What is a healthy racial identity for a White person, and how do we help our White children develop one? We're joined by Dr. Jennifer Harvey to discuss her book, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, as well her personal journey towards anti-racist organizing, educating, and child rearing.
The Reverend, Dr. Jennifer Harvey is a parent, a writer, an educator, and an activist. Her 2018 book Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America offers age-appropriate insights for teaching children how to address racism when they encounter it and tackles tough questions about how to help white kids be mindful of racial relations while understanding their own identity and the role they can play for justice.
We discuss the book, but also her personal journey from elementary school, where she was bussed under a court ordered desegregation plan to a predominately Black school, to her time at Union Seminary in New York, studying with the late, great Dr. James Cone. From the power of finding our shared humanity, to liberation we can all find in anti-racism, the importance of moving from thought to action, Dr. Harvey's insights feel incredibly important in this moment.
Raising White Kids - Dr. Jennifer Harvey
A Black Theology of Liberation - Dr. James Cone
The Cross and the Lynching Tree - Dr. James Cone
Race Traitor - Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey (a book of essays from the journal of the same name)
Raising Anti-Racist Kids - ebook by Rebekah Gienapp
An article about the event hosted in Denver, in 2018
Video of a workshop led by Dr. Harvey
Connect with Dr. Harvey on Twitter or Facebook
Remember, any book bought through a link here or by starting at our affiliate page on IndieBound supports local bookstores, and Integrated Schools.
Join our Patreon to support this work, and connect with us and other listeners to discuss these issues even further.
Let us know what you think of this episode, suggest future topics, or share your story with us - @integratedschls on twitter, IntegratedSchools on Facebook, or email us email@example.com.
The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
This episode was produced, edited, and mixed by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I'm Andrew, a White dad from Denver, and this is Raising White Kids. A couple of years ago, a friend from my elementary school mentioned that there was an author who had gone to our school and had a book coming out.
I had no idea how much of an impact that moment would have in my life. The Reverend dr. Jennifer Harvey is a parent, a teacher, a writer, and an activist focused on racial justice and White anti-racism. The book was Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. And it rocked my world.
Unlike anything else I'd come across, this book is focused squarely on the work of raising anti-racist White kids. With age-appropriate concrete examples, deep humility, and incredible heart Dr. Harvey gave me some much needed tools to further the conversation with my kids.
In April, 2018, she agreed to come back to Denver from Des Moines, where she teaches at Drake University for a weekend of activities put together by a local education organization. I'm part of here in Denver.
In addition to doing some professional development for the teachers at our elementary school, she facilitated an amazing workshop for community members. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to spend a few days with her and soak up her wisdom. It was instrumental in pushing my thinking and helping me to try to know better and do better.
As I've struggled during this time of isolation, worrying about how to continue to try to build anti-racist capacity in my kids while we're so removed from community. I suspected that Dr. Harvey's insights could help me again. I was not wrong.
So even though we just released an episode last week and even a little bonus on Sunday, we pushed to get this out. Hope you find it helpful.
Her book is also the Integrated Schools Book Club book for June. If you've never been to an Integrated Schools Book Club, it's a great chance to talk with people over Zoom from all around the country.
The June 4th session is already full, but there are sessions on the 3rd and the 7th. And based on demand, we may add an additional session. So head on over to IntegratedSchools.org to sign up. Okay. Let's hear the conversation.
Maybe we can start by you introducing yourself.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: My name is Jennifer Harvey and I am a parent. I'm also a teacher and a writer, and I am raising two young kids and have been involved in anti-racist activism for a long time as a White person. And so, I wrote a book a couple of years ago called raising Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America to try and help build my own capacity and support other parents and caregivers who are raising White children to do better, and participate in helping create a racially just America.
Andrew: Yeah. Why do you care? How'd you come to care about racial justice, racial equity as a focus of your career and your activism?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: You know, I, you know, that question is one that is, sometimes I feel like I'm, you know, picking and choosing threads that make a story, because really the answer is, I don't know, given that I'm White, how many White people don't seem to care. I'm not sure why I came to care. I know one thread is that I grew up in Denver when we were under a desegregation mandate, and so I was in public schools and was bused...
Andrew: And you were bused to the same elementary school that I went to...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: I was! To Steadman Elementary. Shout out to Steadman.
Andrew: A couple of years before me and the same elementary school that my kid...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Not that long before you...
Andrew: No, no. Just a, just a year or two. Just a year or two. I'm not calling you old.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Hey. That's all right. I'm claiming it. I'm almost 50. Yeah, so I mean, my first few years of elementary school, most of my friends were Black girls, and I have to think that mattered. Not that every White kid who has Black friends when they're a kid ends up caring, but for whatever set of reasons in high school, went to South High School in Denver, another very multiracial school, but internally, very, very segregated. And somehow I, I noticed that my friendships were no longer diverse. Like I started noticing, Oh, all of my accelerated classes that I've been placed in, there's only White kids in here for the most part. And I don't know why I noticed that, but I would, I, I do remember in high school thinking, where is that friend so, and so; where is that friend so, and so, like, I, you know, I had folks who'd been important to me who were no longer in my life. And I just, I knew something had gone wrong. I didn't know what it was. I didn't have a language for it.
But, that's one thread. The other thread that helped me come to care was that, ironically enough, I grew up in a very conservative Christian family, very conservative. And despite the politics of that family system, I deeply, deeply believed and was taught, and I believed it, that God so loves the world and I just believed that was true, that God loves everybody. And when I went to college, still very much as part of that White evangelical world, I started just asking questions about economic injustice, and in that period of time I discovered a thinker named James Cone who's the father of Black liberation theology.
