Part 2-Hard Conversations

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.

photo credit: numbers via photopin (license)

photo credit: numbers via photopin (license)

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.

In Their Shoes-Part 1 (thoughts on the confederate flag)

No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, no matter how valid it is that skin color is the tiniest variation of pigment amongst countless identical facets of our humanity, skin color impacts each life and shapes each story in ways that we cannot be blind to.

This is why I can’t help but speak up when I hear comments about the Confederate flag. While I am aware of the argument that it’s some new, hot button political topic, it’s not a new grief by any means. For us as white Americans, and especially for those of us who’ve grown up in the Midwest/north, it might seem new. I was oblivious to the fact that government buildings fly the Confederate flag until this year. And I was stunned upon discovery.

I recall my first introduction to civil war history somewhere around 5th grade; remember the churn in my stomach when I read the details of slavery. Shortly after the history class, we drove through a rough little burg and I noticed a Confederate flag painted on the pack of a pickup window. I remember staring at it with alarm and asking mom “Isn’t that the Confederate flag from the Civil War? Why do they like it??” The same confused concerns swirled in my mind when we first drove south for a Florida vacation. Every time I’ve seen that flag, whether as a clueless elementary student or as an adult mother of two African children, I become unsettled and find myself thinking, “I wonder if they still wish the south would have won.” In my mind, the Confederacy=slavery.

We could discuss the flag’s role as a historical image (a representation of one of our most despicable times in American history, I might add), the fact that taking a flag down will never solve racism, compare and contrast it with the Nazi swastika flag (a historical image illegal to fly in many European countries), or discuss government involvement and it’s valid or invalid roles in the issue. There are one hundred articles that have done so already. What I am hoping and longing and praying for is a reflective effort by all of us; imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I live this daily as I imagine my daughters’ futures, but today I’m thinking even beyond that. Not just my mommy heart for them, but what if it was ME?

What if I was the woman on the church floor, soaked in the blood of my dying child who was pierced through with bullets from the hand of one on a mission to “kill black people”? What if I was a teen goofing off with friends, taking dares to do dumb things as most teens do, and I was the one thrown to the ground and hand-cuffed while my white friends watched and went home? What if, when I googled “civil war history” (like I actually did today), and read account after account of states announcing their succession for the primary purpose of maintaining their rights to own black humans, I knew if I’d been born in the 1850’s it would have been me they were planning to purchase? When powerful leaders announced to the country:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”-Alexander Stephens (Vice President of Confederate States of America), Cornerstone Speech.

what if my family had been the ones to huddle by the bed that night, weeping and crying out for deliverance, half believing our suffering was a sign we were only worthy of subordinate roles? After all, those in power announced their beliefs, backed them by ill-quoted Bible verses, and refuted those who were “…attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal” –Stephens What if those demeaning, brainwashing messages were directed at my identity, for days and years and generations?

I sobbed as I read Stephens’ speech. I urge you to read it, too. We do well to go back and remember from time to time, as nauseating as it is. Tell me this, if those words represent the spirit of the Confederacy, doesn’t it seem that, no matter how many years pass, its flag will represent suffering and tears and unimaginable despair to a people group whose story traces back to its origin? And since this spirit of hatred is still alive and well in so many who proudly wave that flag today (Dylann Roof being a most recent example), do we not owe it to those whose history bears more scars than we can count, to stop and listen oh-so-carefully when they speak up about something that brings them disrespect or pain? As a nation of liberty and justice for all, I’d say yes. As a person who has taken an oath to the kingdom of Love and claimed Jesus as King? YES!



Isn't kindness grounds enough? Isn't love alone worth it? Could we all just say “I don’t know how it feels in your shoes, I don’t understand all this pain, I can’t heal the wound, but here, rest on my shoulder. Let me kneel down and loosen your laces.”

(This is part 1 of a 3 part series on navigating current issues, white privilege, and building safe relationships in regards to race. I have written this under the assumption that those who are reading are white (since unfortunately 90% of my friends and family are). If by chance you are reading this as a person of color, please, please speak up. Tell us your story. Point out where I’m getting this wrong. Private message me, I have questions and I want to listen, ideally face to face. For the rest of you, I want to hear your thoughts and experiences, too. Bring on the respectful dialogue!)