Category: Books

Raising White Kids

I was in a heated conversation recently with someone close to me about race and privilege. Heated, because this topic is so important to me — I desperately want this world to be a better and more just place for all people, but especially for our children — for my nephew and niece, my neighbors, the children of the chaplains I work with, the children I meet at the hospital. And as I tried to answer my friend’s questions, I thought about a new resource I love, the book Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, by Jennifer Harvey (Abington Press: Nashville, TN, 2017)

I don’t have kids.

But I love kids, and love people with kids — I’m an aunt, and spent many years as a children’s hospital chaplain.

And the kids I love, and the kids loved by people dear to me, span a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I’ve lived and traveled in diverse places, calling home Washington, D.C.; Berkeley, California; and Anchorage, Alaska. One of my passions is teaching about cross cultural communication, anti-racism work and recognizing privilege.

In February, Lutheran colleagues and I facilitated a workshop on “Talking about Race in our Families.” We had rich conversation with a dozen or so people, who shared stories, opened hearts and exchanged ideas. And the kids, who had their own activities, reminded us that “When we know better, we do better!”

A few days before the workshop, we found this book, and I love it. The author highlights:

  • why “colorblindness” doesn’t work.
  • the importance of normalizing conversations that involve race and difference
  • that racism is structural, not just how each of us individually perceives and responds to others
  • the importance of equipping our kids to be able to talk about and think about race — not as dangerous thing but as one of the many things that make each of us unique. And that includes helping white kids conceptualize what it means to be white
  • so many concrete examples of ways to respond to kids’ questions and to encourage normalized conversation about race, along with the acknowledgement that this can feel really awkward and hard at times.

Harvey writes, “We need to be authentic and teach our white kids about racism, but be mindful of doing so in ways that enable agency and not despair. We need to feed their sense of purpose and capacity in this regard. It seems to me they need to have a sense of hope and possibility; a vision of the kind of world they want to live in and a sense that their behavior and actions can help create that world.” (P. 162)

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I love the hopefulness and potential for change and action that Harvey brings to her writing. Unfortunately, so many conversations around race, for white people, become quickly infused with defensiveness, frustration and helplessness — Harvey offers different options.

She also notes that “white students don’t have an embraceable, positive, meaningful racial identity in a context where everyone else gets to have one. As a result they become deeply alienated from the whole enterprise of diversity — and, I would add, by extension they become alienated from commitments to racial justice (p. 220).”

Harvey recommends that “Our children are not and should not perceive themselves to be generic Americans. Nor should they only reluctantly confess, ‘I’m white, I guess.’ They should not be left to internalize the fears expressed in ‘Mom, am I racist?’ What they need to be eventually able to say ‘I’m white, and I’m also an anti racist-committed person active in taking a stand against racism and injustice when I see it (p. 234).”

So, what can we do? These are just a few of the suggestions Harvey offers:

  • Notice and name race early and often. Talking authentically about race and racism responds to children’s actual experiences and teaches children as they develop and grow to be able to do the same (p. 59)
  • Practice, practice, practice! Talking about race openly and explicitly takes practice — there’s no way around those awkward, challenging feelings (p. 95).
  • Make a commitment to normalize talk about differences (skin tones, bodies, the ways different communities of color identify, etc) — this preempt the pressures kids experience to treat difference as a taboo (p. 95).
  • Acknowledge that white privilege and injustice exist, while also supporting the recognition that white people can join with others to fight injustice–and (find) ways to help our kids do that (p. 134).
  • Allow our children to be vulnerable and feel the ache and hurt of the harm that injustice causes. We may want to insulate our kids from it, but the humanity of even the youngest of our children is directly tied to their ability to identify with that suffering (p. 284).
  • Parents of white children can — and must — step into the unknowns, chart what is mostly still uncharted, and become resilient participants alongside parents of children of color who are already at it and have long ben so. A racial justice movement is alive and strong in this nation, and it needs all of us to be all in (p. 284).

I highly recommend this book — it offers action, encouragement and hope for a more just and loving nation.


The Bible in 90 Days…

A couple of my friends committed this week to reading the entire Bible in 90 days, and I decided to join them.

I’ll be honest … I’ve never been very great at sticking with Bible reading plans, but I do like the idea of getting through the whole expanse of the Bible in three months.

