When Your Child Asks About Race, What Do You Say?

     Our country has been hit hard in recent weeks. News cycles are packed with stories of violence, racial tension, heartbreak, and anger. Yes, there are stories of healing, restoration, and compassion. Yet even the glimmers of hope seem overshadowed by the stories of pain. As much as we may want to shelter our children from painful stories like these, they eventually reach our kids' ears. When your child asks about race, what do you say?

Step One: Look in the Mirror

     Kids are just beginning to develop empathy and social-awareness. They constantly look to others for cues on how to treat people. Kids need guidance in relating to others, especially with those who are different from them. As a parent, you are the most important and influential example to your child. Most of the time, our kids are tiny mirrors of our own character. Your response to racism and injustice shapes how your kids will respond. Your words and actions - even the subtle ones - form the baseline for your child's interactions with others. Before we take any steps forward, we all need to take a look in the mirror and contemplate how we respond to others who are different than us.

Step Two: Define the Problem in Simple Terms

     One of the reasons that racism is so hard to defeat is that it's hard to pin down. It's easy to identify the blatant, name-calling, sign-carrying racist. But it's a lot more difficult to call out the person with an unspoken racist attitude. When we talk to our kids about race, we should be as clear and as simple as possible. It all starts with God's Word. Here's a few Bible passages you can study with your family to learn about God's purpose for race, ethnicity, and redemption.

  • Genesis 1:26-31 - God creates the first man and woman. God makes it clear that every human is created in His image, and each one has equal worth and value.

  • John 4 - Jesus shows radical love to a marginalized woman from Samaria. Even though the context is different from our culture, the racial tensions between Jews and Samaritans parallel the issues in our day. The social rules of the time should have prevented Jesus from talking to a stranger of a different ethnicity and gender. Jesus defied all these social norms and extended a hand of compassion to another person in need.

  • Romans 10:11-13 - The apostle Paul teaches us that when it comes to the family of God, "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek" (Romans 10:12). Jesus freely gives his grace to everyone who calls on his name, not just those who belong to a certain race or ethnicity.
  • Galatians 3:23-29 - Paul again writes about the inclusivity among Christians. We are sons and daughters of God our Father because of Jesus Christ. God never excludes us or lowers our status based on our ethnicity, social standing, or gender. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). God's family is not color blind or gender neutral, but celebrates God's glory on display through each unique individual. 

Step Three: Demonstrate Love Together as a Family

     Hashtags, videos, and social media help reveal the problems, but they will never be the source of healing. People are very resistant to change, but a person is much more open to discussion. Changing the systemic problems starts by changing a single person. Racism, injustice, inequality, and prejudice melt away in light of the Gospel. We must share the hope and love of Christ with the individuals we have around us. No matter where you live, there is opportunity for your family to give healing to those who are hurting. 

What Now?

     Many people are asking the question, "What do we do now?" A clear answer or a concrete solution has not emerged just yet. However, we can do the hard work of mourning with those who mourn, feeling their pain, and developing empathy for those who are hurting. We can look to Jesus.

     Jesus came as man, felt our pain, bore our sin, and carried our cross. He didn't try to explain away the pain or teach us why our pain wasn't justified. Jesus loved. He loved to the point of death. We can follow the example of Jesus by being present for those who are hurting.

     When your kids ask about race, demonstrate love. Model empathy. Most of all, respond with grace. 

I don't have many answers, but you can check out these resources for more understanding on the topic of race from a biblical perspective.