In the 1980's I attend elementary and middle school in a wonderful town in lower Delaware. My school was half Caucasian and half "minorities." The older I got, the more I saw the irony in that statement. Half is not a minority. It is simply half. Anyway, it was growing up there that I began this journey. You see, there were folks (not my parents) in my life that took issue with the "minorities" in town. So much so, that they asserted their adult wisdom to discourage "certain" relationships. It made no sense to me.
There were two girls especially that I could not imagine my life without. One girl, let's call her "Juanita" had the best sense of humor ever. She was so full of life. Then there was "Emma." She was an intensely loyal friend. She was always by my side and we had the best fun together. Shunning these two girls on the basis of their skin color alone just didn't make much sense to my young mind. So, I remained friends until we moved.
As time went on watching certain footage of the 1960's, studying the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education Topeka, KS etc. - my young perspective on relationships without regard for color was affirmed. More and more I felt a real assurance that I was on solid principled ground. Even as I matured and grew stronger in my faith, it became clear to me that were all created equal and that were to love one another as deeply as Christ loves his church.
So, here I am many decades later raising two beautiful girls in the midst of some very racially charged events that are too big for their young minds to wrap around.
As I raise my girls, here are some simple rules, that I use.
1. We Are All Equal - "There is (now no distinction) neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28 (AMP)
2. Respect One Another Despite Our Differences - As word of the grand jury decision trickled out of Ferguson, I simply told my girls that we are never to allow our opinions of one other to be shaped by our appearances, or abilities or disabilities, or even how rich or poor we think someone is. This, they can understand.
3. Talk About Color - They can also understand that we all do look different. In the first grade my daughter had to choose a woman to honor for Women's History month. They were to make a paper doll. She chose Gabby Douglas. She loves Gabby Douglas. The day we went shopping she spent a lot of time pouring over the hues of brown paper at Michael's , that we would use to make the body of the doll. She wanted to make sure it wasn't too dark or too light. I was so surprised. She not only noticed Gabby's complexion but she wanted to respect her shading.
4. Talk About Our Differences - We have never shied away from discussing a persons color. I have even had discussions with them explaining the differences between their hair and the complex texture of an african-american girls hair. There is nothing wrong with that discussion. We all do look very different and it should be celebrated, not feared.
5. Talk About The Past - There is a well spring of hope when I speak to my children about the past - segregation, slavery, and civil rights. Why? Because none of this makes sense to them. They look so puzzled. The very fact that a society existed where these crimes and limitations were placed on a person based on their color seems unbelievable to them. My one daughter expressed one time how sad she would be if some of her classmates had to go to school some where else.
6. Kids Are Listening - It is in those moments of impulse, when our words are important. Screaming out, "typical women driver" does not teach tolerance. It actually opens up the door to group prejudice. And just as you may feel that based on your vast driving experiences that 9 times out of 10 women are the worst drives - you are wrong. There is at least one women driver per 10 that is competent.
7. Kids Are Watching - Every interaction you have with neighbors, strangers, teachers, etc your child sees. Children by nature are imitators.
8. Be Natural - Do not run out and try to find your child a friend of color. Would you want to be chosen as a friend just because you were the right demographic. It's like, "Hey we need one more guy for our basketball game, go ask Tyrone." Meanwhile, Tyrone has no interest in basketball. He happens to be six feet tall and a wicked flute player. And you picked him because he was the right color and height.
9. Don't Fear, What You Don't Know - I am fortunate to be raising my kids in the most diverse section of the world, with more languages spoken here than anywhere else. We get real life opportunities everyday. And I realize that we aren't all afforded with the luxury of diversity. It can sound like a cliche, but sometimes different is just different.
10. Raise Children With Intention - We must raise our children with intent. We must intend that our kids look beyond the surface. We must intend to encourage our kids to stand with their mates if they are getting bullied. We must intend to teach our children to respect all. Lastly we must intend to teach our children not to be afraid of a child that is different. It is within diversity that our life gets brighter. It is within diversity that our life gets bigger.
In closing I leave you with this great thought from a great woman with a wise soul. Maya Angelou said, "It is time for parents to teach children early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength."