Culture & Race

Words that changed my world

Bronwyn Lea is hosting a series called, “Words that changed my world” where I’m guest posting today about a small conversation years ago that opened a whole new world to me.  Come read about the words that changed my world at Bronlea.com! Here’s a little glimpse:

“You don’t have to think about the issue of race,” she said to me point-blank.

I was taken aback, “Yes, I do. It’s really important to me to understand,” I tried to half-convince, half-explain.

“But you don’t have to,” she persisted. “I can’t ever take my skin off. It comes with me everywhere I go. You don’t have to think about yours if you don’t want to. I don’t have a choice.”

Belief, Culture & Race

101 culturally diverse Christian voices

101 culturally diverse voices sq“I’m just tired of only hearing white, mainstream evangelical voices,” a good friend lamented to me recently. “Why aren’t voices from other backgrounds listened to in the same way as the white voices?” I heard the weariness of consistent exclusion in his question, and frankly, wondered the same thing myself.

When I saw Rachel Held Evans’ list of 101 Christian Women Speakers a few months ago, I was struck most by their lack of representation and recognition in the mainstream white evangelical Christian culture.  Looking at the speakers at so many Christian conferences and gatherings, it would appear that white males are the only people qualified to speak from a place of faith. Rachel’s list showed us that this was not so.

As I researched this list, I was struck by how many great voices from diverse backgrounds are speaking in the public sphere through all sorts of mediums – writing, music, art, speaking.  It is my hope that this list will broaden the conversation even further and be a resource to help distribute the collective voice beyond only one dominant cultural perspective in the public Christian sphere.

A few things to note about this list:

  1. This is not a ‘best of’ list.  It is a list to highlight the vast array of voices from culturally diverse backgrounds speaking actively about faith. My goal is mainly to show that such voices are plentiful and active in order to encourage the white Christian body at large better access to finding and listening to more perspectives as a norm – not an afterthought, exception or token.
  2. This is not a list of conference speakers. I attend professional conferences, but tend to steer clear of Christian ones.  I learned long ago that the group-think/yay-rah environment of Christian conferences wears my soul out quickly.  If I go on a retreat, it’s usually a silent one or at least a very small one without personality-driven agendas. Many of the people on this list do speak, but some of them write or paint or sing as well.  Their perspectives can be listened to through their writings, their creative work, and their voices.
  3. That being said, I value public voices deeply, but I tend to listen to them instead one at a time through books, blogs, and organizations. As a result, I tried to include people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and perspectives who have this type of public voice.  Sometimes I gave preference to people with a stronger online presence not because they’re ‘better’ voices, simply because they’re easier to follow and hear from in a public context.  I also gave preference to some lesser-known voices over very-established ones like Tony Campolo, Luis Palau, Cornel West, Desmond Tutu, John Perkins, Ravi Zacharias, and Tony Evans.  That being said, I did also include some voices that have been around for quite some time but may not be as widely recognized like Ruth Padilla, Ajith Fernando, Samuel Escobar, Ken Fong, Noel Castellanos, and Michael Oh.
  4. Since I live in the US and the vast majority of my readers are from the US, much (though not all) of this list is also based in the US.  Singular vision and polarized conversation may very well be a problem more unique to the American church, and for this particular weakness we need lists such as these. For practical reasons, I did not include voices who communicate primarily in languages other than English. I am sorely aware of the privilege this reinforces, but also found it the most useful way to create a list like this.
  5. There is no intentional theological bent or classification for this list.  The voices represent a range from conservative to liberal, Catholic to protestant and I made no attempt to include or exclude voices because of their particular theological perspectives. The only qualification I looked at was if the person publicly identified as a Christian. That being said, it is likely ‘imbalanced’ in some fashion or another and is also most probably heavier on evangelicals and/or protestants because this is my own background as well as the protestant perspective running many conferences and powerful publishing companies.
  6. This list, of course, is woefully incomplete, and like Rachel, I encourage others to form their own lists of valuable voices that diverge from the mainstream. Additionally, please feel free to leave others’ information I may have missed (or your own!) in the comment section below. The louder the collective voice, the more clearly it is heard. I’d love to see others create their own lists – global theologians, regional voices (I could have made a similar list of 101 culturally diverse voices in LA alone!), or ethnic group specific voices.
  7. If you are included in this list and I have listed incorrect or incomplete information, please let me know and I’d be happy to correct it.
swirl 
Khristi Adams @KhristiLauren
Author, Campus Pastor, Documentary Filmmaker, Youth Advocate
Watch a promo for her book.
Watch her speak.  
Watch “Chivalry is Dead” documentary. 
Southern California
 
Robin Afrik @afrikadvantage
Speaker, national consultant and strategist on issues surrounding reconciliation/diversity, international adoption, multi-cultural families’ and identity formation. 
http://afrikadvantage.com/
Check out her work here.
Holland, Michigan 
 
Dr. David Anderson @AndersonSpeaks
Pastor. Author. Radio Show Host
http://www.andersonspeaks.com/
Check out his books here.
Washington, DC
 
Ramez Atallah @RamezAtallah
General Director, The Bible Society of Egypt 
http://rameza.wordpress.com/
Listen to him speak.
Egypt
 
Sami Awad @Sami_Awad
Founder and Executive Director of Holy Land Trust
http://www.holylandtrust.org/
Listen to him speak here.
Palestine
 
Leroy Barber @LeroyBarber
Executive Director, Word Made Flesh
http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his book here.
 
Eric D. Barreto @ericbarreto
Theology professor, Luther Seminary
http://www2.luthersem.edu/ebarreto/ebarreto/About.html
Check out his writing here
Listen to him speak here.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
  
Cheryl Bear
First Nations Musician and speaker
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheryl-Bear/70132140328
Listen to her music here.  
Listen to her speak here.
Check out her book here.
Canada
 
Grace Biskie @gracebiskie
Blogger/author, advocate, community activist 
http://gracebiskie.com/
Read more of her writing here.
Kalamazoo, Michigan
  
Edward J. Blum @edwardjblum
Author, teacher, student of race, religion, culture, politics
http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~histweb/faculty_and_staff/faculty_bios/e_blum.htm
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
San Diego, California
 
 
Amena Brown Owen @amenabee
Writer. Poet. Hip hop head.@spelman woman
http://www.amenabrown.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her spoken word here.
Atlanta, Georgia
 
Austin Channing Brown @austinchanning
Learner. Listener. Trainer. Writer. On a mission to make the racial divide smaller.
http://austinchanning.com/
Read more about her here.
Chicago, Illinois
  
Velynn Brown @gospelrainsong
Blogger, Poet
http://velynnbrown.com/
Pacific Northwest
 
J. Kameron Carter @jkameroncarter
Writer, intellectual.  Professor of theology and black church studies at Duke University. 
http://jkameroncarter.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
North Carolina
  
Noel Castellanos @NoelCCDA
CEO of Christian Community Development Association
http://www.ccda.org/about/staff
Check out his books here.  
Watch him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Elias Chacour
Former Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth. Writer, reconciler between Arabs and Israelis
Check out his books here.  
Watch him speak here.  
Israel 
 
Mark Charles @wirelesshogan
Native American writer
http://wirelesshogan.blogspot.com/
Watch his videos here.
Navajo Nation
 
Peter W. Chin @peterwchin
Pastor of Peace Fellowship in D.C. 
peterwchin.com
Read his writing here.
Listen to him speak here.
Washington, D.C.
  
Eugene Cho @EugeneCho
Christ Follower. Husband. Father. Pastor. Humanitarian. Activist. Founder of One Days Wages, Q Cafe, and Seattle Quest Church
http://eugenecho.com/
Listen to his TedTalk.
Check out his upcoming book.
Seattle, Washington
 
 
 James Choung @jameschoung
author of True Story & Real Life, national director @IVWitness, founder @vineyardU, speaker, professor
http://www.jameschoung.net/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Christena Cleveland @CSCleve
Author of DISUNITY IN CHRIST: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.
http://www.christenacleveland.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
 
Rev. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Ph.D.
Dean of Esperanza College, Eastern University
http://www.eastern.edu/about/university-leadership/rev-elizabeth-conde-frazier-phd
Listen to her speak here.
Check out her books.
Pennsylvania
 
Orlando Crespo
Pastor, theologian, writer
https://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/author.pl/author_id=1407
Check out his book here.
Listen to him speak here
New York
 
Linson Daniel @Linson_Daniel
Area Director for @INTERVARSITYusa. Teacher. Blogger. Podcaster. Musician. 
http://www.linsondaniel.com/
Listen to his podcast.
Dallas, Texas
 
Ruth Padilla Deborst
Theologian and educator
http://www.stjames-cambridge.org/padilla-deborst/
Read an interview here.
Watch her speak here.
 
