When I was in my 20s, I was out shopping with a friend in Washington, D.C. As part of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, I was working at a post-residential treatment shelter for homeless women in recovery from substance abuse. But on that day, my day off, I was out with Sharon, one of my supervisors and mentors.
We walked into a boutique, and the saleswoman walked up to me — just me — and asked if she could help me. And I was floored — Sharon was the one with the income, the responsibility, the purchasing power. And Sharon was Black. That was my first experience clearly recognizing the unearned privilege I have in this world.
I spent three hours this morning in a group of about 15 people facilitating conversation about race and how we talk with kids about race and racism. And I walked away feeling encouraged. We shared stories, questions, concerns, ideas. And the conversation was lively and heartfelt.
This is a passion of mine, for lots of reasons. I work in a really diverse environment. There are people I love dearly in my family and community who have been and probably will continue to be deeply negatively impact by the racist structures that surround us. I’m part of a church system that is the whitest church in the country, and I want us to look more like the communities in which we exist.
So it encouraged me a lot to be in a group that was mostly, but not all Lutheran. Mostly, but not all white. Mostly, but not all straight. We were parents, teachers, grandparents, pastors, aunts and uncles, and most of all, people who care about the future of young people and our communities.
We talked about why “colorblindness” isn’t a helpful strategy for us or for kids — in her new book “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America,” Jennifer Harvey notes that
Equality is an important aspiration. It is a value many of us long to implement. But it is a very abstract notion. When it’s used as a way to teach race it becomes an empty mantra. As I often say to my college students, ‘Yes, we’re all human, at our core. But have you ever met another human who had no race, no gender, no sex, no class, and so on?’ They always answer no. ‘That’s right,’ I respond, ‘the only way we show that we actually respect our shared humanity, is by taking people’s specific, diverse experiences of their humanity very seriously.’
We also talked about a lot of strategies … a great list of ideas we used came from here.
We plan to offer this again. Soon there will be an opportunity to be part of an online group reading Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race.
But in the meantime, where do YOU think this conversation needs to go? What would you participate in? How can we further these conversations and growth toward a racially just community and world?