I’ll never forget holding Eliza in my lap one night reading her books with a singing competition on tv in the background. As a Black female contestant started to sing, Eliza paused what she was doing and sat entranced. I watched Eliza staring at the young woman, and the same thought kept coming to mind, “It’s true. Representation matters.”
I am only three years deep in this journey of finding role models who look like my children for my children. As I mentioned before, Eliza notices every single time there is a little girl who shares her skin tone and her beautiful curly hair. This past week, we were reading a book and she innocently asked me, “Where’s me?” In this particular book, there wasn’t a girl who mirrored Eliza’s reflection. It hit me in my gut. Every book we read, she is looking for herself.
Isn’t that what we all do? I loved to read as a kid and teenager. In every single book I read, I always pictured myself as one of the characters. We all want to be the heroin. The kid who makes good decisions. The kid who goes on the adventure. The kid who saves the day.
Yet for my beautiful Black daughter, she is already realizing that often the world won’t give her the heroine role. All too often, the world doesn’t give little Black girls and boys roles at all. My son and my daughter will have to forge their own roles in the stories they read and play.
Before we ever had kids, I remember my husband and I starting to talk about the truth that representation matters. We had moved from a predominantly diverse area of Houston, to an area of Texas that had an obvious majority of white people living and attending the school we were at. Sadly, it took me until that point in my life to start to recognize what People of Color have been stating for years. Representation matters.
Representation matters. But here’s the lesson that I took way too long to realize through all this. Not only does it matter for POC, but it also matters for white America.
Here are some action steps that Aaron and I have taken in the past and are continuing to take now to better ensure that our children are raised with the understanding and the focus that representation matters.
1. We started becoming deliberate in bringing diversity into our collection of books, tv shows movies, toys etc... do we see POC represented as the primary lead? Are those characters portrayed in a positive light?
2. We are extremely purposeful with who we follow on social media and the podcasts/sermons we listen to. (This has been especially huge for me personally.) I’ve started following a lot of pastors and authors of Color. I have learned tremendously just by seeing what they post, what they recommend, what they perceive. This has helped me recognize systematic racism and prejudice in our everyday life. Brian Lorritts, Jackie Hill Perry, Preston Perry, Eugene Cho, Dr. Tony Evans, Latasha Morrison, and Jemar Tisby are a few of the individuals I would recommend following.
3. We are purposeful with having a diverse friend and acquaintance group. Obviously, we all have our friends that we’ve known forever, but moving forward are we getting to know people who look different than us? We’ve been reminded how huge this is- especially for our kids to see us being friends with different ethnicities and races. This will help them separate the stereotypes that they mostly see on tv with real people they have laughed with, seen their parents go deep with, and have had in their home. This will help children and parents alike to believe the stories of POC and hear the daily occurrences of racism that still happens.
Let’s push towards the world that our children’s aptitudes are not determined by their race. Let’s push toward the world where success is not an expectation of the privileged and a surprise for those who aren’t. When representation matters, each child meets an older version of themselves which gives life to dreams beyond what they have seen.
Representation matters. In our society. In our churches. In our homes. Let’s write stories for our sons and daughters where each and every child has an important role. Let’s move to the world that reflects the story of equality that God wrote for each of us.
I once heard a white mom of biracial children and wife of a Black man say that it is as if she lives between two worlds. She no longer lives in the world she grew up in because she has started on the journey of learning about white privilege, racial injustice, and many of the issues being talked about so much in our nation today.
Yet, as a white mom, she will never live in the world that her Black husband and her biracial kids will. She will never fully understand what it means to be Black in this country.
Her reality is between the two worlds of white privilege and Black pain.
Her heartache could be felt in each syllable that she uttered. I clung on every word she spoke because for the first time I heard someone explain what I had been trying to articulate for myself.
This was over three years and yet I find myself clinging to that truth each month. Sometimes each day. Sometimes each hour.
These past weeks as I have held my son a few extra minutes each night, most of the minutes are spent begging the Lord for his safe-keeping until he is an old man. As I’ve scratched my daughter’s back when she lays her head on my lap, I plead that the Lord shows her from a young age that her beauty and worth are immeasurable knowing the world will try to force her to believe the opposite.
Like so many white Christians, I’ve been wrestling with a lot of questions the past couple of weeks. Aaron and I have talked a lot about what is our next step as an interracial family. We like many of you, want to be able to tell our kids as they grow older the ways that we changed the world for the better. We’ve also been asked by numerous friends for suggestions on what white friends can do moving forward.
I keep going back to the journey that has led me out of the predominantly white suburb that I grew up in, to the journey of learning that I’m now on. I’ve written out some actions that have been transformative in my own journey of learning to be an antiracist. I have not arrived, and I don’t think we should ever believe that we will. Until my dying day, I will want to be known as someone who is still trying to love others better than I did the day before. I hope these actions will be helpful for you on your journey as well. Although it seems to go without saying, I must mention that as a white person, I am unable to understand the stress and pain that Black individuals are experiencing- not just in this heightened season of awareness but every day of their lives.
A few days ago, Ayana Lage on her Instagram feed said, “I saw a comment last night that made my heart sink- someone thanking a white influencer for sharing something not about racism. “It’s a breath of fresh air to see something lighthearted,” they said. I am profoundly jealous of you if you found out about systematic racism in the last two weeks. It’s a privilege to learn about it instead of living it, and it baffles me that some white people are already tired.”
