Simran Jeet Singh
Thanks for joining our program, “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism.” I’m your host, Simran Jeet Singh. And I am super excited today to be joined by the Reverend Doctor Jennifer Harvey. She’s a scholar, she’s an activist, and she’s the author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America.”
And I was just telling her before we went live that I read it in the past few days, and I really wish I’d known about this book before my own kids were born a few weeks ago, a few years ago. There’s some incredible insights and advice in here. I’m excited to dig in to the question of how we raise anti-racist kids.
We’ll talk more about that shortly, but before we do, I just want to give you a word on the program. Our vision is to offer you two things that we believe the world needs badly right now. First, we want to offer you insight into what’s actually going on with racism, and that’s why each episode focuses on a particular aspect of racism and helps us go through it.
As James Baldwin so beautifully stated, if I loved you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. The other thing we hope to do here is to receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move from just understanding racism into actually taking action. And this may come in various forms.
It may come as wisdom on how to grapple with the racist ideas embedded within ourselves. It may come as guidance on actions we can take to address the racism all around us. At the end of the day, what we’re really hopeful for is to move into practical guidance, practical wisdom, what we can actually do on a day to day basis to become anti-racist.
So thank you all for being here with me and being part of my journey. Our guest for today, Dr. Jennifer Harvey, she’s been really busy the past few months, hanging out on the New York Times bestsellers list. She’s a professor of religion at Drake University and she’s been focusing especially on racial justice and white anti-racism.
And her new book is super powerful and insightful — “Raising White Kids.” I think there’s a lot of, a lot of wisdom to offer parents of color as well as white parents. And I think at the end of the day, there’s, there’s not enough conversation on how to raise race-conscious kids. And so I’m so grateful to her.
Thank you, Dr. Harvey, for being with us today. How are you doing? How are you holding up?
I’m doing okay right now and I’m so glad to be with you. So thank you so much for having me and for making time to engage and for the work you’re doing, we need it.
Of course, no, it’s, it’s a pleasure and it’s a pleasure to be in your company.
I want to jump right into it and to start with a personal question. Can you think of a moment in your life where, where it was revealed to you, or maybe you realized, that there were racist ideas within you? Has there ever been a moment like that for you?
Oh, certainly. I think I became, I started becoming conscious of the racist ideas that had been part of my own upbringing in my sort of, imbibement of the world probably in college, when I started reading liberation theology, James Cone in particular, and realizing that white supremacy had really shaped my life in profound ways despite being raised in the church in, in what I thought of as you know, God is love, church. And so college, I just sort of had these dawning awarenesses of that, the reality that structural racism had impacted my life. And then I could go back and think about times in my life, where I’d had been racist perceptions of people, like that at the time, I didn’t recognize this racist, but as I became conscious of what racism was, I could go, Oh, wow. That was a, that was an interpersonal racist moment that I had in high school, for example. So it’s sort of almost like waves that like, the ocean kind of, waves of awareness that have continued to wash over me since that time in my life.
Yeah. That’s interesting. So, so part of becoming conscious to racism is not just seeing it in the present, but there’s, there’s a process of unpacking it in retrospect, I guess, is what you’re saying.
There has been for me, certainly just thinking — I mean, I, and I will still, and I’ve been sort of consciously at this work for almost 30 years now, but I will still have moments where a memory will flicker and I’ll go, Oh my gosh. Like that’s what I thought? Or that’s how I interpreted that? And I mean, it’s just incredible to me, the depths and the layers of racist ideology — how much it forms who we become because of, because of the ways it’s in the environment.
Yeah, I appreciate that. And it’s been this interesting experience of these, these episodes, as I’ve been talking to folks and they’re sharing their experiences. And in each time it’s almost like, something pops up in my memory bank and it’s like, Oh yeah, you covered it. You never really thought of, and yeah, it was, it was messed up.
Yeah. It’s like excavating and excavating and excavating. I mean, I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life, I’m sure. Right?
Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate that. So, so let me ask you, I want to get us into the conversation on parenting and, I guess the first thing that you really bring up in the books that I, that I really, that was like an aha moment for me was, was around this idea of colorblind parenting. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and where it comes from?
Sure. So I mean, what so-called colorblind parenting is, is this, or colorblind, even if it’s not parenting colorblind thinking, is this notion that, not only can we be taught not to see difference or see colors, which is in the United States tends to be a proxy for race though that’s of course more complicated than that — but, we, we don’t, we, we, we can, we, we shouldn’t see color because it’s bad to see color and it’s a win if we just look at people’s humanity without noticing color. And I think in some ways, you know, the best sort of intention I can put on it as it comes out of a misreading of you know what Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about when he said, I don’t want to be judged by the color of my skin, but the content of my character. I think so-called colorblindness is kind of a very, very serious misreading of that based on also misunderstanding that, if we just stopped noticing color, racism would go away.
