The Cost of Getting Proximate {for SheLoves}

Sharing this post at SheLoves today, for the theme “Amplify.”

Bryan Stevenson changed my life.

Last year, his book, Just Mercy, crushed the last of my illusions about justice in the United States. A few months after reading it—sleep deprived with a 12-day-old newborn—I drove to hear Stevenson speak in the auditorium of a nearby university. I nursed my infant with one arm and scribbled illegible notes with my other hand. But two words rattled me, transfixed me. They altered the course of our life, in fact.

“Get proximate.”

I stopped writing and looked up as he spoke. “Get close to the problems instead of trying to solve them from a distance. Get proximate to the poor and be willing to do uncomfortable things,” he said.

Was I willing not to just visit, talk about, or pray for those living in the margins, but actually move there?

For the past two years after moving from the city of Chicago, we rented a house in a nearly all-white area of Colorado snuggled up against the Rocky Mountains. The middle class neighborhood was made up of retirees with large campers parked in their driveways and a few young families. People didn’t bother locking their doors and I would have felt safe walking down our pitch black street late at night under a jubilee of stars. We were within walking distance of a huge new park with a splash pad, a giant wooden playground, a Frisbee golf course and tennis courts.

But as we began to search for a home to buy, I sensed God nudging us towards something other than safe, secure and comfortable. As we looked for houses in the nearby college town, I picked subdivisions where the neighborhood school had a high percentage of non-white students and free lunch recipients.

I drove around neighborhoods near trailer parks and run-down apartment complexes, ashamed that though I’d be willing to live near them, I wasn’t willing to actually live in a low income neighborhood just to be proximate to the poor.

Buying a home holds a mirror to our prejudices, privilege and values. It blasts holes in our claim to love our neighbor when we begin to realize we meant the neighbor just like us.

God never assures us safe or comfortable. He doesn’t urge us to pray for “smooth journeys” or perfect health. In fact, the gospel message juxtaposed against American culture is starkly counter-cultural.

Jesus wandered from house to house, keeping company with the misfits of society. He touched the untouchable and dined with the outcast. In the end, he gave up the right to protect himself and willingly died so these misfits could experience belonging. This is the gospel. So why do Sunday mornings at church always feel so polished and pristine?

We finally bought a home. Though the city is 82 percent white, the neighborhood school is 73 percent white. Fifty-two percent of the students have free or reduced lunch. It is not a drastic shift, but it is a small step toward a wider community of neighbors.

The city we moved to is double the size of the one we left. The hum of life murmurs at a low level. We now hear sirens, see bikers buzz past our picture window and hear Thai, Arabic and Hindi spoken at the grocery store. For the first time in my life, there is an African American family living across the street. My children are also beginning to recognize Spanish being spoken at the public library or MacDonald’s play place. I have plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on unsuspecting Chinese people who don’t know I spent five years in China. From a diversity-standpoint, this feels like a good decision.

But what about the increase in homelessness and crime—does Jesus really want us to move closer to that?

Before moving (and in rebellion against the inner voice that warns us we’re googling too far) I searched online to see if there were any sex offenders in the neighborhood. There are. The site also offered all the registered felons. There were many—even on the route my kids will one day walk to school. I joined the local online forum for our neighborhood and learned that three cars were broken into last week and an unsolved murder a few streets away was solved. Fear began pawing at me, whispering that I am right to shelter and shield my children.

Proximity costs us …

Continue reading at SheLoves.

 

Day 31: Conclusion: This I Know {31 Days of #WOKE}

Day 31: Conclusion: This I Know {31 Days of #WOKE}

Would you buy a remodeled home with a cracked foundation? Would you forgo the inspection, assuming that because all appears well, then all is well?

That’s how I feel being born in 1979 on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and school desegregation, without full awareness of the racial history that preceded me. Like moving into a remodeled house without realizing its very foundation is damaged, I was oblivious to living in a world where all was not as it seemed.

It’s foolish to ignore the bearing history has on the present. We pretend slavery, segregation and Jim Crow were in the distant past, when those events continue to seep into old fissures, splitting our cracked foundation even wider. How could the fact that my mother did not attend school, drink from the same water fountain or sit in a doctor’s waiting room with a person of color not have any bearing on how I perceive black people today?

