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Thursday, June 7, 2018

What Catholics should know about raising white kids

What Catholics should know about raising white kids
White Christian parents need to examine how they talk about race with their kids, says religion professor Jennifer Harvey.

White parents need to talk to their kids about race-and the sooner the better, says Jennifer Harvey, professor of religion at Drake University and author of Raising White Kids (Abingdon Press). 

Explaining why it's important to have conversations about race and racism early, Harvey borrows an analogy from psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum comparing racism to environmental smog. Like pollution, she says, "we're breathing [racism] in all the time. I would never let my 1-year-old go out in a toxic, smog-filled atmosphere without wearing a breathing mask, and that's what white supremacy is. It's in the air. If we acknowledge that there's a smog in the air and our kids are breathing it in, the work is to figure out with our children and in our churches, 'What does a breathing mask look like?'"

Harvey draws on her experiences as a parent of young children, her own history of racial justice work, and her educational background both in integrated urban schools and later in seminary to offer concrete advice to parents of white children.

How is your book based in your own experiences?
When I became a mom I realized that I needed to think through my own antiracist commitments and how they translated to raising two young white children. I also realized how few resources we have for talking about race with white children.

Post-civil rights era, most attempts to talk about race either do so through the lens of "color-blindness" or talk about valuing diversity, which is increasingly the language we use in churches and schools. But these two approaches have not created an equitable social climate and in some ways are even harmful.

What's wrong with how we teach kids about race?
After the civil rights movement, we came to understand that you shouldn't see someone's race and make assumptions about who they are as a person. This is a very sound, morally logical stance.

The problem, however, is that our brains are wired to notice difference. And our kids are being raised in a society where difference matters; they recognize that. So they're having this developmental experience where they notice difference and meanwhile adults are saying, "Don't notice it. Doesn't mean anything." 

Also when we tell kids to not notice race, we're almost always saying, "Don't notice blackness," or "Don't notice Latino-ness." We're never talking about white people. So when we say, "Oh, you're not supposed to notice race," there's this insidious message that there's somehow something wrong with color. As if we should treat a person well despite the fact that they are black or Latino.

Valuing diversity is a significant improvement over color blindness. And it would be a great approach to racial difference if we lived in a society that was equitable. Then we could just all say, "Yeah, we're all different. Let's celebrate!" But we live in a society where white folks are on top in the social structures. 

We can say, "Let's value African American identity. Let's value Latino identity. Let's value Native American identity." But then, if you say, "Let's value white identity," it's a strange thing to say in the context of this society where there's a white racial hierarchy.

When we tell kids to value diversity but don't help them wrestle with what it means for children who are white, white kids end up having no meaningful way to engage in genuinely valuing diversity because they don't know what to do with their own identity.

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