“Baby, do you know why your skin is brown?” I asked my then four-year-old son. When he answered, “No,” I launched into a brief explanation of how God created us with something called melanin in our skin that gives our skin its color, and how it also can help protect us from getting hurt from the sun. I asked him again why our skin was brown, just to see if he understood. He looked at me a little funny and then said, “So we have watermelon in our skin?”
You might be wondering, why would you even try to explain that kind of thing to your 4-year-old? He’s probably too young to care. Why talk to our kids about skin color, racism, privilege, etc.? Because it’s so important to understand the truth about how we were created, so that we can combat ignorance and lies, especially when it comes to things like race.
As parents, we have a responsibility to prepare our children for the world around us – a world profoundly shaped by the influence and effects of racism and prejudice. As believing parents (and Navigators at that), we need to illuminate God’s perspective and will regarding these things. I encourage all of us to include topics like diversity, racism and privilege as a part of our discipleship of our children because it can help them:
- Know (and love) God more. I never get tired of pointing out the goodness, artistry and wisdom of God in creating a world full of unique people, cultures and languages! Our kids need to see and celebrate God’s creation, which includes a beautifully diverse humanity. They also need to know that many of the cultural and racial differences that they see on earth are still going to be apparent in heaven. As we see from Revelation 7:9-10, rather than something that God overlooks or eradicates, He welcomes his very diverse children into His home and family.
- Love their neighbor as themselves. Kids are naturally curious about the world around them. When our kids bring up the differences in people and cultures around them, we have a golden opportunity as parents to guide that curiosity toward understanding and love, rather than just being embarrassed about the appropriateness of their questions. Our kids need to understand that their experiences in the world are not the only way that people experience the world. Cultivating understanding and openness to others is a great first step in loving the neighbors (Luke 10:30-37) that they’ll come across, especially for those who’re hurting or experiencing racial hardship. This, according to Mark 12:31 is one of the most important things we can ever do.
- Recognize and stand against sin and injustice. If we are intentional to fill our kids’ lives with what’s true and right (Philippians 4:8), when they hear or see something that is full of ignorance or injustice, they’ll be more likely to identify the difference. It’s also important that we’re clear about what’s not right (Isaiah 1:17). We know from history and current events that racism (both on an individual and institutional level), prejudice and privilege can cause incredible harm. Unfortunately, even with all the progress that has been made in our culture, these things, like all sin, continue to persist, even within the church. In age appropriate ways, we need to be honest about racial sin and how damaging its effects can be individually, interpersonally and on a community-wide level.
- Create a safe place for dealing with complex issues. Kids are like sponges, soaking up the conscious and subconscious messages from the people and society around them. If we, as their parents, have already started having conversations with them about things like race and racism, chances are they will feel more comfortable coming to us with their experiences and questions, rather than just looking to others.
While my little conversation with my son didn’t quite get through the first time around, he did eventually understand. I won’t teach him perfectly, but with God’s help I can do my best to equip him to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with [his] God” (Micah 6:8). And that is no small thing.