For the past 30 days I have been writing, reading, thinking, eating, drinking and breathing race. The simple fact that I don’t have to think about race on most days reveals that my world caters to people just like me. In the U.S., I am never inconvenienced, denied, discriminated against or made to feel inferior because of my race. I can go about my day without giving a single thought to the color of my skin.

Truthfully, the only times I’ve been painfully aware of my skin color was when I was a minority: as a teacher in a school in inner city Chicago; and on mission trips to Tajikistan, Costa Rica, Uganda, Nicaragua and China. In Chicago, I felt ineffective and paralyzed by my race, but in every other place I felt honored, admired and even revered—simply because I was born with white skin. Though it made me feel uncomfortable at first and I tried to shrug off the attention, I admit I began to enjoy it. Now I can confess: I liked being white because of the privileges it earned me. I knew I could use my whiteness as currency if I needed to get a visa, buy the last bus ticket or find a seat in a crowded room.

Though I’m thankful for some readers who have followed me on this journey toward being more “woke,” I wasn’t out to convince anyone of anything. Instead, I hoped you would learn along with me. Now, I can’t read a book without wondering if the author is a person of color. I notice when all the characters in my children’s books are white or if there is not a single person of color sitting in church. I drive by schools and parks in neighborhoods we could potentially move to, hoping to spot more than a few children with brown skin skipping next to the white ones. I look for opportunities to talk to my children about race.

But as a person who trusted Jesus with my life 27 years ago, I need to process these issues in light of my faith, which, if I’m honest, has wavered. Not because Jesus changed, but because I started looking at and being disappointed by the white church instead of looking at Jesus himself.

Jesus moved in the margins. Though he came from the “right” pedigree of the times, He was criticized for mingling with undesirables. He risked disgrace by talking with a promiscuous woman, being touched by a bleeding woman in a crowd and having his feet soaked with the perfume and tears of another “sinful” woman in a room full of self-righteous men.

With his brown, rough, Middle Eastern fingers, the carpenter, Jesus, touched the untouchable—lepers, demon possessed and those burning with fever. He welcomed wild, curious, innocent little children, telling everyone else to become like them. He broke the rules: throwing over tables in the temple, doing the work of eating and healing on the Sabbath holy day and even calling himself God.

As a child, Jesus narrowly avoided genocide, only escaping by becoming a refugee in Egypt with his parents. Three kings journeyed from the east to lay gifts at his feet and worship the baby king born in the Middle East. Jesus was not white, nor did he say that white people were God’s chosen people. The country called The United States would not exist for another 1700 years.

Jesus did not promise comfort, acceptance or power. In fact, he guaranteed suffering, hardship and death. He told his followers to fall to their knees and wash one another’s mud-crusted feet. He said to show hospitality to the stranger and to outdo one another with generosity. He told them that if they wanted to bear fruit, they needed to die. If they wanted to live, they had to die. If they wanted to love, die.

Jesus cracked the dividing wall of hostility that once separated the Jewish people and everyone else (Eph. 2:14). Jesus made it possible for every person who admitted they were lost and named him as Lord of their lives to be grafted in to his incredible tree of life.

Jesus defeated death, rising from the dead after three days. A low-class woman was the first to see him, touch him and tell others. And with this resurrection, eternal life rushed in like a river undammed.

But the promise wasn’t just hope after death, but Spirit Fruit in life. We could have: Unconditional love for the unsavory, the undesirable and the undeserving. Joy in suffering, but also laughter in abundance. Peace in being beloved children of God–nurtured, adored and protected. Patience in stress and anxious times. Kindness even when treated cruelly. Goodness when the world applauded evil. Faithfulness that God wins. Gentleness when attacked, persecuted or treated unfairly. And self-control to keep moving forward when all they wanted to do was run away, lie down or fight back.

These Spirit Fruits became accessible to every person– regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic class, though those in the margins seemed closer to God because they had less distance to fall. God’s arms extended and his love capacity welcomed all who would come to him. Like children all jumping in bed with their parents at dawn, kicking, scratching and laughing at frigid feet and bedhead, every person who knows Jesus shares family privileges.

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” –Gal. 3:26-28

We are all one in Christ. We maintain the beauty of our skin tone, language and culture, but all sit under the blanket of Christ thrown over our legs, warming, comforting and claiming us. The fire light strikes our faces—tan, olive, chocolate, coffee, caramel and cream colors—as we all share the same covering, laughing in the light of His unrelenting love.

