and I wish they worked. They don’t work. Brushing things off in order to avoid the hard work of reconciliation feeds and waters the thick, growing weed of racism.

A “good” kid made slanted eye faces at me when I was little, and an entire generation later, my 2nd grader tells me that this has happened on his elementary school playground. I am not sure what hurts me more: my personal memories of a classmate pulling the corners of his eyelids back and laughing, or hearing that my son has experienced the same thing.

I have heard careless comments about the foods I grew up eating, foods that come with the stories of my mother’s upbringing and culture.  I’ve watched people turn their noses up in disgust at particular Asian foods until it became trendy; those same people later ended up in watered-down “ethnic” restaurants taking selfies, while remaining blind to and unapologetic for their duplicity.

I have tried to understand how white (and Christian) friends can laugh while watching A Christmas Story and claim it to be their favorite Christmas movie, when it has a deliberately racist scene in it. I was introduced to this movie at a church youth group gathering of all places. Did you know that the Asian actors in the Chinese restaurant scene didn’t even know they would be singing mispronounced Christmas carols? Asian Americans are not a comedic prop for the larger majority of Americans.

It wouldn’t be right if I just listed the racism I have experienced from the majority white culture. Other Asian Americans have told me that I’m not a real Asian. I’ve been uninvited by a group of Korean Americans because I couldn’t speak Korean. And beyond our country’s borders, I have seen racism between a lot of different colors. In Asia, I have been told that I am too dark-skinned to be Asian. And when I was 7 years old, my sister and I were spit on by a group of teenage boys on a sidewalk in Seoul, because we were mixed.

Facing Racism and Choosing Reconciliation

Racism is everywhere. Even in me. I have seen it in my own thoughts, in my silence, in my reasons and in my own words. Until you and I are willing to face and admit our part in keeping racism alive, it will continue to linger and lay under the surface in our hearts, families, communities, churches and future.  Do not believe the lie that racism can be covered up or contained. Do not believe that by segregating ourselves, we will stay safe and keep our hearts sanitized from the sin of racism.

As a Christ-follower, ignoring and avoiding the broken place of racism isn’t an option. As an American mother, I refuse to model silence, fear and separation. I intend to make it a priority to teach my sons what it means to stand up against racism and move towards reconciliation.

As an adoptive mother, I refuse to raise my Korean daughter with the marching orders to assimilate and keep the majority or minority boat from rocking. I intend to teach her to celebrate and move towards the different in her own identity and in the world.

As the daughter of a white man and wife of another white man, I will not encourage reverse racism as an acceptable or better form of racism. As a follower of Jesus, I am committed to move towards the different because Jesus modeled this.  Not only did Jesus choose a minority and oppressed people to be born into and live among, He consistently moved towards different in his day. He has promised that he is preparing a place for His people: a global and colorful people of every nation, tribe, and language.

If God wanted us to be colorblind, he wouldn’t have created the visible beauty and diversity of color among us.

 He made us to notice our racial differences, celebrate our racial differences, see and worship Him TOGETHER in those differences.

 

About Tasha:

Tasha is a wife, a mama, a hapa and a french fries connoisseur.  She’s a writer and a dreamer, a coffee-drinker and a kimchi-eater.  She was made to walk where cultures collide on both dirt roads and carefully placed cobblestone streets.  Jesus is her heartbeat. Follow her on:  Her Blog | Twitter | Facebook

 

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.

 

Day 15: White in Uganda {31 Days of #WOKE}

White in Uganda: What I learned about "whiteness" through living six months in Uganda.
by Leslie Verner

Uganda hoisted a mirror in front of my face, reflecting my whiteness back to me. In the six months I was there, from July to December of 2000, I began seeing and knowing myself–and all the hidden baggage my race represented.

I rode three different taxis home from work in the congested city of Kampala, Uganda, to our village on the outskirts of the city. At first, my host mother accompanied me, but I eventually mustered the courage to do it alone. Clambering out of the taxi van, I walked the final fourth of a mile home down the dusty orange road guarded by banana trees with huge waxy leaves. The children were already waiting for me.

Muzungu, muzungu! Give me money!” They stroked my arms, remarking on my “feathers,” and each one grabbed a finger to escort me the final way home.

Our home was the nicest in the village. Though it didn’t have running water, we had electricity, four solid brick walls around the yard and a large metal gate to protect us from “robbers.” My host mom indicated that they were putting themselves in greater danger because thieves would assume they were housing a rich foreigner.

