“Anything mentionable is manageable.” – Mister Rogers
I love you. And I miss you.
There is so much we need to work through, so much we need to love each other through.
This has been a dreadful week. Parents, you must be emotionally exhausted – trying to help your children cope, while also struggling to process all we have experienced, and continue to experience.
The most challenging words I know come from my hero, and ordained Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers. Anything mentionable is manageable. Mister Rogers never shied away from hard conversations. He always looked for ways to help children work through life’s very real challenges. And he did so with kindness, gentleness, and unwavering honesty.
That’s my call, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than here, looking for ways to make our challenges mentionable, so that together, we can begin to make them manageable.
If you’re wondering – When is it appropriate to start talking with my child about race? – the answer is – Now.
If you’re wondering – How? – what follows are some helpful thoughts gleaned from educators, child psychologists, and other experts who are far wiser than I.
- Don’t shut down children when they want to talk about race. It’s not racist to notice someone’s race. Noticing race is very natural – even babies notice differences like skin color and hair texture. When we shush a child for noticing race, what message does that send (even unintentionally) about the race noticed?
- Do listen for value judgments. Listen to hear if observations about differences in race become equated with differences in ability, intelligence, talent, etc.
- Don’t overreact. Keep the conversation open with simple, non-judgmental questions, such as “Why do you think that?” “What makes you say that?’ or simply “Tell me more about that.” This is an opportunity to have a conversation about stereotypes.
- Find positive examples that illustrate how a particular stereotype is untrue. Not only does this help debunk a stereotype, but it builds a positive awareness of diversity.
- You don’t have to avoid hard issues. Slavery and the Holocaust can also be mentionable. Give the facts and focus on resistance and allies. To quote more wisdom from Mister Rogers, “Look for the helpers.”
- Don’t pretend to have all the answers. One of the phrases I’ve used the most over the last few months is “I don’t know.” Coming up with the perfect, wisdom-filled response to a child might not be what’s most needed right now (or ever). Deep listening, discernment, breathing – these need to be part of any conversation on race. And there should be several conversations, that can each occur whenever race comes up. And don’t wait for your child to bring it up.
- What does your home library look like? A good book can often be a wonderful catalyst for deeper conversations. Find books (and movies, shows) that reset the notion of what a hero, neighbor, or friend might look like. And it’s important to find books featuring people of color where the plot isn’t always about “The Struggle,” – yet another way of “compartmentalizing” people of a particular race. Rather, explore a whole range that includes stories where characters experience joy, excitement, fun, as well as stories of resistance. (See below for some book recommendations as well as a link to a fantastic online resource.)
- What does your child’s friend group look like? (What does your own friend group look like?) No matter what children read in a beautiful book or see in an uplifting movie, it’s their own life experiences, along with what they see modeled by the grown-ups they trust, that will have the most lasting impact. Encourage diversity in your child’s playdates, as well as in your own social interactions (once we can safely have those again). Literally invite others who come with different perspectives, different stories, different life experiences. And if it feels a little unnatural at first because there doesn’t seem to be much racial diversity within your existing circles, draw some new circles, or draw your existing circles wider. The goal here is not to check a “diversity box,” but to truly model and live out the ideal that different is good.
Friends, we have important work to do. Developing empathy, compassion, and a sense of justice at an early age helps children grow into anti-racist adults.
We have God and we have each other.
We can do it.
For our May 31 Faith Like a Child moment during the Sanctuary service, click here.
I Am Human affirms that we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves.
All the people of the world set out to find God’s name…and each of the many seekers is sure that he or she alone has found the right name, the only name for God. Finally, they come together – and at last learn what God’s name really is.
This is a picture book for older children (and adults) about ecology, peace, and the interconnectedness of all beings. A sequel, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, delves more deeply into love, acceptance, and the nature of truth.
If the World Were a Village takes the enormous statistics of our global humanity – population, languages, literacy, food security, access to clean drinking water – and shrinks it all down to a village of 100 people, This nonfiction resource does a beautiful job of taking some abstract, humongous numbers about our world, and making them understandable for children (and grown-ups).
So, those first four books are beautiful, while being fairly broad and general. Just about any child can see themselves reflected, which is good. But we need more than broad. A book that wraps up in a nice bow can make it feel like all the work has been done. “And they all lived happily ever after” is not a phrase I would use to describe our present time.
The books listed represent more individual, personal stories that are uplifting, challenging, or both.