The foundation of the United States is cracked. Just as we would not move into an immaculate house with a faulty foundation, so we shouldn’t exist in the world without studying where we went wrong and how we can repair the rift.

Being woke means refusing to live in a house with a broken foundation and pretend that all is well. Although we did not cause this breach, if we do nothing to repair it, then we are good as guilty. As a white woman who wants to follow Jesus as he moves in the margins, I confess my silent complicity in a broken system. I confess my ignorance, pride and complacency.

Christians should be leading the way when it comes to racial reconciliation. And as white Christians, we should be the first to fall on our faces and the last to criticize, be defensive or cover up. This is the way of Jesus. We grind our knees in the ground, making the repairs we know to make on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We educate ourselves, speak out, write, read, teach and listen. But mostly, we just listen.

And yet we know our hope is more secure than our society. We have an unseen foundation that cannot be moved. We have a God who brings the high, low and the low, high. He draws the marginalized, oppressed, invisible and ignored into the same building and gives them equal status as children of God. Paul put it like this:

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” –Ephesians 2:19-22

Our spiritual building is anchored by Christ. In him, we rise to become a place where the Spirit of God dwells. We each reflect a facet of God’s glory, a piece of his image and a strength that someone else may not have. We need each other. Without different skin tones, languages, laughs, cultures, expressions of worship and ethnicities, we have an incomplete picture of the kingdom of God in the world.

***

This concludes 31 Days of #WOKE, though I know it is not the last post I’ll write on these issues. Check out any posts you missed in the series here:

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2)

23. The People We See and the People We Don’t

24. (Guest Post) A Letter to My 13-year-old Self by Leah Abraham

25. Divided by Faith (book)

26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)

27. A Lesson Plan for Talking to My Preschooler about Race for the First Time

28. Two Poems//Teaching in Inner City Chicago

29. Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids

30. Talking Race with my Southern Mama (an Interview)

31. Conclusion: This I Know

 

Day 19: How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble {31 Days of #WOKE}

How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

Two years ago, we moved our family from the diverse north side of Chicago to a nearly all-white area of Colorado. And it pains me. Truly.

Not that white people are all the same, but I worry my children’s worldview will be white-centric because that is all they know.

Perhaps you are like me and find yourself living on White Island. What are you doing to build windows to the world in your child’s culture of whiteness? At risk of sounding braggy or like I have it all figured out (I promise, I don’t). Here are some things I’m trying.

International Students

First of all, we’re moving. It’s only about 20 minutes from where we are right now, but we are intentionally moving from a nearly all-white area to a slightly-less-white area. For us, that means we move closer to the university.

Nearly four years ago I volunteered for one month at an ESL class in Chicago. At the end of that time one of the girls from Saudi Arabia asked to live with us. You can read more about that here and here, but four months turned into a year and she became like family.

Looking for houses, we are considering how we can have international students live with us. Could we have our kids share a room? Will our house be near a bus station? Within walking distance of the school?

As a mom to three kids four and under, I don’t have much time or energy to volunteer my time outside of the home. My husband doesn’t feel called overseas, so the best-case scenario is to let the nations come to us. If you’ve never considered it, I recommend looking for an opportunity to host an international student for a short period of time. If you don’t have space for that, consider having them over for dinner. Most international students will never be invited to an American’s home even if they live here for years. It is a mutually beneficial situation.

The university in our area has an outstanding program for international students. They have weekly dinners and an international women’s club. They welcome people from the community, so I bring my three kids to the rec room of the international student apartments every Friday morning for the women’s meeting. All the women take turns teaching skills like cooking, knitting, scrapbooking and sewing.

So far, I have met women from India, Romania, Iraq, Turkey, Korea, China and Indonesia. There are a few other Indian boys there, so my son is learning what it feels like to be the minority. And I, as his mom, am learning what it feels like to have my child excluded because he doesn’t look like the other boys. Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Visit Another Church

My extremely white city has one black church. I visited a few months ago, grabbing my kids’ hands and nervously entering the building after the service had already started. I wondered if I’d feel out of place or unwanted. The day I visited, 40 people were in attendance and about 10 of those were white. I encountered the stereotypes of black churches—dynamic preaching with the congregation talking back, repetitive, up-beat music, a long service, fans on the pews and a fried chicken dinner after church. I loved every minute.

