The Power of A Mom
[Disclaimer: Not all racism can be blamed on parenting, nor do children always follow parents’ views on race.*]
Most of us have heard that George Floyd cried out for his mom in his dying moments–like a tragic echo of his mother’s role in his life. For me, it was a vivid reminder of the moms behind all aspects of this national crisis–moms behind criminals and cops, racists and rioters.
As I lament the deaths of black men like Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, I wonder how the white men charged with killing these two men were raised. I don’t know the mother of Minneapolis cop, Derek Chauvin, charged with second degree murder in Floyd’s death. Nor do I know the mothers of the white men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery (this father/son duo were accused of opening fire on Arbery after they spotted him jogging through their South Georgia neighborhood). Without knowing the moms behind these men, I will not accuse them of raising their sons to be racists; however, research does suggest there is a correlation between the way a child is raised and the way that child sees race.
The Connection Between Parenting and Views on Race
Professor Sarah Gaither, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, studies race, gender, and stereotyping. In a recent interview with CNN, Gaither said, “I don’t think anyone’s kid is born racist. Children are born into a world that has systemic racism…If someone is harboring certain racist attitudes, it’s something that they are learning from their parents, schools, the media and the culture.”**
Gaither points out that parents can influence their children’s feelings about race, simply by the friends they choose. “There’s research with children showing that the racial makeup of a parent’s friend network is much more telling of the types of racial attitudes that kids will end up having.” Gaither claims, “If you have a completely racially homogeneous set of friends, all white for example, that child is going to be less likely to have a more open view of what race is.” Even a mom’s friend choices can influence her child’s attitudes about race.
Additionally, one can point to subtleties in parenting that might contribute to “systemic racism.” Take school choice. One study reveals that parental decisions about where to send kids to school has led to a “disproportionate number of white kids” attending private school. In most cases, parents exercising their right to send their children to private school may not be intentionally racist, but it can create a racial divide for their kids.***
Finally, research reveals that a majority of children look to their moms and dads as their “most influential” role models. Almost 70 percent of teens listed parents as their role models (Weekly Reader Research survey of over 1,000 teens). And research done by Dove showed “66% of girls say their primary role model is their mom.”****
We must consider the research that suggests that parenting can perpetuate racism or heal it.
Take the healing response that Pastor John Gray learned from his own mom. Gray was recently featured in an online conversation with megachurch pastor, Steven Furtick. Furtick opened by describing Gray as the kind of man that “can walk into a room where everybody’s white or everybody’s black…. and I’ve never seen somebody so effectively transcend cultures and mindsets…I’ve never seen someone that effective at not only being inclusive, but at speaking to the needs of everyone.”
“Where did that come from?” Furtick asked Gray.
Gray answered. “I think, honestly, it started with my mother…she was in social work for close to 40 years.” Observing that his mom was often the only black woman in rooms filled with white people, he felt she had to work doubly hard to be taken seriously as an African-American AND a woman. However, Gray’s mom passed down a legacy of “bridge-building” to her son, as she encountered the prospect of discrimination. “She never brought bitterness home. She always brought hope home. That was very fascinating to me, but it was rooted in her understanding of who she was and what her calling was. So she was always the person to build bridges and she taught me to be the same.”
Gray went on to say “You can’t pass a law to change someone’s heart.” But I think Gray would agree that a mom can shape a heart. That’s the power of a mom.
What If Every Mom Fought?
My question is, what if every mom fought against racist attitudes in the way she shaped her child’s heart? What if moms across America, no matter what color they are, committed to teaching their kids to “love thy neighbor?” As a Christian mom, I envision a world where mothers teach their children to love God and to love all races of people as children of God. That approach alone could help eliminate racist killings and hate-filled riots. Think of it. Think of a nation filled with moms who raised their babies to do better.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that moms single-handedly should be responsible for eliminating racism. I’m also not suggesting that we must blame the deaths of Floyd and Arbery on the moms behind the killers. And I’m not arguing that we must blame poor mothering for every person throwing Molotov cocktails and burning buildings in the riots that exploded across our country. But I am suggesting that we should consider the power, the influence and the importance of mothers in these national crises. There are influential moms hidden behind the headlines–moms who’ve influenced their children’s actions as police officers, as rioters, as protesters and peace-makers.
I’ve spent years, as the head of ChannelMom, emphasizing the great importance–the influence–of moms. But I’m up against a culture that honors “influencers” well ahead of mothers. Our popular culture and media lift up celebrities, politicians, famous athletes and, yes, “influencers” much more than they lift up the importance of moms–the women charged with raising (influencing) this nation’s next generation. These moms have the power to teach love, forgiveness, understanding, self-control, patience and service.