Miguel De La Torre @DrDeLaTorre
Professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies at Illiff School of Theology, writer, speaker
http://www.drmigueldelatorre.com/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his books here.
Denver, Colorado
 
Mark DeYmaz @markdeymaz
Founding Pastor: Mosaic Church (AR); Executive Director: Mosaix Global Network; multi-ethnic church movement leader: author, columnist, consultant.
http://www.mosaix.info/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his book here.
Little Rock, Arkansas
 
Joshua Dubois @joshuadubois
Author of bestseller, The President’s Devotional; @thedailybeast columnist; led @whitehouse faith office
http://joshuadubois.com/
Check out his book here.  
Listen to an interview with Joshua here.  
Washington, DC  
 
Dennis Edwards @RevDrDre
Teacher, mentor, pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church.
http://dennisredwards.com/
Listen to him speak here.  
Minneapolis, Minnesota
 
Samuel Escobar
Writer, theologian
Watch him speak here.
Check out his books here.
 
Helen Soosan Fagan @drhelenfagan
Teacher, global leadership scholar, diversity consultant
http://helenfagan.com/
Watch her TedTalk here.
Lincoln, Nebraska
 
Richard Allen Farmer @timsdad
Bible expositor, concert artist, worship leader
http://richardallenfarmer.com/
Watch him speak here
Dallas, Texas
 
Ajith Fernando
Writer, theologian, preacher, former country director of YFC Sri Lanka 
https://www.facebook.com/AjithFernandoYFC
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.  
Sri Lanka
 
Anton Flores @ANTONofALTERNA
co-founder of Alterna, a Christian missional community that offers accompaniment, advocacy, and hospitality to Latin American immigrants
http://www.alternacommunity.com/
Read his blog here.
Listen to him speak here.
LaGrange, Georgia
 
  
Ken Fong @KenUyedaFong
Pastor, Evergreen Baptist Church
http://www.ebcla.org/
Check out his books.
Watch videos from his church here.  
Los Angeles, California
 
Makoto Fujimora @iamfujimura
Artist, writer, creative catalyst
http://www.makotofujimura.com/
Check out his book here.  
Watch him speak here.
New York
  
Nicole Baker Fulgham @nicolebfulgham
public school advocate, faith-motivated justice seeker, founder of The Expectations Project
http://www.theexpectationsproject.org/about-us/leadership/
Check out her book here.  
Listen to her speak here.  
Washington, DC
 
Marilyn Gardner @marilyngard
Writer, blogger on cultural issues and third culture kids
http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/
Cambridge, Massachusetts
 
Ivy George
Academic in Sociology & Social Work at Gordon College, speaker, writer
Ivy is an especially captivating speaker.  Watch her speak here.
Check out her books here.
Massachussetts
  
Edward Gilbreath @EdGilbreath 
 Author of Reconciliation Blues and Birmingham Revolution.
http://www.edgilbreath.com/
Listen to him speak here.
Check out his books here
Chicago, Illinois
 
Justo Gonzalez
Theologian, writer, academic
Check out his renowned theological books here.  
 
  
Derwyn L. Gray @DerwinLGray
Lead Pastor of Transformation Church; Former NFL Player
 http://www.derwinlgray.com/
Listen to him speak here.
Check out his books here.  
Charlotte, North Carolina
 
Jelani Greenidge @jelanigreenidge
Writer, communicator, comedian, thinker, speaker, musician
http://jelanigreenidge.com/
Listen to his music here.  
Check out his comedy here.  
Listen to him speak here.  
Portland, Oregon
   
Gustavo Gutierrez
Peruvian theologian, author, endowed professor at Notre Dame
http://theology.nd.edu/people/faculty/gustavo-gutierrez-o-p/
Check out his books here.
 
 
Erna Hackett @ErnaSings
Songwriter, Blogger, Social Justice leader, Intervarsity staff member
http://feistythoughts.com/
Listen to her music here.  
Los Angeles, California
 
Linda Hargrove @llhargrove
Fiction Writer
http://llhargrove.com/
Check out her books here.
Watch a trailer for her book here.
North Carolina
  
Lisa Sharon Harper @lisasharper
Director of Mobilizing @Sojourners. author, political activist
http://sojo.net/biography/lisa-sharon-harper
Check out her books here.  
Listen to her speak here.  
Washington, DC
 
Gary Haugen @garyhaugen
President & CEO of International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Washington, DC
 
Young Lee Hertig
Co-founder and Executive Director of Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity
http://www.isaacweb.org/
Check out her book here.  
Pasadena, California
 
Peter Hong
Pastor of New Community Covenant Church
http://thenewcom.com/who-we-are/our-staff/
His sermons are rich and deep.  Listen here.  
Chicago, Illinois
 
Munther Isaac @MuntherIsaac
Christian Palestinian professor at Bethlehem Bible College
http://muntherisaac.blogspot.com/
Watch him speak here.
Jerusalem, Israel
 
Greg Jao @GregJao
Urbana emcee, IVCF National Field Director, author of Your Mind’s Mission
http://www.intervarsityleads.org/
Check out his book here.  
Listen to him speak here.  
New York
 
Katelyn from By Their Strange Fruit 
Blogger on race and christianity
http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/
Columbus, Ohio
  
Skye Jethani @skye_jethani
Christian author, speaker, editor, pastor. 
http://www.skyejethani.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Rachel Pieh Jones @RachelPiehJones
Writer, development worker in Djibouti
http://www.djiboutijones.com/
Djibouti
 
Kathy Khang @mskathykhang 
Reader. Writer. Speaker. Follower of Jesus. Regional multiethnic ministries director @intervarsityusa.
http://morethanservingtea.wordpress.com/
Read an interview with Kathy.
Check out her book here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Grace Ji-Sun Kim @Gracejisunkim
Author, visiting researcher at Georgetown University. 
http://gracejisunkim.wordpress.com/
Check out her books here.  
Listen to her speak here
 
Helen Lee @HelenLeeAuthor
Author, journalist, speaker, blogger
http://helenleeauthor.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Terry LeBlanc
Director, My People International; Chair, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies; Indigenous Studies Program Director at Tyndale University College & Seminary
http://www.mypeopleinternational.com/index.html
Watch him speak here.
Canada
 
Grace Hwang Lynch @HapaMamaGrace
Writer, Consultant, Blogger, News Editor at BlogHer @BlogHerNews
http://hapamama.com/
San Francisco Bay area, California
 
Zaida Maldonado Pérez
Professor of church history and theology at Asbury Theological Seminary
http://www.asburyseminary.edu/person/dr-zaida-maldonado-perez/
Check out her books here.
Kentucky
 
Vishal Mangalwadi
Lecturer, philsopher, writer, social reformer, political and cultural columnist
http://www.revelationmovement.com/
Check out his books here.
Watch him speak here.
 
Loida Martell-Otero
Professor of Constructive Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary
http://www.palmerseminary.edu/about/faculty/loida-martell-otero
Read her books here.
Pennsylvania
 
 
Fouad Masri @CrescentProject
Pastor and founder of the Crescent Project
https://www.crescentproject.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Indianapolis, Indiana
 
Ramon Mayo @mayotron
Writer, missionary, blogger on diversity, the church, and racial justice
http://ramonmayo.com/
Check out his book here.
Chicago, Illinois 
 
Erwin McManus @erwinmcmanus
Writer, speaker and lead pastor of Mosaic Church
http://www.erwinmcmanus.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Idelette McVicker @idelette 
Writer. Activist. African-Canadian. Founder & Editor of SheLovesmagazine.com 
http://www.idelette.com/
Listen to her speak here.
Vancouver, Canada 
 
Paul Louis Metzger @paulouismetzger
Professor at Multnomah University, Director of the Institute for the Theology of Culture, Author, Speaker
http://new-wineskins.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Portland, Oregon
 
 
Osheta Moore @osheta
Urban church planter and blogger
http://oshetablogs.wordpress.com/
Cambridge, Massachusetts
 
Salim Munayer
Instructor at Bethlehem and Galilee Bible College
http://www.bethbc.org/academics/faculty/dr-salim-j-munayer
Check out his books.
Listen to him speak here.
Jerusalem, Israel
 
Samuel Naaman
President of the South Asian Friendship Center in Chicago, professor of World Missions and Evangelism at Moody Bible Institute
http://www.safcbookstore.com/staff/
Chicago, Iliinois
 
Trillia Newbell @trillianewbell
Freelance journalist, Christian writer, author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014)
http://www.trillianewbell.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
Nashville, Tennessee 
 
Kelly Nikondeha @knikondeha
Writer. Thinker. Lover of Jesus, justice & jubilee. Adopted & adoptive mother of 2. Doing theology in transit. 
http://kelleynikondeha.com/
Listen to her speak here.
Arizona & Burundi
 
Michael Oh @ohfamily
Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement as well as founder & board chairman of CBI Japan (http://cbijapan.org ).
http://www.lausanne.org/
Listen to him speak here.
Nagoya, Japan
 
Enuma Okoro @TweetEnuma
Writer. Speaker. Consultant.
http://enumaokoro.com/
Check out her books here.
Watch a book trailer here.
Listen to her speak here.
 
