The flavors of the heart: raising kids in a racially prejudiced world

“Do you want to be chocolate?” This was Mercy’s question to me. Mercy is our Ethiopian born, adopted daughter and she’s quick to tell you she’s chocolate and mommy and daddy are vanilla.

“OK,” I said, not sure where this conversation was going.

“Then you have to open your heart,” she told me. “Chocolate’s in your heart.”

A day later she informed me she had vanilla in her heart. She wasn’t saying she wanted to be vanilla. She just wanted me to know she had some vanilla in her heart, and I had some chocolate in mine.

Even a four year old gets it. On the outside we’re different, but on the inside we’re pretty much the same.

To Mercy, some people are chocolate and some are vanilla just like some are tall and some are short. And some people have big bellies—she’s embarrassed us more than once by making that comment in public. But there’s not a bit of prejudice in her. Children aren’t born prejudiced; they pick it up from their parents or the culture around them.

I wish we lived in a world where everyone saw race through the innocent eyes of a small child. I wish Mercy could grow up in a world where people would never judge her by the color of her skin but only by the content of her heart. But that is not the world we live in.

I know the day is coming when my daughter will experience firsthand the ugliness and pain of racism. There will be some who will think less of her and discriminate against her for no other reason than the color of her skin, and that’s wrong. I’m her daddy, and I’m going to do something about that. I will …

1. Protect her.  For as long as I can, I’ll shield her from hateful and prejudiced people. I’ll stand up for her and stand against anyone who does or says anything to cause harm to my girl. Fathers protect their daughters.

2. Prepare her.  I can’t change the world for her, but I can prepare her for the world.

  • By nurturing her self-worth and self-confidence.
  • By affirming her physical beauty while focusing on the more important issue of her character.
  • By talking to her at the appropriate time and in an age-appropriate way about race and prejudice. She’s not ready for that talk yet.
  • By giving her the strong foundation of a loving home. This is the single most important thing I can do to prepare her to face the world.

3. Provide her an example. The burden is on me as a parent to provide an example of how people should treat one another—to model godly love.

The bigger issue here goes beyond race. This is about us as parents fulfilling our responsibility to develop the moral character of our kids. It’s about raising kids who are caring and compassionate—kids who’ll make the world a better place.