Talking to Our Kids About Race

Atlanta skyline

EDITOR’S NOTE: We invited parents Jeff and Lisa Liou to give us a glimpse at how their cultural backgrounds shape the conversations on race in their own home. While having honest and open dialogue at home with their children, Jeff also happens to be writing his dissertation on race and theology.

JOANNAH SADLER: Tell our readers a bit about yourselves (as a couple and family) How does the topic of race impact you personally/as a family?

LISA LIOU: Jeff is Taiwanese American. His dad came to the United States for medical residency and then went back to Taiwan to marry Jeff’s mom and bring her to the U.S to start a family. Jeff was born and raised in small town Oklahoma where the Lious were the only Asian family. I’m Caucasian and came from a large extended family in the metro Detroit suburbs, which are predominantly white. All four of my grandparents practiced Catholicism and have western European heritage. Our two children currently attend an “immersion” school in Pasadena, CA where they spend over half their day learning Mandarin Chinese, which is the native language for Jeff’s parents. The kids consider themselves to be half Taiwanese and half “Swe-talian, Germ-ish” (our creative way of explaining all of Lisa’s side of the family). Since almost all of their friends speak Mandarin, but the school is diverse, they are attuned to the differences between speaking a language and sharing the heritage that the language represents.

JOANNAH: How should parents begin the dialogue with their children on such a significant topic as race?

 JEFF LIOU: Kids become aware of race quite early—think single digits. Like so many things, they may not be able to articulate it, but strong in group bias can be measured in children as young as ages seven to eleven. Let’s be clear: This is rarely hatred, and rarely bigotry. But it can easily lead to the kinds of divisions many people experience in our adolescent and adult life. The fear of teaching kids the wrong thing has led many parents to skip conversations about race completely. In loco parentis, children are bombarded with messages about race that may or may not be helpful to them.

JOANNAH: One of the things we hope to provide our readers in this column is spiritual formation resources and practices that can be blended into family life. Are there any spiritual disciplines that we can practice with our families that help us talk about race in an open and redemptive way?

 JEFF: When studying the Bible with family, remember that your children may already be experiencing racial difference.

Passages about ethnic and group difference are opportunities to talk about your child’s experience, Jesus’ response, and the possibility of your family’s participation with God’s work in other people groups.

Pointing out the differences in Scripture isn’t begging the question—kids are deeply aware of the dynamics going on around them and in material being presented to them. Occasionally, our children will tell us about sad, unequal treatment of their classmates from other racial backgrounds. This can become serious prayer business at bedtime. This way, kids learn how to pray not only for their peers and immediate concerns, but the larger issues of justice and reconciliation.

Liou family BW (2)Lisa Liou works for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as area codirector for graduate & faculty ministries in Southern California. She holds an MA in Theology with an emphasis in biblical studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Outside the office she can be found coordinating schedules and transportation for her two children or volunteering at their school.

Jeff Liou serves as a mission and outreach pastor in a local church in Pasadena. He is currently writing his PhD dissertation on race and theology, and has taught as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific University. As a Taiwanese American raised in rural Oklahoma and now living in California, race and ethnicity fascinate him.


Joannah M. Sadler, managing editor of Conversations, lives in Atlanta with her family. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has a small counseling practice at Richmont Graduate University.

*This article originally appeared in Conversations vol 14.1, Spring/Summer 2016.