And Dr. Cone, may he rest in peace, he passed not that long ago, basically said, you know, to put it in my words: God does love the whole world, and if God loves the whole world then God has to be a God of justice because you can't love if you don't believe in justice. And if God is a God of justice, then God has to be Black because Black people are the victims of the most injustice and God is always with the oppressed. The Bible says so.
And I literally remember, I still have the book, his first book of his I read. Just, I read it and it just blew my mind. And I was like, Oh yeah. And all of a sudden I could look back and see that my entire life, you know, Cone told me what White supremacy was. And I was like, Oh, it was there and it was there and it was there. And so as this like, you know, conservative evangelical White college student, I was like, Well, I got to go to seminary and study with Dr. James Cone in New York. So I did. But when I got there, there were all these amazing African American men and women and Latino and Latina men and women who pretty much were like, Good for you, White girl. Like you, you love the Black Jesus. What does that mean? You're not, you're White. What does that mean? And that community in New York City, that I was part of on and off for about eight, nine, ten years, really, I feel like, gave me a call and said, you need to go figure out what it means to be a White person who claims to love justice. And that's when it happened, was in my early to mid twenties. I just was like, well, this is the work of my life and I care. I mean, and it's connected to actual people who matter to me. So that's the, I don't know. That's the best I can tell the story, but I don't know. I don't know why.
Andrew: Right, right. It's easy to, it's easy to write a story after the fact, looking back, but,
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Exactly. Yeah.
Andrew: You know, there are plenty of people who lived a similar experience to you who didn't end up in a similar place.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yes, that's right.
Andrew: I think it's interesting that you were able to pull through the threads of, of faith and justice. It feels like you, you rejected some pieces of your family upbringing…
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Oh yes.
Andrew: But, but not wholesale. That feels like not a lot of people end up there. I feel like you're either sort of all in or all out, but to be able to pull through the threads of faith and humanity and justice, without all the rest of the baggage. Do you have any idea how you did that?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Well, so I would definitely say that was a process. And in some ways I think it's very similar to how anti-racist journey is a process, because...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: ...when I left college, which is where I had discovered Black liberation theology and other forms of justice informed theology. At that point, if you had said, what are you doing? I would have said: Well, I'm going to this seminary that was a very, very progressive seminary. Like the people I came from didn't even think it was Christian, right? To them, that's not Christianity. That's like communism, you know?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: What I would have said is, well, I'm going here because I need to figure out what happened to me in this conservative religious world.
And you know, I never completely at that time would have said, I'm not a Christian, but I would have said that's certainly something I'm questioning. And early in that journey, even before I'd gotten to my seminary experience, had given up some of the conservative theological beliefs that I held as a young person growing up in a very evangelical world.
So, there were a period of years at Union, where I went to seminary, where I would have mostly identified as someone who was questioning. And so it was just a process, you know? And when I read Cone, I realized, Oh, there's all kinds of Christians. But then eventually in seminary, I started experiencing church spaces where, Oh, there really are all kinds of Christians. And because the stories of Christianity still mattered to me, you know, not in the same way. Like I don't have literal beliefs, whereas I used to think I had literal beliefs, right? But the story of resurrection and the story of life coming out of death, that story is compelling to me.
And so because I experienced these Christian communities that were so different, I realized you can tell that story in lots of ways. And so it, like I became enabled to claim Christianity again for myself in just a radically different way because it was a process. I mean, it was a process of years, and I will tell my students that now who are questioning and struggling students who, who are gay, and who are like, can I be gay and be a Christian? I feel like if I allow one thread to go, the whole Christianity is going to go. And I'm like, well, it might for awhile, you know, it might unravel, but that doesn't mean you will never be able to ravel it back together again if you want to.
Andrew: In, in some way that is actually more meaningful and true to who you are.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So it's a process.
Andrew: So that got you into, into racial justice work more generally, but not specifically related to kids and how we think about White kids and raising White kids. How did that transition happen?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That really started to happen after Michael Brown was killed in 2014 and after the youth of Ferguson and all over the country, you know, Black youth in particular rose up in outrage and protest. When Black Lives Matter really got on White people's radar, it had already been around. But, I mean, I've been working on White anti-racism and writing about it and being engaged in activism for years. But what happened was a whole bunch of kind of liberal justicey-minded White people, especially Christians, started really reckoning with their conscience after Ferguson. And I started getting invited to all these churches all over the country to start talking about my work, actually on reparations.
And when I would go into these churches, some White churches, some multiracial churches, but wrestling with White anti-racism. And we'd have these amazing conversations about activism and how what White people can and need to do to engage in solidarity, in an activist way. And parent after parent, almost every space I went to, people would say, okay, so I'm getting, you know, this is all well and good. This is important. This makes sense. How do I talk about this with my five-year-old? And I would be like, Oh, I have no idea. And then I would like, think, How am I talking about it with my five-year-old, like I have kids!
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: And just, I realized there was just this like chasm and, and so it was kind of a simultaneous like, okay, I'm a mom. I have a different kind of responsibility here, which I was living into, but I wasn't, hadn't been very self reflective about it. And I also realized there were all these, you know, White adults out there who were parenting or caregiving and other ways that just really didn't have a clue.
And I started looking around and, and there was very little writing about it, like lots of work about, you know, racial injustice and the impact on kids of color, but almost nothing about the very particular problem of how do you parent a kid for racial justice when they are simultaneously, everyday being falsely told that they're superior, being given more resources. What does that look like and what's the developmental strategies? Because it's not as simple as: Okay, four-year-old White kid, the world sucks and you're like, you have to… to be responsible...
Andrew: You can't unload it all on them at once.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. Your ancestors just suck. And, you know…
So that's where the book came from, is I just started reflecting a little bit on what I was actually doing already. Some of it that was just sort of intuitive because of my own journey and started getting my hands on everything I could read about White racial development and tried to, you know, put it into mostly a set of questions because we don't really know.
