Raising White Kids: Book Review and Giveaway

While reading Dr. Jennifer Harvey’s latest book, both my kids asked me separately, “Mommy, why are you reading a book called ‘Raising White Kids?’”  The conversation this question sparked advanced Harvey’s hope for the book—that parents of white children will talk about race (and racism) early and often in their children’s lives.  Such conversations, Harvey acknowledges, are unfamiliar, uncharted, and, at times, uncomfortable, but necessary in order to move us beyond the “color-blind” teaching of the past and towards “race-conscious” parenting.  Harvey believes “race-conscious” parenting will deepen our active commitment to everyone’s children by drawing more of us into the larger movement of social and racial justice—a movement that Harvey says needs “all of us to be all in.”

A few memorable takeaways from this book:

The old “color-blind” approach does not work for the simple reason that we cannot NOT see race.  Harvey writes that teaching children to be color-blind is an inadequate strategy because as early as age five children recognize that different groups are treated differently.  Noticing differences and developing prejudice are two distinct processes, though.  Prejudice is learned, Harvey writes. “Prejudice is the step taken after one notices physical differences in which differences are assigned meanings—negative ones.” These prejudices need to be interrupted and counteracted with specific teaching.  “Generic teachings,” Harvey writes, “such as ‘we’re all the same inside’ or ‘we’re all equal’ do not serve our children any better than does silence.”

White youth are ill-equipped to participate in conversations about racism and respond to such conversations with anxiety, guilt, cognitive dissonance, or even anger.  Upon reading this, I immediately thought of my white students who go silent whenever the topic of race or racism arises.  I had interpreted this silence as a lack of courage to engage a difficult topic or a lack of interest. Harvey, who teaches at Drake University, offers me a more empathetic understanding.  She describes how her white students struggle to find a meaningful place from which to participate fully in conversations about diversity and race, even while they get pressure from adults to do so as they grow older.  Her white students are often aware that racial tensions exist. Many of them also know or sense that these tensions have to do with injustices white people have committed.  This awareness—combined with the absence of nuanced, supportive, complex discussions about race—reveals itself as anxiety, guilt, cognitive dissonance or anger when the topic of race arises.

“On top of all of this,” Harvey writes, “that whites are behind when it comes to race makes racial tensions worse.  For example, when these same white students are reluctant to talk about, are ill-equipped to understand, or show anxiety and resistance to honest engagement with race, students of color in the room get the message that their white peers just don’t care.”

 Having a sense of what white growth looks like along the way is useful.  In her book, Harvey spends a whole chapter explaining white racial identity development as identified by psychologist Janet Helms in her book, A Race is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life.  Helms’ six stages of white identity development are:

  • Contact: Race is not perceived as a meaningful difference.
  • Disintegration: What do you mean we’re not all equal?
  • Reintegration Stage: Blaming People of Color
  • Pseudo-Independence: Something is Wrong with Society
  • Immersion / Emersion: Changing my Relationship to Whiteness
  • Autonomy: I have a sense of my abilities, agency, facility, and language around race and antiracism.

Having a sense of what white growth looks like along the way helps us have better conversations about our antiracist development—what it looks like, how we get there, and how our children can get there.

Other appreciations:  Overall, I recommend this book not just to parents of white children, but also teachers seeking to help their white students engage in topics of race in the classroom.  I especially appreciated the examples of real conversations Harvey has had with her own children.  Harvey is not just a scholar writing a book, but also a parent trying her best to raise her own white children to be antiracist advocates.  Finally, Harvey includes an invaluable list of resources for further study and support.

**Interested in reading Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children In A Racially Unjust America for yourself?  Well, SURPRISE, I have a free hardcover copy to give away! The first person to leave me a comment below saying they want the book wins the prize. I will contact you for your shipping information.


What story does our budget tell?

I am taking a creative writing class where we are learning how to discover and tell stories.  Last week, our professor passed out an excerpt from The Art of Creative Research where Philip Gerard encourages essayists to examine even the most mundane document, like a budget, for the story it tells.  He writes:

As an essayist, you love ideas and events and might balk at examining, say, a budget—yet a budget is a statement of the values of whatever organization adopts it, as well as an expression of hope that the future will turn out according to a given prediction expressed in numbers.  A budget is an expression of philosophy—ideas—and also a blueprint for future events.  It expresses an ethical stance.  It makes sense that we reveal our priorities by what we are willing to spend our money on—and how much: Battle tanks or famine relief? Affordable housing or a new sports stadium? A special education teacher or another administrator?  You just have to practice reading such a dry document and learn to tease out its inherent drama.  Once you have trained yourself to do that, you have essentially learned a whole new language with which to listen to stories.

