I grew up in a white neighborhood and attended a school that was occasionally 99% white but more often than not 100% white. The one black student I can remember had a locker next to mine and we chatted daily for the short time he attended our school. I still smile when I think of him. His smile was infectious and I can clearly remember his laughter.
However, I often look back and wonder what struggles he hid behind that smile and laughter as the only black student in an otherwise all white school. Some of those struggles I will never know and some of those struggles have been brought to light as I have grown older and have been exposed to more diversity.
Jokes and disparaging remarks matter.
Growing up I often heard jokes and racial slurs from those around me. Never from my parents but sadly some were extended family members or parents of close friends. As a child, I never understood why they thought it was funny or even an appropriate thing to say. Did they not realize how ugly and ignorant it made them sound? However, adults don’t typically respond too favorably when a child or teenager presents a differing opinion or rebuke. I grew up knowing it was wrong deep in my soul but was often chastised for taking things “too seriously” by those in my community.
Then I married a black man. We knew there were extended family members who didn’t approve (on both sides), those who didn’t understand why we couldn’t find a suitable white (or black) mate, and a few who fully supported our decision to love outside of cultural and societal expectations.
I debated whether or not I should include the details above but ignoring those details is the actual root of the problem. I say all this to set the stage for what I have learned as a white wife married to a black man and a white mother to biracial children. If you are wondering why I have to specify white wife and white mother keep reading.
Learning about our differences goes a long way.
You see, as a white wife to a black man there are things I had to learn. Things I wouldn’t understand without asking questions and having the hard conversations. There were struggles I didn’t relate to, haunting words to his ears that I couldn’t hear, generations and decades of oppression that exist layers deep. I have watched him work ten times as hard to move forward in life because society placed him ten steps behind the start line from birth. There are some things that only apply to my husband as a black male in America that I will never fully understand. I can call that what it is: truth.
What I can relate to is taking precaution.
I pray every day when my husband leaves the house. I pray for his safety just as wives of white husbands do. But the difference is I also pray if he gets pulled over for a minor traffic violation he won’t become a statistic. There are times where he asks me to drive such as holiday weekends when chances of being pulled over are higher. He is much more diligent about changing a burned out tail light than I ever need to be.
How would people in our neighborhood react if my husband wanted to go for a run or take a walk after dark like many of the white men in our neighborhood often do? Would anyone be afraid or watch him suspiciously? Would they call the police? Would he be safe? Would the community Facebook page have a post that reads, “Be on alert, an unknown black man is walking around late at night. Make sure your car doors are locked.”
My husband has had challenges that would be arrogant of me to say I even begin to understand. Does that mean I pretend they don’t exist? Absolutely not! It means I try my best to understand and while he extends grace to me for not completely understanding, I can extend compassion and empathy to him despite my inability to relate.
There are unique questions we often face.
When new neighbors move in, we wonder if they will accept or reject us. Will they be weary of living next to a biracial family? Will they say my daughters are “beautiful” now only to be blind to their true beauty as they grow into adult black women?
When my children make a new friend I wonder if they will be allowed to come over for a play date. Will their parents be secure with their child in the house of a black man? Will this friend be allowed to sleep over when they get older? What stereotypes will they assume?
When my children do have a friend over, I never run out to pick up the pizza or run an errand out of respect for my husband. If that doesn’t make sense to you, let me say it this way. I never want to leave him in a situation where there are no witnesses and assumptions could be made. Black men do not get the benefit of the doubt.
My oldest daughter will be entering high school in a year quickly followed by college. What will dating look like for her? Will she be white enough to the family of a white son or black enough to the family of a black son? Will they even care? I hope they don’t. When she’s grown up will her coworkers refer to her as the “whitest” black woman they know? What does that even mean?
We are outraged by the murder of George Floyd.
I am outraged by the murder of George Floyd. My husband is outraged. Our reactions are similar but the experiences behind them are very different. I am outraged because no human should be treated this way. I am outraged because I know that could be my husband, my friend, or my coworker on the ground with a knee to their neck. I am outraged because when I say these things I often hear the following replies.
“But your husband is not a criminal.”
“These are rare occurrences.”
“Your husband wouldn’t resist arrest.”
“Your husband would never put himself in a position like that.”
“Your husband wouldn’t yell at police officers.”
These answers display an underlying prejudice full of assumptions based on a clouded perception. If you have provided any of these answers, I am not mad at you as I used to be you. I would ask you, however, to start asking questions about what you don’t understand. Have the conversation and be open to a shift in perspective, even when you can’t relate.
Where does one start?
Don’t know where to start? If you don’t understand the difference between the terms colored people and people of color, start there.
If Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman are the only names you can recall from your three weeks per year of black history exposure, start there. Need a recommendation? Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals is a great place to start gaining empathy, especially if you were a white person alive between 1957 and 2020 (yes, that includes you).
Take the time to learn their stories.
If you aren’t familiar with the stories of George Floyd, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Brionna Taylor, Eric Garner, or Trayvon Martin start there. These are just a few of the more well known names who lost their lives for being black but there are thousands more if you still desire additional information to draw a conclusion.
If you don’t understand why people are rioting and so angry look up the verdicts and sentence times for the officers responsible for the deaths of those listed above. Look beyond the riots to see the long history of treating black and brown lives as expendable.
Start by seeing people who may look, speak, or dress differently than you as human.
The next time you pass someone in a parking lot who looks differently than you, look them in the eye and smile instead of looking down at the ground. The next time you find yourself in the elevator alone with a black man, ask him how he’s doing that day. If you are not comfortable doing so, ask yourself why.
Not sure what else you can do? Have the conversations. As Steven Furtick said, “It may not come out right but at least we’re speaking.” We all have to start somewhere. If you have a black neighbor, friend, or co-worker start there. If you know me, I’d love to talk.
What is it that makes us uncomfortable? Is it the injustice or our lack of empathy?
Are you uncomfortable watching the news right now? Is it the injustice that makes you uncomfortable or is it a lack of empathy that makes you turn the channel? If you are tired of hearing about this I urge you to ask God to search your heart and expose any areas of prejudice, indifference, or apathy that may be lurking in dark corners. We all have them, regardless of our skin color. Many are just disguised. I know I have personally had several revealed over the years and it’s an ongoing process for all of us. If you think that doesn’t apply to you, check again.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!Psalm 139:23-24 ESV
Jesus commanded us to love one another.
We are united by the blood of Christ, which was shed for all mankind. In that same way, we are all part of the body of Christ with our own gifts and talents. We have all been commanded to exhibit the love of Christ by loving our neighbor as ourself.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 22: 37-39 ESV
Don’t be like the man who questioned Jesus by saying, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10: 25-37). We are to be like the Good Samaritan. If we see part of our body is hurting, we are all responsible to help heal it. This may put some of us out of our comfort zone, cause us to lose social media followers, or even friends. Let’s be more concerned about pleasing Jesus than we are about blending in. I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and unite as the body of Christ.
Unite as the Body of Christ
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.”1 Corinthians 12:14-16 ESV
“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is there are many parts, yet one body.” – 1 Corinthians 12: 18-20 ESV1 Corinthians 12:18-20 ESV
In a conversation with Steven Furtick, Pastor John Gray stated, “I don’t need you to quietly say you are praying, I need you to publicly say it’s wrong.”
The nation desperately needs the response of Christians. What will our response look like? I urge each of us to prayerfully consider where our voices can be heard and our talents best used to fight for the humanity of our black and brown brothers and sisters. We are one body saved by One Blood.