What Can Moms Do About Racism?

Note: this is a response to Julie at These Walls. Last week she wrote a wonderful post entitled “The Post I’ve Been Waiting to Write on Race.” It’s also a response to comments wondering what individual people can do. I am not a mom, but I have many friends who are white Christian parents – many of them Episcopal priests or priest wives, because of my personal history. I know their struggles and have heard them wrestle with this question. The answers aren’t easy, but it’s too important to sweep under the rug.

 

To be more specific: what can middle class, white, suburban, Christian moms do?

You are in a rare position, possibly unprecedented in American life. On the one hand, you do not share the same racism that your ancestors likely did. You think that the Civil Rights Movement was good, that segregation is bad, that all humans were given rights by our Creator. You want to pass these beliefs on to your kids; you want them to judge a person on his or her “content of character” rather than skin color or national origin.

On the other hand, you are almost always in white only populations. Your church is mostly white, and many of the Latino congregants go to the Spanish language service. Your suburban neighborhood has one black family, a couple of Asian families… and lots of white families. If your kids went to public schools they would rub shoulders with people of other backgrounds, but they may be below school age, or home schooled, or attending a religious (and mostly white) school. You and your kids could easily go weeks at a time without interacting with anyone who isn’t white and middle-upper middle class.

Your exposure to anything regarding race or racism is Facebook posts which try to make you chose between protecting black Americans and protecting police. You begin to feel defensive, as if you are being blamed for something that your ancestors did. Above all, you feel helpless, because how can one person fight something that looks so entrenched?

The answer, or one of the answers, is in your children.

I’m not simply suggesting that you teach your kids that “racism is bad.” For one thing, they may not understand what racism is (maybe you struggle to answer that question as well?). For another, what I see advocated as the opposite of racism is color blindness, or an attempt to ignore race at all. I think this is a huge mistake, especially if your kids never actually interact with other ethnicities. As humans, we associate more readily with the familiar. If someone is brought up without any conversations about race, and only interacts with people who are white, it will be hard to understand American history, hard to understand current events, hard to empathize with the issues that still plague black communities.

The uncomfortable truth is that society as a whole does not treat black people as equals of white people. When someone brought up to be color blind observes quality of life differences between white and black communities, they conclude that black people must be at fault for these differences. It is a short walk from here to the conclusion that black people are dumber, lazier, more violent, etc, than white people.

Here is what I suggest instead: purposefully pursue relationships with people outside your race/ethnicity, for yourself and – especially – for your kids.

This is not an easy task if you live in suburbia, but it is crucial. Your kids need to spend time with people who don’t look like them. Charity work in the ghetto doesn’t cut it. They need to interact with black and Latino kids as peers. They need to have black adults who are authority figures: to be expected by their parents to obey and respect black adults just as they would white adults. This is one of the most important lessons you can teach your kids.

I’m going to be blunt: I don’t see this as something advocated by conservative Christians. If anything, I see the opposite: shelter your kids; monitor their friendships; protect them from the world. There is an element of truth there. Of course you must keep your kids from unnecessary dangers, and there are actual bad influences that need to be kept at bay. But it’s easy to take this too far. I’m dismayed to see homeschool moms deride the word “socialization,” to argue that their kids are better off without peer influences, that homeschool groups are plenty of socialization.

Take a hard look at your homeschool group, your church groups. Is there a single face there that isn’t white? Does it bother you to be in whites-only spaces?

If it does, that means that you were given a special gift: the gift of friendships and relationships with people of color. Your parents didn’t try to give it to you, it just happened because you lived in a more diverse neighborhood or went to public schools. However, your kids will not have that gift unless you make it happen.If being in a whites only space doesn’t bother you, it’s not cause to beat yourself up or feel defensive. It’s just an unfortunate fact that you probably grew up in segregated circles.

What matters is your response. You can make a generational change by bringing your children into integrated spaces as much as possible. You can make sure that they will be comfortable with black teachers, black coaches, black Bible study leaders. You can make sure that your children will have faces and names to think about when they hear about racially motivated killings.