We've never done this before. We've never raised a generation of anti-racist White kids in this country. We've never done it. There’s no answers to this question.
Andrew: Right. We've never even tried.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: We've never even tried.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: And so, you know, in 20 years we might find out that the insights I had in my book are completely wrong. Like they, you know, but, we have to start intentionally doing it, you know, because it's never been done.
And so we are passing on to our kids what was done to us. And for most White adults, it was the wrong set of approaches. Right?
Andrew: Right. There is something about this moment I mean I feel like so there's a lot of challenges, there's, there, it's, I often find myself sort of falling off into hopelessness, but it does feel like there is an appetite, at least, for more people to be engaged.
I mean, we see this at Integrated Schools all the time. The number of people who are now actively thinking about the significance of their choice of where they send their kids to school as it relates to racial justice. There,there is an appetite for it. And so I think, yeah, we've got to try something.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: I think it's true, Andrew. I really, I have seen that appetite. Like I saw it just emerge in a huge way after Ferguson and it has not gone away.
I do think the big challenge right now, if I think collectively about how many White folks I know who are more eager, willing, and able to engage this conversation, is to then how do we pivot from a tendency to wanna consume and hone and get really good at the concepts and the language and how do we like help folks pivot from that into real activism.
The kinds of things that Integrated Schools is trying to help accomplish, you know, changing actually the active behaviors and decision making in our lives and who we partner with and how. I think those are the questions that, that really urgently face justice committed White folks right now.
But I absolutely agree that there's a huge appetite and much more space, much more space for moving folks from thought to action.
Andrew: Yeah. Why does it matter? The whole project of building this sort of generation or trying to build a generation of anti-racist kids. Like what is the, what does the world look like on the other side? And why should we all care about it?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: God. I mean, I see... Now you're going to get the Christian and me coming out.
Andrew: Go ahead. You can preach.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Like I believe, like I really believe that, you know, okay, so human beings are flawed. We are always going to be flawed. But like, we could build a world if, if we all saw our shared, our shared humanity. Like if I, I really believe what's at stake is that, okay, our humanity is tied up in one another. Like not to be cliche or, you know, quote King without, like, our humanity is tied up in one another.
And if, if, if, if we didn't know that around any other issue, climate change certainly makes that really clear. Like, if, you know, if a few of us are running amuck being so greedy, destroying the planet, throwing everyone else under the bus, we're all going to die, right? And I mean, we're literally interconnected as human beings.
And the problem with racism is that even good White people, quote unquote good White people. Like if I just try to raise my kids to be generically kind humans, racism is so in the structures that we all live in and the air we breathe in every aspect of our lives, that we cannot see Black and Brown people as human beings, we don't even see their shared humanity. We literally don't experience it because Whiteness is so consuming and we don't even realize that we don't see it. Right? Or, or experience it.
And so what's at stake in raising kids in a radically different way, actually experiencing the humanity of Black and Brown kids, actually giving them language and support in recognizing the systems that would like to wedge them apart from the humanity of their friends. That if they remain able to see their humanity as bound up with Black and Brown communities, I mean, racism is so fundamentally in the way of us experiencing our humanity as bound up with the majority of the world. And we're going to destroy the world if we don't recognize that. And so I guess the stakes are cataclysmic in that sense.
Andrew: We better get it right. We better at least try.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: We better get it right. It's not just long and slow because of, because of needing to convince more people. That part is long and slow. Right? But here's the other thing, and this is why I think I ended up writing a book about kids, even though I don't know anything about kids except for, you know, that's not what my scholarship ever was about. I'm not, I'm not an expert in anything about develop[ment]. Like none of this. I got totally out of my lane. But what I do know is that besides the sort of work of convincing more and more White folks to buy into a different vision of being human, the other thing is that racism and, and being racialized as White and breathing in Whiteness every day, and White supremacy. It's an entire embodied formation. It's not just about our thoughts.
And so I think one of the things that we do in lots of places, like in colleges where I teach, for example, we really think if we just get our thoughts correct about racism, if we learn that racism is wrong, if we learn implicit bias, White privilege, we just all get that correct in our heads, wWe're going to be through this.
The problem is that the head piece is the easiest part. You know, when you've been formed every minute of every day in segregated enclaves, had your modeling and mentoring to be silent when you see racism. When you have, just like, it's in our bodies, it's in our hearts. It's in our emotions. It's in our, and so the work of, growing health through that kind of White formation is a lifelong work. It takes so long. It's so slow.What I hope is, that, for example, my kids, my kids are now at the ages of nine and eleven where I was probably when I was like 33, you know? And so that's why I'm like, have this passion now about kids is because the learning through that, it's going to be lifelong for all of us. But when you wait and you don't start that journey until your mid twenties?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Oh my God…
Andrew: Right. You've got, you've got further to go and less time to get there.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. You know, I wasted five wallowing in White guilt. Right?
Andrew: Yeah. So it seems like one of the primary goals of your book Raising White Kids is thinking about how do we build a positive racial identity for White kids? And that feels like a really, like Whiteness itself is such a problematic construction. It just feels like there's some sort of, some sort of tension in there.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yes, there is.
Andrew: You write "Diversity is leaps and bounds better than colorblindness, but if it's not utilized in a manner that enables White youth to find a positive route through which they as Whites can authentically connect or contribute to diversity and to building a just racial present, and future, it's not enough."
How do we reconcile the inherent problems with Whiteness, with the need for our White kids to develop some sort of positive racial identity as White kids>
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah. So I love that question, and I think that is also one of the kind of core questions in this moment in terms of generational work around anti White supremacy and what it means for those of us who've been racialized as White.