So coming out of the Civil Rights Movement — but it’s never been an adequate or a fair interpretation of what King or other civil rights activists were talking about.
Okay. So, so just walk us a little bit more through that. I guess for me, I was raised with, with colorblind parenting and, and I think I do a bit of it myself.
And so, so the question is, what does, what does colorblind parenting do to our kids’ psychology that that might be problematic? So, so in other words, what’s wrong with the colorblind outlook?
Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s really important question because it’s caused the pressure to do so-called colorblind parenting is so serious and pervasive in U.S. American culture.
It does a number of things. One, it confuses the idea that, if we don’t see difference — which again, so one problem with it is, we literally cannot not see difference. And so, within a parent-child relationship, it immediately, confuses, I think, the dialogue conversation and relationship between a parent and child.
I liken it to, if I tell my child every day, Oh, the sky is green, the sky is green, and my kid is going okay, okay, but I’m really pretty sure the sky is blue, but I insist on that long enough, eventually my kid will be like, yep. Yup, mom, the sky is green. And then, but then what they, but then they’re like, there’s like a, a mistrust, a sort of taboo around correcting me that, in fact, I see that the sky is blue mom. So it’s, it’s sort of miss-wires in a particular way. The other thing it does, that’s really serious is that, it’s based on this idea that there’s something wrong with difference. And we don’t think of it that way, but if I tell my child, don’t notice color, I’m giving them this message that there’s something, there must be something wrong or bad with color.
Right? And typically when we say that we’re talking about darker skinned people and so subconsciously what our children hear is, oh, there’s something wrong with having dark skin. We’re going to be nice and not point that out. Right? And so it’s this very, very powerful, but subliminal message that there’s something wrong with not being right white, because typically it comes out of, again, as you say, if you were raised with it and you know, maybe have some of it, it’s not that it’s only white folks that do this, but it tends to be a very kind of whitened way of seeing that there’s something wrong with difference. We shouldn’t talk about it. And so then it also, the third very serious thing it does for kids is if we want our children to be able to challenge racism, grow an antiracist moral imagination, that rests on the, the, the, the condition that they can see race and talk about race in meaningful ways. And if we’ve just said, don’t be colorblind, everybody’s the same. We’ve literally disabled the possibility of them building toolkits to grow anti-racist moral imagination. We can’t do that if our kids can’t talk about race and we can’t talk about race without talking about difference. And so that’s, that’s, in terms of anti-racist growth, is probably the most serious consequence of it.
That’s yeah, that’s really interesting. In our last episode, we were with Khyati Joshi, and she has this new book called “White Christian Privilege.” And one of the things she talked about is the optical illusion.
And it’s, it’s a way for her to talk about how hard it can be to, to observe the things that are right underneath our noses because are some normative. We’re, we’re so conditioned to think of them as normal. So you’re talking about how we see whiteness as, as norm, as the default. And so when talking about colorblindness, whiteness doesn’t even really apply there.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s that, that sort of, I think colorblindness, if I’m understanding her notion correctly, would, would sort of contribute to literally our inability to see what’s right under our noses. And then, we raise kids to do that too. And so if we sort of double down on that from, in their early developmental years and on, well, then I shouldn’t be surprised when I get 19 year old college students, white students in a class with Black students and Latino students and Asian American students, and my white students are like, what do you mean racism is real? Because they’ve formatively, literally not just intellectually, but like formatively developed this, well, have been underdeveloped in terms of a capacity to literally see, not only — well they see race, but see racism and see themselves as having a race like it’s it’s, so it’s, it’s just developmentally powerfully harmful.
Yeah. Yeah. And I see, I see a question coming in from Neha that’s along along the practical lines, and I promise, I promise we’ll get to that.
I want to ask that question. I want to ask a couple other questions to dig in a little bit more here, around colorblindness. I guess one, one other way of asking this question, is what’s, what’s so attractive about this idea of colorblindness? Like we hear from politicians all the time, I don’t see race. I don’t see color. And that’s their way of saying, I am, I’m a progressive, or I’m not a racist, I guess is what they’re trying to say. Yeah. And so, so what’s really, what’s really drawing that kind of language? Like, I, I I’ve been drawn to that language. And so why, why is that the case?
So I think part of the reason we’re drawn to it is because we do want some sort of universal values that we can stand on. Right? And so let’s, if we talk about it, it can be helpful, I think, to talk about it with the language of equality. Right? So a lot of times I think when we’re saying, be colorblind, what we, what we are saying is, everybody has innate dignity. Everyone has innate equality. And so everyone deserves innate respect regardless of differences.
And so I think what we don’t hear is that, to say that is a very different thing than to say, be colorblind and don’t notice their differences. Right? And so I think we’ve actually made those synonyms and in, and then by doing that have confused children. And so I think the values, so I can say to my kids, as a family, we value equality.
