Race and diversity can be a difficult subject to talk about, especially with your kids. But I strongly believe that the move toward racial reconciliation in our nation starts in the home. Parents, you can teach your kids to love others and accept them, no matter their skin color. Or, you can teach them the opposite.
I recently got to speak with author and NFL player Benjamin Watson on my Parenting Great Kids podcast and we had such a great conversation about this topic. Here are just a few of the insightful and wise things Benjamin had to say on the subject of race and the family:
M: What did your parents teach you growing up about race?
B: The great thing that my parents always taught me was that although people may treat you a certain way…that doesn’t mean that’s how you should treat them. And that’s something that was preached loud and clear in my household: You treat everyone with the same respect, even if it’s not reciprocated.
They also taught me that no matter what has happened during your life, or in their lifetime, or in their parents’ lifetime, it doesn’t change the ideals and the aspirations that you have for yourself. If you want to be whatever it is, you go and you try to be that. You study hard. You perform well. You set goals for yourself and you attain them.
The move toward racial reconciliation starts with the conversations we have in our homes.
So while we always had healthy, robust discussions about race in our home—we understood all the implications—there was also an understanding that that doesn’t hold you back from what you want to do, and there also was an understanding that all of any group is not against you…while we have this black-white thing in America, I was always taught that you still address people as individuals and by their own character.
M: How has your experience growing up with your parents influenced the way you are raising your kids now?
My parents didn’t really shelter us from everything that was uncomfortable. So we learned about history, whether it be revolutionary war history, civil war history, antebellum south history, reconstruction, slavery, civil rights. We learned about a lot of those things because…it was important for us to get a background and understanding of where we are to this day and how we got here, collectively as a country, but also as black Americans.
So one of the things that I think I picked up from them is the importance of being the gateway for what my children hear, but not being a wall.
It’s important for your kids to view you as a gateway, not a wall, for critical conversations.
When you look back a couple of years ago to some of the events of the summer of 2014, and you talk about Ferguson and Eric Gardner in New York—these highly publicized police altercations—no matter what happened, they were on TV a lot, and there were a lot of racial undertones…We don’t know exactly everything that happened because we weren’t there…[but] we have a chance now as parents to introduce [our kids] to these issues in a way that teaches them how to think through them, and teaches them how to not necessarily jump to a conclusion and label someone or label a group of people, but to look at things individually and wait for facts to come out, and then have strong opinions about it once you understand what’s going on.
M: How do parents affect how their children feel and think about race?
We all have ideals that we want our kids to learn, and then when we at look ourselves, we say, “You know what? [I] fall so short in this area. I hope they don’t pick up everything that I’m laying down for them.” And so we have to constantly examine ourselves and be honest with ourselves about what our kids are learning from us.
I’ve talked about this topic before: the man or woman who is a “living room racist.” When certain things come on television, and they’re talking among their friends, what are the things they’re saying, and what are the things their kids may be hearing their parents say?
In the same way we may want our children to pick up a trait that we’ve learned whether it’s carpentry or being a mechanic or being a lawyer or doctor…we have to do the same thing when it comes to dealing with race, when it comes to generosity and charity, when it comes to being kind to other people, when it comes to honesty or whatever you want to show them. You have to be willing to submit yourself to the hard work of demonstrating that to the best of your ability.
Parents, you must be willing to submit yourself to the hard work of demonstrating character.
M: What positive things can every American do to heal race relations, particularly starting in their home with their kids?
When it comes to race in our country, I think that the living room is more important than the courtroom.
Obviously the laws had to be changed, and need to be changed…but I think it really comes down to our families. The family unit is what God gave us for our society, and to build a healthy society. So when children are around the table or when people are invited over to your house who may not look like you, children are able to pick up on that and see what’s important.
When there’s leadership in the household from the mother and father in the conversations that are being had over a meal, that’s what changes the courts. That’s what changes the public opinion, is the individual family units.
Leadership in the home is what will change the conversation in the courts.
If you would like to hear more from Benjamin Watson on race and the family, I highly recommend his book Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us.