Jacqueline Ottmann
Aboriginal scholar at University of Calgary
http://jacquelineottmann.com/
Check out her research here.
Calgary, Canada
 
Eboo Patel* @EbooPatel
Founder and President, Interfaith Youth Core. *While Eboo is a Muslim, not a Christian, he works frequently with Christians in interfaith dialog.  
http://www.ifyc.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.42.10 PM
Soong-Chan Rah @profrah
Pastor, author and academic at North Park Theological Seminary
http://www.profrah.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Vinoth Ramachandra
Writer, Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement for IFES
http://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/
Check out his books.
Watch him speak here.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
 
Patricia Raybon @PatriciaRaybon
Writer
http://www.patriciaraybon.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Colorado
 
Deidra Riggs @DeidraRiggs
visionary at JumpingTandem, managing editor at TheHighCalling.org, monthly contributor at (in)courage.me
http://www.deidrariggs.com/
Listen to her TedTalk here.
Lincoln, Nebraska
 
Natasha S. Robison @ASISTASJOURNEY 
Speaker, writer
http://www.natashasrobinson.com/
Listen to her speak here.
North Carolina
 
Robert Chao Romero @ProfeChaoRomero 
UCLA Professor. Historian. Lawyer. Pastor. Author
 http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/
Check out his books here.
Los Angeles, California 
 
Gabriel & Jeanette Salguero @NalecNews
President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
http://www.na-lec.org/
Listen to Gabriel speak here.
New York
 
 
Brenda Salter McNeil @RevDocBrenda
Reconciliation Trailblazer, Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies & Teaching Pastor at Quest Church
http://saltermcneil.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Seattle, Washington
 
Alexia Salvatierra 
Pastor, writer, advocate, consultant, community organizer
http://www.alexiasalvatierra.com/bio.html
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
California
 
Arlene Sanchez-Walsh @AmichelSW
Professor of American religious history and Latina/o religion
 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/amsanchezwalsh/
Check out her book here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Tamara Shaya Hoffman @tamarashaya
Media Communications Specialist. Conflict Analyst. Development Advocate. Strategist. Storyteller. Leader.
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tamara-shaya/6/893/793
Washington, DC
 
Priscilla Shirer @PriscillaShirer
Bible teacher and speaker
http://www.goingbeyond.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Texas
 
Andrea Smith
Intellectual, professor at University of California Riverside, Co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
http://mcs.ucr.edu/andrea-smith-associate-professor/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Southern California
 
Emfrem Smith @efremsmith
President and CEO of World Impact. Author and speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries.
 http://www.efremsmith.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
San Francisco Bay area, California
 
Matt Soerens @MatthewSoerens
Field Director for the Evangelical Immigration Table. US Church Training Specialist for @WorldRelief, author
http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/
Check out his book here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Bryan Stevenson
Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Lawyer defending the poor, imprisoned, and mentally ill
http://www.eji.org/
Listen to his TedTalk.
Montgomery, Alabama
 
Jemar Tisby @JemarTisby
Co-Founder of @RAANetwork, Student at @RTSJackson, Black & Reformed Christian
http://www.jemartisby.com 
Jackson, Mississippi
 
Nikki Toyama-Szeto
Senior Director of Biblical Justice Integration and Mobilization at International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/node/2392
Check out her books.
Watch her speak.
Washington, DC
 
Richard Twiss
Speaker, activist, educator, author on Indigenous communities.  Founder of Wiconi International. 
(Richard passed away earlier this year, but leaves a rich legacy of work with us)
http://www.wiconi.com/
Watch some videos here.
Check out his writing here
 
 
Kathy Tuan-Maclean
Area Director, Boston Graduate/Faculty Ministries, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wordynerdy/
Watch her speak
 
Canon Andrew White @vicarofbaghdad
Vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad
http://frrme.org/
Check out his books.
Listen to him speak.
Baghdad, Iraq
 
 
Marcos Witt @MarcosWitt
Christian musical artist
https://www.facebook.com/marcoswitt
Listen to his music here.
Houston, Texas
 
Randy Woodley @randywoodley7
Native American (Keetoowah), Spiritual, farmer, professor, activist, writer, Ph.D. Intercultural Studies
http://www.eagleswingsministry.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Oregon
 
George Yancey @profyancey
Sociologist, researcher, writer
http://www.georgeyancey.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Denton, Texas
  
 
 
Jenny Yang @JennyYangWR
Vice President of Advocacy and Policy @WorldRelief and co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate.
Read more about Jenny.
Watch her speak.
 
Naomi Zacharias @Naomi_Zacharias
Author, Speaker, and Director/Vice President of Wellspring International.
http://wellspringinternational.org/ 
Check out her book.
Listen to her speak here.
Atlanta, Georgia
  
 
Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Helpful resources for raising biracial children

When I first became a mother, I knew I’d need a lot of help so I consulted a wide variety of resources from friends to family to professionals.  They were all immensely helpful in helping me understand and prepare for raising children.  With regards to raising biracial children, however, I felt distinctly alone.  No one I knew had done this before, and I was blazing a completely new trail.

So, I turned to my trusty friends The Books.  They gave me access to a world I didn’t know, and taught me about things that those from my world could not.  The internet and I became quite friendly too, for I was living in quite an isolated world where the internet became my only access to families like ours.  These were life-changing gifts, ones that offered me deep insight into how my children’s childhoods might be different than my own, and what I could do to help them develop a healthy identity and view of themselves.

The resources below include some of my favorite resources, as well as some new ones I’ve found.  Feel free to add resources that you’ve found helpful in the comments below!  books for parents header

raising biracial children

Raising biracial children
by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey A. Laszloffy (2005)
 

I'm chocolate

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-concious World
by Marguerite Wright.

While this book focuses on black children, I found a lot that is quite applicable to biracial children from any background.  It’s by far the best book I’ve read on the topic.

Black Books Galore: Guide to Great African American Children’s Books
by Donna Rand and Toni Trent Parker

My sister-in-law just recommended this series to me and loves it.  Be sure to check out all the other titles in the series.

Check all that apply: Finding wholeness as a multiracial person
by Sundee Frazier
 

A great resource for biracial children and their parents that reflects on how to develop wholeness in biracial identities.

books for teachers

Since teachers spend so much time with our kids, I’ve often longed for teachers who are more aware of how to encourage and affirm my biracial children.  These are some great books that help teachers begin to acquire this knowledge.

we can't teach

We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, Multiracial Schools
by Gary Howard

A seminal book in the field, the title pretty much says it all (though the book is worth reading too!).

why_are_all_the_black_kids_sitting_together_in_the_cafeteria1

 
Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and other conversations about race
by Beverly Daniel Tatum

I’ve quoted this book a lot recently – it’s another classic that is a great introduction to an understanding of race and psychology.  Definitely a must-read for teachers and parents alike.

books for children

The book market for books including biracial children is expanding slowly, and these are a few of my favorite ones for younger kids.  You can preview all the books on Amazon.

whoever you are

Whoever you are by Mem Fox

skin you live in

The skin you live in by Michael Tyler

how my parents

How my parents learned to eat by Ina R. Friendman

two mrs gibsons

Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus

amy hodgepodge

Amy Hodgepodge Series by Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts

Here are a few great lists of multicultural children’s books as well:

organizations

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.24.50 PMInterracialFamily.org

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.25.46 PMMultilingual Living Magazine

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 9.26.57 PMMultiracial Americans of Southern California

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Project RACE: Reclassify All Children Equally

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Swirl Magazineblogs header

A life with subtitles by Sarah Quezada.

Bicultural Mom by Chantilly Patiño.

Biracial Families Blog by Amber

Multiracial Sky by Natasha Sky

Musing Momma by Ellie

SpanglishBaby: Raising Bilingual and Bicultural Kids

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What other resources for biracial families do you know about and love? If you have your own blog on raising biracial kids, please leave a link to your blog in the comments! 

