Tonight I want to talk about promoting greater understanding between the races through intentional interactions. I am a great believer in the power of setting ourselves up so that we purposely have meaningful interaction with people who are different from us. This is especially important if you want to promote understanding in your children. Let’s face it–when kids learn that it is normal and even beneficial for people to have differences–they don’t run into such major prejudicial stumbling blocks later in life. I use the analogy of flowers when talking to my kids about diversity. I say that just like God created a wide variety of beautiful flowers, He did the same with human beings. God purposely created people to be different and all of us are beautiful to Him.
The method of purposely seeking out people different from ourselves is what we’ve adopted with our kids. Sometimes it has happened naturally, as when my good friend adopted a child who was born with cerebral palsy. My kids are used to being around someone in a wheelchair and have learned that though activities sometimes need modifying, she is still their friend. Another friend has a prosthetic leg. We’ve gotten so comfortable with it that we now joke about it with him. I love that my kids see the person before they see the medical condition.
When we made the decision to move to the inner city, we decided that we would seek out an African American realtor. One reason was that we believe it sends a message to society at large when white people put themselves under the leadership of someone of another race. We don’t always need to come out on top and be in charge. I think it’s also a great thing for our kids to see–a person of another race in a position of power, and in a context that is relevant to their life. We also plan on attending a church where we put ourselves under the authority of a pastor who is African American. Not only will this send a message to our children and society at large, but it’s in consideration of future children who will be in our home for foster care/respite. We think it’s vitally important to allow those children (many are African American in this particular city) to see positive examples of people whom they can identify with by race. If we stick with what is most comfortable for us and allows us to blend in most easily, they will be the minority in many of our social interactions. We would rather be the ones who stand out as “not belonging” because of our appearance, than have them experience that stigma. So our reasons for seeking out interactions with those different from ourselves are multi-faceted.
I want to follow that up with a caveat. It’s important to let these relationships and interactions develop in a natural way. We don’t go up to random people out in public and try to strike up a conversation or develop a friendship simply because they are of a different race. That’s just awkward and really going at developing relationships in an impersonal manner. Your relationships should develop just like any normal relationship would–based on regular interaction, good conversation, thoughtful deeds, fun, mutual interests, etc. The key is to be intentional about your actions, but natural in your relationships. And why not discuss this topic with your friends and associates of another race? I had a really good discussion about this very thing with our realtor and learned that she did the same thing with her kids. It can be very cathartic for both parties to be able to discuss issues of race with someone of another race. Just remember that the person inside and warm friendship should be the defining factors in your relationship. Don’t let it become a clinical study.
What are your thoughts on this issue? I’d love to hear from you!