I’m honored that some of my lessons that I’ve learned might be helpful to you in your journey, but I also encourage and plead with you to seek out Black voices for your primary source of information, insight, and ways forward.
Here are some questions that I ask myself on this journey regarding how I support Black friends and their families:
1. Do I recognize there are real and heartbreaking issues that Black people endure? How am I acknowledging those issues (and those biases) privately in my own life and publicly in my areas of influence?
2. Have I started my own education initiative that isn’t based solely on my friends of Color to teach me? Am I aware that it is not the responsibility of my Black neighbor to enlighten me on how I have missed systematic racism in our country?
3. Do I believe the stories of racism and prejudice that POC share? When they say someone responded to them with prejudice, do I try to think of reasons beyond prejudice that could explain that white person’s behavior? . Do I continually try to give the benefit of the doubt to the stranger in their stories?
4. Do I show support without expectations? When I text my Black friends support or encouragement, do I expect them to respond with thanks and praise?
5. Am I using my voice? Silence both privately and publicly from white friends is hurtful. When Aaron and I see friends who are recognizing the injustice and then calling it out by name- that has been like balm to a wound. To know that white friends and families care for the injustice that POC have been facing for years is a necessary part of deepening our friendship. We each have platforms and areas of influence that we can use individually to a) raise awareness b) share that platform with POC (those who would like to) so they can speak/share with a group they may not normally interact with.
In the upcoming days and weeks, I’ll continue this blog series and share some practical action steps that Aaron and I have implemented in our home to increase diversity and knowledge in our everyday life.
If you would like a list of resources to grow in this area, please click here. I’ll keep adding to the list but will repost the link when I’ve added additional materials.
Come with me on this journey. I still have a long ways to go, but I know with every fiber of my being that I would rather be walking towards the People of Color in my life than standing still.
As some of you know, I work for a private university and we like many schools start classes this week. This means there are a lot of parents missing their first, middle, or last child right about now, and in the many years I’ve been working with students, I’ve found there are four lessons for the parents to learn without their college freshman in this upcoming semester.
1. Leave them without calling non-stop.
The temptation to stay extra days to ensure they have absolutely everything they could ever need for the first 150 days of college will be strong, but you must drive the car away from campus. When you leave, it forces your child to get involved in their new community. Say goodbye and let them experience all the highs and lows of being in a new place. Then, once you've left, don’t call every hour checking in on them. That somewhat defeats the purpose of leaving. Don’t fear the absolute worst if they go three hours without answering their phone. Recognize that not only must you leave them, but you also must let them breathe.
2. Let them fight through the lonely.
I know this is like a knife to the heart for most parents. No one wants to see their child upset or hear loneliness in their voice. Your first instinct is to figure out how to fix it for them, which most often entails inviting them home for the weekend (or going back to visit them). Part of growing as an individual is developing strength to push through the difficult seasons- the lonely seasons even. It is completely normal for college students to feel lonely at different points in their first year. Has anyone ever moved to a new place and not felt the twinge of loneliness some weekend? Instead of inviting them home to what’s familiar, encourage and challenge them to meet new people and try new things. Help them see that friendships take time, and they will eventually find their group. Encourage your child to stay at school the first six weekends. I know that might sound like an eternity, but the weekend is where they will relax, enjoy what the campus has to offer, and will start to make friends.
Loneliness will fade, but it can be a powerful teacher while it’s present. It can be the push your child needs to talk to their neighbor, classmate, or suite mate. Push through your own loneliness without your child at home, and encourage them to start making their college campus feel like home.**
[**If your child struggles with depression or anxiety, you might need to be involved a little more.]
3. Let them figure things out.
Your child may not get along with their roommate. They may have a terrifying instructor. They may get a parking ticket. They may flunk a class.
I can promise you there will be something in their first semester that does not follow the plan because it’s life, right?! When does everything always go perfectly? When something unexpected happens, if your first instinct is to call the professor, the residence hall director, or the campus security, sit on it. Let your child set an appointment to talk to their professor. Let your child learn how to speak to their roommate about their disagreement. Let your child talk to someone about their parking ticket. We are not helping our children by fixing every problem for them. Eventually they will need to pay their own bills, deal with their own conflicts, and find solutions for their own problems. I’m not saying you can’t give your child advice and direction for what steps they should consider taking, but I am saying it’s important to let them have the conversations and take the steps to address their problems. College is a great place to learn how to “adult,” but too often college students aren’t encouraged to learn those lessons. Adulting may not always be a fun lesson to learn, but is one that is essential for their success after college.
4. Love them through it.
Your child is navigating a whole world of “new-ness,” and even for the student who is a pro at navigating change, it can be overwhelming. Be the cheerleader. The encourager. The chief “You can do it!” voice in their life. You probably know your child better than anyone, so remind them of their strengths, their gifts, and their value. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are still one of the most important voices in their lives, and you can boost their confidence in the face of the unknown.
I know dropping your child off at college is incredibly hard, but it’s also an incredible privilege. You’ve always known your child’s strengths, but now they’re learning how to share their gifts with the world. Your role as parent has not diminished, it’s just changed. Now you get to be walk alongside them more often than leading them and that’s a very special place to be.
About Holly's Blog
Holly loves to write, and you'll find her blog covers all different topics!