Though Kampala had many expats, I wasn’t interested in meeting them. I was one of 21 interns dispersed around the globe in a variety of developing countries with the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program at Wheaton College. The purpose wasn’t to be helpful, travel or even make a huge impact (though we hoped that would happen, too), but simply to observe, listen and learn about the culture. Because of this, we were discouraged from spending too much time with other expats.

Sitting cross-legged on the bed in my tiny room before dinner, I flipped through the guide book I had brought along and reviewed the history. Besides the undercurrent of fear (Uganda had come out of a bloody civil war just a few years before), I was curious about the assumptions others made about me because I was white. Though I was a student, they assumed I was rich. How else could I afford to fly here? But in working at the all-Ugandan organization, I also sensed a hesitation to allow me to do useful work.

I paused after rereading that Uganda had been a protectorate of the British government from 1894 to 1962. My only context for colonization was reading and watching the film Out of Africa, a book published in 1937, but taking place in the early 1900’s about a woman from Denmark moving to east Africa to start a coffee plantation. The film glamorized life as a white woman living in colonial Africa.

But as a white woman in Uganda, I sensed that I was not trusted. It had only been 38 years since the country had been liberated from the rule of whites. Though I was not British and had nothing to do with the history of imperialism in Africa, I was still snagged in the web.

Along with a feeling of distrust, I also noticed a hardly veiled acceptance of white supremacy. Attending a graduation ceremony, I was asked to stand as I was the “honored guest.” At a Christian meeting at the university that was attended by several hundred students, I was asked to give an impromptu speech. At church services, I was ushered to the front for VIP seating. At a ceremony celebrating the development of a local non-profit that I attended in a village several hours away, the news camera stayed fixed on me even though I had nothing to do with any of it.

To be white was to be noticed, honored and lauded.

An article written 14 years after I lived in Uganda, “Shell and Bolton’s Discriminatory Advert in Uganda Highlights the Problems of Race in Africa talks about an overtly racist advertisement asking specifically for white applicants. In it, the author suggests that “privileging of people based on their skin color has permeated all aspects of African societies.”

And in a Lonely Planet forum, a traveler asked the question: “What is the attitude of the locals towards whites, especially in rural areas? Is there any kind of resentment or xenophobia?” One answer was as follows: “If you are Asian (especially Indian, but they throw all Asians in the same bag), it is pretty racist, but you’ll be fine. If you are Caucasian, they’ll love ya.” Also on this forum was a discussion about certain clubs and restaurants that were only for white expats, not for Ugandans.

Although I often resented the stereotypes my African friends had about muzungus, being in Uganda was the first time I noticed my own whiteness and the effect it had on the people around me. Unlike most Americans, my African family ate at different times of day, exchanged elaborate greetings in passing, viewed time and relationships differently and completed ordinary tasks in ways that often seemed bizarre to me.

A white shape snipped from the page of white culture and pasted onto a canvas splashed with exotic colors and textures, I finally saw my own race.

To be white was to be suspected. To be white was to be feared. And yet to be white was to be envied.

I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw in the mirror.

***

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about being white in China, so be sure to come back and join in the story-telling.

Have you ever lived abroad? What did you learn about your home culture through that experience?

If colonialism is still an undercurrent in Uganda and other African countries, how much is segregation, Jim Crow and slavery still leaking into our thinking in the United States today?

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.

Day 14: The Culture of Whiteness {31 Days of #WOKE}

“The colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people will ever know and understand themselves.”
–James Weldon Johnson, poet and anthologist (1912)

 

The one African American on my all-white team in China had this little book in her apartment called Stuff White People Like. Flipping through, it was hard to disagree with some of the stereotypes. Amazon describes it like this:

“They love nothing better than sipping free-trade gourmet coffee … Apple products, indie music, food co-ops, and vintage T-shirts make them weak in the knees.

They believe they’re unique, yet somehow they’re all exactly the same … They’re also down with diversity and up on all the best microbrews, breakfast spots, foreign cinema, and authentic sushi. They’re organic, ironic, and do not own TVs.

You know who they are: They’re white people. And they’re here, and you’re gonna have to deal. Fortunately, here’s a book that investigates, explains, and offers advice for finding social success with the Caucasian persuasion. So kick back on your IKEA couch and lose yourself in the ultimate guide to the unbearable whiteness of being.”

White people don’t usually think about the culture of whiteness. We think the way we operate is the way everyone operates–or at least the way everyone should operate.

But can “whiteness” really be defined?

Our families are our first introduction to culture, yet it only takes one sleepover or meal at another person’s house to discover our differences—the way we fold laundry, put the dishes in the dishwasher, take shoes off at the door (or not), have the T.V. front and center in the living room or not visible at all, toys scattered around the house or relegated to the toy room in the basement. “Whiteness” is not the same across the board.