I didn’t mention anything about race to my son before or after and he didn’t say anything either. But it was the week after this that he first told me he couldn’t be friends with a boy because he had black skin—like those people at that church. I wanted to cry. In spite of the hours of personal research I have done on this issue, it wasn’t enough to make my son racially inclusive.

Be Proximate

Another way I’m seeking out diversity for myself and my children is to spend time where people of color hang out. Museums in Denver an hour away are filled with diversity. And some restaurants and playgrounds in town tend to have a higher percentage of non-whites than others. If I have a choice, I go to those places.

Toys, Books and T.V.

Some other small things I’m doing are to buy non-white dolls and have them watch T.V. shows and read books including people who look different from them. I’m also gearing up to have some more intentional conversations with my four-year-old about race. Until now, I haven’t wanted to shatter his innocence, but maybe I’ve resisted because there is so much shame wrapped up in talking about racial differences. Perhaps if I talk about it now with him, he will learn how to have positive conversations about differences instead of absorbing negative stereotypes on the playground. I’m planning on using some books and talking points from the resources I shared last week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Self-educate and Friendship

I’m trying to educate myself on racial issues through books, articles, podcasts and diversifying my social media. But God has also brought some women of color into my life serendipitously. We talk openly about race and I am enjoying getting to know them better.

These are just some of the ways I am trying to seek out diversity in the white bubble I’m living in. It’s not enough. And it’s embarrassing that it should take so much effort. But it’s a step. I’d love to hear some ways you are seeking diversity in your life right now. I’m certainly open to more ideas!

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

Day 9: Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1) {31 Days of #WOKE}

It is easy to be friends with people who are like us. At one time, I realized I could have traded clothes with three of my best friends—we were all runners and had similar body types, ate the same things, went to the same church, believed essentially the same things and shared a common worldview. Friendship on these terms was easy.

But my most transformational friendships have come at the cost of my comfort.

The best and worst part about living in China was visiting my students in their homes in rural areas of northwest China. They had a different way of showing hospitality to guests. Unlike the west, with our “make yourself at home” mentality, their goal was to make their visitors feel like special guests.

“Go have a rest in the living room,” they’d say, leaving me alone in a cold room on a hard couch next to the coffee table (“tea table” in China). I’d pick at oranges, dried dates and sunflower seeds as I waited. I longed to be with them in the kitchen, where laughter and delighted chatter floated from the doorway.

They would eventually emerge with plates of stir-fried spicy cabbage and lamb and steaming potatoes or with at least a hundred hand-made dumplings filled with beef and carrots. I’d eat until I was stuffed and they’d look offended when I stopped.

As a guest, I was expected to eat until I was sick. More than once, as it was nearly time for bed, my student’s mother would enter the living room with even more food and never allowed me the satisfaction of an empty bowl. I wanted to cry.

These experiences visiting small villages in China birthed many stories. But they also transported me out of the zone of my comfort into the reality of my students’ lives away from school.

Those trips obliterated my assumptions and granted me the gift of forced proximity to poverty and another way of life. I ate their food, played their card games, froze by their coal stoves, slept in their beds, met their grannies, held their nieces and nephews and borrowed their clothes.

It may sound adventurous, but I often felt so uncomfortable that I was counting the minutes until we boarded our train or bus home. I longed for my own bed, my heated apartment and the time when I could curl up under my plush throw blanket and binge-watch Alias.

But it wasn’t just physical discomfort that toppled my walls of pride and wrong assumptions. It was the discomfort of cultural confusion. I didn’t belong and constantly questioned whether or not I was acting the right way.

Operating in another culture is like having all the rules of a familiar game suddenly change, then being scolded when you make a wrong move. And yet I sensed God nudging me to choose to look stupid for the sake of relationship.

Each visit to another student’s home shattered another brick in my too-pristine wall of self-preservation and pride. It forced me to be dependent on another human being who looked, spoke, dressed and ate differently than I did.

***

The discipline of discomfort allows us to deeply know and be known by the “other.”

It is only as we are willing to deconstruct our walls and enter into the world of someone else that we will ever find friends who are different from us. And it is only then that we can begin to break down the barriers of racism, prejudice and oppression.

