An Exploration of Children's Ethnic Consciousness and Spiritual Formation
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
I am a Northern European (Finnish), light skinned woman, and a fairly new immigrant to the United States. While I grew up in a small, homogeneous Finnish country town, my *ethnic consciousness started to develop in early childhood as our family would travel abroad, and when I learned about other cultures and people groups at school. I have spent all of my adult life outside of my country of origin and I have had the honor of living amongst very diverse communities. As a result, my view of God has become bigger, more beautiful and increasingly mysterious.
Each person whom I have met has changed me and taught me something about myself, the other, and God. Conversations about cultural differences have been part of my almost daily life for over a decade. And yet again, I have plunged into a new world of learning after immigrating to the United States and marrying a Korean-American man.
I acknowledge that, especially in light of the current events in the US (which have an international impact), talking about ethnicity is a very complex and delicate matter. Each individual's journey is profoundly personal and unique. And yet, as a follower of Jesus, I feel compelled to continue entering the conversation about the complex, necessary, holy search for ethnic diversity and justice. We, as a body of Christ, have a lot to learn and mature.
Wherever you find yourself in the development of ethnic consciousness, please join me as a fellow-learner right at the elbow of children. We as adults do not have to have all the answers in order to accompany children. We need humility, curiosity and commitment to do the work. Let's put aside our guilt, shame, embarrassment, pride and desire to avoid the hard conversations, and ask God to give us courage and compassion to grow in love for the sake of the Gospel for all people.
There is no doubt that our cultural and ethnic background influence our spiritual formation in significant ways. However, I will not focus on the specifics of those influences now, but rather explore some practical ways, how we, adult spiritual companions to children, can accompany children in the important developmental task in their spiritual formation of maturing in ethnic consciousness in relation to those who are different from them. I will explore this as faithfully as I am able through the lens of the Christian narrative.
Disclaimer, I have not read all the resources mentioned in the article. I have simply put together a collection of resources and ideas, and my hope is that this tool kit will expand and mature as I (hopefully alongside with you) continue engaging in this important work with children. I would love for you to share any other resources and your experiences with the ones that I share here. This needs to be a work in progress.
1. God's Good Creation: Moving beyond Color-Blindness
"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Genesis 1:31 (NIV)
Even very young children see their own and other people's color, and respond to ethnic differences. Children are not color-blind. We support a healthy ethnic development (which is part of cognitive, social, emotional, moral and spiritual development) in children as a part of their spiritual formation by marveling together the complexity, beauty and diversity of humanity. The Genesis story sets out a foundation for human dignity as an image-bearer of God, and the command to love, protect and respect all of humanity in its glorious diversity. By giving language to ethnic diversity to children we show that it matters to us and to God. We are not all the same, and it is a good thing. It was God's plan for his people all along.
Ethnically Conscious Art, Crafts, Books and Games
Think about the kinds of arts projects you engage in with children and how color-conscious they are. Consider the cultural connotations of songs, images, stories, rhymes, games, holiday traditions, dances and even foods that you share with children, and your own assumptions and attitudes about them. Are the creative mediums opportunities to celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity, cultivate wonder, respect, curiosity and consciousness among children about differences? Or are these activities divisive, exclusive to some, favoring the majority and disrespectful of or marginalizing children and communities who do not share many of the assumed expressions with the majority? How comfortable are you to engage in exploratory conversation about ethnicity and cultural diversity? Are you willing to examine your own areas of color-blindness and stereotypes? What might hinder you from taking the time to really listen and seek to understand people of different color, instead of assuming their experience being the same as yours?
"If children are not allowed to talk about color, then the implication is that something is wrong about color. How do you feel if your child points out someone is black or brown? How do you feel if your child points out someone is white? Does it feel more “wrong” for a child to point out someone is black/brown? What is that teaching the child?" — Cindy Wang Brandt, An Anti-Racism Conversation for All of Us Picture Books about God's Creation & Ethnic Diversity