This got me thinking. What story does my personal budget, my church’s budget, our national budget tell? What do we spend money on? What do we save money for? What is our ethic of debt? Does our budget reflect a value for others and others’ lives? Or is it just for ourselves? What kind of future does our budget predict? Is it a blueprint of hope?

My peace activist husband wants us to ask more questions about our national budget.  Dan keeps posting quotes like this on Facebook:

“Military budget is around $825 billion – more than the next nine nations put together (and those include China and Russia). U.S. debt is at $20.5 trillion. Just sayin…”

And this from the Washington Post:

The U.S. government will spend about $500 billion more over the next two years, the largest increase in federal spending since the stimulus during the Great Recession. The bulk of the extra spending would not be paid for, meaning the United States’ $20 trillion debt would get worse…More than 60 percent of the extra funding would go toward military spending.

The drama inherent in our national budget speaks to the fear and anxiety of our time. Clearly, we feel the need to protect ourselves. We need to arm ourselves nine times over the other guy. Clearly, we have faith in our weapons, but not enough faith to cap how much we spend on them. We hope our guns will save us, while also knowing deep down that they won’t.

This story is disturbing—especially when I consider all we could fund if our military budget was reasonable. Public Education. Health care. Housing developments for the poor. Community centers. Playgrounds and parks. Public transportation.

Capping our insatiable addiction to weaponry would alter our budgetary blueprint. It would also offer us a new national story—one I would be proud to tell.

[Feature Image: Simon James]

Living the Questions with Amy Frykholm

Amy Frykholm, author of Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography; See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity; Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America; Christian Understandings of the Future: The Historical Trajectory and Associate Editor of the Christian Century magazine visited my campus last week and spoke to us of her call to “live the questions.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, writes:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

This passage inspired Frykholm to pursue a vocation of writing, or as she sees it, a life spent living the questions.

I was able to sit down with Amy for an interview on our college’s radio station.  During our thirty minutes on air, I asked Amy about her religious and spiritual background, her call to write, and how writing might serve as a spiritual practice.

Listen to our conversation here on WPFS – Proud Fighting Scots Radio.

Waking Up White: A Book Recommendation

I have been reading and writing a lot about race lately.  The Black Lives Matter movement got me going.  Trump’s presidency stoked the fire of urgency. Over winter break I finished, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. I highly recommend this book.  In fact, I wish every white person would read it.  Irving does such a good job highlighting issues of race that people of color deal with every day, but to which we white people remain oblivious.  Irving’s tone is not teacherly or patronizing, even though she is a diversity educator.  Instead, she is autobiographical and self-effacing.  She shares stories of mistakes she has made in her efforts to become a more racially-aware person.  Some of these stories made me cringe, because I have made similar mistakes.  But the only way to learn is to face these mistakes.  Here are just a few of the valuable lessons I gleaned from this book:

White people need to educate other white people about race.  Honestly, before reading this book, I thought I could only learn about race from people of color. (I’m embarrassed and ashamed to have just typed that sentence.)  White people often fail to recognize that “white” is also a race that we need to understand.  If we can understand whiteness and white culture, then we can better understand the challenges we pose to people of other races when we expect them to act like us, speak like us, learn like us, etc.

Irving, whose suburban upbringing was a lot like my own, helped me identify a variety of beliefs and behaviors indicative of white culture, such as: conflict avoidance, emotional restraint, a sense of urgency about time, a habit of asking social locator questions like “What do you do? Where are you from? Where did you go to school?” to determine what box we should put people or gage the level of success they have achieved.  I am guilty of this white judgmentalism and am determined to break this habit of asking “social locator” type questions.

Fair does not mean equal.  Equality starts with equity.  “Equity,” Irving writes, “means both holding people of differing needs to a single expectation and giving them what they need to achieve it.”  In other words, equity is a way to level the playing field and equality cannot be achieved without it. She illustrated her point with a hypothetical:  If there was a test that involved students writing their answer on a line on the board—a line five feet above the ground—what would you do for the shorter students who couldn’t reach the line?  You’d make the test equitable by giving the shorter students a step up so they could meet the same expectation as the taller students.  Such steps—like affirmative action—level the playing field to make it more equitable.