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Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Speaking with children about race and some tips on how to start

Being biracial in a predominately white environment, my children began noticing race as soon as they could form thoughts more complicated than, “I want my sippy cup” and “I watch a movie?”  Having worked with plenty of biracial college students who were just beginning to discover their dual identity, we’ve intentionally spoken openly with our kids about their biracial identity from the beginning.  Like their bicultural identity, we wanted it to be something that had always been a part of who they are, not something that they suddenly discovered one day.

In an effort to help them embrace all sides of themselves, we’ve had some great chats with our kids about their identity over the years.  A Latina girl in my daughter’s first pre-school class named Rachel did cause some confusion for a bit when our daughter began telling people that she was “bi-rachel.”  We also faced quite the drama attempting to explain to her that Jesus wasn’t actually white.  Yet even in the midst of confusion and drama, we’ve found it essential to talk with our kids about this aspect of themselves and their world regularly.  

Growing up white in a mostly white community, I never talked about race, so it was a steep learning curve for me.  Because I hadn’t spoken or thought about race as a child, I was initially skeptical about the value of the conversation itself. “Aren’t we brainwashing them?” I’d asked my husband. “Why don’t we just let them notice what they notice without bringing it up?”

He’d assure me that it was quite a normal – even healthy – reality to talk about race as a family and I’d acquiesce, acknowledging that my culture’s silence on the matter hadn’t helped race relations much.  We also couldn’t really skirt the conversation easily since even our extended family is made up of a variety of races.  The kids were going to see it, and we needed to give them words to help frame their understanding.

Because of the reality of living in a racialized society (make sure to watch the video above to understand the full impact of this on children), it’s imperative for all families to speak openly about raceespecially white families. As a teacher, I learned that it was helpful to have a few ‘speeches’ prepared for a wide variety of situations, and parenting doesn’t feel that different.  Knowing how to talk about hushed-up topics with our kids like sex and race and disappointment and doubt is important. In that vane, here are a few suggestions for speaking about race to stick in a back-pocket for the day that conversation does arise.

Engage, don’t shush.

Psychological studies show that children notice racial differences as young as 3.  Sometimes, they might say embarrassing things that make parents nervous like “Why is that guy’s skin dirty?” or “You don’t match your mom.”  Psychologist Beverly Tatum suggests that if white parents are uncomfortable talking about race and respond by silencing them that the children learn race is not to be talked about at all, even if they do notice it.  The better way is to engage children on the topic and help them understand.

Speak factually.

Teach your kids the word melanin and explain how it works in human bodies.  It’s a great science lesson!  Just like sex, if we don’t explain the basic facts about how race works, young children are likely to develop their own theories like thinking others turn brown from things like eating too much chocolate or simply being ‘dirty’.

Speak figuratively.

To help our kids understand their biracial identity as young children, we would pour a glass of milk into a clear glass and then add chocolate syrup.  “Mama’s the milk.  Thaatha’s the chocolate,” we’d explain.  Then we’d stir it together.  “And you’re what happens when we mix it all together!”

Beverly Tatum (1997) would explain race to kids by cracking white and brown eggs, talking about how they’re different colors on the outside, but the exact same on the inside.

When our kids were younger, we also talked openly about the inaccuracies of racial classifications.  “Mama’s not really white, I’m more peach, right?”  Then we’d brainstorm what colors we could use for their skin: caramel, butterscotch, tan.  We’d adjust song lyrics and sing together:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Brown and caramel and peach,
Chocolate and  coffee,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Define race without deficiency

When we speak about differences between people, it’s important to be careful to speak without making someone else seem less than.  Statements like “her skin has too much melanin” suggest that something is wrong rather than just different.  Instead, it’s far more affirming to everyone to say things like, “We all have different colors of skin.  Isn’t it pretty like a rainbow?”

Pay attention to the surroundings you create

In simple things like choosing library books or decorations, be aware of creating a space in the home that represents a wide variety of people.  If children don’t see diversity in their immediate communities, they can at least see it in books they read and movies they watch.  This is especially important for families who live in areas that don’t have a lot of diversity where children are more naturally exposed to people of other races.  See this post for more ideas on how to incorporate diversity more deeply into family life.

Discuss discrepancies

When people of color are portrayed stereotypically or negatively in the media, bring it up. When a nativity scene or Bible shows all white people, talk with children about how this isn’t actually accurate.   We don’t always prevent our kids from seeing such inaccuracies because they’re great conversation starters when we do see them.  We also then make attempts to find other resources that balance out the inaccurate stereotype they’ve been exposed to.  For example, our kids love old sitcoms like I love Lucy and the Brady Bunch.  Many of these shows carry subliminal messages or microagressions about race that were common to their time.  We’ve made sure to also introduce shows (like the Cosby Show) that portray people of color with positive and empowering messages and talk about the how each show portrays the people in it.

When it comes to race, we must remember that our children learn from both what we say and what we don’t say.  Silence doesn’t always mean approval or acceptance.  Sometimes it creates a whole-lot-of-ignorance and breeds significant misunderstanding.  If we ourselves don’t know how to talk about race in productive, healthy, non-stereotyping and respectful ways, we won’t be able to teach them how to talk about it either.

Related Posts

Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Culture & Race

30 Day Race Challenge

When I saw the 30 Day Mom Challenge, I was inspired to create a similar challenge for people who want to develop a deeper understanding of race.  So, I developed the resource below with links to some thought-provoking resources available on race out there. (Click on the image to open the file and access the links.)  I’d encourage you to spend some time slowly digesting and learning from the resources here.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 1.58.14 PM

You can also download this file here:  30 day race challenge.

Culture & Race

Confusing the ‘American Dream’ for the Good Life

I’m guest posting today at A Life Overseas about the temptation for people around the world to pursue the hollow and meaningless parts of American culture.  Here’s a quick excerpt:

In class, my Burkinabé students echoed similar assumptions, believing that American streets were literally paved with gold.  Consequently, it wasn’t difficult to understand why a ticket to America was their dream come true (especially since most of the roads in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital city, were not paved at all).  This mentality recurred throughout Ouagadougou – American flags on T-Shirts, pictures of American movie stars on billboards, or American rock classic playing in restaurants.

“This isn’t what you want,” I challenged my students one day as we discussed the opulence of American culture, “I know it appears enticing, especially in comparison to the poverty, hunger, and injustice people here face on a daily basis.  But what I see being chased – the pride of “image”, the greed of materialism, the selfishness of “independence” – is a façade.”

Read the whole article here.

Culture & Race

Elephant parking lots, tribal music, and the problem with stereotypes as stories

“Stories matter. Many stories matter.
Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign,
but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.
Stories can break the dignity of a people
but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
– Chimamanda Adichie

~

I attended a small liberal arts college in the the middle of a cornfield where most students, like me, hadn’t had a great deal of exposure to the world at large.  Many naively highlighted their ignorance in speaking with the international and urban students about their homes.

My roommate, who came from the Bahamas, was asked how long it took her to drive home.  My husband convinced a girl that he rode an elephant to school and parked it in an elephant parking lot.  Others were asked if they wore clothes, drove cars, and watched TV.

As Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently explains in the TedTalk below, my classmates were subscribing to the ‘danger of a single story’, the notion that everyone from one place is the exactly the same.  She tells a story of how her college roommate asked to hear her tribal music and was disappointed when she played Mariah Carey. Adichie admits freely that she has held very similar perspectives throughout her life – believing that the poor are only poor, unable to demonstrate any qualities aside from poverty.  While there are certain contexts in which the simplistic understanding a stereotype provides can be helpful, there are far more contexts where it’s harmful.

While the framework stereotypes offer provide a basic understanding of a culture or place, they grow quickly harmful when we don’t look past them for several reasons:

Stereotypes make us think we understand.  In the current American political wars, I hear both sides regularly assume they understand the ‘other side’ whether it be conservative or liberal.  “They’re so simple-minded and backwards,” the coasters whisper about the inlanders.  “They’re so snobby and elitist,” the inlanders whisper back.  I’ve lived in both places, and can affirm that they’re all far more complex and nuanced and human than each side gives each other credit for.

Stereotypes silence the exceptions.  When a person is gifted to work in a particular area their culture does not typically value, feelings of isolation become a familiar friend. Women in ministry often feel this rub, as do people of color who work in predominately white settings.  Yet God does not gift by gender or race but by individual.   Operating by stereotypes of these groups silences the many who don’t fit in the box they create.

My ESL students surprise me with their exceptions all the time.  I once had a particularly raucous Chinese woman in class.  One of my Latina students gently inquired about this aspect of her personality one day, explaining that most Asian women she knew were much quieter than this particular woman.  The Chinese woman laughed loudly and responded, “They may be quiet on the outside, but they’re LOUD on the inside!”  When we don’t actively work to see past stereotypes, we miss the opportunity to learn more deeply from the exceptions that exist within larger groups.

