Monday, April 4, 2016
Imagine Your Children are Black
In his book, Under Our Skin, Benjamin Watson relates the story from the book/movie A Time to Kill, when the lawyer presents his closing argument. The lawyer is white, the jury is white, but the brutalized child-victim is black. The lawyer describes the 10-year-old girl walking home from school. Two grown men jump out of a truck, grab her, and viciously gang rape her. Then they throw beer cans at her, urinate on her, attempt to hang her, and throw her over a cliff.
The lawyer says to the jury, 'Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she's white.'
Watson writes, "The tragedy of the racial divide is that it simply isn't personal enough. For so many, it's just an argument, a philosophy, a political position....But these people are not really human lives to us. Those lives remain distant from us. And they are lives of a different color. Now imagine it's your own child."
That is me.
When I think about racial problems in America, it is personal to me. Because it is my child.
So when Watson writes, "You simply need to know that in the black community, police abuse and brutality are givens," I think about my own son. Watson continues, "The threat of police to innocent black people is assumed, something everything knows is true. And the black community knows that the white community is blind to it. Why? Because they don't experience it. We do. White people have no idea of the fear that black people feel towards the police. I cannot say that strongly enough, loudly enough, or forcefully enough."
One day when he is living in America, how will I feel if my own son is needlessly pulled over and harassed by the police?
How will I feel if my daughter is trailed by a sales clerk at a high end department store?
How will I feel the first time my child is called the N-word?
I realize that my children are not African-American; they are just African. They do not share the heritage of the vast majority of black people in the United States. But one day, they'll live in America, and it's not going to matter where they are from. All the stereotypes and prejudices that African-Americans experience will be heaped onto them simply because of the color of their skin.
So racism is personal to me. But it should be for all of us.
I realize that I'm never, ever going to completely understand. There is always going to be a part of my children's life experiences that I won't be able to relate to. But I am certainly going to try.
If I am going to be brutally honest, I must admit that I don't know if I would have been so interested in the topic of racism if I didn't have black children. I've always known I wasn't a racist, so I figured I wasn't part of the problem. Couldn't we all just be color-blind?
But because I have black children, I've determined to listen better. And harder. So when I read the words of Christian Professor Jarvis Williams, "The color-blind theory of race denies the racialized experiences of those marginalized," I pay attention. When my gospel-centered and African-American friend Wendy tells me how hurt she is when white Christians tell her they are color-blind and thus don't need to discuss racial issues, I listen.
Watson writes, "You'd think that after all this time we'd have reached real parity between the races, that there would be truly equal opportunity, and that we'd be seeing and experiencing fairness in society between blacks and whites. A lot of white people believe that's actually where we are. A lot of black people know we aren't."
Wendy explained to me, "The seemingly mistrust of blacks in general is unfortunate... and it is real. The negative stereotypes and perceptions are real, and hurtful." Wendy is helping me to understand how I can be a better mom to my kids, but just as importantly, she is helping me become a better American Christian.
And that is exactly where the rubber meets the road. White American Christians have got to come to grips with the fact that the church is "the most segregated institution in America. Christianity Today reported in January 2015 that 'Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant group.'" (Benjamin Watson)
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, "I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian...brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the...Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."
As a white American Christian who has learned the hard way that I have not actively listened enough, cared enough, or tried hard enough to do my part towards racial reconciliation, I am making a plea to my Christian brothers and sisters to learn from my mistakes.
This book is an excellent place to start. My main purpose for this post is to strongly encourage you to read Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson. It is short, readable, and relevant. Watson is gospel-centered, humble, and exhorts Christians to examine ourselves--no matter what our color--because all of us can work harder towards reconciliation. His words are fair, balanced, and convicting.
He writes, "The solution to the problem of race in America will be found by ordinary people, 'good' people, looking inside themselves, being honest about the assumptions and biases that have formed, and beginning to change what's in their hearts."
Would it matter to you more if your children were black? Then imagine they are.