Countering Racism – We Have to Do Better
February is Black History Month, and I ask you to read the following words written by Will Jones, President of one of our ELCA colleges, Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas:
“If you are a parent or a guardian, you know that you will do anything to protect your child. As a dad of six, I also strive to encourage, to educate, and to inspire my children. And, I pray that they will enjoy a better life than I have lived.
One of my six is a beautiful biracial (African-American and Caucasian) daughter. She was adopted into our family when she was two. She’s now 16 years old. She has dark skin and as far as the outside world is concerned, she is a young black woman. Thanks to some great coaching my wife Amy and I received early on as two white parents, we have worked at making sure she is proud of her ethnicity. I’m a white guy who was raised in a mountain holler. I needed a little help and coaching. When she was tiny, we were sure to have books with brown and black characters. We had books about beautiful black hair and beautiful dark skin. We have educated her on black history and black heroes. We have participated in Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations and marches. We hired babysitters that were black (and Hispanic). We made sure she knew black college students and professionals. When we have had to do so, we have stood up to overt and more subtle forms of racism. We love our daughter deeply (and all of our children).
This past week, though, our hearts were broken with hers. A few nights ago, mixed with lots of tears, she broke down and told us she hates being black. She hates her hair. She hates her skin. As we have tried to understand her thoughts and feelings better, it has become clear to me I need to work harder as a dad and we have to do better as a society.
This is where I will likely lose many of you who are reading this and may lose you as a social media “friend” or follower. If so, so be it. My daughter is worth it and so are black sons and daughters across our country. As a society, we have a lot of problems. If you don’t think racism is one of them, then you are purposely choosing not to see or you can not see because of a lack of imagination. It could also be the case that you actually believe the lie that whites are superior to other races.
There is nothing my daughter can do to be white. And, she shouldn’t have to be white to feel beautiful, to feel good about herself, to feel like a part of society, or to participate fully in the American dream. Why would she say she hates being black?
Try watching television, YouTube, or go take in a movie and imagine yourself as a young black person. You are absent from most shows, movies, and commercials. When you do make an appearance, you are a minor character, in the background, or negatively portrayed. Having two black characters on the screen at the same time is a rarity. Those that are celebrated and central to the story are almost always white–“blond is beautiful” and “blonds have more fun!” Why is Black Panther such a big deal? Yes, it’s a great movie; my daughter gave it a 10 out of 10 and she hates comic book movies. It’s a big deal for Black America, because of its positive presentation of black characters and of Africa and the number of black actors employed.
Listen to today’s political discourse and imagine you are African-American. Read the tweets. Take in the memes. Watch the talking heads and listen deeply to their words. Imagine you are young and black and you read a meme or watch a YouTube video about “America’s first black, anti-Christ President.” My daughter asks, why do people share such hateful and vile lies? Why do Christians share and participate in such evil? Ignorance. Hate. Sin.
The next time you are shopping or eating out, watch how whites are engaged by employees. Blacks and other races are often overlooked at the clothing racks or at the counter for white customers. Many young black people feel like they do not even exist. When they are noticed, they feel like they are being watched as potential shop lifters.
White America, I say we have to do better. You will say you are sick of this conversation. You will say black people always want to make it about race. You will say you only judge a person by their character, not their skin color. You will say we don’t need Black History Month. Some of you will call me a snow flake or a social justice warrior. You are wrong! I am an angry and protective dad. Say something to my daughter and see who melts; it will not be me. And, if advocating that we love all of God’s people the same way is considered weak in our society today or striving to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is now out of fashion, I say our society has lost its way.
When a smart, strong, hard-working, beautiful 16-year-old biracial teenager who has been raised in a loving and protective family is still hurt by America’s original sin–racism–then we have to do better. I hope moms and dads everywhere will join me in saying enough of this nonsense. White supremacy is wrong! Racism is wrong! Hate is evil. It seems that every generation of Americans must state this truth time and time again. It seems the church must learn again that God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.
As someone who cares about all people, what can you do to counter racism? Do not be defensive when someone talks about racism. Educate yourself on the issues, listen deeply, and ask questions to try to understand better. When you encounter racism, be brave and confront it with truth and love.
And, if you see my daughter (or a black or brown daughter or son of someone else), I hope you will give her a little love and support. Treat her like you would want someone to treat your daughter. She is someone’s daughter. She is my daughter and I love her deeply.”