Stereotypes dismiss the individual.  One of the great gifts of being human is our ability to express individuality.  I don’t speak of this in a fiercely-independent-American-sort-of-way, but with a mind that acknowledges the uniqueness each one of us carries within.  When I taught in a predominately African-American middle school, I would cringe when I overheard white teachers commenting how “black kids are loud” or “that Mexican didn’t understand me” because I knew very well that I had plenty of quiet black students in class and Mexican students who understood every word I said.  The sweeping statements painting a picture of the whole culture dismissed the individuality of the people within it.

Stereotypes perpetuate oppression.  Nowhere is this currently seen more clearly than in the treatment of women around the world.  From unrealistic photo editing to over-princessing little girls to sex trafficking, women are portrayed in grossly stereotyped and oppressive ways.  Similar oppression continues across ethnic, race, and class lines to this day.  Black men face significantly higher rates of arrest than their white counter parts.  Rich boys suffering ‘affluenza’ are given probation instead of jail time for causing a deadly car crash while the poor remain perpetually without defense.

Instead of perpetuating the short-sighted stereotypes, may we be people who seek the deeper stories that give voice instead of silence it and that restore dignity instead of dehumanizing.  

Related Posts

Books, Culture & Race

Why black history is for white folks, too: A reflection on Birmingham Revolution by Edward Gilbreath

While it’s no secret that I care deeply about issues of racial equity and understanding, I must admit that my personal knowledge of the historical realities of race sometimes feels inadequate.  To assuage some of the guilt over my ignorance, I occasionally blame-shift and attribute my ignorance to the fact that I was educated in a predominately white community by a high school US History teacher who carried cigarettes in his socks and did more stand-up comedy than teaching. However, in my more honest moments, I must admit that I don’t know simply because I haven’t taken time to learn.

As a result, I was admittedly eager to read Edward Gilbreath’s new book, Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr’s Epic Challenge to the Churchin an effort to continue building a stronger foundation of understanding of racial issues in America. Having spent a fair bit of time within Christian communities, I’d found tremendous insight and relief in the honesty of Gilbreath’s first book, Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside Views of White Christianity.  He put words to the experience that I have so often heard from people of color and helped me understand realities that I don’t experience as a white person in the church.

Ironically, I read Birmingham Revolution this week in the midst of the unfolding of yet another failure of the American justice system to protect the senseless and random shooting of black youth. While there has certainly been progress in the past fifty years, it also grew painfully clear that there is still so far to go. I followed the race conversation a bit extra this week, taking in the clash of painful desperation from black voices and ignorant dismissal from white ones. Consequently, the 50-year-old stories of this book hit me extra hard as I watched our nation once again stumble through the throes of racial violence, prejudice and misunderstanding.

Gilbreath’s book dives in deep to the historical details of the civil rights movement in Birmingham in 1963.  I learned about Fred Shuttlesworth, the fiery bowels of Birmingham’s movement who had both the guts and humility to inspire the fierce perseverance of the non-violent protests that characterized the movement.  I learned about the Birmingham Eight, white clergymen who sincerely thought they were ‘helping’ race relations by writing a statement urging the Negro community to be patient and work within the system.  And I learned more about the influences and realities that shaped Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement he led.  The story flows richly, and I found myself lost at times in the South of the 1960s, pondering how I might have seen things had I been part of the era.

Theirs were no easy decisions – blacks or whites.  For blacks, it was a decision to risk everything – even life itself – for change that they may or may not see in their lifetimes.  For whites, it meant letting go of power they didn’t even acknowledge they held and confronting a sin so deep it had blinded them for centuries. Neither option sounds like a walk-in-the-park to me.

In the midst of recounting historical details, Birmingham Revolution also addresses the here-and-now application of King’s letter specifically to the modern day church.  While ‘I have a dream’ makes a more dramatic sound byte, Gilbreath’s book shows how Letters from a Birmingham Jail is what we really need to be reading if we want to learn about living out the kind of reconciliation the Bible teaches.

Sit with these nuggets from MLKs letter for awhile to see which stirs you most:

birmingham jail quote 2birmingham jail quote 3 birmingham jail quote 4 birmingham jail quote 5

King’s words are eerily relevant to the church today, and the whole book left me feeling that, in Grace Biskie‘s words, MLK Jr. would ‘facepalm at the state of things today’. Birmingham Revolution shows just how much the white evangelical church has sided with the safety and reason of the Birmingham clergymen rather than learning from courage and tenacity of Fred Shuttlesworth.

“Race is the gigantic elephant in the American living room that some insist will disappear if only we would just ignore it,” Gilbreath asserts. “For African Americans and other people of color, however, it is difficult to ignore a six-ton pachyderm when it’s sitting on top of you.”

I’m afraid that I can’t say I see much change in white people’s fundamental view toward race today than what MLK saw at the end of his life, “Whites, it must be frankly said, are not putting in a mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance,” he wrote. “It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

As a white person, there are times when I get the distinct impression from my culture that Martin Luther King, Jr., black history, civil rights, and the like are for ‘those other folks’.  What I was reminded afresh in Birmingham Revolution is that the story is just as much about us as it is about them.  We played half of this story, and if we care at all about adressing the issue of the elephant in the room, we need to learn more about how it got there in the first place.

Further Reading

Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Why toys need to reflect racial diversity (Here’s lookin’ at you, Lego!)

Image credit: Chinian

Our change.org petition to ask Lego to make their minifigures more diverse is beginning to make the rounds on Twitter (Way to go to those who are sharing it – keep it going, especially on Facebook!), so naturally I’ve received some push back.  It made me think that my mama-bear reaction to fight for what benefits my biracial kids would also benefit from a more thorough reflection of the issue.

I distinctly remember the first time, nearly 15 years ago now, that I saw an ad on the wall in a Springfield, Virginia Wal-mart containing people who weren’t white.  It’s hard to believe now, but back then I did a double take because it caught me so off guard. As a white person, I was so accustomed to seeing only people who looked like me in advertisements that I hadn’t ever considered the fact that they only represented one portion of our country’s population.

A lot has changed in advertising in those fifteen years, and the change had to start from somewhere.  I appreciate the variety of voices who have spoken up for better, non-stereotyped representation of all sorts of people in mainstream media (no surprise that my new BFF is Cheerios!). While there are certainly issues far more serious and pressing than the color of Lego minifigures, in the process of pursuing justice, there are a lot of little stories that matter right alongside the really big ones.  I believe this is one of those little stories.

As we’ve raised biracial children, we’ve searched long and hard for toys and books that reflect a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds and perspectives.  It hasn’t always been an easy or successful effort, but it’s been an important way we affirm this piece of our children’s identity. As a result, while a few may view such a petition as ‘silly’, I view it as yet another small step toward leveling the playing field in our broken racial history, and an opportunity to tell a new story to our children.  Here are a few reasons why:

THE-OBVIOUS

1. Duplo already did it.  When my son was little, his aunt bought him a whole set of multiracial Duplo figures.  We loved them and are still waiting for the Lego minifigure versions.  Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, Diego, Backyardigans, Little Einsteins, Sesame Street, My Little Pony, Wild Kratts, The Electric Company and so many other brands incorporate characters representing a range of physical appearances. Why not Lego?

2.  People aren’t all one color.  Even if I could buy the rationale that yellow is a neutral color, there’s still the problem of Legos minifigures only reflecting one color. If Lego wants to keep with the ‘neutrality’ theme, then at least they could create a variety of skin tones – green, purple, blue, pink, etc. – if yellow is really neutral, then so are these colors.  Creating more hues would at least acknowledge that skin color varies among people.

3.  Children see yellow as a color for light-skinned people.  When you give children crayons to draw a picture, they reach first for peach to draw light-complected people.  If it’s not there, they pick yellow.  By creating only yellow-skinned figures, Lego leaves brown children wondering why they were left out and doesn’t allow white children to encounter anything but themselves.

THE-PHILOSOPHICAL

1. Children believe what they see.  There is a long history of studies tracking children’s views of race, a recent one being CNN’s doll study on Anderson Cooper that clearly shows both white and black children picking white children as “better, smarter, nicer, more behaved.” This study and many others highlight the need to positively reframe how all children understand and view race (not to mention other characteristics like gender and ability and economic status), and one way we can shift this from a young age is through the subliminal story their toys tell them.  

We need to ask ourselves if all children encounter representations of themselves in what they play with or read, and if they ever encounter representations of children who aren’t like them? When one color is dominant, it sends clear messages to both the privileged and the oppressed that the story isn’t changing for anyone. This story hurts us all.