When it comes to racism, there’s no such thing as neutral.  Irving writes, “When it comes to racism, there’s no such thing as neutral: either I’m intentionally and strategically working against it, or I’m aiding and abetting the system.  As historian and activist Howard Zinn said, ‘You can’t be neutral on a moving train.’”  Irving correlates this idea with her antibullying training as a teacher.  “Antibullying pedagogy describes three distinct roles: (1) bullies, (2) victims, and (3) bystanders,” she writes. “Traditionally the approach has been to reprimand the bully and console the victim while ignoring the bystanders, those who witness but neither partake in nor stand up to the bullying.  More recently, however, educators and psychologists recognized that the real power rests in empowering bystanders to become allies in the fight to eliminate childhood bullying.”

I am convicted by Irving’s words, realizing that I have lived most of my life as a bystander, as someone who has aided and abetted the system of racism because I was SO unaware and because I lacked the courage to do anything about it.  Irving shares that her ultimate goal is to interrupt racism, advocate against it, and educate without doing more harm than good. Even though I know I will make lots of terrible mistakes, I’m committed to this goal as well.  The burden to right this wrong is on those of us who benefit from this unfair and inequitable system.  Will you join me?  Reading “Waking Up White” with your friends, co-workers, or church groups is a great place to start.

[The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Co-Moderators, Rev. T. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston, have invited churches to read and study this book.  They’ve also published this curriculum to guide and encourage your study.]

Honoring what is Within

When our son, Isaac, was about a month old he began to scream and cry each night for about an hour.  Nothing would comfort him.  Our pediatrician helpfully explained Isaac’s behavior to us as a period of PURPLE crying, an acronym for:

Previously referred to as colic and treated as if there was something wrong with the baby, PURPLE crying was a way to help parents understand this period in their baby’s life as a normal part of every infant’s development.  As our pediatrician explained it, Isaac took in stimuli all day long and at night he needed to release that stimulation in a big, emotional cry.  I remembered this trying time of parenthood a few days ago when I sat down to meditate for the first time in many months.

My daily meditation practice faltered because I decided I preferred to use my quiet morning time to write. But then life handed me some change and new challenge.  Our beloved 14-year-old German Shepherd lost the use of his hips and after a few months of trying to help him live with dignity, we decided we had to put him down.  In the midst of this, my 45-year-old body presented me with changes to which I’ve had a difficult time adjusting.  It was the holidays, so I coped by eating and drinking too much.  My exercise routine also faltered.

Finally, while trying to run on the treadmill at the gym I noticed that my insides felt all jumpy and wrangly.  This is how stress feels to me—like my insides are filled with Mexican jumping beans. I should get back to meditating, I told myself.

That night, after the kids had gone to bed, I sat and breathed through one rotation of my 108 mala beads.  (Mala beads are great for meditation, by the way.  Read more about them here. Watch a video about how to use them here.)  It was a fruitful meditation, because what arose as I sat quietly with myself was all the emotion I had been avoiding, emotions I finally could identify during this time of meditation as anxiety, sadness, frustration, grief.  All this had been welling up inside of me, but I had been disregarding these feelings in my effort to just…keep…going.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from meditation is how sitting with ourselves and honoring what is happening within is essential for healing and spiritual wholeness.  The Buddhist practice of sitting with your suffering has become very valuable to me.  My emotions, like the ocean tide, need space to rise and flourish before they can ebb and recede.  Too often, though, I avoid these uncomfortable emotions and go to great lengths to push my suffering aside.  Like an infant’s period of PURPLE crying, the emotions that arise within us are a natural part of the human experience and should be respected as such.  By honoring what is within me, by attending to even the most painful of emotions, I’ve discovered that their power over me diminishes.

What about you?  What is within you?  What have you been avoiding?  And what might happen if you honored and attended that which is within?


Is there room for me? A Christmas Sermon

What follows is my sermon, “Is there room for me?” to Monmouth College at our annual                                          Christmas Convocation based on Luke 2: 1-14.

Traditionally, in a Protestant worship service, all the children are invited forward for a special time or message from the pastor.  One Christmas, when I was the pastor of a small church in North Carolina, I decided to involve the whole congregation in my children’s message by acting out the scene where pregnant Mary and Joseph are looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem.  I gave the people sitting on the aisles doors made out of posterboard.  Then I led the children around the sanctuary to knock on the doors and ask if there was room for them to come in and stay.  I did this not realizing how difficult it would be for my church members.

