Episode summary:

Susan and Dr. Harvey shares practical ideas for talking with our children about issues related to race, empowering children to take steps to create equality for all. This is a special, powerful conversation you won’t want to miss. 

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey is an award-winning author, educator and public speaker. Her work focuses on ethics and race, gender, sexuality, activism, spirituality and politics—with particular attention to how religion shows up in these dimensions of our shared social life. Her greatest passion and longtime work persistently and pointedly return to racial justice and white anti-racism. https://jenniferharvey.org/

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

 

  • Why “color blindness” is ineffective in addressing racial inequality
  • Practical ways to empower children with things they can do today to make a difference
  • How to grow an anti-racist moral imagination in our children

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Transcript:

Speaker 1:

Hello, and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. And I’m really glad you’re here. I have learned a lot in a long career, over 40 years as a teacher educator and marriage and family therapist. More than that, I’ve been inspired in ways that I really can’t describe. I’ve seen people in huge amounts of pain and heartache take brave steps to make changes in their lives. And I’ve seen their burdens lifted. I’ve seen their lives improve radically because of their willingness to do what felt really hard or even impossible in many ways, we’re at a time like that a time when it feels like what’s needed to make our world better for everybody is too big or too hard. But I keep remembering the people I’ve seen in my therapy office. Who’ve made such enormous changes in their lives and the ripple effect it’s had on the lives of those around them. And I believe with all my heart that humans are capable of great transformation today. My podcast guest is Dr. Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids. I loved our conversation, her compassion, her sensitivity and wisdom really come through. She addresses so many issues that are important right now. Have a listen and I’ll be back for a wrap up after I play you the interview.

 

Speaker 1:

Welcome Dr. Jennifer Harvey. I’m so glad that you’re here.

 

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for having me.

 

Speaker 1:

So let me tell our listeners a little bit about you. The Reverend Dr. Jennifer Harvey is an award winning author, educator and speaker her greatest passion in longtime work focuses on racial justice and white anti-racism her essay. Are we raising racists, but nearly a week on the New York Times, 10 most read pieces she’s written for CNN have posts or dinners, the conversation, and countless other venues and her most recent books are Raising White Kids and Dear White Christians. And they bring Jen’s experience as an anti-racist activist and educator to bear on conversations about how white communities can more deeply support racial justice work being led by communities of color. Dr. Harvey serves as professor of religion and faculty, director of the crew scholars program, an academic excellence and leadership development program for students of color at Drake University. So glad you’re here. Couldn’t come at a better time.

 

Speaker 2:

Thank you. I’m really happy to be here. These conversations are important.

 

Speaker 1:

So you were recently featured on CNN and Sesame Street’s Standing Up To Racism. And can you share with our listeners some of the ways parents are talking with their children about racial inequality?

 

Speaker 2:

Yeah, well, I think the conversations look really different in, in different homes, depending really on the racial composition of the family. I know that, you know, black parents in particular, for example, are having conversations that they’ve already long been having. And so the conversations have to do with everything from you know, trying to make their kids feel safe, trying to ensure they feel connected to a community of resistance and, you know, justice seeking and, and more, but I think in white families right now, and that’s, you know, we’re sort of my own experience as a white parent. And my work with white communities has me really located. There’s a lot of uncertainty about how to talk about what’s going on because many white families we may have for a long time said things like, you know, we really celebrate everyone’s differences, or we may have said, you know what? We love everybody the same. And so in some ways that teaching has left us somewhat unequipped for this moment. And so we’re kind of struggling a little bit, I think, many of us to figure out how we talk with our kids about what’s going on across the country.

 

Speaker 1:

That’s really yes. To your point, this idea of we’re colorblind or we’re all the same or skin color doesn’t matter has really been the approach. Many, many parents have taken and it isn’t working and we’re seeing the fruits of that now. So how do we pivot, how do we talk with our children in ways about equality and justice and all the issues that are coming to the forefront right now?

 

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So I guess I would want to engage that by talking a little bit about the parent mind shift and then a little bit about how we talk with our kids. I think those of us who are parenting white children really have to have a mind shift where we realize that colorblind teaching, as we have largely many of us who believe in equality have embraced to this point. We really have to just wrench that from our minds as, as, as any longer being perceived as an acceptable way to be thinking about what we want to be doing as parents black and Brown families, Asian American families have long said to us, we want you to see our racial difference and acknowledge and respect it. And so it’s actually not the goal to be colorblind. It’s not even a compliment. It’s actually kind of evidence that we haven’t really been listening.