2. Children internalize what they see. It’s no secret that light colors are symbolically good and dark colors are symbolically bad, but we need to pause to consider the deeper story this persistent symbolism teaches our children, particularly in regards to race. By making broad and intentional efforts to redefine the subtle stigma attached to the colors used to represent skin color, toy companies have the opportunity to tell children of all racial backgrounds a story of value for everyone, not just the light-skinned hands that have traditionally held the power.

3. We live in a broken racial story.  Probably the most concerning piece to me about the yellow Lego minifigures (and the predominance of white dolls in general) is the underlying story it tells our kids:  Valuable people are one color only – the lighter the better. This isn’t only damaging to all the brown children out there, but also to the white ones because it never disrupts their perception of the world as just-like-them.  

When people suggest that Lego mini-figures don’t have a race, they say it in the context of a world that has struggled under the hand of white racial domination for centuries.  This argument may have been valid in the Middle Ages when skin hue didn’t carry the historical baggage it does today, but this is not our story and we must live within the reality we have, not the one we wish we had. In a world that is rapidly globalizing, we are closer to one another than ever, but the decreasing distance doesn’t automatically produce increased understanding.  To dismantle this broken racial piece of the story we’ve told ourselves, we need to create a new one, one that does a better job sharing and representing power.

So in the end, while yes, making Lego minifigures in brown and peach and tan and butterscotch and caramel and chocolate and beige (or in purple and green and blue and pink and orange for that matter) might be a Little-Story, it’s the good Little-Stories that ultimately make up the good Big-Stories.  

The first time I saw someone who looked different than me represented in an advertisement, it made me pause and think, “Oh, yeah. There are more people than just me. Maybe I should consider them, too.” It was only a little story in a blip of my life, but combined with so many other little stories, it’s shaped my Big Story into a more beautiful one than I could have ever imagined.

All the little stories. They matter.  

Let’s tell them well – especially to our children – so that we can all tell a better Big Story someday.

Related Posts

Don’t forget!

Culture & Race, Travel

Foreigner at a train station

train station

What happens when you shift from foreigner to friend without actually moving to a place? Such has become my reality in Sri Lanka, my husband’s homeland, as we have travelled there repeatedly over the past 15 years. I wrote this reflection for She Loves Magazine on my experience of returning year after year to the complex and beautiful country where my family and I love and are loved deeply. While it is not our home, it remains a precious piece of our life together.

swirl

I enter the train station trepidatiously. A foreigner-with-fancy-suitcases-and-tennis-shoes, I stand out against the locals in a sea of sandals, sarongs and saris. We board the train without incident and peer out the windows, eager to begin our journey. The train jolts and lurches forward; we travelers settle in.

We peer our heads out of the windows, breathing in a combination of warm-wind and train-smoke. The train clacks and bounces, while the intensity of both the beauty and the poverty rolling past our windows leaves me silently choked up.

Filth.

How do people manage to live like this? I wonder. But they don’t appear to be asking themselves any such questions.

“The people seem happier here,” my ten-year-old daughter observed. I have not spoken with them – I don’t know if this is really true or not – but from my train window, I notice the same thing: there is a contentedness to simply be that I do not often see in my wealthy-and-developed-world.

Shop owners chat. Children walk alongside mothers. Three-wheeler drivers await customers. There is no urgency to hurry or consume or buy.

Who am I amidst this place? I wonder. My external trappings carry no label except white-and-wealthy-foreigner. There can be no other put-on identity – funky, classy, intellectual, hip – except for this very obvious one.

It is undeniable that I do not belong here; but in spite of this, I cannot shrug the sense of strange belonging that comes with being a foreigner-wife. I am not merely a tourist in short-shorts trekking the ancient ruins and soaking in the breathtaking shores, but a family member, returning to the same people journey after journey, eager to see the small changes, check out the new developments and embrace the arms that have held my babies. We may not share language or culture or skin or fashion, but we share the same love for the same hearts. This bond holds us steady.

swirl

Click here to finish reading at She Loves Magazine.

Culture & Race, Social & Political Issues

Dear ‘Merica: a Lament

When the Coke commercial began to play on Sunday, our Superbowl party of chatty adults and raucous children instinctively grew quiet.  We watched the striking depiction of America the Beautiful unfold with tears in our eyes, mesmerized.

After halftime, I checked in on Twitter, and learned that not everyone in the country shared our sentiments.  I sighed at comments like “We speak English here” and “Nice to see that coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist’s language” and cringed at hashtags like #wespeakamerican and #boycottcoke.

Inside, I ached on so many levels.  (That seems to be happening a lot lately.)

I ached first because I spend my days teaching English to the very immigrants you suggest don’t belong in the country. They are among the hardest working, most generous and kindest people I have ever met.  Contrary to your belief, they desperately want to learn English.  However, this isn’t always as simple as it may appear.

If English as a Second Language (ESL) classes are offered in an area, there are often long waiting lists, the class times conflict with work schedules, parents don’t have child care, or work 3 jobs to make ends meet and simply don’t have time.  Some, like many of you, have never had access to education and find learning a new language just as challenging as you would.  Many didn’t have the opportunity to learn English before they arrived in the US because they fled their countries with only the clothes on their backs.

All my students speak English to some degree, but it’s also no secret that English is quite a challenging language to learn, and everyone (including yourselves, I might add) falls somewhere on a spectrum regarding a complete and accurate knowledge of the language itself.  The issue is far more complex than a simple command to “Learn English”.

The other elephant-issue in the room is that even if immigrants learn English, they still speak their native language.  Just because they speak English doesn’t mean they don’t still use their own language.  It’s as much a part of who they are as being American.  Multilingualism plays a significant role in our national history.  Spanish predates English in the US, and there were debates in our early years if English or German would be the language of the government.  Pretending that English is the only language spoken is inaccurate at best and dehumanizing at worst.

My students love America.  They love its diversity and opportunity and potential.  Read it in their own words:

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 5.39.13 AM

From their optimism, you’d have no idea how much they sacrifice because they believe in and love this country.  Their children don’t know their grandparents or aunties or uncles or cousins or beloved friends. Professionals with advanced degrees and impressive work histories accept menial jobs simply for the privilege of living here.  They work long hours to provide, and then share what they have with a generosity that puts most native-born Americans to shame.

swirl

The ache also struck another, more personal chord because both growing up and living as an adult in the rural Middle, I frequently encountered these types of perspectives. They didn’t come from everyone, mind you, and gratefully not from my own family, but they are certainly a familiar part of my background.

Part of my family had roots in Appalachia that transplanted themselves to the hills of Southern Indiana and the other part were Swedish immigrant famers.  We all grew into ‘good ole simple Midwesterners’. While I am not exactly one of those ‘liberal-coasters’ you like to rant about, I am a rural Indiana girl who frequently rubbed shoulders with you throughout a childhood that includes sweet memories of listening to country music in pickup trucks, riding in a tractor with my grandpa, devouring my grandma’s sweet rolls, rolling down hills, adventuring in cow-pastures and wading in creeks with my cousins. When I left home, I discovered a great big world that reflected so much of the goodness I had seen in my own little square of it; but it wasn’t scary like the tales I had so often heard – it was astoundingly beautiful.

So while I disagree wholeheartedly with your perspective that diversity in our country is not beautiful, I also know you.  I know your names and your faces and your homes.  I have played tag with you at recess and cheered with you at football games.  I have been your neighbor, your customer, your colleague, your student, your teacher.  For so many of these reasons, I know that these tweets don’t exactly give the rest of the country a complete picture of all that you are.

I know that you have families you love.  Like tight-knit immigrant communities, you care for each other, bringing casseroles for new babies and plowing driveways in snowstorms without being asked.  You visit hospitals and sit on porches and wave at neighbors and help out friends in need, even if you don’t really have enough for yourselves. Yes, there are ugly-racists among you, people who hate and spew all sorts of ignorance, but they do not tell your whole story for many of you disagree silently, but restrain from speaking for fear of rocking-the-boat, not knowing what to say or being told to ‘just take a joke’.  Some of you may speak like this because it’s how you were spoken to or because you’ve never known anything different or because you don’t know or love anyone who is different from you.  I know there are reasons for your words that go far deeper than the 140 characters you express them in.

But your words hurt.  They scar and they maim.  I know this, too.

I know firsthand that you don’t easily know what to do with people who are not like you. Our biracial and bicultural and multilingual-but-English-speaking family lived among you in a tiny little cornfield town for 8 long and painful years, enduring glares and scowls, holding hearts and sighing wearily with the very-few-others-like-us.  You love yourselves well, but you did not love us at all. You ignored us in restaurants, ran us off roads, made threatening phone calls in the middle of the night. You kept to yourselves when we reached out. You shrunk back in silence when the ugly-racists raised their loud voice.