We believe everyone has innate dignity, regardless of who they are in terms of race, religion, name, place of origin, whatever. And then we need to take the second step and say, The reality is though we live in a world or a society where not everyone experiences that respect, right? So everyone is innately equal, but not everyone experiences equality out in the world.
And those are two very different messages and we’ve sort of flattened them into, we’re all equal. So therefore, be colorblind. So we think, we think we’re trying to teach respect. That we don’t sort of put people’s individual particular-ness sort of in a column that says, therefore, they’re a different kind of person, whether good or bad.
Right? But it’s a short hand that just doesn’t work. And so — and you know, psychologists have made very clear, social scientists, that developmentally, children also don’t understand what it means, right? When we say we’re all equal, they don’t know what that means. And meanwhile, they are able to perceive in their communities the way racial differences do translate into different social status, kinds of, experiences.
And so they, it becomes it’s, it’s a zero, it’s no defense to them against internalizing racist ideas because our kids internalize those very, very, very young.
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s really helpful. And if you’re, if you’re a parent of a young child, that it’s almost, it’s almost like you’re connecting the dots for us at a time when the dots are all there.
And I haven’t really figured out how to do it. I mean, after you — you tell this story in your book of a, of a parent who, I don’t think it was you, I think it was someone else — but they had been talking to their child about equality for weeks. And then at the end of that, at some point weeks later, the child said something like, what does equality mean?
Yes, yes. Yeah. That’s such an abstraction. And so here’s a great, another great way to think about it. And I sometimes will say this to my students and to myself. Right? So we can say, you know, we believe in the humanity of all people. Yes, of course. That’s a value I ascribed to, the innate dignity of all human beings, regardless of race, gender, religion, et cetera.
Have you ever met a person who didn’t have a gender, a race, a name, a hair texture? We have never met that person. Right? We always engage and experience people’s humanity through the particularities in which they show up. And so it’s this complicated way that, our kids were using these really abstract universal categories that even we adults don’t really operate from, like, I can say I about I value humanity, but I only experienced human beings through all our beautiful differences. Right? And so our kids need us to break that down for them a little bit if we are committed to their anti-racist moral capacity.
Yeah. Let me, let me ask you this. I didn’t think about this while I was reading, but, but just sitting here talking to you, when we teach, as, as pedagogy, we’re taught to scaffold, right? You, you sort of build up people’s understanding. And I think about that with, with my own children, that I think one of the most dangerous things you can do in parenting is give your kids a conception of the world that is false, and then at some point pull the rug out from under them. And so I wonder, it sounds like that’s what you’re, that’s what you’re describing here, that, that by, by, by giving them a false sense of reality, we’re setting them up to deal with that cognitive dissonance of inequality versus racism. Right? And then having to deal with that. So is that, is that about what, right in terms of what you’re saying?
I think that’s exactly right. And it’s, and it’s, a false sense of reality that is damaging in so many ways. So on the one hand we know from countless studies and just the experience in our world, in our world, right, that it’s damaging to communities of color because, especially in white families and white cultures where this, where this plays out, there’s this silence around reality that means, you know, white, young people grow up. Right? And of course it’s not only white folks, but that’s where I’m most rooted experientially.
And then they engage, you know, youth of color or 20 something people of color who have had radically different, not just radically different experiences, but have been told radically different truths that are more aligned with reality. And so then this cross racial dialogue happens where white youth are like, what do you mean police brutality is real? I don’t know anything about that. Appropriately youth of color, you know, about my college classrooms, right? They’re like, they can only experience that as white hostility, right? To have their experience so erased. They don’t know necessarily that these white 19-year-olds have literally been given a false description of reality for 19 years.
And so we’ve made racial alienation worse because, in white family constructs, we have not done our, our job to equip our kids in the same ways that people of color are, communities of color, tend to be equipping theirs. Then the other way it’s damaging is that I’ve watched over and over again, and I experienced it myself painfully in my early twenties, that when white youth do start to get in touch with reality, many times anger, a sense of betrayal, my parents lied to me, my teachers lied to me, that is so it, it sort of wrench, can wrench white families apart if youth decide to journey towards a different consciousness, because there’s a real sense of betrayal that happens. And I certainly experienced that in my early twenties and it was very painful.
Yeah. I’m thinking, you know, that, that sounds about right into, when I was reading it, I hadn’t ever thought about the impact it could have in talking about racism, but I definitely remember moments in my own education, where I would learn about something like Columbus’s genocide of indigenous people and be like, Oh, how can I trust anything my teachers taught for the school or anything, right? So like that betrayal is really painful.
Yes, let me, let me, just for those of you who are joining us, this is Dr. Jennifer Harvey. She’s the author of “Raising White Kids,” which has been hanging out on the New York Times bestseller list. She’s a professor of religion at Drake University.