 

Speaker 2:

So no more colorblindness besides the fact that it literally is not a thing. All the evidence shows it doesn’t work. It’s not true families of color. Don’t want us teaching that. So it’s time to stop doing that. And the wonderfulness of starting to talk explicitly and say to our children, we notice race, we value difference. Let’s talk about differences. When we start to do that, we can then, and only then also teach them about racial injustice and racism. And the reason we want to do that is because for white kids to be able to participate in creating racial justice in being anti-racist advocates with people of color in this country they can only have an anti-racist moral imagination stirred and grown when we are teaching them to recognize racism and talk about racism. And so we’ve got to start with talking about race and difference to get them on a path towards antiracism and racial justice. Wow.

 

Speaker 1:

Wow. I almost want to just ask you to repeat that because even though it’s very simple, it’s so fundamental. And as I said to you, when we were just chatting before the interview, I do personally feel late to the party, even though I consider myself pretty progressive. And, you know, I made phone calls when Obama was running with my then teenage son and we actually went to Washington DC for his inauguration. It was such a deeply moving and powerful experience and still, you know, and still, I feel personally that I am in this crash course right now learning. And you, you made a great analogy when we were chatting before about algebra or calculus.

 

Speaker 2:

Sure. Yeah. So I sometimes will say to my students, they’ll come into class and I’ll say to my students, I teach college we’re to talk about race. And, you know, students of color in the class are like, okay, I’m ready to go. And my white students are sort of like deer in the headlights. Oh my gosh, could we talk about abortion instead? That would be easier. So my analogy is that what I will tell my students is, and it’s so true in this moment in our country, you know, black families in particular and families of color more broadly have been doing calculus for, you know, forever and teaching their kids, calculus and white kids have been basically been, not even taught how to master addition. And so we’ve got white folks in this country who are doing, you know, one plus one equals two and people of color are doing calculus.

 

Speaker 2:

And somehow we’ve got to catch white folks up to be able to do calculus because in a moment like this, we all need to be able to do math together, but there’s, you know, there’s a crisis. And so it’s really difficult because we’ve all got to be able to do calculus. And we are just in really different places. And frankly, you know, African-Americans, don’t have time to teach us calculus right now. Right. So it’s a real problem and we’ve got it, but we, you know, we’ve got to, and we can get up to speed, but it takes a real deep dive commitment. And you know, the other thing I want to say about that is that’s one of the reasons talking about how we’re parenting is so critically important because I’m aware, okay. I started to learn calculus in my twenties if we stick with the analogy, but you know what, I am teaching my nine and 11 year old calculus right now and not perfectly, but there are going to be so much further along than I was, and they’re going to be ready to go in ways that I was not.

 

Speaker 1:

Wow. Yeah. A friend of mine posted something the other day about how in her community, she has a guy who’s been repairing her washing machine for years and years. Really nice guy. And, you know, they don’t have in depth conversations until this week when he talked to him about what it was like, because he’s, he’s African American. And she was saying, well, how was this for you here in Myrtle beach, Florida? And he said, well, I get pulled over at least six times a year. I’ll be in my van, my work van, clearly, I’m going to a repair job, but that’s the norm. I no longer can take any calls after dark. It’s too risky, even though I could use the money. And just that one anecdote was so enlightening too, to understand these are people who are living this experience that were pretty clueless about, and then we sort of pretend that race doesn’t matter.

 

Speaker 2:

Yeah, exactly, exactly. And that’s a great example of how, you know, if we are not teaching our kids actively, that race does matter, then we cannot teach them for example, to it’s almost like they don’t even build the awareness and the capacity to appreciate the truth of that person’s experience the experience of the man. You just described, let alone imagine themselves as able to participate with a community of peers in creating a world where someone is safe to go out on a repair job after dark, regardless of the color of their skin. And that’s the work. I mean, we really have a generational work to do because even those of us that are like the good white people, right? Who are, who do believe in equality and want a quality in our country, we did not get from our parents and our grandparents, the kind of anti-racist mentoring and modeling and teaching that black families and Latin X families are passing down to their children all the time because they must for survival. But we have a real like generational deficit when it comes to capacity. And so I’m determined not to pass that onto my children.

 

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I do a thing every Monday. I have been for weeks since the pandemic began called better together Monday. And in our most recent gathering, a parent was talking about how angry her twelve-year-old was about what’s going on after, you know, George Floyd death. Another one said the same thing about her four year old. So how do we channel our children’s, you know, overwhelming emotions and sorrow, because in many cases, kids are deeply empathic so that they don’t feel hopeless and scared about how we got where we are and you know, how do we move that in a positive direction? What are things parents can do?

 

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Such a thank you for that question. So I do want to name, we’ve just, we have to honor and acknowledge our kids, sadness, their fear, their sense of betrayal, all of our children, not just kids of color, because white kids who have been taught that the quality matters are it may appropriately be feeling some grief and real confusion right now. And so honoring that, and, and again, by not pretending, we can keep them unaware of what’s happening. Even if we, that was the goal, they know something’s up. And so we need to acknowledge and hold those feelings with them and give them space, I think, with my own children. And when I think about how I talk with other parents some of the most important things I’m doing alongside of just holding space for their feelings, talking about their feelings with them is making transparent to them.