And there is an inherent tension and it's actually a pretty dangerous tension because sometimes I'm careful not to use the word positive, although apparently I did in that sentence. Because what I don't, what I don't ever want us to do, and I see this happen, and it's definitely a temptation in just diversity models, is like “positive racial identity”. Like you get to feel okay about being White. Like I want us to figure out how we distinguish in this very, it's this very sort of fits and starts kind of way, I want you to feel internally aligned and good about yourself as a human being, but a so-called positive White identity, the only thing I ever mean by that is a sense of myself as a White human who has capacity, ability, and agency around anti-racist ways of showing up relative to Whiteness.
Andrew: That is the positive piece.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's the positive. So, so let's take, let's make it concrete. My kid's 11, okay. I don't want her feeling like shit about herself. Right? I don't want her wandering around wallowing in White guilt and getting stuck there. I do think it's okay for her to bump up against White guilt sometimes. Right? I just don't want her to get stuck there.
For me, a health, maybe healthy is a better word than positive. A healthy White identity for my 11 year old is an identity that is able to acknowledge, and this is also a work in progress and it is for me too, but can take in, acknowledge, and talk about the really horrible things that White people have done and still do and can acknowledge that. And also at the same time recognize White people can make choices about how we use our Whiteness, what we do with it, how we live into it. And so just because most of our ancestors did X, Y, or Z, qe can actively make choices to maybe be a different kind of White person, which doesn't redeem Whiteness and make it positive. It doesn't do that, but that's language that works for her. We can choose to be a different kind of White person. We can choose to learn how to be an ally. We can choose to develop courage and speak up and be the one in the room that calls it out when racism is happening.
And that is all very positive and empowering in ways that are totally different than White guilt or selff-atred or, but it's not about redeeming Whiteness. It's about having agency as a human being who happens to be White and saying, my Whiteness doesn't have to mean that I'm silent.
Andrew: Right. And I'm doing that to like redeem my own humanity, not the concept of Whiteness. Not out to like create, create for the world a, a new and better White, but rather a new and better myself as I...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah, that's right.
Andrew: As I function in the world.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. Right. And I think, I mean, I think, generationally and collectively, like the utopia is White folks who are committed to justice do that so powerfully and for such a long time that White actually would come to mean something else, right, than what it means now.
But we're so far from that point that there's no redeeming White or calling it, you know, positive the way we would want Black kids to have a positive Black identity. It's just a different, it's not a parallel. It's not a, White isn't a parallel to Black or to Latino, it's just, it's not parallel.
Andrew: And that's not something we will see in our lifetimes.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: It’s not.
Andrew: Or our kids' lifetimes, but maybe if they are all committed to, you know, making a better version of themselves in the context of being White, eventually we lead to a place where Whiteness doesn't have the same connotations.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah. Almost like, there's this, these activists, actually one of them just passed, Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey, who years ago started the journal Race Traitor. In there they had this metaphor that they would say, like, the part of the problem with White people is, well, they would say so-called Whites, you know, if they walk down the street and someone's being brutalized by police, who's Black, right? The way the system works is it, it just assumes that it can tell, Oh, White skin means that person will keep going and not stop and be a whistleblower and interrupt, right? You can count on the currency of White skin to enable it to work.
If you could get 10 or 20% of folks to defect so you couldn't count on them to walk by and and be silent, the whole system would be destabilized 'cause you would be more, we'd be like, Ooh, is that White person, this kind of White person or that, that kind of White person. It's almost like they use the analogy of counterfeit money. That if 10% of currency is fake, it destabilizes the whole system. So...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: If you can't look at me and assume, Oh, she's not gonna know anything about how to be an anti-racist advocate, if you look at me, you're like, Ooh, can I say this racist joke or not? You are less likely to say… it destabilizes the whole system. It doesn't take everybody. It only takes 10 to 20% to make it less, make it less safe for racism to just run amuck.
Andrew: Right. So that's sort of, that's like a step further. In the book, you, you referenced Beverly Daniel Tatum's moving walkway analogy which I love, right. That, you know, racism is the moving walkway and you're on it whether you want to be or not, and you can like choose to walk upstream, but if you do nothing, you're just participating.
This is like even a step further than that. If enough people start walking upstream, maybe we like break the walkway.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. Exactly.
Andrew: Maybe the, maybe the metaphor falls apart a little bit.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Break the walkway. I don't know if we want to do that, but, yeah, if enough people did it, then the walkway, falls apart.
Andrew: Hmm. So not a positive racial identity, but maybe a healthy racial identity for White kids.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Healthy is probably better. Yeah, healthy. And by healthy we mean an agency for anti-racism. I want my kids to feel like they know what to do with if they encounter it, when they encounter it, I should say. They know they don't have to be perfect at it, but they have to be committed and that they know, If I want to challenge this moment and I don't know how to do it, I know who in my life I can go to to get some help. You know that it's a communal work. It's not individual saviorism. It's a communal work, and I want the folks they think of as folks they can go to, to get help with that, to be a deeply multiracial group, that they have meaningful relationships across all kinds of racial lines in the shared work of racial justice.
Andrew: What about, some people I think, I think push back a little bit that, you know, it's sort of, it's too soon. I don't want my kid to have to deal with this stuff yet.
Like can't they just sort of be innocent kids for a little bit longer? And then like, I'll get to the racism stuff later. What's the sort of pushback to that?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Well, the metaphor pushback would be, something like, my kid hates all vegetables. And they can't understand why they need to eat vegetables, so I'm going to wait and have them start eating vegetables when they're 15 when I can have a rational conversation about why they need to eat vegetables.
The pushback developmentally is, you know, then to move away from the analogy is that every single study, there is not a study out there that does not, this has been studied so much, show us that kids have internalized messages about difference by the ages of three and four, in which they already, it's prelingual, they don't even need the language of race, for it to begin. Prelingual they start to, and this is all kids, negatively affix characteristics to darker skinned people and falsely attach notions of superiority to light skin people. And by the ages of five, children can tell that those differences have something to do with social status in the world.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: By the ages of five, they also know that they aren't really supposed to talk about that with adults. That's how early our kids learn that it's taboo, if they are in family structures where you're not, where you don't talk about it, which is what White families tend to do.