And, and the book, if you have kids, or if you’re thinking about having kids, or if you know kids, or if you’ve ever seen kids, it’s really, it’s really, it’s a really powerful read on how we think about anti-racism and how we impart of it. But, but also one of the things you talk about frequently throughout the book is if we really want our kids, but to, to impart this wisdom to our kids, we need to grapple with it ourselves.
And so we just want to ask you — You use the term, the alternative you give for colorblind parenting, and I think you’ve been, we’ve been sort of talking about it a little bit, but to the term you use is race-conscious parenting. I’d love for you to talk about, what it means to be race-conscious for us as people, and then, and then what it looks like to use that as a, as a vehicle for parenting.
Yeah, sure. So, and it’s not my term, I’m not sure where I first encountered it or whose term it is, but I like the language of race-conscious because it’s, It, it, it, it assumes that we want our children and we ourselves need to be conscious and aware of race.
We need to, and should, talk about race. We should observe difference and engage questions of difference. But I like it because it’s also different than diversity, which of course has more and more credence, and is an improvement certainly over colorblindness, but, but still doesn’t necessarily bring in a kind of anti-racist possibility, and it doesn’t kind of get at what white folks who are kind of in this weird position of, if we are equality and justice minded, but we’re benefiting daily from white supremacy, we have this sort of, I think I think of it as a conundrum, this conundrum journey that can be [inaudible]. But, so race-consciousness, I think of as race-conscious parenting is, race and justice-conscious parenting, where we want to teach our kids, develop their capacity to literally just be able to talk about difference and race in a way that, like when, when those of us who’ve been raised in colorblindness start to be challenged or invited to talk about race, we literally can get like physically uncomfortable because it’s been so embodied, a part of our formation and our embodiment. So I want my kids to be, never be uncomfortable to talk about race.
So I, you know, want to develop that very young. I want them to recognize that race is, in our, in our society is used and, sort of tethered to unjust systems and that our individual racial identities do not have to determine our relationship to those systems. So what I mean by that is, I want my kids to say, you know, be facile and able around questions of race and racial difference. I want them to understand that as white U.S. Americans, they have inherited legacies that they did not earn, but they also aren’t responsible for, it’s not their fault they inherited racism and racist, you know, sort of location in our society. Right? But they have a responsibility because of that to grow capacity and a commitment around challenging and dismantling those same systems and to do that, and then I want them to be able to do that with communities of color.
I want them as white U.S. Americans to be able to be in relationships of solidarity and allyship and meaningful action with African American people and Asian American people and South Indian people, like just all the, all the sort of varieties of difference that make up our pluralistic America. I want my kids to have those capacities.
So that’s what race and justice-conscious parenting for me is. And there’s different developmental pieces that we need to grow at different stages of our children’s lives.
That’s great. That’s super helpful. And I want to get into a couple of examples to help, to help have you walk us through scenarios. But before I do, something, something you just said really, really sparked a thought for me, that I think would be illuminating for folks. You talk, you talk to momentarily and talk about this in your book about how the, the idea of diversity doesn’t really leave space for white folks and, and it’s, it’s, it’s creates a strange situation. And then you talk about white identity and, and all this, how big the conflation of white identity and white supremacy is just so, hard to disentangle.
So I want to get at that by asking you a more provocative question and that’s to say, raising white kids, like could, could — well, let me say it in the most provocative way possible. You specifically identify your audience in this book as white parents who are raising like kids. And so can you talk us through momentarily, like why, why is it not racist to say that you are focusing on a white audience? White parents, white kids?
Yeah. Well, it’s not innately racist, which is not to say I could not still manifest racism as I try and do that work. Right? Because that’s always a risk. But it’s not innately racist because naming, naming the reality that race means things in our world, right? Collectively, it creates tendencies — of course, you know, one African American person may have a radically different experience than another African American person, so we always need to recognize we’re talking about tendencies, generalities — but race is a meaningful social category in our society.
And talking about that is not innately racist. It’s actually, it’s essential in, in being able to engage in anti-racism and alongside of that, it is simply true that someone born and raised as a white U.S. American person, given that race means something in our society, tends to have a very different experience and we certainly inherit different legacies, then do, you know, diverse communities of color, right? And so it’s not innately racist to focus on that. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean in an exclusionary way, I think, and I talk about this all the time that, the conversation about how parents are or socializing and raising white children, that’s a multiracial conversation because everybody is impacted by that.
And everyone has some expertise on what we should be doing. So it would be, I think, to say, this is only a conversation for white people, right? No, but the focus is on white socialization because something distinct and different is happening in general with white socialization around questions of racism and white supremacy then tends to be happening among communities of color and families of color.