 

Speaker 2:

The things that we are doing as a family to participate in this justice movement. So really simple example last week you know, there were a number of the young people in my community where I live, who have been leading some of the resistance in the organizing here and took a couple afternoons a couple hours in the afternoon just to drop off food to some of them like, you know, not asking anything in return, not saying, Hey, sit and talk to me, just said, I knew they’re working hard. They like a drop off of food. And I had the kids come along and I didn’t romanticize like what we were doing and pretend we were being some, you know, white savior. I’m not implying that, but I wanted my children to see, Oh, the young people leading this struggle, it’s hard work. And so just going to drop off some food and my kids are like, Oh, that kind of sounds boring to go around in the car.

 

Speaker 2:

And I was like, you know what, cool, you’re going to be bored a little bit, but this is important. And we just did it. And so the little ways we can show our kids that we can all be part little and big ways, I think is one of the ways we help move them beyond just the despair of the moment to really experience being plugged in to what is a movement right now that might, you know, is, is, is, is insisting that we could all be free and that we could all flourish. I want my kids to feel part of that. And they can be part of that in, in a variety of ways, you know, depending on where we each live, depending on our resources, but there’s ways to get kids sort of plugged into that. That is really important, not only for the movement, but it’s important for their sense of self as an anti-racist human.

 

Speaker 1:

That’s amazing. And it’s such a simple, straightforward, but powerful thing because you’re living it in front of them. It isn’t just staying at the conversational level, but it moves into action. And one of the things we know about kids, particularly as they get older, is that so much of what we say and do with our kids is to limit them. Children in many respects, feel disempowered all day long. They can’t do this. They have to do that. They have to stop doing that fun thing and start doing this other thing. So it’s kind of like the, the Stu that they’re, you know, swimming in the soup, they’re swimming in. And, and so that’s one of the beauties about this time is that kids have so much energy and passion. If we can ignite that and give them something that they can feel, they’re actually making a dent in what’s going on that, you know, how do you move a mountain with a spoon one spoonful at a time? So this is one of the ways we can actually further their personal, psychological and emotional wellbeing is to help them feel that they can, they have agency, they can make an impact. Let’s talk about a few other practical things like dropping off food that parents of younger children, and, and then, you know, moving into the adolescents that they could do, whether it’s writing petitions, writing city council, what are some of the recommendations that you’ve made?

 

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I think you know, in some places there’s, you know, some parents, parents have different experiences of this, but there were clearly a couple of protest spaces in my own hometown that I felt were for my kids to be present, to go to this weekend. So we went and my nine year old made this, you know, drew two pieces of paper sign and taped it to a stick and, you know, made a sign to take. And I just watched my nine year old experience, like, you know, Oh, I am part of this, this happening. And I think that in local communities, you know, my city, there’s a huge push it’s been going on for three years to no avail. And I think we, you know, this movement might tip it over to change racial, get a racial pro anti-racial profiling ordinance on the books.

 

Speaker 2:

You know, my kids, other kids in this city can write letters to the city council and say, yes, you know, writing letters that matters. And you know, some of our kids, if they get an allowance, you know, they might say, Hey, you know what, a little bit of my allowance I want to send on to a local black lives matter group in my neighborhood. And it’s not, you know, it’s all the concrete ways adults can be plugging into, but in addition to their emotional wellbeing and being part of this movement, the other thing that does for kids developmentally white children in particular, is that, well, I can imagine a lot of our listeners right now, you know, those phrase white guilt is a very common phenomenon. Many of us who are white have experienced this phenomenon of white guilt. That’s a developmentally predictable outcome. If you are an equity minded, human, who also realizes you experience unjust privileges. And so like developmentally action and being an agent for change is one of the ways you don’t get stuck in white guilt. And so doing that with our children, helping them get in touch with their own agency is actually developmentally powerful. So they don’t get stuck in some of the culdesac that many of us white adults have gotten stuck with stuck in when it comes to racial justice.

 

Speaker 1:

That’s a great point. And as we have an election coming up soon, those of you with older kids can invite them. If they’d like to make calls on behalf of the candidate that you favor. I mean, that’s something you can do. And I remember when I, you know, when Barack Obama was running, so this was quite a few years ago, we had to actually drive somewhere to do that, which was actually really cool because we were in a big space with a lot of other people making calls. And there was that comradery nowadays, you can do it from your own home, your laptop. It’s very safe if you are still going to be in quarantine at that point, but it was so powerful. Occasionally you’d get someone on the phone who would just say, thank you for doing this, thank you for following up and making sure I’m going to get out to vote. And I could see my son kind of being lifted by that. And these things are no small things for young people who will be the next generation blink a few times. And there’ll be tomorrow’s leaders. That’s right. For them to be participating now.