We’ll see how it goes … I’m also trying to meditate daily, do exercises daily to heal from a hip injury, and get back to my guitar. So it’s a pretty sure thing that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. But at the moment, I’m enjoying the challenge.

I just finished Day 5, which means I’ve read all of Genesis and 15 chapters of Exodus … it’s hard to dwell deeply much on all that happens (and there are a lot of incredible stories in these first 65 chapters!!!).

But several things struck me.

— So many blessings given. I wonder what it would be like if we were more intentional about offering blessing? (One of my favorite compliments given me by a friend was that I seem like someone that would just naturally offer a blessing in the course of a hike, bike ride, etc.)

— Women don’t play a large role, but it makes it more noticeable when they DO — Zipporah saving Moses’ life. The Hebrew midwives Shiprah and Puah saving Hebrew baby boys. Hagar, long one of my favorite Biblical women. Tamar’s craftiness in finding a way to eventually bear her twins, Perez and Zerah.

— The reminder that “Israel” means “One who strives with God,” the new name given to Jacob after he spends the night wrestling with an angel (God), and also the name given the Hebrew people.

— There is a LOT of marrying going on between close relatives — cousins, aunt-nephew, half-siblings… nothing like those Biblical family values! Also, for a culture that really lifts up eldest sons, God sure seems to favor younger brothers — Abel, Jacob, Moses…

— The steady thread of being a foreigner: Abraham saying “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you” (Gen. 24:4), Moses “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land” (as he names his son “Gershon”) (Ex. 2:24), “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Ex. 12:49).

— The resilience shown in Joseph’s story — despite being sold into slavery by his brothers, apart from his family in a strange land for more than a decade (including years in prison), he says afterward to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” (Gen. 45:5, 7)

What do you think? Wanna join us? What are you noticing?

Top Books of 2016

I’ll say one thing about being home sick for four days … there’s been lots of time for reading by the fire. And reflecting on the books I’ve read. I was inspired by my reading friend Julia’s photo and reviews of her top nine books, so thought I’d add mine:

img_3996Jimmy Bluefeather by Kim Heacox was a beautifully written story set in SE Alaska about a master canoe carver, about relationships between the young and old, about life and death, loss and transformation. I look forward to reading it again.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk was one of the most interesting books I’ve every read, about the relationships between trauma and health, but even more about our incredible resilience. It was an intense read, and made me both sad and hopeful.

I was inspired to read The Wild Edge of Sorrow after reading an incredible interview with Francis Weller in The Sun magazine. His perspective on grief gave voice to so much I’ve witnessed and more that simply intuitively feels true. He is very clear about the importance of the work of metabolizing our grief and gives lots of suggestions for that process.

Fablehaven was a fantastic YA fantasy read, a series of five great books that I probably could have read more quickly except that I just didn’t want them to end. BUT … there’s a new story coming out in March…

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is set in Alaska at the end of the nineteenth century, told through a series of letters and journal entries between Colonel Allen Forrester as he explores the fictional Wolverine River, and his wife as she remains behind at the military barracks. Creatively written, authentically Alaskan. I hated to see this book end.

I listened to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson as an audiobook. Incredible depth and breadth of research, braided through the stories of three particular African Americans who migrated to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively. Much of it was tough to listen to, and so important. I learned a lot, and highly recommend this book.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at it by Kelly McGonigal was mind-blowing. Her thesis is that the general consensus that stress is bad for us isn’t correct — rather, how we perceive our stress shapes how it impacts us. Stress can trigger our growth, increase our compassion and empathy, challenge us to new learning, build our resilience, push us to connect with others. Really important book, with lots of research, exercises, suggestions for putting her research into practice for healthier, happier living.

Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson is a beautifully-written book. I’ve loved and been moved, encouraged, inspired by everything she’s written, and this book is no different.

Comfortable With Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema Chodron. The Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron has taught me so much about embracing the present moment, trusting in the wisdom that’s available in every circumstance. She’s also very clear that when things are uncomfortable, that’s part of being human. Not a failure, not a disaster, not something to be judged. Simply another moment.

My number ten book would be Underground Airlines by Ben Winters — imagine a world where slavery wasn’t abolished in the Civil War, and there are still four states where slavery is enshirined in the Constitution. Fascinating, disturbing, thought-provoking read.

Here’s to more reading in 2017!