And so it’s a unique set of problems, development of challenges, specific sort of theoretical models that we’ve got to get able with [inaudible] kids who can be part of diverse communities in just and mutual ways. And so, I just, to name what actually is and describe that and contend with it, that’s just truth.
It’s not racist to acknowledge what is actually happening. But again, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t end up saying, or doing racist things, as I try and engage in that work. Right? That’s always a risk. And so I’ll never pretend, you know, humility in this work is really, really important.
Yeah. I appreciate all of that. And I think the question comes out almost for selfish reasons, right? Like all the time people, not all the time, but it’s often enough where people will say something like, Oh, you talk so much about race and racism. You’re obsessed with race. You’re obsessed with racism. You’re more of a racist than anyone.
And so this idea, this argument, it seems bizarre to me. And it’s, it’s also hard to contend with and you do it so well in your book. And I think one of the things you, you just said now that really makes sense is, the reality of how whiteness shapes our culture is. Like, even as I’m reading your books, so many of these things pertain to me because I also have been impacted by whiteness and white aspirational ism, and all these sorts of ideas. So it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s really helpful. One of the ones that really stuck out to me, and this is to get us into the scenarios now, is you gave this example of a, of a kid at the grocery store, a white kid at a grocery store, I think, pointing out a Black person and their skin, I think it was their hair. And this, this goes directly to me as question. What does, what does a colorblind approach look like in, in addressing that awkward situation for parents? What is a race-conscious approach look and, and how do they differ and what, what are the different outcomes there?
Yeah. So that’s like every parent’s, especially white parent’s, worst nightmare is like, we take our kids somewhere and they point it. They go, Oh, that person. Right? And they point at someone who has darker skin and African American person, for example, let’s just use that example.
A colorblind approach goes, Shh. Oh my gosh. And very likely, because of what colorblindness tends to mean in terms of our own discomfort as adults, it says something like, Oh my gosh, don’t point and whisks that kid away. Right? And just says something generic, like, it’s not polite to point at people. Okay. So what happens is, so goes back to that first conversation you and I were having about what colorblindness is and why it’s so damaging to our children.
The first thing they go is, Oh, gosh, I’m not, that’s supposed to talk about difference. Right? So that shuts down the parent-child… the children develop a taboo. They know very young. They’re not supposed to talk about race with them, okay. With the adults in their lives. Studies have shown that. So it breaks that I’m not supposed to do that.
And that’s we talk about difference. It also communicates, Ooh, there’s something, there’s something wrong with that difference. Right? It was rude to point that out. And so again, assuming that it’s a darker skinned person that’s being pointed out, quickly and as they get more and more messages supporting colorblindness from our culture, they’re going to go, Oh, and there’s actually something wrong with being Black.
There’s something bad about that. Right? There’s also a disrespect that is actually shown to that person who was pointed at if especially if they experienced it, and our kid just watched us — you know, if my child does something rude to the grocery store clerk, I say, Hey, apologize. Or, Hey, we don’t say that.
Can you say, thank you. Right? And we engage in a human way. My kid just learned that when you do something to a person of color, that might be rude, you don’t engage it. You just run. So a race-conscious approach goes, okay, I’m going to take a deep breath. Right? First, I’m going to know that my anxiety about this is adult anxiety.
I am going to still say to my child, Hey, it’s not polite to point at folks. I might say something like, yes, that person has beautiful brown skin. I might say something like that. I’m going to accept that this might feel hurtful or awkward, or maybe it won’t, to the person being pointed at, and that I have no control over that.
Regardless, I’m going to acknowledge them and say, Hey, you know, something like, I, you know, I’m not sure if that made you uncomfortable, but I apologize that my child’s pointing at you. Right? And so my child’s going to watch me engage. Even if it’s uncomfortable, I need to do that. And then I’m going to continue the conversation with my child afterwards and say, yeah, like, that person might’ve been African American and, you know, and start to use that as a positive discussion point for saying, we do talk about difference. I’m also gonna note in my mind if I find that if my child is pointing at an African American person in the grocery store, I have not been proactive enough about having my child in truly diverse multiracial spaces, because otherwise they wouldn’t be pointing.
And so I’m not, I’m going to take that in as, Oh, what are the choices I’m making in my life about where we spend our time as a family. Right? So there’s the immediate race conscious, like, affirmation positive naming of difference, making clear that it’s not polite to point at folks and we can also talk about difference.
And then there’s the longer term, like proactively what’s what did I just learn about where my child’s at because of our family choices that would have led to them doing that in the first place. And I’m going to take that seriously.
Yeah, I appreciate that. I have, I have a follow-up question, but before I get there, I want to share something that this, this particular story reminded me of. And that’s, I mean, I guess I could start by saying that it’s not uncommon for me to show up somewhere and to have kids point at me and tell their parents, you know, like if the guy in the turban or the hat or whatever, and, and, so, so let me share this, the other side of the story. And that is, the most memorable moments of that was — it’s like a vivid memory.