Two-year old-Garrett, clutching his tattered teddy bear, knocked on Leon’s door and asked, “Do you have room for me?” and Leon—well, I could tell that Leon wanted to cave—so, I interrupted, “No, Leon, you’ve got no room for Garrett.  Now shut the door.”  The same thing happened when sweet little Grace in her red velvet dress knocked on Sharon’s door.  Sharon’s a grandmother who never says no to a child.  She looked devastated to have to turn Grace away.  “I’m sorry sweetie,” she said.  Finally, my own 4-year-old, tow-headed, son, Isaac, knocked on Mack’s door, with his sweet little six-inch clip-on-tie and his shirt tail untucked.  Isaac and Mack had a special connection.  They looked for each other every Sunday morning and that Christmas, Mack had made Isaac a toy train out of wood.  So when Isaac asked, “Mr. Mack, do you have room for me?” It was all Mack could do to stay on script, “No, Isaac, I’m sorry, but I’ve got no room for you.”

Every Christmas, as I consider what to say to you at this convocation I try to take the pulse of our community and then respond in a way that I pray is both helpful and faithful.  This year, with race and interfaith relations boiling over, the rescinding of DACA, and our divisions growing ever wider, it seems to me that many of us just feel left out in the cold, or feel left to wonder, is there room for me?

Our seniors getting ready to graduate wonder, “Is there room for me, is there a place for me, in life beyond college?”

The woman living in a society where glass ceilings are yet to be broken and #metoo is trending on twitter wonders, “Is there room for me, for my aspirations and my success?”

The white man, tired of hearing about his unearned privilege and confused over what, exactly, to do about it, wonders, “Will there still be room for me if I let others in?”

The transgender man who just wants to use the bathroom like everyone else wonders, “Is there room for me?”

The undocumented student, who fears her and her family’s deportation, wonders, “Is there room for me?”

The Syrian refugee, whose family is scattered all over the world and whose home has been decimated by violent, warring powers wonders, “Is there room for me?”

The African American student attending a predominantly white college, wonders, “Is there room for me?”

Pondering this question (the question of whether or not there is room) I returned to the text and discovered a detail that I had missed. When I read this story of Jesus’ birth before, I had always pictured a weary Innkeeper greeting Mary and Joseph in the middle of the night, a lantern reflecting their faces desperate for a place to stay and the Innkeeper’s regret as he, reluctantly, followed the script, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got no room you.”

Well, apparently, I made this whole scene up because there is no innkeeper in this text.  In fact, I learned recently that the word inn would more accurately be translated as “guest room” or “guest bed” in the peasant house or desert cave where Mary and Joseph more likely stopped. This was not a place of business—not some kind of hotel—but family and friends who had come home for the census and crowded in for the night with people and animals sleeping on different levels.  So yes, there was no bed for them, no guest room with a private bath, no luxury to speak of at all.  But there was room.  Mary and Joseph were taken in.  Their baby was born, wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger.

Knowing this, now I wish I could go back in time, back to my church in North Carolina and back to the Christmas when I led all those children around the sanctuary.  I wish I could go back and give my church members the right script.  I’d tell Leon, go ahead and cave. Let Garrett in. Sharon, it’s okay, you’ve got room for Grace.  And Mack, you can make room for Isaac, just like I know you would for any child of God.

In today’s world, it seems like we’ve been operating under a script that tells us there just isn’t enough—there’s not enough room, not enough resources, not enough jobs, not enough alternative sources of energy, maybe even not enough love to conquer the hate or good to overcome the evil.  This belief in scarcity arises out of fear and anxiety.  I get that.  I know that fear too.  But this belief in scarcity only leads us to hoard in excess, to isolate ourselves, build walls, choose sides and arm ourselves to the hilt to protect our own.

The birth of Jesus Christ flips this script.  It proclaims the good news of great joy for all the people.  No one is left out in the cold.  Nor is anyone left out as Jesus grows up and purposefully reaches out to those who have been left out: the women, the children, the stranger, the sick, the poor, even the despised tax collector.  Jesus apparently believed that what God has given, God has given in abundance. There is enough.  There is room for us all.

There is room for the graduating senior and the woman with career aspiration.  There is room for the privileged and the underprivileged.  There is room for the lgbtq, for the undocumented, for the refugee, for the minoritized. There is room for us all.

The angel Gabriel wasn’t kidding when he said, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.”  A Savior born in an overcrowded house among the animals because the good people there believed they had enough to make room.

This Christmas, may we know this Savior and this salvation when we too make room for all of God’s people.

[Feature Image: Wbeem]