You can make sure that they see the Imago Dei in people who don’t look like them.

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It’s Crunch Time

In C.S. Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength, a literature professor muses with his wife that both good and evil are becoming clearer, sharper. He refers to a poem in which heaven and hell are eating away at Merry Middle Earth, moving closer and closer to the center. In the novel, the choices of good and evil become clear for ordinary people who had no real ideas on what good and evil were. One of the main characters, Mark, gets swept into a demonic system – not because he himself is evil, but because he craves human approval and insider knowledge, because he would give up his soul to be part of an Inner Ring. Evil was not particular; it was eager to swallow Mark whole if Mark was willing to give up his own identity.

This week has been a difficult one for me, and for anyone who craves peace and approval above all. I hate conflict, and I hate not being able to please everybody in my life. I don’t even like being around fights that don’t involve me; I’m that annoying person who makes a joke on contentious Facebook threads because I can’t stand the tension. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) we do not live in a world that allows for such cowardice. Among other issues, the matter of gay marriage has cloven in two American society, with very little patience for indecision. You’re either with us or against us, on both sides. I’ve been saddened to see friends of mine post that they will be deleting anyone who disagrees with the recent SCOTUS decision. I’ve heard my mom read to me, in significant tones, a statement from a PCA group saying that any church that approves of gay marriage is apostate. Almost everyone on Facebook has something to say about it, sometimes charitable but often not. Those who see themselves as the future, as being on the “right side of history,” can be harsh and (dare I say it) intolerant of those who disagree. If you are on the fence about this, as I am, there is a great deal of pressure to get with the program. I dread anyone asking me what I think, because I fear that “I don’t know” will cause consternation on either side. In spite of how some have derided the notion, I can see how this decision could curtail religious freedom. On the other hand, I don’t personally have an issue with gay marriage; very recently, I would have said I was all for it. So why the hesitation?

There are two issues, two very important issues, that this brings crashing to the fore. On the one hand is civil liberty. Will this increase liberty for those who wish to marry their same sex partner? Yes. Will it decrease liberty for those whose consciences will not let them approve of gay marriage (by not hiring someone in a gay marriage, for instance?) I think it’s likely. Will it make it a thought crime to suggest a different definition for marriage? That is already happening. And as a strong supporter of free speech, that’s what worries me most. The social pressure to think in lock-step is significant at this point.

The other issue is that of sexuality and gender in general. Frankly, I don’t think that this is something that can be handled by the courts. Perhaps I’m a libertarian at heart, but this is the realm of families, churches, communities. The court has made a decision on the civil government level, but how should churches respond? The Catholic Church’s stance is well known. There are a multitude of evangelical stances, but none of them have a long-term chance of success. If you stop seeing sex and procreation as tied together intrinsically, then what reason do you have to see gay sex in particular as abhorrent? Simply saying “the Bible says so” will not do, not when you look into the actual translations of what Paul is talking about in Romans 1, not when you disregard Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and still claim to be “sola Scriptura.” It looks like simple bigotry.

The more liberal churches, like the one to which I belong, do not claim to be Sola Scriptura, but we also do not have a Magisterium. We work within the church’s tradition, with Scripture, with reason, with experience. The Episcopal church in particular allows a lot of lee-way with regards to what individuals believe, which is why the “liberal church” stereotype is flawed. I know many individuals, priests and laypersons, who would describe themselves as conservative or traditional, and not just concerning liturgy. However, it is true that the Episcopal church as a whole is moving towards a more liberal view of human sexuality.

For myself, I don’t want to just go with the flow. Nor do I want to react for the sake of reaction. When discerning what is good, what is true, the approval of others is a terrible motivation, only as good as those surrounding you. When the choices are this stark, when the differences are this clear, indecision ceases to be a valid option. This is good; it is good to know that one must look for truth as a good unto itself, and that just going with the flow cannot suffice. That doesn’t make it less terrifying.

In the meantime, Julia, if you want to post something on the topic at These Walls, I’m sure it will be meaty and thought-provoking (hint hint).