A little while ago, my wife and I were talking with Sunny (our 4-year-old) about how God made all people different, but each equally special.
Us: “Have you ever seen someone with dark skin?”
Sunny: “Well… I think only girls can have dark skin. Boys can’t have dark skin.”
We laughed, and after talking to her a little bit more we realized she either couldn’t remember or had never seen a dark-skinned man or boy. That humbled us. It made us ask ourselves hard questions about how we have selected our friends, our community, and what we haven’t exposed her to.
My wife and I are both works-in-progress when it comes to educating ourselves about African-American history and its many impacts and implications today. “Woke” is a new word in our cultural vocabulary, and it wouldn’t be right yet for my wife and I to claim it for ourselves. We feel woefully inadequate to wade into these waters – not just as leaders at our church, but also as parents. Black History Month is an admission by our government that the contributions of black men and women are under-represented in our history books. We want our children better informed and better prepared than we were to offer Christ-like love and reconciliation. But where to start?
We started with the Gospel.
The image of God is this God-given spark that sets us apart from the rest of creation, and declares that all people – regardless of color – are unique pictures of God’s goodness and beauty. All of us have defaced that image in some way. Sunny does it when she hits her brother, and we all do it when we (at the very least) ignore the mighty contributions our black brothers and sisters have made. Both of these offenses are a rebellion against the imago dei. And in this rebellion, whether corporately or individually, we have all separated ourselves from a God who designed all people to be united under His name.
“But now in Christ Jesus we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. He has made us both [in context Jew/Gentile but for our purposes white/black] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” (Eph. 2:13-14).
Any inadequacy we might feel toward Black History Month dissolves since Christ has made both black and white one. There are gospel promises and grace for all parents who attempt to acknowledge their sins, repent, and seek to talk about (however clumsily) the reconciling power of the Gospel between ethnicities.
Some practical courses of action in educating yourself and your child about black history:
1. Educate yourself about Black History Month. This podcast, and this article are great places to start.
2. Talk about how Jesus and his disciples were Middle Eastern Jews, not white.
3. Talk about how most of the church fathers were either African or Middle Eastern (Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine). We owe much of our clarity in subjects like the Trinity, the Incarnation, and other major church doctrines to our African brothers.
4. Talk about the contributions African Americans have made to America. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a great start! Include black men and women who have contributed to fields your kids are already interested in. Whether that is math, politics, sports, music, etc.