I actually wrote about it when it happened, because it was so powerful. I was in an elevator in the building where I lived. It was about 10 years ago and this kid pointed at my turban, to his mother who was in the elevator with them. And just so you know, look at his hat or whatever. Why does he wear that?
And usually exactly what you described happens. Like the parent gets really embarrassed and grabs the kid and walks them away and whispers to them or whatever. And in that moment, the parent just said, yeah, isn’t it beautiful? Why don’t you ask him? And like all of us, I was like, Oh, I’m not an object anymore.
Like, I’m a real human to this, to this kid. And so like, I don’t, I mean, I don’t have any idea what happened to the kid’s conception of my turban and my like, I don’t care what he thinks about my turban. But for him to see me as human and to walk away the way and to know that his mother in that moment saw me in the same way. Like that’s, that’s the difference, right? Like that’s, that’s a total difference. It’s different than colorblind and race conscious [inaudible].
Yeah. Yes, yes. Oh, thank you for sharing that story. Yes, because there’s an experience. I really appreciate you naming what the experience is like then on the other side of that pointing, right?
Because… and those of us who are white or in any other form of sort of dominant identity, don’t always know, or more importantly, don’t think to actually think about that. Right? How do I want to be regarded? And so what might I at least try in terms of regarding another human being that I’m sharing social space with?
Yeah. Yeah. And then on the other hand, right, like I’m not, I’m not representative of every person of color and they might not have the same reaction. So here’s a question for you. What are the risks of the colorblind approach versus the race-conscious approach? Basically like what I’m trying to ask you is, in that moment in the grocery store where your kid points and says something about someone’s skin color, you have, you basically have two options, right?
You either ignore or you engage. And so if you are to ignore, what’s the downside? Like we’ve talked a little bit about the upside, which most of us know the upside — it’s that you get out of there and make it as minimally awkward as possible. Okay. And then there’s a downside of, if you do engage, that the person who’s sitting there who you’re talking to might feel a little bit uncomfortable, or they might not, they might not like what you say or something. Could you talk us through a little bit about what the risks are?
Sure. Yeah. So the risk of the colorblind side, I think we also talked about in terms of, well, you described it like the, the failure to regard the person who’s been pointed out. Right? And also the ongoing kind of negativity then getting associated with talking about difference or with darker skin tones or different racial groups who are other than white, right, there, there are risks with race-conscious parenting.
Of course. And I, and when I talk about in the book, is that there are always risks, but the risks are less, like are likely to have less, more serious long-term consequences, but there are risks. And so for example, you know, if we go back to the grocery store example, the person who has been pointed at, I don’t know why, how that person might have experienced the pointing.
I can imagine folks who would say, if I said to them, I’m not sure if my child may, if that made you uncomfortable, but I, you know, I just want to apologize. Right? They might go, yeah, not only did it make me uncomfortable, I don’t even want to talk to you. Right? Or they might be thinking that now I’ve of course risks sort of making them sort of further the experience, right?
Different people have different reactions to experiences that we have, or that person might go, you know what, I’m not uncomfortable that your child pointed. Why would you assume that? I’m very comfortable with the color of my skin and you know, like, and… or they might say, you know what, you know, thanks for acknowledging me. I’m not uncomfortable with the pointing. And, and yet I appreciate that — you know, who knows? And so there’s risks harm to that person that show up no matter what. And some of those risks, risks come from the reality that we are all living. And I talk about this in the book, too, these larger racial scripts that have already been written, right?
And that we are, you know, regardless of our personalities and our unique stories and all of that, we get put in these roles. But then in a quick moment like that, the script just plays out because there’s larger there’s a larger story, a larger play that we’ve all been already placed into, that in our lives, we can disrupt and challenge and change, but in a moment, especially in countering a stranger, those scripts are at their most powerful level. And so, that’s one kind of shows up, right, is what happens to that actual person. I think in that moment, the scenario, there’s not that many risks in terms of our kids, the, the child involved, their ongoing development.
I think there’s only upsides to actually engaging in that, in that way. But there’s other risks with racial-conscious parenting. So there’s risks around white children, for example, you know, if we’re teaching them realities of racism and we’re making choices about when and how to start talking about that, that are different than maybe the kids of color who may be in their lives.
Right? Maybe, maybe, Latino families are not talking with their kids yet in second grade about exactly how serious the immigration hostility and public policy violence. Right? And my kids suddenly start talking about that with their Latino friends. That’s a risk of harming those kids. Right? So there’s, there are risks. They’re there they’re, there are risks all over the place… ’cause I don’t… and I also don’t want to, the other risk with raised conscious parenting is that we so teach our kids to think and, and sort of be aware of racism. They start thinking that that’s the entirety of people of colors’ is experience, right, is racism, right? And my only meaningful point of contact and connection is I’m going to be an ally against racism. Right?