And so, I mean, I think what's hard for White parents is that part of the reason we think our kids are not ready is because most of us were socialized by our families in what I call White silence. Most of us, maybe we got explicit racism, lots of us did. But if we came from a family that didn't get that, we got a lot of White silence. And so sometimes I'm feeling uncomfortable about breaking silence with my three-year-old, and instead of owning that, what I do is say, Oh my three-year-old's not ready.
Andrew: The problem is actually you, not, not your three-year-old.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: So like we start talking about our kids, with like our three-year-olds, about sharing and kindness before they can understand that. And so because we do things with our kids, we, we give them concepts and language before they're ready to live into it. But if you don't start offering it, then they never live into it.
Right? So it's like building scaffolding, you know? And so, it's just, you know, from an empirical standpoint, it's not true that our kids don't see it and know what's happening.
And then it's also, it's a little bit helpful. I too, I think about, parallels between our discomfort with talking about bodies and sexuality and sex education with our kids. Like if our kids know that they are not allowed to talk about their bodies, they are much more likely if they experienced some form of sexual abuse, not to bring it to an adult because they know there's a taboo, right? Racism is the same thing, same way our kids are processing it, talking about it, but they just like do it on their own.
I don't want them doing that on their own, you know? I want them knowing that I'm an askable adult. I'm an adult that's ready to go there with them. And we signal that by starting to talk about it with them before they even know that they need to be able to talk about it.
Andrew: And maybe the language changes as their sort of capacity changes.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Absolutely.
Andrew: Starting out with the, the brutality of raping slave holders or something. We don't, we don't need to start there with the three-year-olds, but...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Right. That’s right. Yeah. So that's a great example because you know, a lot of times we get caught up in like, okay, but what exactly do I say when? And, and I think that I appreciate that anxiety, but it's the wrong question because I think what our kids will do, and we oftentimes know this more intuitively with other things, is that, you know, we start by chattering about difference and talking about race as if that's a normal thing to do. And then we also start listening for them to start asking questions and we answer their questions. You know, we partner with them in exploring more. We gently give them a little bit more information.
You know, the first time I took my kids to, well I think it was when Michael Brown was killed. I took them with me to one of the rallies, you know, standing in solidarity with the Black community here in Des Moines. And I didn't even tell my kids that he'd been killed because I thought that was too much at that point for them, although I emotionally was prepared to know they might hear that and make sense out of that from what they heard at the rally. Turns out, you know, we went and they, they did hear that, but they never asked me about it 'cause it was like they’re developmentally, they weren't quite ready to go there. So they didn't even really absorb it.
They did start asking me about police officers being safe or not. And so then we were able to have really great conversations when they were like, you know, my oldest was I think six at the time, ish, I said, yeah, you know what? We want everyone to be safe. And that's why we were there because everyone should be able to be safe around police.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: It was amazing, you know? And that was what she took in developmentally as a six-year-old.
Andrew: Right. And she didn't need the full background. She didn't need all the details. She didn't need to even even need to know that Michael Brown was killed by the police, but that he wasn't safe around the police and everybody should be safe around the police.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Exactly. Exactly. And then, you know, now she does know that, but, and now she's older and able to emotionally more handle that, even though it's very devastating to her as it should, as I want it to be. 'cause it's devastating.
Andrew: Yeah, that's a, that's another tension. I think it, I think it ties into sort of how we parent in general, but racism is, is emotionally devastating.
Obviously, not in the same way for kids of color, but, but it is devastating for, for White kids, for White people, right? It is like to, to come to terms with the way Whiteness works in America, in the world, is emotionally devastating and we want to keep our kids away from that.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah.
Andrew: But you have to grapple with some of that.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: You do. And you have to, we have to also recognize, you know, lots of folks, lots of White folks today in the U.S. might say, you know, I want my kids to have a diverse friend set.
Why, why are all my kids’ friends White? And so the other piece around that is that if we know that African American children, and it's different in different families, but oftentimes by ages nine, ten, eleven, twelve, are starting to be taught explicitly about the risks that they experience because of the violence against Black people in the United States.
If we have protected, if we protect our White children from that completely, from the heartbreak of that, those friendships die. Like because we are literally, and the way I've started realizing it when I was writing the book is, I bartered my child's humanity in order to keep them innocent.
I've literally given my child's humanity away because that is grievable and it, and when I barter away my child's humanity, she can't sustain authentic friendships across racial lines either. That's one of the things that happens. I'm convinced of it. Interracial friendships. White folks have been so shielded and numbed. We can't, we aren't, we don't remain, we aren't good friends to the people of color in our lives, and so the friendships just get eroded.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. I have this quote, “In a world full of racism, there's nothing innocent about innocence.” I love that.
There's a, there's a piece of this that, that can feel like… this is one of the, the, lines we tread when talking about school integration that like, sending your kid to an integrating school is both good for sort of your community and good for the world and is also good for your kid. But it can't be either thing too much. You know, if it, if it's all about being good for the community, then it's this sort of White saviorism and if it's all about being good for your kid, then it's opportunity hoarding and it's trying to, you know, use Black and Brown bodies to give your kids something.
And there's a piece of this that, that can feel like we're, we're trying to teach our kids so that the world can be better for other people. And, and that, you know, there, it definitely is part that. But there, I think there's another piece of this. And, and I, I love this section of your book about sort of liberation that, you know, you write, "White supremacy malforms my humanity, constrains my life, compromises my spirit. When I recognize this, I begin to see the fight against racism as also life-giving struggle for my own liberation".