College may be our next crash-course in understanding our personal white culture. I traveled from Florida to attend college in the Midwest and my roommates laughed at my strange way of talking (mainly thanks to my mother from Georgia). I quickly changed “neck-ed” to “NAKE-ed” and altered the way I said “ruin” and “poem” as I realized I was at high risk of mockery. I can’t tell you how many dorm room conversations we had that went something like this:

“How do you say that [pointing at the bottle on the desk]?”

“Pop. What do YOU say?”

“I say soda. YOU?”

“That’s a Coke—but even if it were a Dr. Pepper, I’d still call it a ‘Coke.’”

The nuances of the English language provided hours of hilarity.

Marriage is also an on-going experiment in realizing how different we are from another human being. I was appalled to discover my husband hung his clothes in the closet facing right, while I have always hung mine the “right” way—facing left.

I squeeze every ounce out of the toothpaste tube, while he wastes at least a week’s worth of toothpaste in favor of a fresh tube. He likes to arrive to parties fifteen minutes early, I like to arrive five minutes late. (“People hate it when you get there early!” I always tell him.) I’m fine going to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes, while he would rather stay up late to fall in bed knowing a clean kitchen awaits him in the morning. The backdrop of life with another person highlights the myriad ways we are different.

White in Chicago differed from white in Georgia, Florida, New Jersey or Washington State (all places my relatives lived). Now that we live in Colorado, whiteness looks like moms in wild leggings, crowded hiking trails, craft beer and bicycles with trailers to haul babies around. But liberal Boulder is drastically different from the ranching cities dotting the plains on the east end of the state.

My sleepy Colorado city—the last stoplight before ascending the canyon to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park– looks like drive-through liquor stores, shops called “One Love” and “Hazy Hippo” selling pot paraphernalia and loud pickup trucks. And yet, as a hub for over 200 artists, it is also characterized by hundreds of sculptures scattered throughout the city. “Whiteness” cannot be so easily defined.

Until you become a minority.

Then you discover a few things about what it means to be “white” …

Over the next couple days, I’ll reflect on some lessons I learned about whiteness through the times I have been a minority, so be sure you come back tomorrow!

What does “whiteness” look like where you live?

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.

Day 12: Just Mercy {31 Days of #WOKE}

This book changed my life. I tell everyone who will listen to read Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.

“You won’t enjoy it,” I say. “In fact you may even hate it. But to be a responsible human being, you should read it–in a ‘everyone should watch Schindler’s List‘ kind of way.”

As of today, Just Mercy has five out of five stars on Amazon, a composite of 2,292 reviews.

Sot it’s not just me.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.” (p. 15 emphasis mine)

“Some states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults; we’ve sent a quarter million kids to adult jails and prisons to serve long prison terms, some under the age of twelve.” (p. 15 emphasis mine)

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” (p. 17-18)

“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” (p. 18)

“Most incarcerated women–nearly two-thirds–are in prison for nonviolent, low-level drug crimes or property crimes. Drug laws in particular have had a huge impact on the number of women sent to prison … one of the first incarcerated women I ever met was a young mother who was serving a long prison sentence for writing checks to buy her three young children Christmas gifts without sufficient funds in her account.” (p. 236)

“In 1996, Congress passed welfare reform legislation that gratuitously included a provision that authorized states to ban people with drug convictions from public benefits and welfare. The population most affected by this misguided law is formerly incarcerated women with children, most of whom were imprisoned for drug crimes. These women and their children can no longer live in public housing, receive food stamps, or access basic services. In the last twenty years, we’ve created a new class of ‘untouchables’ in American society, made up of our most vulnerable mothers and their children.” (p. 237 emphasis mine)

***

Bryan Stevenson couched the above statistics within the narrative of one larger story–that of a man condemned to death row. But each chapter supports his story arc with many different personal stories of his clients. So don’t expect a dry read as you pick up this book, but do expect to have an emotional connection to the people you meet in its pages.

Expect to be changed.

I wrote out some questions for group discussion for my book club that you are welcome to use. You can find them here.

I also went to hear Bryan Stevenson speak in the fall. You can read my notes on his talk here.

A great companion to reading this book is the documentary currently showing on Netflix called 13th. It features Bryan Stevenson as well as many other justice warriors.

What other books on the issue of racial justice have been transformational for you?

If you read Just Mercy, I’d love to hear how you liked it in the comments section!

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.

**includes Amazon affiliate links

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