In March of 2012, I wrote an article titled Trayvon Martin is Not Emmett Till for Urban Faith online magazine. I shared, “eventually, we will forget…Trayvon is not the modern-day Emmett Till. Our attention spans are much too short for that, and our thirst for the next trending topic is much too great. We will forget Trayvon Martin. It may not be this week, this month, or this year, but eventually we will all forget.”
Sometimes I’m wrong about things. And I hope, I am wrong about this…
That isolated statement is not the meat of the article so I encourage you read it. For at the heart of that article and this post, I’m pondering the question, “Where do we go from here?” Particularly, “What should be our response to the children and the leaders of the next generation?”
In yesterday’s post, I shared a riveting message from Dr. Howard-John Wesley titled, “When the Verdict Hurts.” In it, he challenges the congregation to bear the weight of the injustice of Trayvon’s killing correctly. My six year old daughter listened in the front row to these words that she needed to hear.
Early in the school year, she came home for kindergarten telling me she was brown and some of her other friends were white. I wondered, “Where did she get that idea.” It’s not as if she didn’t know her colors before then. She did, but someone made a point to bring to her attention that her skin color was different than her other friends. This new found awareness has presented an internal challenge for me as a parent of a little person. What conversations should we be having with our children about race? And how soon?
The Root recently published an excellent article which states, “Regardless of your child’s race, the week after the Zimmerman verdict is not time for colorblindness.” After all it is normally the nice, kind, well-meaning people who say things like, “I don’t see race” or “Will we ever get over race” or “Can we not speak about the racial or ethnic differences of people.” We say this while the more ill-intentioned, hard-hearted people are intentionally teaching racism to their children and others, thereby perpetuating the cycle. Take some time to view Anderson Cooper’s 10 minute video, “A Look at Race Relations Through a Child’s Eyes.” It reveals that children are being taught racism in their homes as every as elementary school.
Here’s the reality: Considering conversations about racial issues and racism with children is much like choosing to talk or not talk about sex and sexuality. If you—as a Christian parent, teacher, mentor, or friend—do not introduce the conversation or intentionally educate them about these important issues, someone else will and you may not like the results.
What kind of education is needed?
1. For starters, children need to see the differences in race and ethnicities, not as a divisive topic but rather beautiful reflections of God’s glory and goodness through each of us. God made some one away and some another. Within his family, his desire is for unity to be reflected through diversity. Therefore, our racial and ethnic diversity should not be ignored. God has a good purpose for our differences. When the Apostle Paul spoke to those in Athens, he said:
From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and the determined times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27 [NIV]).
2. Educate children about the histories and contributions of others who share a different background. I highly recommend that adults watch the movie, “Crash” and wrestle with the realities of the racial tensions and perceptions at work in our society. It is a tough movie to get through but necessary none-the-less.
3. Get real. Be honest about the difficulties we face as American people. When someone shares a different perspective—LISTEN.
A few months ago, my pastor preached a series on the 10 Commandments. During one of the sermons, he mentioned the police. In an effort to drive one his points home, he told the congregation something along the lines, “What do we tell our kids? We tell them that if they obey the law, they won’t have any problems.” I remember how the statement jumped out to grab me, to the point that I leaned over to my husband and said, “That’s not what we tell our kids. Certainly, not our boys.” My pastor is a white male from the boomer generation. My husband and I are both African Americans who were raised in South Carolina. Unfortunately, we are all too aware of the mistrust and injustices between police and African Americans across the country. Police officers are still stopping black people on the streets and harassing young black men and throwing them in jail for lengthy sentences.
We tell our boys to respect the police, and we will also add several unspoken rules to that list like: “When confronted by the police, don’t make any sudden movements.” If one of my white friends gets pulled over by the police, they may open their glove compartment to obtain their registration right away. If in the same situation, I would instruct a young black man to wait for the police to approach the car, keep his hands on the steering wheel and then wait for the police’s instruction or ask for permission to obtain his driver’s license and registration. Don’t reach for anything without first asking permission.
4. Teach and practice love, not hate. Don’t lose hope.
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013