Like there is something to be gained personally by pushing back against racism. And that can't be the only reason that you engage in it, but that is some piece of it
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Oh yeah. Oh my God, yeah. I mean, if you asked me about, you know, one of your first questions, my story, like why, really, where did the passion come from? At some point in all of that struggle in my early twenties, I started to realize, Oh God, I want to be free of this burden. Like it's, it started feeling really amazing. You couldn't, you couldn't pay me $20 million to turn back the clock on any of the hard.... And I, I mean, my twenties were ugly, lots of my twenties were ugly. Learning, making all my mistakes in a very, very, all my mistakes, in a very public way, in a very politically conscious Black and Brown, and White student body. But lots, you know, lots of people of color in that space. But I, at some point I started getting in touch with this, oh my God, I'm starting to realize this feeling of freedom and liberation is about me, too.
And you know, I love that Integrated Schools talks in really nuanced ways. I think it's really important about, and you know, there's landmines everywhere. It isn't about…
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: ...you know, putting my kids in diverse spaces so that they, you know, so they're sort of consuming and taking something from those other children, right? Or, you know, Oh, they're getting, they're getting an experience of diversity.
Andrew: Look good on their college application.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah, exactly. And, and the, and the reality is too Andrew, that White supremacy is so multi-headed that those tendencies, they're everywhere. And they're always at some point going to show up again, right? And I think sometimes, you know, those of us who are White don't do this work because we're so afraid we're gonna like trip over one of those. And the thing is, we're going to, because, because it's a setup, it's a setup, right? You know, it's a total setup. White supremacy is, has been really, you know, in a sinister evil way, really brilliant in that way. It creates all these paradoxes that you can only trip your way through. But. But yeah, I mean, getting in touch with, not in a self-centered way, but I mean, my children are going to be happier, healthier humans if they feel able to have capacity against White supremacy, even as White kids, because White supremacy is a death cult. Like it's just, you know, it's, it destroys everything it touches. Who wants to live like that? I don't.
Andrew: Yeah. And that not only are we sort of fighting to recognize the full humanity of, of others, but we are really actually also fighting to recognize our own humanity.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. That's right. Exactly. 'cause that, yeah. 'Cause our humanity is bound up in one another. So if we're humanizing others, we are also dehumanized. Absolutely.
Andrew: Yeah. so we're in the midst of the COVID pandemic, self-isolation, withdrawing from community. You know, everybody is in the most segregated version of their lives they could be because they're stuck, you know, either at home or doing essential jobs. It seems like there's, there's an opportunity here to have more conversations with our kids. You know, your kids are in your household a whole lot more than, than maybe, would be, would be ideal.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Dear Lord! I mean, I love my children, but...
Andrew: Right. They're here all the time, all, every day. All day. They're still here. So, but there's, there's like more opportunity for, for conversations, but there are fewer opportunities to actually be in community with people and particularly with people who are different from us.
How do you think about trying to like make the most out of this time to continue the, the never ending work of raising anti-racist White kids?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Oh, what a beautiful question. Well, I think, you know, there's a few ways that present themselves.
One is that you know, and, and again, not to sort of turn everything into a, like a lesson, but, you know, as we're talking about things like school going to distance learning mode, and we had a significant delay between when we were released from in-person school and when online learning got going, and the delay was because the district was making sure that they could get computers and internet access to every kid in the district, right? So...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: So that was a very explicit conversation in our home about, as we're talking about the stress of quarantine and the loss of, that my kids too, with all of their privilege, they're grieving and they've lost a lot, right? And so we're acknowledging that and honoring that. And then not in a like, Oh, it could be so much worse kind of way, but in a, o, and, and as, and part of this loss now, like, you know, we're delaying school because, but this is good. The district wants to make sure every kid gets a computer and every child has access to internet and, and, you know, and, but also being really frank with our kids about, you know, we know that there's kids for whom this is still going to be completely impossible because their parents are essential workers.
And so now we're talking about the meat packing plants and you know, so I mean, I just, that the, in terms of the ability to continue to frontend and make visible the realities of social structures and how they impact us every day, this situation doesn't change that in any way. If that's a commitment that we, that we have that ongoing conversation happening in our homes. So I think that's, that's a really concrete example of one of the ways that, like the conversation has looked in our house.
You know, just on a kind of note aligned to that, one of the griefs I've been having in the midst of all of this is how much retreating to our homes or being an essential worker who does not get to retreat to their home, but you know, you said it in the question, like the most segregated version of our lives is what is immediately evident. And I just, I'm stunned as someone who lives in a relatively small city and who does have, I have, you know, I do have a life where I'm, I really am sort of in multiracial and, and across all kinds of racial lines in my own living, but really recognizing like, I can almost watch the organizing in the Black community is over here and the White liberals are doing this and for all the White liberal talk about, you know, diversity and just like, I mean I'm, 'cause I'm part of both. Like I just, I'm watching there and this is a difficult moment to suddenly start building alliances, right? Coalitions.
And so I've been grieving that we, you know, even locally haven't had stronger White ally coalition with Black and Brown communities here. I mean, we have some of it, but because, you know, the segregation that is part of our lives. Yeah. As you put it, like it's just magnified. And then are the, the sort of connections we need, desperately need, to be able to really show up in solidarity with folks who are most devastated in this moment of crisis, just aren't there.
Andrew: Right. Yeah. It's one of the things I hope we can, we can pull out of this, on the other side is the, it's like, disaster preparations that need to include building those alliances in the good times so that they're there and they exist in the bad because you can struggle to maintain them now. You know, I think if, if those, if those alliances exist, you can, you can nurture them in this moment, virtually.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yes, exactly.
Andrew: You can find ways to try to hold onto the little bits of them now, but you're not going to build them now, and you're certainly not going to start them now when the only people you ever see are your, are your family and your house.