We have to be really mindful of it, of all the ways that we are talking about race so that we don’t, you know, sort of double down on those kinds of risks. So there are many there’s risks, white supremacy created risks for any path we take. And so for me, it’s about being really clear what the risks are and sort of doing sort of intentional decision making as much as I can around which paths feel like those I would choose for my community, my children, myself, and taking responsibility and owning it when those go awry. Because they will, they will.
Yeah, I appreciate that. I, I, it’s really interesting because I, as I’m thinking through my own psychology, I’m not, I’m not really someone who — a lot of us calculate risk as part of our everyday decisions. I’m not really someone who thinks so much about risk in the various things I do.
But then when it comes to parenting, it’s like every, every decision you want to do right by your kids. Right? And so this question of like, what’s the upside, what’s the downside? As, as you’re thinking strategically of, of everything, and it was in reading your book and I never really framed it in terms, in these terms before, of like, I never really thought about the downside of, of the colorblind approach, in the way that you, in the way that you frame it for us here.
So, yeah, I really appreciate that, that way of thinking about it for those, for those who are, haven’t read the book yet, it’s called “Raising White Kids.” You’re one of the few people in America who hasn’t read it yet. So [inaudble]. I wanna move us into, into some questions from the audience. And I have one that, that touches on something you were mentioning before it comes from Claire. How do we expose our children to different cultures and racially diverse spaces without tokenizing these cultures and spaces?
That’s a really, that question, Claire is really very, very, very important, and especially again, sort of the tendencies towards appropriation and tokenizing and quite frankly, using people of color to educate our children are risks that pervade. I mean, white folks, we’ve been so formed to objectify and commodify that we have to be constantly mindful of that.
I think some of the ways we do that is to not, is to try and work against thinking about this in terms of, okay, what my kid needs is to, you know, for example, meets some people of color, right? And, and, and have, you know, exchanges with, with people of color. I think the way I have thought about this in my own life is a bigger picture.
Like how do I, how do I, as a white U.S. American intentionally choose to desegregate my life? And as I desegregate my life, my family’s life becomes less segregated. And, and so I’m, I’m not sort of saying to my kids, Oh, it’s important that we sort of, you know, have interracial friendships, for example, even though that is important to me, that we all, you know, that in my life and my kids’ lives, there’s, you know, sort of multiracial engagement all over the place.
It’s a question for me about how do I desegregate my life so that my kids are both watching me and going with me as I engage in civic spaces, right? That are robustly diverse, where the civic leadership there is people of color, that I go there because I’m a member of the civic community. I’m not going there to like, learn about Black people or learn about Latino people.
I’m going there because I recognize this is my community and I’m part of this community and I want to be conscious about where I’m plugged in, in civic engagement. Where, how do I, think about where we as a family, you know, spend our time in our city, right? And so it’s not like, Oh, today we’re going to go learn about, you know, the, the, you know, Latino community that lives in X part of Des Moines, Iowa, where I, where I live most of the year. It’s no, where do we regularly spend our time as members of the city of Des Moines, because I’m trying to think about how am I constantly choosing to try and desegregate my life. Segregation is so profound in, in America and in, in white families, white social networks, segregation is — like, it’s just, if you don’t choose against it, it will determine your life as a white U.S. American.
And so, I think about it, big picture and then ongoing and sustained way as opposed to, Oh, my kid needs to have a Black friend or something, which is sort of the worst of kind of, you know, tokenizing possibility and sort of a kind of use. Right? So I don’t, I don’t think that’s a perfect answer, but that’s how I try and work against that own set of risks in my own journey as a parent.
And I think, I think there’s, there, there are a couple of things you say in the book that, that I remember in relation to this one is, if you are showing up in another space, it’s only with permission. I think you were intentional about that. The other thing that, that, you know, really struck me from the book, was the idea of — well you gave this number of 91%, I think it was, for, for white Americans, 91% of their social networks are white. Is that, is that my remembering, am I remembering that right?
I believe that’s the figure. And I think that came out by a study, a Pew Study, or it might’ve been PRRI after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson and they were looking at how white Americans could read that as not a racial incident and African American communities were reading that of course is a racial incident. And so they dug down and found that I think it was 90% of white Americans do not have a meaningful, deep interracial relationship of any sort.
Right. And then you also, through the book, you, you talk about this experience that, that I, that I sort of resonated with as well, which is, parents who are intentional about — well, let me say it this way. As you, as you’re socialized through childhood, people start self-selecting groups based on race. And I saw that in my own schools, where we didn’t really have racial cliques in elementary school, but by the time of middle school who was completely segregated and by high school, we actually had a lot of racial tension where I went to high school in San Antonio.
