It takes so much courage today to have a baby, to realize that as certain as our DNA codes them for curly hair or lanky limbs, we code them to believe lies.
Lies that we don’t realize are lies.
As surely as we seal new healthy habits into our children, we seal in goofy ideas. Parenting is the predominant delivery system for original sin (Do You Believe in Original Sin?). We spoon-feed the myths to our kids. This week, I’ve been leading an eCourse about what gender myths we inhaled with our baby food over at Corsets & Ties. Part of becoming an adult is identifying those lies.
Regularly, I realize I believed a lie just a few weeks ago. I used to believe, “My child will not be racist or sexist.” or “My son will be safe from bullies.”
Wrong and wrong again.
But, there’s always hope to make things a little better.
I noticed my son wasn’t too keen on interacting with the check-out guys at our grocery store. Concerned and wondering if it was “stranger danger” or simply an unusual looking person to him, I began to pull together a unit on racism.
The “unit” language makes it sound pretty glossy and official, when it’s not. My unit is actually just a movie, some books and lots of questions. Here’s what I gathered.
We started with a movie, “Babies”, (free on Vimeo) since we have a new baby in our home. We watched the Namibian, Mongolian, Japanese and American babies adorable antics. We paused the movie at each new location to look up the country on an old, but humongous map.
Questions I asked “Can you imagine wearing just a string?” and “Why is his brother hitting him?”
We watched it as long as my son remained engaged. 10-15 minutes here and there. He’s rarely excited until we get into it. We’re still not done watching, but each time our son would call out the home (“That’s Tokyo!”) of each growing baby. And we laugh and shake our heads or squeal with delight at the surprising differences.
Conversations we had,
Q: “Why does he have so many flies on him?”
A: “They have a lot of flies in their town.”
Q: “I can see his PRIVATES!”
A: “They probably don’t put a diaper on him because they don’t have diapers or a washing machine. But look how happy he is to be walking around!”
Q: “They’re not using forks!”
A: “You’re right, everyone eats out of the same bowl.”
It was important to me to let him observe first. To let him hear me and my husband noting differences.
I also found some books on racism that told stories of oppression without caricatures. That criteria, I found, it rather rare, but priceless.
Refusing to caricature is part of the battle against racism and it takes its own form of courage.
I despise caricatures everywhere except in cartoons. It is too easy to caricature history’s losers. In American most of us don’t know why slaveholders kept slaves (The economic advantages are only part of the story. Whites relied on slaves for most of what they valued. As my son gets older I’ll be telling him that slave holders kept slaves because they thought black people were less human than they were. Many thought they were keeping God’s order for things, because they thought the Bible supported slavery. I’ll have the passages on Cain’s mark and Paul’s words about Philemon on hand).
In the coming years, I’ll be asking my son if he’s every noticed how he feels around people who look or act differently from him. We all have the seeds of racism within us. We are all afraid of the other.
Unless you listen to history’s losers, unless you can understand (and teach children) that people did foolish things for reasons that seemed good, you are not really teaching the lessons of history.
I want my sons to know why Hitler appealed to the German people, why the south fought to keep their slaves, why many Christians stand against gay marriage. I want him to know the nuance of the issues, how to use the tools of reason, prayer, self-awareness and humility. But most of these tools are not being taught at public schools. That’s why these units must begin at home.
And let me be honest, I never formalized this time. I never said “Let’s read a book about racism today!” Instead, I said, “I have a story to tell you.”
I started with Dr. Seuss’ story, The Sneetches, about bird-like creatures with stars on their bellies (There’s also a video). They act superior to those Sneetches without stars on “thars”. When an opportunistic Sylvester McMonkey McBean comes with his machine to fix the Sneetches’ star troubles, my son was delighted. McBean and his machine seemed so helpful, so kind. But, like The Cat in the Hat, the chaos grows as the originally starred Sneetches realize they look just like their newly starred enemies. So they remove their stars. And back and forth until no one can tell themselves apart. And guess who gets rich off their insecurity? Well, it was a parable for me of both the left and the right who profit over division, marginalization, and identity politics. Of course, I didn’t bring that up with my son. It was enough to realize that a star on your belly wasn’t enough to exclude to those without stars. Lesson learned.
Second, I reviewed the story of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan, and told it to my son while we were making mac-n-cheese. I simplified it a lot. He was dialed in. Why wouldn’t they let her go to school? he asked. Because she had black skin, I told him. When we were done, I let the silence sit for a bit. I asked him if he wanted to see a picture of Elizabeth.
His eyes grew wide, “This story is real?”
I showed him the pictures from Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed The Fight for Integration. My husband, Dale, had already been reading I am Rosa Parks by Brad Melzer (a basic book that unfortunately leaves our Parks’ faith), so my son knew that stories that start with cartoons can end with real life pictures.
In my hunt for good books, I was constantly concerned with including the Christian beliefs and motivation of so many African Americans. I want my son to understand the source of their and white abolitionists’ courage. I had to use the free Interlibrary Loan service to find one. If you don’t do this, it’s important to start learning how, as most libraries reflect the political beliefs of the chief librarians, not necessarily your beliefs.
The book that moved me to tears was The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist and Pulitzer-Prize winning author who believes children have both moral and political lives. The Story of Ruby Bridges is the best book on courage in the face of racism that I’ve found. This book explains how you gain the strength to stand against your dominant culture. Ruby’s courage is refreshingly grounded in Jesus’ example and his power to help her.
I used Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes to expose my son to the different colors of skin and different challenges that he doesn’t face every day. And yet, Grimes, as any good author, knows that even the most protected six-year old has enough pain to identity with her themes. And my son did. The poems in Grimes’ book cover homelessness, siblings, learning difficulties, lessons from the deaf, good authors, friendship, fatherhood and God.
I also used Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad and The Other Side. Both well illustrated and honest stories that refused to demonize either side.
Now it’s your turn.
- What ways do you work on the virtue of understanding both sides in history?
- What resources do you rely on?
- What are some of the ways you teach kids about racism?