And so, you know, we think about all the ways that we prepare for bad times. I think we're really bad at it in general, but like one of the things that should be on that list is building those relationships, is building those communities, is building that sense of solidarity and connection and community so that if there is a disaster, you know that you've got that to fall back on.
And it can take a little bit of the strain of this moment so that you can then, because I mean, one of the things I struggle with a lot right now is just like how, how do you be helpful. You know, one way to be helpful right now is to stay home. And I'm like very privileged to be able to do that, but how do I, you know, be helpful in a moment when the most helpful thing is to not be in community.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah. I mean, this is a really painful, this is a really painful moment.
Andrew: Yeah. Raising White Kids came out two years ago, something?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: 20…, yeah. 2018.
Andrew: What has changed since then? I mean, I guess you were probably writing it even before that.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Let’s just say the book was mostly done before the 2016 election. Holy cow. I, you know, I certainly was a, did not think these would be the conditions under which we were organizing. Yeah. I mean, I like, you know, what's changed since it came out is just the level of, not just the level of violence against Black communities and Latinx communities and immigrant communities of all sorts, that has certainly changed and become more publicly endorsed by our elected officials.
But, well, a little bit like living through this COVID moment, I think in the attack, what I see as, you know, a brazen, brazen attack on our basic democracy. You know, I think we're really in a, you know, I'll be honest, a flirting with fascism kind of situation at the moment. You know, that all has, has changed and one of the risks of that is a little bit like the pandemic moment is that, you know, lots of us who are normally not feeling afraid now are feeling afraid. And in moments of fear, sometimes that can bring out, like if we're grounded, like, Oh my, my, my best interest is with those folks over there who've always been the most targeted and who saw this coming, right.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: But it also can make us more likely to, you know, if, you know, obviously one risk is look for scapegoats, but certainly make us more inclined to sort of really check out and just really try and do, you know, resource hoard more to try and protect our own little unit. So I think the, I think in some ways what's changed is the crisis is more obvious to more White Americans. I don't, I think, I think it was already obvious to Black and Brown people. The crisis is more obvious and the stress and strain, and the, the consequences of the crisis, White people are feeling them more. And what that will mean in terms of who we, who and where we choose to ally with I, I think is, remains an open question.
Though I know there's, you know, I feel some energy around how many people are really stepping into resistance and organizing and mobilizing in ways they haven't before. But, I don’t know.
Andrew: Yeah, I've seen the, I think the, maybe something about the past, certainly since the election, has, has made it clearer in my mind, at least the the dangers of White kids, particularly White men, not developing healthy White identities.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yes, they are so recruitable.
Andrew: Right. And, some of the flaws with the ways that we have talked about race in the past, you know, either colorblindness or, you know, a version of multiculturalism that celebrates everybody but White kids and leaves White kids feeling like, you know, they, the only way where they see the only place they can turn to be celebrated is in these sort of, White supremacist contexts.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Exactly. White guilt, unsupported and processed, is so easily turned into White rage. And gets targeted, of course, at communities of color.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah, I mean the recruitability of young White men who have been taught that they're supposed to appreciate diversity, but who have not been mentored or had had modeled for them anti-racist ways of living and getting to sort of touch a liberative way of being in the world. I mean that…
Andrew: And the answer to that is not so like, let's celebrate Whiteness too.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Exactly. That's the positive difference right there. Exactly. Yup.
Andrew: Right. Yeah. Full of landmines, like you said.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Full of landmines.
Andrew: Yeah. What's a, what do you, what do, what do we do now? What's the, you touched on this a little bit earlier, but the step from thinking and reading and learning and knowing better, what's the step to doing better?
What's, what do we need to be doing now as White and privileged people, recognizing that we are going to trip up all along the way that we are going to step on the land mines, but to actually turn that into action. What does that look like?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: I think there's two. I think, you know, in this moment, the number one thing, is really to look up, look around, especially in our local context or local civic contexts, and figure out where people of color are organizing. You know, what, what they're doing and where they're doing it, and literally show up with time, energy, and/or resources and say, how can I support this work? Because the work that people, people of color are doing in this country right now just to survive is, I mean, this has always been true, but, you know, but it's certainly still acutely true.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: And there, there's just not enough resources. They don't have, there's not enough resources because of resource hoarding that's happened by the White community. And so the number one thing is literally just to show up or donate or go offer to volunteer.
You know, Black people and Latino people are exhausted and resource depleted from the fight that they've been waging for so long. And that really amplified in 2016. And that is, so that is the number one thing. And the thing is, I want to say to folks is like, you don't even have to know what to do. You just need to go with a willingness to be told what to do and to do it. Like that's it.
Andrew: Not, let me, let me figure out how to put my, here's how my degree could be helpful to your organization.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yes, yes. Do not do that. Right, right.
Andrew: Show up and say, what do you need?
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. Show up and say, what do you need. In Des Moines, which is a deeply segregated city, Black people are organized. They're organized. They're suffering immensely, but they are organized. And I know If I'm going to volunteer somewhere, I'm going to go there and go volunteer in this program that the Black community in the morning is saying, urgent, the urgent need right now is X, and I'm just going to put my body in there to help with that.
Andrew: Or send some money their way. If you can.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Or send some money their way.
Andrew: In the midst of this, when you're socially isolating is, right.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. Right.
So, I think that's the number one right now, especially because people are so, so exhausted and have been just, you know, being assaulted now for, you know, in a really explicit, at another level, with given the 2016 election, for so long now and are just exhausted and really need more resources.
Andrew: Right. What about, do you have advice on how people show up.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Yeah, I think it's really important to show up with deep humility and mostly a posture of listening, not even asking a ton of questions 'cause that can be exhausting too.
