Fostering empathy for those whose race is different than our own

by | Jun 11, 2020 | Communications, Education

Today’s blog post comes from Encompass Therapist Jordan Kamwesa, LPC. She invites us to consider ways that we can build cultural awareness and understanding for ourselves and our families. She encourages us to be intentional and compassionate as we learn and grow together. This practical list is fun and celebratory and at the same time challenging and perhaps even uncomfortable. For some of us, this information is new. For others, it’s steps we’ve already begun. Wherever you are on the journey, our heart is for you to see yourself and others as worthy in Christ.

In response to the injustices that we have witnessed collectively as a nation, we mourn and lament the reality of broken systems that continue to oppress black Americans. As we look at our own families and our own experiences, let’s begin to ask ourselves, how can we uproot and examine our own biases and teach our children about race in productive ways that foster empathy for people whose race is different than our own?

Here are a few ideas to productively learn about race and develop racial competency within your family:

1. Assess and identify what your children know.

  • Children start to recognize racial differences as early as six months of age, and by four years old, they have started to develop their own racial biases.
  • Take note of different positive cultural experiences you and your children have had.
  • Ask your child age-appropriate questions about skin color, culture, history and relationships. What do these things mean to your child?

2. Expose your child to diverse racial experiences.

  • Encourage your child to ask questions, share insights and observations, and be humbly curious about race differences.
  • Provide exposure to different cultures, ones that celebrate race, ethnicity and traditions. This can be done through photographs, films, books, food, music, vacations, and building authentic relationships with neighbors, coworkers and community members of different races from your own.
  • Celebrate different races, cultures and traditions in an honorable way.

3. Be teachable so you can teach.

  • As a parent, you have an important role to teach your child foundational beliefs. Some of these include kindness, respect, compassion, empathy and community. We value these qualities and they are good totems to live by, but it is not complete until we identify biases we may hold ourselves and examine if we may be intentionally or unintentionally selective about those to whom we show kindness, respect, compassion and empathy, and with whom we share relationships. To teach our kids about race, we first need to break down our own biases.
  • Educate yourself through documentaries, books, podcasts, blogs, movies and music. Develop cultural literacy through the authors you read, the podcasts you listen to, the people you follow on social media. Model for your children what it looks like to be a lifetime learner who has a desire to develop and change.
  • Listen to what people of color (and, especially at this time, black Americans) have to say. Empathize with them, develop understanding and a humble curiosity through personal relationship.
  • Diversify what types of books, movies and shows your children read and watch based on characters represented in the stories. Have follow-up conversations about the storylines and the hardships that characters faced and overcame. Lean into those teachable moments when you can help shape healthy views of race with your children.
  • Learn about the history of racial oppression in the United States, your state and city. Learn from the perspective of the oppressed and not just the oppressor.

4. Be consistent and intentional.

  • Have regular conversations with your children about racial issues and current events that are age appropriate.
  • Be intentional and knowledgeable about what viewpoints are being introduced to and enforced with your children at school, at church, on sports teams, in their friend groups and at home. If you don’t have these conversations of intentionality, your child’s worldview on race will be shaped by someone or something else.
  • Welcome intentional experiences that allow you to be the minority. This will be uncomfortable but is necessary to fully understand the experience of black Americans and other people of color and how they feel in a white-privileged world. Some examples could be intentionally researching and supporting local black-owned businesses, or shopping at stores that attract and support greater racial diversity. These may not be convenient options, but they are experiences that develop maturity in racial reconciliation.

As we collectively work toward racial competency and reconciliation, know that it is not an easy task, but it is necessary to helping people experience their worth in Christ. Let’s encourage each other along the way, hold each other accountable, practice humble curiosity with a passion, and allow the Holy Spirit to change, grow and lead our minds and hearts so we can see and hear black Americans and other people of color in a richer and fuller way. Not only does God promise restoration and reconciliation, but He invites us to be a part of the process.

Check back next week for a list of resources to listen in and learn more.

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