Book Review: Raising White Kids

Book Review and Give-Away! (see below)

Jennifer Harvey,  Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), hardcover, 306 pages.

raisingwhitekidsThis is a must-read book for white parents, educators and adults — and even if you are not a parent! The dominance and ignorance of white America has contributed to the racial tensions and injustice today. This book will help you unpack where you can and should change.

As a pastor and former educator, I know first hand that there IS a difference in how children are treated in the classroom. Non-white children frequently receive accelerated classroom disciplinary action, are less likely to be offered classes of academic challenge, and not given a “pass” for bad behavior choices.

As a white, suburban-dwelling wife and mother of two white children, I also know that despite our efforts to expose our children to a variety of experiences and people, we were far from perfect (and frequently made many of the parenting errors mentioned in this book!)

Since the election of our 45th President, I have become acutely aware of the disparity and prejudice faced by persons of color, particularly immigrants, undocumented workers and Blacks. Add to that a lack of intentional intersectionality in the public arena, from Congress to Cub Scouts, and the reasons for racial tension between us are clear. From criticisms of The Women’s March to the #MeToo movement1, the disengaged and unaware actions of white Americans have not helped the situation.

And I am one of them.

This book is written to help white parents in the challenges of parenting in an increasingly diverse, increasingly divided America. Racial tension is here. Chanting slogans and wishing  divisions would go away will not help. There is a lot left to do to dismantle racist thinking, and proactively work against racist laws and their enforcement.

Several of the vignettes shared by the author, Jennifer Harvey, parallel some of my own parenting experiences. She recounts innocent questions from her child in a public space about a person of color, and not always rising above her own anxiety to help them learn from their questions and their experience. She also brought to mind instances where, in encouraging my children to be respectful of others, I did not engage or teach them about systemic racism.

Harvey’s book is laid out with “Takeaways” at the end of every chapter. These would make great discussion points for a book club or honest conversation between white and Black parents. I wish I had her wisdom in hand when my children, now in their 20s, were in public school!  The “Takeaways” also help clarify the main points of every chapter (for those of us who need a review on a regular basis.)

There were two main areas that I found most helpful. First, Harvey is careful to explain why this is not about “equality” but about injustice. She identifies the main problems with “color-blind” parental approaches, which do not combat racist practices and biases. Instead, she emphasizes race-conscious parenting, suggesting that white parents notice and name issues of race “early and often,” and use age and developmentally-appropriate words and methods. As Harvey explains, the “color-blind” mindset allows a child “to just keep breathing in ‘society’s smog’ without benefit of a face mask.” (p. 35) Raising race-conscious children helps them see how and why our words and actions are perceived as racist.

The real and most truthful questions, I think, are what our children are going to teach us if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to make it possible for them to do so. And what might they teach us if we then slow down and listen to them when they try?
from: Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. (p. 256)

I hesitate to highlight one chapter over the others (because I gained some significant knowledge from all of them), but I especially appreciated Chapter 4: Do we have to call it Racism? In this chapter, Dr. Harvey helps shape the conversation about racism by encouraging parents to explore kids’ experiences through naming, acknowledging and examining them, and remembering that we are on a journey of self-discovering and change. She suggests not just teaching about racism, but being explicit about “white peoples participation in racism.” (p. 160).

The book includes several pages of resources, some of which I have personally used, and others that I have added to my links. There are also books, organizations, curricula, and organizations which will help you in the ongoing work of raising color-conscious, caring children and impacting your own engagement with our world. (Care to read the Forward? Check it out here!)

As a pastor in a predominantly white congregation, finding ways to have this conversation is now increasingly important. We cannot ignore the ways our society has crafted a schism between white America and persons of color. Living out The Gospel demands we hold one another accountable for the ways in which we treat one another, and in particular, the ways in which we do not honor the Imago Dei (image of God) in one another. Racism, at its core, is refusing to honor a human being created in God’s image, even though they may go through life and look/cook/dress/worship/speak differently than we do.

God help me. Change starts with me. And you.

Now, about that GIVE-AWAY! Would you like to read this book? I have a copy to share and I’ll pay the postage if you live in the continental US. Comment below or on my Facebook page or Twitter (if we are connected that way) and I’ll draw a name on March 10th!

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1 The #MeToo movement was created by Tarana Burke in 2006 and she deserves the credit for organizing and empowering girls and women of color to fight back against sexual harassment. It was co-opted by white women, who have since credited her with beginning this work.


Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America. Jennifer Harvey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017. Hardcover: 306 pages. ISBN-13: 9781501856426

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Raising White Kids

  1. Sounds intriguing! I thought I would request it from my local library but it’s not (yet?) in their catalog.

    Do you listen to the Code Switch podcast from NPR? One of the recent episodes had a very enlightening explanation of the distinctions between stereotype, prejudice, racism, etc. I found the definitions helpful for thinking about how I interact with the world.

    Like

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