So it depends on the specific organization, right? But assuming that there's an openness to having White folks show up in some form to do some sort of contribution of time, energy, or resources, you know, show up with a deep sense of humility, the assumption that people of color have been doing the organizing they've been doing for a very long time, and they know what their, their needs and their demands are.
Andrew: They've not been waiting for you to come and tell them how to do it right.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: At all. And, You know, I mean, humility is just over and over the word that comes to mind to me and also show up, the other way I'd say we need to show up is with a very hard, hard-eyed, self-awareness about showing up in a predictable, reliable way for some time. Because the other things White folks do is like, we jump in for a few minutes and it's was like, Oh, but my kid's homework was too much tonight, so I'm tired. You know, you don't hear African American and Latino families talking like that because, well, they're tired too. And their kid's survival depends on them still doing this organizing. So, before I go, I need to say, am I really going to go? Am I going to go, whatever it is, let's just make something up, if it's a volunteer situation, but work for a people of color led organizing initiative in my city, if I'm going to go show up, am I going to be reliable? I'm going to go every week for six months, you know.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: And just don't do the drop in thing and they'd put the, but the beauty is, at least has been true in my life, when you do that, you get amazing, amazing real time learning about then how to, how to show up. Even like, humility transitions into, Oh, I actually am learning some things about how to be in this space, and I'm not always afraid I'm going to say the wrong thing. I still sometimes say the wrong thing, but I'm less afraid and I do it less often because I'm growing as a human because of actually showing up. Some of those experiences, you can't, you don't get that from reading a book. You know, you get it from going to a place over and over again and allowing yourself to be given direction and to be of service and use as opposed to taking the lead, making the plan. And it just changes how you feel in your, in your own body even, when you make that a priority in your life.
Andrew: And it takes time. It's not like, you know, by, by week three, you're going to feel better in your body, so you should go do it for three...
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. That's right. That, and that's the other part of this sustained commitment. Yes.
Andrew: Right. Give it the time to work, but then it does, and then that's like, that's your, that's your like disaster preparation investment, right? Like that's your building of relationship and trust and bonds that you can then fall back on in, in these times.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Totally. Because the city I live in is pretty small, I teach in an institution that's predominantly White, I, but like when stuff happens, people, you know, African American folks in Des Moines for example, will call me you know, we start to know each other when we show up in shared spaces. Or students at Drake will email me 'cause they know, right? They know who the faculty are that always show up. Some of those connections you were talking about earlier, we can then, you know, sustain them in crisis because we're known to each other.
Andrew: We found our shared humanity.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: That's right. We found our shared humanity. And also people, people take note of who shows up, it doesn't go unnoticed if you are always there.
Andrew: Yep. I'm so, so incredibly grateful to you for, for coming on, for sharing and, for the book.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: I mean, the book is, definitely changed the conversations that I have with my kids and I think they are significantly better for it. And I know I'm not alone in feeling that. So thank you for all that you do. And for coming on.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey: Thank you. Thanks for having me. And thank you for your work and for Integrated Schools. The, just the, the nuance and commitment, and it gives me hope and I'm constantly pointing folks in your direction. So, thanks.
Andrew: Thank you.
Andrew: Huge thanks to Dr. Harvey.I hope you found that as helpful as I did.
I’ve been thinking about a few things since the conversation. The first is just, Jen’s faith journey from her family upbringing through today. She mentioned in passing that she sees it as somewhat parallel to a journey towards anti-racism. And that has really stuck with me. This idea of giving up much of what you grew up believing, and the fear that if you let go of one part, the entire thing may unravel really resonated with me.
I know for so many of us in the Integrated Schools family, this journey has involved a lot of things unraveling. But I do think there is some hope in the idea of putting something back together that maybe looks like progress - you know it’s not a destination, It’s ongoing work - We have to constantly unravel and reravel, but maybe, through that work, we find ourselves with a healthier racial identity.
Then, and we touched on this a bit with Matt Gonzales last episode, but the idea that we need to make investments in our communities - build relationships and earn trust in the good times so that we can rely on those relationships in hard times, like right now. I have certainly been examining my own relationships and making an extra effort to reach out, but I know I could have been doing better before this. So I’m left, personally, with a deep commitment to investing in those relationships as soon as possible.
I think finally, this idea of moving from thought to action - acknowledging that their are landmines everywhere in this work, that, as Jen says “it’s a set-up”, but that if we get lost in the study and learning, and the practicing, and the perfectionism of anti-racism, we aren’t actually working to make the world a better place. As with so many of the things we discuss at Integrated Schools, it’s a fine line to walk, because we have to do the learning, we have to practice, we have to work to not step on the landmines as much as possible and we have to take responsibility for the impact of our actions. And that’s incredibly important, but it can’t prevent us from taking any actions.
So this idea of finding the organizations that exist in your area and showing up and taking direction feels powerful. In this time of crisis, that may only mean donating money, but it may mean actually showing up, physically - to deliver food, or donate supplies or blood or something. I have been thinking alot about the privilege of getting to choose how much risk to take right now, and thinking about taking just a bit more in order to be able to help more. I definitely haven’t landed on a balance that feel “right” whatever that is, but it feels like it’s worth thinking about.
Once again, huge thanks to Dr. Jennifer Harvey. I encourage you to get her book - there’s a link in the show notes to IndieBound - use that link to support local bookstores and a portion of the proceeds comes back to Integrated Schools. Also, be sure to sign up for the book club, the June 3rd and 7th sessions still have openings. Please check out Patreon page- patreon.com/IntegratedSchools, we’ll be discussing Jen’s book, and the Brown v Board and 65 series that Courtney and I put together last year. We also have a podcast happy hour coming up soon. And, as always, don’t hesitate to get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org or @integratedschools on social media. We’d love to hear how you’re holding up through these tough times.
I’m grateful to be in this with you all, as I try to know better and do better.
See you next time.