And so, and so this idea of desegregating our lives, it seems like it’s not — as much as we wish it was true, it’s maybe that tension we were talking about before, between equality versus the ideal of equality versus the reality of racism — as much as we probably wish it was true, that just living our lives day to day and not being racist would mean and that we would end up in, in relationship with people of different races and it just doesn’t happen because of the way our society is structured.
Right. And even that, I mean, your description of, of your educational experience that also mirrored mine. I was in Denver growing up. Desegregated schools, ’cause of busing mandates, my friends at school were all Black my elementary years, because, well, partly I was a racial minority because of white flight, but, and by high school we were all in the same school.
Right? But nobody crossed lines and we’ve been racially tracked in classes. That, that what you described is also a reason that the language of diversity. Also white parents will often say we value diversity. We want our kids to have diverse relationships, communities, et cetera. And then we’re like, what’s going on, they used to play so nicely.
And now that none of them are friends anymore. And that’s a prime example where — I mean, things are, I think there’s a lot of complex things happening when kids hit middle school, you know, around all kinds of identity categories, including gender and sexual orientation, and race is certainly in the mix.
But part of what happens, I am clear, is diversity is not the same as desegregation capacity, right? So I can’t desegregate my life in a meaningful way if I am not, if I am not walking and committed to and have skills around anti-racism, right? Because, because racism always shows up in our, in our social spaces, including in multiracial spaces.
Right? And so if a white kid playing happily with kids of color, as in a friendship way in, you know, ages up until middle school, but kids of color are starting to learn, both have racist experiences, right, and also then very often being, learning, learning from their families about the meaning of race in their lives, the meaning of racism, how to sort of, hopefully survive racism in their lives, and I’m raising my white kids who just love diversity, but with none of the pieces around racism and anti-racism that kids of color are getting, they can’t, their friendships just are going to erode. Right? I talk about it in my book, I give the example, I have a nephew who’s African American. He’s 13 right now. He’s of course learning about the complexities of police violence for his own journey as a Black teenager in the United States. If my 11 year old white daughter, they are, you know, buddies, deep friends at this point, but if I never teach her any of that, how will they stay friends when she’s 13 and he’s 15? How will she identify with him? How will she support him or be an ally alongside of him if and as he navigates police hostility to him as a Black teenager, right?
Yeah. And so we adults have make our kids’ interracial friendships untenable when you fail to equip kids who are insulated from racist violence and, and structures to be anti-racist committed humans. When we don’t do that, why would kids of color stay friends with white kids? And white kids are gonna be like, why are they always talking about this racism thing? That’s not real. You know, it just falls apart.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s really interesting. I’m thinking back now to my own childhood and, you know, one of the funny things is — people today will assume that you were interested in the same things when you were a kid, but like, I didn’t care about politics at all growing up. None of my friends did. No one, no one in school, no one in high school did. And so if you were, if we were to frame it as we had different political perspectives, I would say no, like we didn’t even have political perspectives. You think about political perspectives as just like, world views and experiences of the world.
Oh yeah, totally. That’s I mean, that’s, that explains exactly why we would end up in racial cliques and like, there were no South Asians, so I was kind of an outlier and hung out with everyone. But, but when I talk to my friends about it, you know, why are you hanging out with these folks and not these folks?
And they would say, well, they don’t get me. Right? And that’s, and that’s something, I felt myself too, right? Like there’s some feeling of belonging that comes with, with being with people who get you and it doesn’t always have to be people of the same racial group, but it does have to be with people who understand the systems and the structures in some, in some way, in some meaningful way that, that, that demonstrates that they understand what’s happening in your life.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
So, okay. I see, I see we’ve taken a ton of your time. I want to close by offering a, a comment from Michele that I see here. She said, I think it’s exciting to have a structure that supports white parents in seeing and teaching their kids to see past the optical illusion that white is the norm, the defaults to interrogate all the assumptions, the choices, the color notice. It feels like critical work.
And I mean, I couldn’t agree with her more. As I was reading your book, as I’ve, as I said, multiple times now, I wish, I wish, wish, wish that I had this sooner, but I’m also so grateful to have it now. If you haven’t, “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America.”
So thank you, Jen , Dr. Harvey, really helpful and enlightening and compelling, and I’m really grateful for your time with us today. So thank you.
Thank you so much for having me and just for engaging and again, for the work you’re doing in the world to keep this conversation growing among us, we need it.
So. Okay, well, thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it. And thank you all for joining us today, embarking on this journey together to become less racist. It’s been really meaningful for me, and I’m grateful to have you all this company. We’ll be back on Friday to speak with Dr. Megan Goodwin. She has a new book called “Abusing Religion: Literary Persecution, Sex Scandals, and American Minority Religion.” And so like today, as with every episode, we’ll try to learn as much as we can about what racism looks like in this country and what we can do about it. So thank you all and take care of yourselves.