There were some among you, however, who countered your iciness. They brought us casseroles, visited us when our young child was in the hospital, helped us build swingsets in our back yard, chatted with us in the schoolyard and invited us to their homes for dinner. Even if they didn’t always understand us, they offered their hands in friendship, listened and loved well.  I will forever cherish their efforts to welcome us ‘strangers’ into their world.

Looking back, however, I so wish it all could have been different, that everyone in the land that gave me such a warm and rich and connected childhood knew how to welcome outsiders like they welcome insiders, that they applied the same fierceness of love they show their families to the newcomers among them.

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These days, I lament how frequently I hear this story of us vs. them – a story that says everyone needs to be just-like-us-or-get-the-hell-out; a story that forgets that most of us were immigrants-learning-English ourselves not too long ago; a story that demonizes the other side without ever actually getting to know them.  While it is not a new story, it is a broken strain of what has torn our country apart, not one that has united it.

This insularity and close-mindedness some of you wear like a badge really looks like an ugly-monster-mask to the rest of us.  It hides your true self, covering up the goodness and beauty that is in you, too.  By standing against the diversity represented in the #americaisbeautiful commercial, you are protesting some of the very ideals of family and virtue and community you value so deeply yourself (unless, of course, you side with the KKK. In that case, we have other issues to discuss.)

It reminds me of this peculiar name our forefathers gave us: the United States of America.  Just as our families hold individuals of every ilk, what makes our nation most beautiful is the diversity within.  Together, we’re attempting to tell a collective story to the world that echoes, ‘We’re better together.’  

The big cities and the tiny towns.
The crazy liberals and the staunch conservatives.
The blacks and the whites and the in-betweens.
The mono-linguals and the multi-linguals.
The fifth-generation descendants and the fresh-off-the-boats.
The cornfields and the coasts.
 

This is why it was so beautiful to hear America the Beautiful sung in so many languages, and why I long so fervently to see the love I first learned in ‘Merica open its arms and embrace everyone in their midst instead of just themselves.  

You are better than this, ‘Merica.

Embracing is something you do way better than the city-folk who won’t even look at each other on the street. The country has much to learn from you if you’d just drop your masks and share the beautiful parts of your lives instead of these ugly ones for you, too, are part of the America-that-is-beautiful. Please, help us keep it that way.

With love and hope for a new tomorrow,

Jody

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Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Dear Lego: Yellow is not a ‘neutral’ skin color

When my biracial son wrote this letter to the Lego company about the need for more racial diversity among Lego figures, I started thinking more deeply about the issue.  A friend of mine commented on Facebook that her son (now in his 20s) had written the company complaining that there weren’t any dark-skinned figures because he thought his dark-skinned cousin would feel left out.  At that time, Lego responded that they didn’t make different color mini-figures because “yellow was a ‘neutral’ skin color.”

I gasped.

Really, Lego?  

Have you ever given children a crayon and asked them to draw themselves?  White children use peach – OR YELLOW – for their skin and brown children DON’T.  Not ever. (Unless, perhaps, they wish the were a yellow Lego figure.)  Consider this picture my son drew of our beautiful family (I’m the peach one with the yellow hair.  He and his father are the brown ones):

family

I set aside my son’s offense temporarily until I went to the Lego website to submit his letter detailing his desire to organize his school into a strike against Lego because of the aforementioned ‘neutral’ yellow heads and, much to my great surprise, found this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.51.14 AMYes, folks, in 2014.  The centuries old narrative of one color dominating the world’s story needs to change.  Its hurting us all.

We now have a black president, 15% of marriages are interracial, over 20% of our country isn’t white, and that this figure is quickly increasing at a rapid rate.  Perhaps Lego missed the headlines that this is the world’s most typical – or in Lego’s words ‘neutral’ – person:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.46.39 PM

Not this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.51.11 PM

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Lego.  I love their creativity and quality and imagination. That’s why it shocks me so greatly that such a genius company dismisses such a significant reality of its consumer market.  Consider with me a few facts about Lego:

  • There are about 62 LEGO bricks for every one of the world’s 6 billion inhabitants.
  • More than 400 million people around the world have played with LEGO bricks.
  • 7 LEGO sets are sold by retailers every second around the world. (Neatorama)

Here’s part of a fascinating infographic by visual.ly that gives specific stats about mini figures themselves:

lego

Let’s think about these stats for a minute:

  • If 400 million people around the world have played with Legos, it’s likely safe to assume that quite a few of these people weren’t yellow – or male for that matter.
  • Lego has corporate Lego offices in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, and Taiwan – none countries which have a sizable ‘yellow’ population (unless, that is, Lego cares to recreate the demeaning slurs of yesteryear).
  • If this many Legos and mini figures are being created and sold around the world at such a rapid rate, surely there’s enough market interest for Lego to create characters of varying skin hues, genders and ethnicities.
  • If one of Lego’s 4 most frequently asked questions posted on their own website is about the color of the mini figures’ skin, I’m clearly not the first person to ask this question. This mama-bear wants to know why the problem is being dismissed and not fixed asap. My son is growing up quickly and there’s no time to waste.

Step up to the plate, Lego.  Surely your unparalleled creativity can come up with a better solution that allows all children to see themselves in your toys given the remarkable history of innovation you have always shown.  Stop the excuses about yellow heads being ‘neutral’ – #werenotbuyingit  even the kids see straight through that one.  

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Sign our petition to ask Lego to make their minifigures more diverse at Change.org.  Be sure to forward it along to your friends on Facebook or Twitter as well.  

Culture & Race

4.5 tips to help white people talk about race

carpe-2It’s no secret that race is a tough topic to discuss.  Given white people’s history of being both a dominant power and racial oppressors, it’s an even harder issue for us to discuss.  As a group, we tend to either stay quiet on the issue out of ignorance or fear or flip out and do horribly offensive things that make us look like racist-fools.

One of the most common reasons I hear white people say they don’t talk about race is fear of saying the wrong thing.  I know many, many people who don’t want to be offensive, but who also simply have no idea how to have a conversation on race because they’ve never had one.  They may care deeply, but without experience or understanding of race in their own lives, they bumble through such conversations, hoping for the best but not really knowing if they’re helping or hurting.

The tips on talking about race here will provide a starting point for people who want to be part of the solution instead of the problem, but who may not know where to begin.

1.  Listen.  In many race conversations, the dominant group is eager to share their opinions, views, or perceptions of how they see things.  They begin conversations by stating their questions, observations, or disagreements with a presumption of ‘rightness’, giving an unspoken impression that there’s no possible way to have a different perception than their own.  By participating in conversations first by listening, requesting clarification, and listening again, we communicate openness and allow ourselves to actually hear the reality of another’s experience instead of shutting down the conversation by becoming defensive, dismissive, or dominant.

2.  Learn.  Factually speaking, white people don’t have any idea what it means to live as a racial minority in a racialized society.  We can’t.  The simple fact that we’re white means we don’t experience racial prejudice firsthand in our homeland on a regular basis.  However, even if we can’t understand through our personal experience, we can attempt to learn more about what it means to see through someone else’s eyes.  With the sheer availability and accessibility of media today, we have no excuse to not read, watch movies, or seek out viewpoints outside of our own experience.  If we want to be a valuable participant in the conversation, we need to speak from a place of awareness, not ignorance.

One important point here is the need for white people to seek out other white people who are further along the path of racial understanding to process with in this phrase.  Quite frankly, too many eager-but-stupid-white-folk can be completely exhausting for the people of color who consistently have to dialogue about issues of race.  William A. Smith coins this ‘racial battle fatique’, a term which nails the overwhelming emotion many people of color face when they have to continually challenge others to acknowledge the realities of racism.  Most white people, however, have walked the lands of racial ignorance themselves at some point, and have an ability to understand and empathize with others just beginning the path.

3.  Accept.  Rather than assert an opinion, I’ve had more success accepting realities present in racial conversations rather than attempting to defeat or discount them.  These days, I find myself acknowledging my ignorance in conversations of all sorts of topics.  When I know my knowledge is inadequate, I’ll start a conversation with words like, “Forgive me for my ignorance here, but I don’t really know much about ___.”  and then I’ll ask for another’s perspective and do my best to listen well.  Admitting my ignorance from the get-go frees me to listen without trying to prove I know something.

Holly Daly, a good friend of mine with a long history of seeking racial understanding, points out that another reality white people would do well to accept is that the racial conversation does not have to be fair.   Many people approach a conversation with a feeling that the conversation needs to be ‘fair’, thinking consciously or subconsciously, “If I listen to your experience with racism, then you need to listen to mine and acknowledge that it’s equal.”

This attitude communicates an unwillingness to accept that we’ve received far more benefits for our skin color as opposed to prejudice. The fact is that race relations have never been equal in our country, and if white people want to be a healing factor in the equation of racial reconciliation, then we need to know how and when to surrender our own need for ‘equality’ in order to create places where the painful wounds of inequity have space to breathe, to be heard and to heal.

4.  Affirm.  While we will never completely understand what it means to walk in another’s shoes, we can affirm the reality of another’s experience.  Rather than dismiss another’s perception of racism, what if we simply affirmed the reality of what someone experiences rather than critique or question or explain away?  Phrases like, “I’m so sorry for your pain,” or “I can only imagine how that must hurt,” go a long way to affirm the experience of someone who feels marginalized.

4.5.  Love.  There’s one more point that I’ve found the most transformational, but adding a 5. will mess up my whole 4-theme, so I’m only counting it halfway because it’s not so much a tip as it is a magnificent gift because it cannot be forced or created, but something that arises organically and unplanned. By far the most life-changing way I’ve learned to speak of race is under the umbrella of love.

When you love someone, you should naturally do all of the above – listen, learn, accept, affirm.  And when you love someone of a different race, part of the process is listening, learning, accepting, and affirming this part of their experience as well.  I love and am loved well by so many people of color, and it has changed my world in ways I could have never imagined.  As they have spoken their truth out of love for me, I have learned about the fierceness of the human soul, about forgiveness, compassion, and healing in ways I’d never seen in my very-white world.  I am deeply indebted to so many who have loved me patiently and consistently across racial lines, for in loving me, they have shown me how to love more deeply.  This is, by far, the greatest gift that comes from our relationships.

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In the end, while our efforts to grow in racial understanding won’t ever be perfect, there is still much we can do to humbly and boldly walk the path toward wholeness and restoration.  It’s time to stop our pattern of silence by talking, listening, and learning more about our role in the broken racial history of our world and intentionally pursue ways in which we can become part of the healing rather than continuing to contribute to the problem.

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Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Dear Lego: Get your Butts to Work on Equality

Apparently, I’m raising a couple of activists.  My daughter was just complaining yesterday that Lego makes cool toys for boys and boring ones for girls, so there was much rejoicing in our house upon reading this letter that recently went viral:

Immediately after I showed this to my kids, my Lego-loving son son went straight to work on his own letter to the company.  When his older sister suggested that Mama might not approve of the ‘butt’ part, he responded, “Well, Mama says what she thinks, so I’m going to say what I think,” and proceeded to include his own vocabulary choice in his letter even though he knew it meant risking the loss of his precious screen time.  (Upon reading the letter, I thought it captured many children’s frustration with the company’s lack of attention to diversity well, so in this case we applauded his accurate choice of vocabulary and had a good little chuckle ourselves!).

He’s not one for beating around the bush, this kid.  His teacher recently told me that when his class was discussing the history of Native Americans, she made a comment along the lines of, “The Europeans did a few bad things to the Native Americans.” to which my son promptly responded, “Really?!?  Just a few???”

His keen mind sees straight to the core of so many things, and he captured another aspect of Lego’s bias so perfectly in his letter below that I couldn’t resist asking him if he would mind guest-posting on my blog.  He graciously agreed.  So without further adieu, I introduce to you my slightly sassy, ever truth-telling and fabulous 8 year old son, Jehan:

lego letterFor those of you not proficient in reading 8-year-old-handwriting, here’s a transcription:

Dear Lego,

I know you have to make white people in Lego, but I am biracial and I would like (and probably a lot of other people too) for you [to] make more dark skinned and Chinese legos.  I have never seen a Chinese Lego minifigure.  Now, if you don’t make these, I will ask me and my friends to go on a strike on Lego! So I mean now and maybe even my whole class!

So I suggest you get your Lego butts working or I will ask the whole school to do a strike on Lego.  Now my sister thinks I should NOT post this on Facebook, but a girl named [Charolotte] did, so I am!

Now I mostly play with girls.  I think girls aren’t all pink princesses because my friend Arie plays spies with me.  She has bows, guns, you name it.  Now, my other good friend Emma, she would like to have Lego girls too.  Maybe you could have a new form of Legos – Lego Adventure – Lego sales would go haywire.

From, Jehan

Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation, Spiritual Formation

Rethinking how we speak about American blessings

“We’re so blessed to live in this country.”

I cringe a little when I hear a statement along these lines, wondering about the sentiments that lie beneath the actual words.  I usually hear people respond this way in response to conversations about difficult realities like poverty or hunger or lack of sanitation or war.

Statements like this unsettle me for a variety of reasons.  When people say, “We’re blessed to live in the US,” sometimes I hear an assumption of superiority behind their words that portrays an attitude of we’re-so-much-better-than-those-poor-folks-in-the-poor-world.  It makes me wonder if focusing on our assumed ‘blessings’ of comfort, prosperity and sanitation allows us to numb out the feelings of horror, responsibility, and generosity we might feel if we actually let those realities of global poverty sink in.

Another reason these words unsettle me is because they passively imply that those in other countries aren’t equally blessed to live where they live. There’s a sense that we live in the promised land, and those poor folks – well, sucks to be them, eh?  On one level, I follow the idea that a developed and civil society is a more comfortable environment to live in.  Cleanliness, prosperity, order, and efficiency are good ideals that benefit society as a whole.  However, they certainly aren’t the only qualities by which the value of a place should be judged.

While I know a lot of people who’ve sacrificed immensely to move to the US, I also know quite a few who would never want to live here.  They don’t hate it, it’s just not home.  They feel blessed to live in their homes, with their food and their loved ones and their dirty streets and inefficient systems. They’re also horrified by our violence, materialism, sexual ethics, and isolation from each other.

A friend of my husband’s from Sri Lanka who’d lived in Singapore for several years recently told him, “Everything there is soooo clean and efficient and productive, sometimes you just need to get out to get a break or you go crazy.”  I chuckled when I heard this, for at the time, I was in Sri Lanka missing those very qualities about my American home.  Sometimes, it’s all about what you’re used to.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my homeland.  It’s taken nearly three decades, but I can even say that I love living here (California has helped this process quite a lot).  Driving across the country a few years ago gave me a whole new appreciation for its vastness, diversity, and beauty.  I love that the freedom here allows for a global mosaic like Los Angeles.  I love the sense of community the lingers in my heart from my small Midwestern home town.  I love the hustle and bustle of New York City, and the never-ending quietness of Kansas.  It really is a unique, diverse, and beautiful country.  

But there are a lot of such places around the world that people call home.  From the outside, we might perceive some of these places as destitute or hopeless, but this is not their only story.  I spent a summer once in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world at that time.  The capital city, Ouagadougou, had two paved roads.  Disease and hunger were rampant.  At first glance, the people were destitute.  But then I looked again.

I saw old women with their heads wrapped in vibrant scarves dancing down the church aisles to give away the little money they had.

I saw bright eyes, curious to learn, fascinated by color, eager to smile at passersby.

I saw people sharing meals with each other, spending long hours together, warmed by each others’ presence.

I saw a generous hospitality that gave up beds, welcomed strangers, and cared for the sick and the poor.

I saw eager minds, grateful for the opportunity to learn and hopeful for the gift of an education.

There was so much good there that I would have never seen from a picture in a magazine of a bloated baby with flies in her eyes.  While their good didn’t look like my good, it was still very real.  They were blessed beyond measure, and I had so much to learn from them.  

When we hear about the hard-things-of-the-world, what would happen if we refocused our response away from our own comfort, safety and prosperity?

  • Issues of poverty seem so devastating, are there ways I could help alleviate it with the resources I have access to?
  • So many people go without, how could I simplify so I have more resources to share?
  • While it may look like a desperate situation, what is the strength of the people in it?  How can I learn from them rather than pity them?
  • If I live in comfort, are there people near me who don’t?  Do I see them?  How might they perceive the country I say I’m blessed to live in?

If we ask these questions first in our hearts, maybe our words would start to change too. Instead of responding that I’m so blessed to live in the US, maybe we’ll start saying, I love my home, and I have much to learn about how to see the blessings in the rest of the world.    And while we’re talking about it, maybe we’ll actually start doing it as well.

Let’s brainstorm new ways of speaking about where and how we live that honors the whole world, not just the US or the West. Have you found words/ways to do this?  I’d love to learn from how others speak about such things.  

Also, be sure to check out this post from Communicating Across BoundariesThe Problem with Blessing, to ponder the idea of blessing even further.  

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