Ready or not, our family is entering into hard conversations. My 7 year old heard her first “black person” joke a few weeks ago. I don’t know how to explain what it does to the insides of a mother, watching her child’s face when they have the first hint of realization that their beautiful skin, the skin that they have thus far been comfortable in and proud of, may be the subject of teasing, and worse. A few weeks ago, after I’d kissed my girls and tucked them safely into bed, I sat down to unwind, but ended up sobbing myself to sleep after watching videos of offensive violence from misbehaving officers. In every video, every story, every church that’s been burned, every shooting and riot, I see my daughters. Oblivious today in their make-believe princess land, but vulnerable and exposed to the tumult in a few short tomorrows. As I teach them about the safety that police officers provide, the fairness of the law, (and I do indeed both believe and teach this), I also realize I will have to discuss and prepare them for possible scenarios that my mom never had to mention, my young mind never had to grapple with.
I know we often think of racism as expressed hatred; slandering, mistreating, and even killing someone due to their ethnicity or color of skin. But racism is a sly little devil. It creeps in through the jokes we laugh at, the questions we ask, the assumptions we make about how safe our purse is in a certain grocery store, or the way we mock the speech of someone. And maybe even more unsuspecting, the way we try to live colorblind.
Colorblindness has become a way of trying to express seeing all people as the same, to say that race is no longer an “issue” in our society. It’s an umbrella many of us have perhaps found ourselves under, determined that racism is behind us, and wanting no more thought given to the differences. Reality however, is that we do see in color, and the color of skin has a major impact on every single American’s life story, whether they realize it or not. I, for one, had not the foggiest awareness of its impact on my life for my first 20 years. This is because I happened to grow up in an unearned status of white privilege. And if you are not of a minority people group, so did you.
White privilege does not mean we all had it peachy and every opportunity was handed to us on a silver platter, while every person of color had to fight tooth and nail to survive. But it does mean we’ve not had to fear or experience our skin, hair, accent, name, etc. affecting our job position, pay rate, customer service, educational opportunities, medical treatment, rough police frisking, incarceration, etc.
These topics are complex, multi-faceted, filled with differing experiences and opinions, and extremely sensitive; they delve right down to our very identities. I prefer cut and dried answers, defined solutions. I like to avoid conflict. I like to protect my children from pain. I really like to keep myself away from it too. I’d rather shut off the news, close the blog posts, and walk away when the pain and complexity overwhelms me. And to be able to do so is a luxury. “… The problem isn’t that I hate black people. I don’t. The problem is that being white in America means I get to be oblivious. I get to be ignorant. I get to be “colorblind” when it suits me, and that luxury is exactly what keeps me and so many other well-intentioned white people from doing more to confront, repent of, and combat white supremacy and racial injustice in America.”-Repenting of Colorblindness, Rachel Held Evans. (Please check out the entire writing, she tackles a tough subject head on, and says it well.)
Maybe you’re wondering, as I have been, how we can create a new story for our children’s generation. What if we started by pushing back against the surprisingly numerous racially charged statements that still fly? Stopped to consider the way we would feel if it were our family and our identity being judged or ridiculed? Here are some examples: They are lazy, they’re druggies, they are all so cocky, they’re trashy, they need to go back to their government housing, they probably all have absent dads, they need to speak better English, someone in their neighborhood is always shooting or getting shot, they’re dangerous, they are thieves… and the list of jokes, and assumptions goes on. What if we stopped to consider the “they” in these conversations? Unless “they” are mice we’re speaking of (in which case, carry on with all slander), the statements are lies. There is no “they” people group that is stupid, dirty, or bad. Well except one. The human race. They are one messed up group. The deal is, the capacity for any bad behavior is present in every human heart. If there is an issue that is statistically higher in a certain group, it is a direct result of an oppressive force they have experienced (poverty, discrimination, violence, etc.). If we aren’t willing to acknowledge the human race as being the one with problems, ourselves 100% included, and recognize the connections between oppression and reactive survival behaviors, I can only think of one remaining conclusion: “THEY” (whatever different colored/speaking group being targeted) are more poorly behaved than “US” (white, middle class, Americans) because they are less developed, inferior, and thus unequal to our superior group. This is indeed a world view that has, and still does exist. But it is completely void of God the Creator, who breathed His life into every person in the human race, called His masterpiece very good, and delights in every single individual, flawed as we are, without a trace of partiality.
What are your thoughts? How have you experienced the color of your skin affecting your life? What suggestions do you have for how we can tend to the wounds of racism and raise a generation that respects and values all humans equally?
Part 3-thoughts on being a safe friend, coming soon.