 

Speaker 2:

That’s right. Yeah. I think another thing that comes to mind as you share Susan, is that I’ve been thinking about the other important conversation I’ve been having with my kids, which is that and it’s a, just an adult reminder that as they’ve struggled a little bit with how big the national response has been in this moment and with the killing of George Floyd and we’re of course, naming Breonna Taylor as well is I’ve been trying to contextualize this moment for them in the context of the civil rights movement and really let them know the civil rights movement never really ended. We, you know, we we’ve tended to talk about the civil rights movement as this past event. And many of our children have a sense of what the civil rights movement was. And so that’s a sort of a place they, you know, they’ve learned about that. They think that was an important movement. And so as we wrestle with how to engage our kids and what’s happening right now, I’ve wanted my kids to see and understand that this is the, this is an extension, it’s the ongoingness of the civil rights movement. And there thus being part of helping shape history by, you know, being plugged in.

 

Speaker 1:

That’s, that’s very powerful. And it’s, again, we’re talking about empowering rather than disempowering and helping our kids feel that they’re part of history that they’re moving the needle, however, small and microscopic, it might seem in that moment when you pull the camera back and you see that all of these very small seemingly tiny, or even insignificant actions that we take, the letters, the calls, what they add up to that’s what really compels us to have faith in the process and have faith in democracy. Absolutely. Yes. Wow. Okay. Amazingly great conversation. And Dr. Harvey, thank you. Do you have any sort of wrap up final thoughts, recommendations, or tips that parents can implement?

 

Speaker 2:

Okay. Yeah. I want to just say sort of two things. One is that if you have not, as many of us have not talked to your kids about race and racial justice before, I just want to encourage you to just go ahead and talk with them honestly, about what’s going on. They really can handle it. And you can even say to them, you know, we haven’t talked about this very much before, as much as maybe we even needed to, and I’m not even sure quite where to start, but I know we need to do it and partner with them. You don’t have to be the expert right now. You just have to show yourself as a willing Ascal engageable parent right now, and, and commit to then learning some things that maybe you do need to learn. But I guess the final thing that I would say that sort of aligns next to that is that our, our work as parents of white children right now is not to be perfect and not have all of the complete exact answers for our kids. Literally our work right now is to choose to be brave. It’s just to choose, to be brave and dive in and go there with them in the belief that by doing that, we are committing to the, to the entire community of children in this nation who deserve a better future than what, what we’ve created to this point. And so I just want to encourage parents to be brave and know that you’re not alone in taking on this work with your kids.

 

Speaker 1:

Wow. Beautiful. Beautiful. So happy you joined me.

 

Speaker 2:

Thank you. So invitation Susan.

 

Speaker 1:

Wow. It gives me hope. That’s the thing. It gives me hope that there are people like you willing to step into the mix here. And I love what you said about you. Don’t have to know all the answers. Maybe this is the first conversation you’re going to be having with your kids. You can stumble along, be honest and open. It doesn’t matter. There’s no perfection that we’re aiming for. It’s simply one foot in front of the other will get us there. I really believe.

 

Speaker 3:

I do too.

 

Speaker 1:

Where can people find out more about your work?

 

Speaker 2:

So I have a website, Jennifer harvey.org. And at that page, you can find everything from more about my books where you can catch me on Twitter and other projects. I’m up to, that’s the kind of centralized spot for a lot of my writing and speaking.

 

Speaker 1:

All right. Thank you, Dr. Jennifer Harvey, it’s been a gift to talk with you today. And I look forward to more conversation.

 

Speaker 2:

Thanks so much, Susan. You take care of yourself.

 

Speaker 1:

I hope you enjoyed that conversation. I felt so hopeful after talking with Dr. Harvey, I especially loved how she said that we don’t have to know exactly what to say or how to have these difficult conversations with our children. We just have to be brave and start trying as always, if you’re enjoying these podcast episodes, it would be really great. If you leave a quick rating or review, I would so appreciate that. And if you have a topic or question that you would like me to address, just email podcast@susanstiffelman.com for more information about my work or the various gatherings that we put together for parents, including our free, Better Together Mondays, please visit Susanstiffelman.com for all the scoop. You can sign up for our newsletter with lots of inspiration and parenting tips and just wrapping up here. I’ve always believed we’re better together, but never has that been clear if you have found this podcast or the material that we share on our website or the author page on Facebook or Instagram, please tell a friend or two, and if you’re enjoying the podcast, please subscribe. Okay. Then remember, no matter how busy or kind of crazy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy, stay safe, stay well. And I’ll see you next time.

 

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