Article Dec 7, 2016

Teaching your kids about race and reconciliation

If we believe that the topics of race, racial reconciliation and the unity found in the gospel are important, then in many ways, the conversation and study of these topics should begin and have prominence at home. Adults have a wonderful opportunity and responsibility to shape the minds of children around these topics so that they learn the glorious truths found in the scriptures regarding God’s cosmic plan of salvation and the beautiful reality of the diversity that will make up the new heavens and earth.

Recently, Lindsay Swartz, managing editor of content at the ERLC, conducted a roundtable interview on children and race for Light Magazine’s newest issue. Here are my complete answers to her questions regarding teaching kids about race and racial reconciliation. 

Lindsay Swartz: As children witness instances of racism in the news, at school, in their own families and on the streets, how would you help them understand and process what they are seeing? 

Trillia Newbell: I think we start by teaching kids that God has made each and every person. We need to make sure children understand that God is the Creator of all and that he delights in his creation. We should teach kids that Jesus died for every tribe and tongue and nation—that the gospel is for all people. Make sure your children know that because of sin, people do mean and evil things. They need to know that we all need a Savior. So, when our kids see evil in this world, our hope is that they will be grieved and sorrowful, but not surprised. An important starting point for them is to understand the basics of our faith and the depravity of man.

Swartz: How would you advise parents to respond to a situation where their families are out and about, and their children make a comment about someone's race? 

Newbell: Kids are kids and will likely say something like, “She’s brown, Mommy” or “Why does she have a dot on her forehead?” There’s no reason to be embarrassed by this. And we need to make sure that we don’t shame kids—hushing them and making them feel like they’ve done something awful. In other words, part of our own problem is that we think it’s strange to talk about culture and ethnicity, and our fears actually divide and alienate us further. Instead, when these situations arise, simply say, “Yes, she is brown. I love how God made all of us with various colors” or “She wears a dot on her forehead because of the cultural traditions in her country,” etc. Let’s take the weird out of it and try to teach (and at times, celebrate!) the differences.

Swartz: What are some real-life, practical ways that you've helped your children engage with people of different ethnicities and cultures? 

Newbell: I’m at a bit of an advantage when it comes to introducing my kids to various cultures because our home is made up of two different ethnicities—I am black, and my husband is white. But I believe it’s important for our kids to know about the beautiful diversity of God’s creation beyond black and white. So, for example, this summer my kids and I cooked dishes from various countries, listened to their music and learned about their history and culture. That was just a simple way to introduce them to a variety of cultures and people groups. (I cooked an Ethiopian dish called, doro wat. Delicious! Give it a try!). We also make sure to engage our neighbors who are from various backgrounds and countries.

Swartz: What are some ways parents can mark off moments—holidays, anniversaries, news stories—to talk about race? 

Newbell: You know, this is an interesting question for me. I love that we have a month designated to black history, and yet I also cringe that we have to have a month like this. I believe wholeheartedly that we should be learning about various cultures and people throughout the year. But it’s hard to nail down dates unless we focus solely on teaching our kids about black culture. I have a conviction and desire for our kids to be exposed to as many cultures and people as possible. So, I could say that dates on the calendar like Black History Month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, etc. are where we should focus, but I think that’s too narrow. Yes, use those various and significant dates to teach your kids about history and culture. Please! But don’t limit it to just those dates—every day is a good day to teach our children about others.

Swartz: What/who are some good resources in the discussion and ministry of racial reconciliation? 

Newbell: I think that parents need to be equipped to teach children. In other words, I don’t necessarily have many resources for kids, but I do have a few for adults. Some that come to mind are: The Front Porch site, the Reformed African American Network, the resources at ERLC.com, The Gospel for Life: Racial Reconciliation, edited by Russell Moore and Andrew Walker. And, if I may, I would also recommend my book United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. There are many more, but this is a good start.

To read the full roundtable article and check out the rest of the magazine, download the newest issue of Light Magazine here.