Talking to your child about race
Another incident has fanned the flame of racial tension and inequity. Your child sees the images on television, reads angry comments on social media or simply hears friends talking about the fallout.
Or perhaps your child repeats a racial slur heard at school and asks you what it means.
Maybe you’ve adopted a child from a different racial background, prompting questioning stares from strangers or insensitive remarks from friends.
Even worse, your child may have experienced the ugly reality of racism in a personal, hurtful way.
How do you talk to a young child about matters that should not exist, but very much do?
Christian parents have a responsibility to help their children understand race, human dignity and reconciliation from a biblical perspective. Rather than a one-time discussion, make it an ongoing conversation in light of five foundational realities.
How to discuss race?
EVERYONE HAS EQUAL WORTH AND DIGNITY
Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. This is what gives each person worth. Not their appearance, abilities or accomplishments. The value system of our world is unlike God’s value system. As the Bible says in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This is why we insist on treating every person with respect and dignity.
WE HAVE SIN IN OUR HEARTS
The Bible tells us about a universal “disease” when it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (See Romans 3:23) This includes kids at school, political leaders, entertainers, police officers, pastors and parents. One way we “fall short” is by accepting or participating in the sin of racism. Children need to hear their parents, for example, overtly condemn rather than ignore or excuse racial slurs and racially motivated hatred.
It can be a mistake to passively dismiss racism by claiming to be “colorblind” when the goal is to help your child celebrate the beauty of all colors and the rich diversity within our shared human race. Viewing any person as less valuable than yourself is wrong. We should worship God for His amazing creativity rather than mistrust, fear or disrespect someone just because they have a different skin color.
One sad reality of living in a fallen world is that no matter how much progress is made or time passes, there will always be a segment of the population who act out hatred. Some hate due to feelings of racial superiority. Others hate out of anger for past injustices or offense. Neither is fitting for a follower of Jesus Christ.
Sin has been spoiling our world for many generations, something clearly evident in history as one group enslaved, intimidated or killed another. Starting at a young age, children encounter the dark side of human history which includes an African slave trade, colonial exploitation, the Holocaust and Jim Crow laws. We need to give them a way to reconcile such evils with belief in a good God.
Parents should avoid the temptation to “ignore the past and move on” for two reasons. First, those who ignore the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Second, humility demands that we recognize that some of us experience economic and other advantages that we didn’t earn while others face obstacles that they didn’t create due to the long-term impact of racial inequality and injustice.
Giving children a biblical perspective can help them avoid being disillusioned when they encounter such dreadful historical realities in school, books, films or other places. They can process what they see and hear in light of Christian theology that tells us we live in a fallen world and that there are serious, multi-generational consequences of sin that are not part of God’s original plan.