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.

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?

 

I’ll pray for you anyway

After visiting with Sister Margaret, I pray in the monastery’s beautiful chapel.

“I just got back from Walgreens where I bought boxes of band aids, Neosporin, and hydrocortisone cream.”

This was my response to Sister’s Margaret’s inquiry into the summer activities of my children.  I try to visit her Benedictine monastery once a month for spiritual direction.

“The kids are doing great,” I said.  “But Isaac came home last night all banged up from baseball. He had deep, bloody scratches down both knees and an infected sore on his toe.  I was horrified.  He hardly noticed.”

Sister Margaret smiled and laughed at this description of my 10-year-old boy.

“It’s so hard to see my baby’s body all beat up like that.” I continued.  “But before I put him in bed I made sure he was all clean.  I gave him a bath, slathered on the Neosporin and put bandages all down his knees and shins and around his toe.”

“It sounds like lectio.” Sister Margaret remarked, which made me smile.  She was right.  I “attended” to my son’s wounds just like a person of faith would “attend” to a sacred text through lectio divina—or sacred reading.

“You know,” Sister Margaret continued, “God attends to you in the same way.”  Her comment made me pause and contemplate God attending to my wounds, being horrified by my pain and seeking to speed the healing process through attentive love and care.

She shifted in her chair and leaned forward intently. “I want you to go back through your life and remember all the times you were attended to with love and kindness,” she said.  “We more often remember when we have been hurt or wounded.  But kindness and love abound.  Return to those places when you were shown love and kindness and in those places you will return to God.”

As I began to consider when I was attended to in love, I recalled what Sister Margaret said to me when I first sat down in the comfortable armchair across from hers. I had not been able to come see her for a few months because of my busy schedule so I apologized for missing.  Her response to my apology was, “That’s okay.  You can miss if you have to.  Whether you come or not, I’ll pray for you anyway.”

Love is always reaching for more

In his book, My Bright Abyss, Christian Wiman writes:

“In any true love—a mother’s for her child, a husband’s for his wife, a friend’s for a friend—there is an excess energy that always wants to be in motion. Moreover, it seems to move not simply from one person to another but through them, toward something else. This is why we can be so baffled and overwhelmed by such love: it wants to be more than it is; it cries out inside of us to make it more than it is. And what it is crying out for, finally, is its essence and origin: God.”

I don’t believe we, as humans, can get enough love. We certainly can’t offer each other enough of it, which is why we need God. I feel this need in my son when I lay down next to him in his twin bed after tucking him in for the night. We take each other in our arms and talk about the day and say things reserved for whispered conversations in the moonlight. He wants me to rub his back and sing to him “his song”—the simple tune I made up for him when he was a baby. I do as he asks and then move to pull away, feeling the call of my own bedtime ritual of time with my husband, a hot bath and a good book. But Isaac wants more. He always wants more. Even a child who is well-loved is insatiably hungry for more.

It is baffling and overwhelming, as Wiman states, to feel the way love is always reaching for more. As a mother who seeks to meet all her child’s needs, it is humbling as well. I turn to God, then, (if God is the essence and origin of love) as my only hope to ultimately and eternally satisfy.

 

A Virtual Placeholder

3368979605_70ec416e7f_oLast night I ransacked my recently cleaned home office in search of a poem I wrote two years ago about a sweet moment with my daughter. During a week when I am trying to write a sermon, a wedding homily and a first draft of my new essay, I thought it would be the perfect, easy blog post. I literally paged through ten notebooks full of writing (wow, I’ve written a lot in the last two years!) before I found the poem that turned out to be not as beautiful as the moment that inspired it. But I will still post it. I remember how the urge to write came to me after my then 4-year-old daughter gave me a hug and kiss goodbye before bouncing off to daycare. I wanted to put words to that sweet moment so I could remember how it felt when my daughter is grown.

Here’s what I wrote:

She leaned in for a delicate kiss,
her arms, wrapped around my neck,
as we said our morning goodbyes.
She’s longer now, at four years,
the pudge of her belly
not as pronounced.
But her eyes still round with
innocence—innocence I fiercely desire
to protect. Her laugh is wild
and stubborn. Her head strong.
I couldn’t love her more; my wild,
woman child, who will grow to be
I don’t know what—but surely amazing
in all her feminine glory.
Watch out world, my Ella Grace,
is a lioness in the making.

A few friends and a blog I have enjoyed following recently shut down their sites. Blogging isn’t for everyone and there are lots of different reasons to keep at it. I think what keeps me going is that Something to Say is mostly for myself—and if anyone else gets something from it, that is a wonderful bonus. I really love, though, how my blog is a virtual placeholder for my thoughts and memories. This poem, which I wanted to save, would have soon been tossed in the trash in a de-cluttering frenzy. Now that it is here on my blog, though, as well as other memories (like this post about my son putting on his sunblock) I can search for it, pull up this post and reread it anytime. Who knows, maybe even my children and my grandchildren will be searching through this blog someday. Scrapbooking was never my thing. This is. Thank you, WordPress.com, for the space.

 

[Feature Image: Kari Bluff]

Facing Change

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I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.
Flannery O’Connor

I am immensely grateful for my life. My husband is a talented, intelligent man who makes me laugh and is committed to growing with me in our relationship. I have two beautiful, healthy children who inspire me daily with their unbridled joy and wonder. I get paid for work I love, work that challenges me intellectually and spiritually. And yet there are days when I want it all to change. I want a new job, a different boss, more time to write, fewer committee meetings. I want my husband to be less cynical. I want my children to stop fighting, to stop yelling, “STOP!” I want things to change and I want them to stay the same. Every day is like this.

A poem by Randall Jarrell struck me today. Called Next Day, the poem shares a woman’s thoughts as she reflects on her life the day after attending a friend’s funeral. Here is an excerpt:

Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,

My husband away at work—I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them.  As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing.

I understand this fear of change, especially the change that comes with growing older. I feel the desire to slow life down when I sit on the back porch with my kids eating ice cream cones, then watch as they kick off their socks to gallop barefoot through the grass. I don’t want any of this to change. I don’t want to lose what is so precious.

But I also find change exciting. Something new is around the corner and I am curious, eager to see what this change will bring; A new and better version of myself? A new phase in my relationship with my husband? A new challenge at work? A new joy as a parent of rapidly growing children? While Christians refer to Christ as the solid rock on which we stand and sing about an unchanging God, Buddhists teach that all is groundless and that we must grow comfortable with change as our constant reality. As much as I would be comforted by the belief that God doesn’t change, I find myself agreeing more with the Buddhists.

So how can I live faithfully, wisely, attentively, comfortably in the face of all this change?  Maybe as Flannery O’Connor does in taking it all as a blessing, but with one eye squinted.

 

[Feature Image: Stephen Thomas]