The first time I heard the term was in a conversation with my friend and black, Oakland-based peacemaker, Ben McBride. After an hour of the terms “color-aware” and “color-blind” being thrown around, Ben paused the conversation and invited us to define our terms.
We shuffled around in a ball-pit of words, obviously unsure of what we actually meant. We concluded that “awareness” tends to highlight what’s different between us while “blind” was narrow and naive. Both seemed to suggest that differences in skin tone meant “altered” or “dangerous” or “scary” or “wrong.” Neither was adequate. Both were problematic.
At last, Ben graciously bailed us out by suggesting the term “color-brave.”
“Color-brave” affirms that differences do exist and that they should be noticed, embraced, and celebrated. The term requires that we become aware of our own skin tone and that of others around us and that the distinctions should cause us to lean in with courageous curiosity rather than turn away in suspicion. Being “color-brave” means that we are aware of the privilege and pain associated with different skin tones and choose to leverage and/or lay down what privilege we have on behalf of those in pain. [HERE is very helpful TED talk on “Color-Brave” vs. “Color-Blind” by Mellody Hobson.]
With the recent arrival of my second son, I’m now a daddy of three stunning little human beings. They are beautiful, blonde, and white. Within a world progressively divided by “difference” (skin tone, ethnicity, religion, etc.) I don’t want them to be “color-aware” nor “color-blind.” I want to raise them “color-brave.”
While I’m sure there are many more practices (please share in the comment section), here are six decisions we’re making:
- We’re exposing our kids to an unedited version of our family and national history. Who we are and who we become is deeply informed by whom we were. We refuse to ignore, hide, alter, or positively re-frame our family’s history for our kids. The good, bad, and ugly of our story matters and requires our acknowledgement and, where appropriate, our celebration or repentance. Shielding our kids from the bad and the ugly of our national story (Manifest Destiny, Transatlantic Slave Trade, Japanese Internment Camps, Jim Crow South, KKK & white supremacy, New Jim Crow policies, inhuman immigration policies, etc.) increases the chances that they will ever see themselves as entitled victors who are apathetic toward those who they deem “different.” However, when we expose them to all of it, they will be better equipped to advocate for the systems and structures that will promote the flourishing of the marginalized, exploited, and misunderstood.
- We’re entering into authentic relationships with those whose skin tones and stories are different from ours. My children will not become fully human unless they step out of the petri-dish of our homogeneous experience. Homogeneity is not safe. It’s dangerous because it generates elitism, fear, and anger. If we want our kids to be color-brave, then we must provide them the opportunity to learn from the stories and perspectives of friends with different skin tones. The stories of our diverse set of friends will change and expand the way our kids see their own story and the world they live in. Established in relationship, the stories our friends tell our kids will help them understand that “different” isn’t dangerous…it’s beautiful.
- We’re cultivating curiosity in them by pressing into the concepts and questions that are potentially uncomfortable. Our kids becoming people who ask excellent questions requires us to embody the practice of curiosity. Our kids need to observe us humbly pressing into awkward and uncomfortable topics with diverse friends, listening longer than feels comfortable, and being changed by what we hear. Authentic, loving relationship with those different from us where we can move through the awkward and uncomfortable is one of the greatest tools to cultivating open-minded curiosity and courageous compassion.
- We’re cultivating courage in them by identifying what feels risky and then going there as learners. In addition to exposing our kids to sports, music, theater, and literature, we’re committed to taking them with us into foreign contexts (local & global) where they find themselves as the minority. If we want our kids to enter foreign spaces courageously yet humbly, we need to go there with them, follow the indigenous leaders, and listen for a long time. It’s within spaces where we don’t know what to do that we discover how to learn from rather than about.
- We’re diversifying their learning environment. Relationships, experiences, faith, and media are the four primary ways in which our young minds are primed to see the self, others, and the world around us. We are committed to cultivating an environment for our kids that is resourced with wise mentors, expansive local & global experiences, diverse friendships, a local Jesus-following community, diverse media sources, and a color-full (authors & stories) library. We want our kids to learn from multiple perspectives so that they don’t fall into the trap of making premature, opinion-saturated conclusions that interrupt relationship and lead to unhelpful solutions.
- We’re teaching them about Jesus. The best possible element to empowering our kids to be color-brave is to expose them to the life and teachings of Jesus. We do this by both exploring the pages of the Scriptures and exposing them to men and women who humbly and courageously follow Him. We are doing our best to draw connections between what we’re reading in the Scriptures, observing in the lives of Jesus-followers, and noticing (the beautiful and the broken) in our local and global context. In the life and teachings of Jesus, I pray that my kids discover and become compelled by our others-oriented God. I pray that the practices of their lives are ever informed by Whose they are.
By Jer Swigart