Race relations is not a topic I shy away from talking about here on the blog. You can see some of my other posts about it here, here, and here. During my time as an elementary school teacher, I’ve served in a few communities where I was in the minority. What those experiences taught me was how strongly my students often identified with their cultural heritages and also how extremely important it is for everyone to try to understand and empathize with various perspectives.
For the past week or so, after having their eyes opened by the events that took place in Charlottesville, I’ve heard several people in my own community expressing feelings of helplessness. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you are only one person, so what can you really do?
It’s true that combatting racism is a huge job. But it’s also true that change starts at our own kitchen tables. It starts when people like us, regular people who are looking at the world and want to leave it a better place than we found it, are willing to admit that maybe there are a few small changes we need to make in our own lives. Maybe there are some ways we didn’t even recognize we were contributing to the problem, but are easy enough for us to change. If we are willing to ask ourselves a few hard questions, then change can absolutely start with us.
If you are a white mom, like me, and you are wondering what in the world you can do, I have put together this list of action items with the help of some of my Facebook friends. This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything. I’d love to see even more suggestions in the comments. But it is a place to get started.
- Have honest conversations. I’m not saying you should grab a random person off the street and drag them into a discussion about race. But you should have people in your life who look like you and people who don’t. Start talking about it. Yes, the conversations will be awkward at first, but it’s better to have a few awkward conversations than to have your friends feel like you aren’t listening or you don’t care about them. Last year my friend Charmia and I modeled one of those discussions on Google+ when we did our Two Moms Talk About Race show. Did we do this perfectly? Not even close. But if you feel like you need to watch an example of two friends talking about it, you can watch us talk about this topic for over an hour while we juggle our kids right here.
- You can continue those honest conversations with your own family and friends. Do not be afraid to speak up if someone says something inappropriate or call out offensive jokes for what they are. You don’t have to be confrontational about it, and I would not recommend that. I would not recommend this strategy if a situation appeared to be dangerous, but if it seems safe to you, sometimes a simple “Hey that’s not cool.” or “I don’t get it. Can you explain why that’s funny?” directed at the offender can go a long way. But what if the situation is more intense? This is a great cartoon about what to do if you actually witness harassment in person.
- Use your social media channels to spread a positive message. I realize this is controversial and maybe it’s close to home to me because I’m a blogger. Some people don’t like to post anything remotely political. I get that some of us like to save our Facebook pages for fun things like pictures of our kids or chocolate cake recipes, but I feel like I need to say it. We live in an era where social media is the primary form of communication for everyone from teenagers, to the President of the United States, to organized hate groups. It may not seem like doing very much to type a few sentences, but those sentences that don’t seem like much to you are actually showing people who could otherwise feel abandoned that they do have your support. Silence reads as apathy, and that is not what we want. It hurts my heart that I have friends actively calling out asking for support, saying things like “Where are the Christian voices? Why aren’t they coming out to support us now?” And then those very same (usually white) Christian voices are often silent or have even tried to silence me on multiple occasions when I have spoken out about it, by reaching out through private messages and telling me that talking about it is only furthering the divide. If it hurts my heart, how do we think it makes the people who are actually being persecuted feel? (Nevermind how privileged it is to even have the option to just ignore something like racism, I honestly can’t think of a single time in all of human history when ignoring a problem made any kind of difference.) No, we need to talk. In person and, yes, even online. This is how we begin to have a national conversation in 2017. If you are not ok with racism and hate, then stand up and say so.
- Educate yourself. Read books. Go to websites. Watch documentaries. Watch multiple news channels. Take in some information from more liberal sources and some from more conservative sources, then form your own opinions. Look for primary sources and actually talk to the people who are involved with these causes. If the only thing you have heard about a group like Black Lives Matter is what has been reported on one news channel, then take the time to dig a bit further. Visit their website or even attend one of their events and see if it that experience matches your previous opinion. Kristen over at Rage Against The Minivan has a great post about the false equivalency between Black Lives Matter and the Alt-Right. Give her a chance and hear her out. She has actually been to several BLM marches and she can show you her pictures. But don’t just take her word for it. Figure it out for yourself.
- Look around your own home. Eddie and I have been in foster care training again because we have decided that it’s time to reopen our home. Race is one of the topics that is discussed at length in foster care training. One of the activities we had to do was examining the diversity in our own lives. They gave us a cup and several different color beads, then they asked us questions. (You can see the activity on page 26 of this resource guide.) For each question we had to put in the color bead that best represented our life. The questions were things like “What does your church family look like?” “What is the population of your neighborhood school?” “What does your doctor look like?” “Your hairdresser?” “Your favorite author?” “Who is the main character on your favorite tv show?” We put a bead in the cup to represent each person. At the end of the activity, we had to look into our cups and see how much or how little diversity was really present in our own lives. It can be a really eye-opening thing to see when you have a visual like that, especially if your cup is almost entirely white.
- Make an effort to have diversity in your home. Take a look at the toys, books, music, art, etc. around your house. Make note of the television shows and movies you watch. Are they inclusive of a variety of cultures, styles, and genres? Are you supporting artists and entertainers of all backgrounds, or only people who look and sound like you? Check out family-friendly artists like The Alphabet Rockers. They call their work “music that makes change” and they “focus on social change and racial justice.” They sent us a copy of their latest CD, and you can see a video of their music video for their song Shine, here: Another easy place to start is with a book. My friend Erin recommended the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, so this is what I’m reading right now. You can pick up a copy through my Amazon affiliate link here, if you’re interested.
7. Get involved in your community. When you feel like you are ready to reach beyond the walls of your own house, then go out and get involved. You might only be one person, but there is always something you can do. The Southern Poverty Law Center has this great Resource Guide on Ten Ways to Fight Hate.
What else? Leave a comment with other ideas or hop over to my Facebook page to talk to me there. I would love to hear some more ideas about ways you are spreading positivity in your own communities.