Diverse Homes and Welcoming Classrooms
Updated: Dec 15, 2019
The following post was written shortly after moving to Dallas, TX from Raleigh, NC in 2015.
A few weeks ago I moved to a neighborhood where most of my neighbors are Torah-observant Jews. I find the intersection of social and religious customs fascinating in general, but this is even more interesting as a contrast to the under-resourced community I moved from in Raleigh. In my old neighborhood, many of my neighbors were first-generation immigrants from Latin America and Mexico, and social customs included late-night family gatherings with loud music, kids running everywhere, and hot dogs on the grill most Friday nights.
In my new neighborhood, Friday at sundown begins the Sabbath rest (presumably with family and music, but fewer hot dogs). One family, in welcoming us, mentioned “it’s always nice to have someone available to turn on the lights on the Sabbath if we get in a pinch”. The neighborhood before either of these had a large LGBTQ population, including 2 of our 3 upstairs neighbors. Which is to say, in the past 3 years I’ve found myself living side-by-side with people who experience life as sexual minorities, cultural minorities, and religious minorities. After 23 years living in relatively homogenous communities, this has been a good gift.
In each of these situations, I have found myself acutely aware of ways culture-at-large caters to my demographic. A rough guesstimate of 90% of the advertising media I am exposed to, regardless of my neighborhood (downtown, low-income suburbia, wealthy suburbia) has catered to my demographic by featuring a young woman similar to my age, coloring, and build, regardless of the service advertised. It gives me a sense of belonging, which often means it excludes my neighbors.
I’ve also realized my own contributions: The story book with White Jesus suddenly looks more Scandinavian when the little girl who pulls it from my book basket moved here from Mexico. Mentioning the application of a Bible lesson and it’s effects on “at home with your mom and dad” becomes uncomfortable when I realize mid-sentence that a handful of children in the room don’t have homes that reflect that reality.
As I’ve been encouraged to think through my inherent privileges, I’ve challenged myself to extend hospitality in 2 simple ways:
First, I’ve been adopting the term “grown-ups”. A colleague mentioned awhile back that when you’re not sure who is picking a child up from the nursery, saying “the grown-ups will be here soon” normalized pick-up for every child. Mom, grandpa, and the nanny are all grown-ups. I’ve picked this up in teaching lessons to groups that I know include children in foster-homes, who are being raised by grandparents, who have single-parents, and who have same-sex parents. I doubt the kids from traditional 2-parent homes ever think twice about it, but I think it minimizes the number of times some children feel the twinge of exclusion.
Second, I’ve been trying to keep “Scandinavian Jesus” and his long, flowing mane in check. Its not wrong to have a picture of Jesus with light skin, just like it’s not wrong to have one with an Asian or African appearance. I do think it’s detrimental to have only one demographic represented, particularly if it reflects the majority demographic in the culture, or only one of the demographics represented in the classroom. Rotating the skin color of the wooden figurine that is used to represent Jesus (I paint mine to reflect different skin tones… the alternative is usually “light” which correlates easily with “white”), or searching out art from non-European cultures that depicts the Bible story of the week are simple ways to integrate pieces of visual diversity.
As people called to extend gracious hospitality, making an extra effort to be inclusive in the small things is different than being “politically correct” or “overly cautious”, it’s acknowledging and affirming the realities a child faces on a daily basis in the same setting where the child is learning about Jesus and the Church.