When I was five years old, I strapped on my first pair of tiny ballet shoes. They were peach and perfectly blended into my skin. Though I don’t remember much, I imagine I walked into the room and took count of all my new friends, scanning their own ballet shoes to see if anyone else had the same ones.
I imagine that I noticed one pair of shoes that looked exactly like mine! But her feet didn’t quite match her shoes. I probably shrugged that off as I approached her, introduced myself, and started to dance alongside her.
Here’s what I do remember: my new friend was Black. I loved talking to her—she was unlike anyone else in my life at that time. In fact, she was the first Black person I can remember meeting. Her dad would often pick her up from dance, and we would wave at one another, already anticipating seeing each other again the next week. After a few weeks of getting to know her and dancing side-by-side, she told me she wanted to introduce me to her mom. I walked out into the lobby and looked and looked for a woman who looked like my new friend but couldn’t find anyone.
“Here she is!” she exclaimed, pulling my hand to a woman who I did not expect to see. Her skin was like mine. “This isn’t your mom!” I said. “She can’t be”.
As the White mother of a biracial daughter now, those words haunt me.
I shrink inside myself when I think about the way I may have made my friend and her mom feel. It’s one of the moments I wish I could redo a thousand times. But I can’t.
As I got into the car that afternoon, I asked my mom if she knew that my Black friend had a White mom. My mother told me that she did and that sometimes moms and dads are Black and White.
My mom simply informed me of this. She didn’t tell me it was wrong; she didn’t even insinuate it. But somehow, for some reason, at five years old, I made the assumption that their relationship was wrong.
Maybe it was because I simply wasn’t used to it. Maybe it was because in my small town, Black people and White people usually didn’t do much interacting. Maybe it was because we simply hadn’t talked about it before.
They say that children have to be taught to be racist, but I wasn’t.
They say that we have to impress prejudice upon our babies, but what if it’s easier than they make it?
Teaching racism isn’t just about telling kids that Black people and White people can’t get married. It’s implied.
It’s hurrying to the car if you see a Black man in the parking lot. It’s watching TV shows that only paint Black people as criminals. It’s reading books where all the heroes and heroines are White. It’s all those things inside your home and also at their friends’ homes and also at school and also everywhere.
Dear fellow mama,
Your babies aren’t too young to talk about it.
They’re not too young to learn that all people are made in the image of our Holy God. It’s not too early to tell them that some people are treated differently than others because of the color of their skin.
They aren’t too immature to hear you confess your own sin.
At five years old, I kept my assumptions to myself. I don’t even know how I got them. My parents didn’t teach them to me, but somehow, they still existed.
And here’s what I fear. I fear in the name of protecting our White babies’ ears, we will raise another generation that ignores the plight of Black and Brown babies. I fear that in the name of “kids aren’t racist”, we will let prejudice bubble up inside the hearts of our tiniest of humans. And though we will not have done it with ill intent, its impact will be great all the more.
While you can shelter your White child from having to hear about racism, mothers of Brown skinned children cannot.
So, start having the conversations—even if you don’t think they understand. Remind them that God created all people beautifully; that He ordained us to live in this time
and in this place
and in this skin.
Tell them, even if you don’t think it has to be said, that all skin is beautiful.
And as you tell them this, help them to understand that not all people align themselves in these truths.
Tell them that there are people who believe that those with darker skin should not be counted equal. Remind them that not too long ago, the people who believe that ran our government and made laws that kept us separate. Remind them that before that, they were treated as completely inhuman.
And while I am not saying that you should share the grotesque details of slavery with your three-year-old, I am saying that you can start preparing their little heart for that truth to be revealed one day. You can ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in talking to you child about sin, about partiality, about how our human heart is bent toward pride and selfishness and how, if we aren’t careful, that sin will cause us to treat other people differently.
It will be uncomfortable. It will be hard. But it is so necessary.
You’re not going to have all the answers. But saying something is of far more value than saying nothing.
I loved my first Black friend. But somehow, some way, I didn’t think it was right for her mother and her father to be together. I got it from somewhere. And I am begging you to stop that in its tracks for the sake of my daughter and the others like her. I am begging you to raise children who know that this world treats people unfairly, and to actively live in opposition to that.
I am begging you to teach your children about this sin.
Please don’t say that children have to be taught racism, and then use it as the excuse to ignore the problem. Children are taught racism implicitly and explicitly alike. They are tiny sinners who make assumptions just like anyone else. They are biased and prejudiced just like we are. Their sin has to be called out, just like mine does.
Dear fellow mama,
My daughter could be the little girl in your daughter’s dance class. And if mine is not, someone else’s will be. She could be the little girl your child loves dearly but still has prejudices against.
Dear fellow mama, will you please commit not to protecting your children from tough truths, but will you commit to protecting other children from the prejudices that lay deep in the back of the heart? Will you protect my child like you would want your child protected?
Will you make diversity so woven into the fabric of your life that your child doesn’t have to be later convinced of the sin of racism? Will you fill your bookshelves with stories of Black superheroes? Will you share the truth of our country’s history? Will you make sure your story book Bible doesn’t portray all Bible characters as White Europeans when they were Brown Middle-Easterners and Black Africans?
Will you send your kids to diverse schools? Will you go to a church with Black leadership? Will you put people in front your children who look like my husband? Will you stop the implicit narrative that Black people are criminals and to be feared?
Will you stop clutching your purse or grabbing your child’s hand when you get on the elevator with a Black man?
And then if you do mess up—and like me, you probably will—will you get down on your knee, will you get eye-to-eye with your baby, and will you confess your own sin?
Will you do that for the sake of the next generation? Will you raise children who are willing and ready to take a stand against racism?
We don’t need any more color-blind kids—we had plenty of them in our own generation.
We need children who love intentionally. We need children who will challenge us. We need children who are ready to listen and learn. We don’t need to deconstruct eighteen years of not-talking-about again in two decades.
I love you, and I was your child. I didn’t even know how deeply my prejudices hid within my own heart. I don’t know where they came from. Probably about a thousand places. But there they were. And I am still working to clean them out. I have been on the journey of learning to truly hate my own sin for almost a decade, but it could have started sooner.
Don’t use your child’s colorblindness as an excuse. Colorblindness turns into ignorance. Ignorance turns intentional. And intentional ignorance is prejudice.
Dear mama, start talking about it.
Dear mama, don’t ignore it.
I wish that I was not a child who simply shrugged off peach ballet shoes on brown feet. I wish I was a child who noticed that and deeply loved our differences. I wish I was a child who made my friend feel valued, fearfully and wonderfully made, unashamed to be the product of diversity.
And though I cannot go back and change my heart, I can and should let it change the way I raise my own child. I can change the way I challenge White mamas of White babies because I know that I would need the same challenges if I were living in your shoes.
If my child’s feet matched her own peach ballet shoes.
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For more information on where to start when seeking Biblical justice, check out our Christian anti-racism guide, Start Somewhere.
For more posts about race and interracial marriage, check out the following posts: