Guest opinion: We’re parents of Black and Asian children. Ending racism starts with education
Gracefully navigating racial difference is a life skill affecting relationships, employment, leadership ability and one’s general usefulness to others
We are parents raising children of color.
Utah has so much to offer families: the mountains, the trails, the striking desert landscapes, the neighborhoods where everyone knows and looks out for each other. Here in Utah our families have been blessed to encounter so many warm, generous people. Here we’ve found good jobs and our children have found good friends.
Yet the racial homogeneity of Utah’s population (78% white), along with other factors, can make it a hard place to be a person of color. It is an even harder place to raise children of color.
For example, one day when our eleven year-old Black son was walking home from a voice lesson, a car full of jeering white teenagers drove by, shouting epithets like “Go back to Africa!”
For example, when we came with two younger Black siblings to our Black daughter’s first grade class to hand out birthday treats including her favorite soda, a white classmate approached the white teacher and said, “I’ll take that soda from you because I’m not taking one the little Black kids have touched.”
For example, our Asian daughter felt ugly and singled out when a white classmate told her, “my brother colored all over himself with black marker, and he looked just like you.”
Together these examples show that racism is not always malice, but often ignorance.
Those white children who viewed non-white children as unwelcome, disgusting, or ugly, are at a moral and social disadvantage when it comes to loving and respecting fellow beings as themselves. Gracefully navigating racial difference is a life skill affecting relationships, employment, leadership ability, and one’s general usefulness to others. Therefore, racism is corrosive not only for children of color who encounter it, but also for white children who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate racist actions, attitudes, and words.
The antidote to racism is not just “love,” but also, crucially, education. The more we understand about how racism worked in the past and in the present, the better equipped we are to root out racism.
Here’s how to help:
- Please spend less time sharing memes and emails, and more time listening to people of color. Learn about their history and lived experiences. Don’t try to explain how what they’ve experienced “isn’t actually racist.” People who regularly experience racism in everyday life are, in fact, experts on racism.
Ask a person of color: “What’s something you’d like me to do or understand differently, so I can better help bear your burdens?” Be prepared to take their answer seriously, even if it initially feels uncomfortable.
- Please support expanded anti-racist education in schools. Don’t take the word “anti-racism” as threatening. Antifreeze helps cars not freeze. Anti-racism helps people not be racist.
President Russell M. Nelson, in a joint opinion piece with Derrick Johnson, NAACP President, and NAACP leaders Leon Russell and the Reverend Amos C. Brown, called for “parents, family members, and teachers to be the first line of defense” against racism.
This joint piece also called on “government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.”
- Please ask friends of color “Will this help or hurt?” before rushing to demand political action on a race-related issue.
Recently the Utah Legislature and the Utah Republican Party rushed to pass resolutions banning “critical race theory.” To those of us who have experienced racism in Utah, these bans feel like a slap in the face.
Critical race theory is a field of academic study based on the premise, “racism is bad; let’s get rid of it.” What has been controversial are some parts of some curriculum materials using some ideas from some scholars in the field of critical race theory. Instead of identifying specific points of controversy, the language of the resolutions banned “critical race theory” as a whole, stigmatizing anti-racist education and breathing down the necks of teachers trying to help kids not be racist.
Some state legislators have even gone so far as to threaten legal penalties for teachers whose lessons on how “racism is bad; let’s get rid of it” might be labeled “critical race theory” by an antagonistic informant.
Just as cutting-edge Stage I clinical cancer research trials sometimes have mixed results, some voices within cutting-edge race scholarship are more controversial than others. But if the Legislature issued a party-line ban on cutting-edge cancer research, how would cancer patients and their loved ones feel? Such a ban would limit the tools in doctors’ toolboxes. It would also send a message to cancer patients that political sparring is more important to the Legislature than fighting cancer.
In the same way, university-level scholarship on racism is a tool in the anti-racism toolbox. Banning the whole field of study dedicated to fighting racism protects the status quo, allowing racism to metastasize. Instead of imposing bans and penalties, please give educators leeway and support in exercising professional judgment and choosing helpful approaches to help kids not be racist.
- Please do not sneer at words such as “diversity” or “inclusion” any more than you would sneer at “faith” or “compassion.”
Utah’s children need more diversity and more inclusion. This past year, Latter-day Saint apostles have urged us to “celebrate diversity” and “teach that inclusion is a positive means toward unity.” Diversity and inclusion are the values underpinning Christ’s statement, “as you have done it unto the least of these . . . you have done it unto me.”
We call on parents, school boards, and state leaders to refuse to politicize racism or anti-racism and to support robust anti-racist education. Let’s set aside quarreling over hot-button phrases and support educators in teaching Utah’s children about racism’s harms. There’s nothing Democrat, Republican, conservative, or liberal about being a human among many humans, all of whose bodies reflect the image of God.
Amy Clare Morris was named Utah’s Foster Mother of the Year in 2019. Michael Leonard Kersey Morris was named Utah’s Foster Father of the Year, also in 2019. They are parents of seven children.
Joseph McMullin teaches high school math in Daybreak. He and his wife are parents of four children.