When we have slept in someone’s bed, we cannot accuse them of being a terrorist. When we have eaten someone’s homemade food, held their babies and joked with their grandpas, we cannot assume the worst of them.

It was easy to exercise the discipline of discomfort in China. But here in the U.S.? As we go from home to garage to car to work, grocery store, day care, school or library, then back home again, we flirt with the idea of diversity without ever entering the messy work of relationship.

Why would we choose to be uncomfortable with an unknown (and risk looking like an idiot) when we can be comfortable with someone just like us?

***

Check back tomorrow for part 2 on friendships.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 4: Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {31 Days of #WOKE}

Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack--the danger of stereotypes

All Americans are loud, carry backpacks, wear sneakers, eat dessert and junk food, are overweight, speak only one language, are promiscuous, kick our kids out at age 18 and are rich. These are a few of the stereotypes about Americans I’ve heard in my travels, but especially from my Chinese friends during the five years I lived in northwest China.

“We know you love sweets,” my Chinese students said as I passed out brownies after dinner one Sunday evening. Three shy freshman students had come over to “teach” me how to cook Chinese food (a.k.a. they argued about how to do it the way their mothers had done it while I frantically scribbled notes on index cards). In an attempt to find something authentically American to serve to them, brownies was all I could come up with.

“Yes, many Americans like sweets,” I said. But then I blew them away.

“But I never ate dessert in my home.” They traded glances, questioning my sincerity since I had already rattled their worlds as I told them earlier that I loved spicy Chinese food and rarely ate burgers back in the states.

After five years in China, silence would still descend upon the room as I sat down to dinner with a new group of students in a restaurant. “You can use chopsticks?!” they would gasp, in awe of my skill. Snapping up a piece of eggplant from the dish, I’d suppress my sarcastic reply.

We stereotype others because it makes us feel like we are in control. It gives us a framework to solve the mystery of the “other.”

Don’t think you have stereotypes? Slowly read through this list and see what words your brain inserts:

Men are …

Women are …

Three year olds are …

Introverts like …

Extroverts like …

Evangelical Christians are …

Muslims are …

African Americans are …

Chinese are …

Mexicans are …

Indians are …

If you found yourself quickly responding with a word or phrase, you have made a stereotype.

Some stereotypes are helpful for decoding culture, but most insult the humanity of the unique individual. There is a striking scene in the T.V. show The Man in the High Castle where a Japanese family invites a white American man over under the guise of friendship. The couple rattles off questions about music and sports that whites “usually like,” but are increasingly disappointed when the man doesn’t fit their stereotypes. The white man senses he let down his new friends, but isn’t sure why.

It’s a scene I experienced many times in China and Uganda when friends would assume they understood me, only to find I didn’t fit their mold. I sensed their disappointment when I couldn’t educate them on pop culture or fashion in America. Some Americans might have cared, but I didn’t.

During my senior year of college I lived with an African family in a village outside of Kampala, Uganda. It was considered a middle class home, yet we didn’t have running water. The house servants washed dishes in the morning on a wooden table in the front yard as chickens squawked in the distance. Feeling useless, I offered to rise at dawn and help wash dishes. My host mother looked skeptical. “But we will just have to rewash them,” she said. “I know you have machines that do that in your country.”

The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the infamous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” In it, she said: “I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar …

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

I believe relationship is the key to deconstructing stereotypes. It is in relationship that we can finally see that we are more similar than we thought. At our core, we all desire love, purpose and security.

Unfortunately you may not have the opportunity to live with an African family, teach in the inner city or have a Muslim live in your home. And even experiencing other cultures in that way does not ensure you do not have stereotypes. So what can you do?

Read, listen and learn. Seek out new and possibly uncomfortable friendships. Pray for fresh eyes, open ears and humble hearts. Peel away the stereotypes you have formed and allow each person to stand on their own as the unique individuals they were created to be. But I would also encourage you to tell your own story. You never know when you might smash someone else’s stereotype of “people like you.”

***

What stereotypes do you have about the “other”?

How do these diminish the humanity of your neighbor?

Have you ever been hurt by being stereotyped?

If you haven’t, I would highly recommend watching “The Danger of a Single Story”:

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack

Introduction: 31 Days of #WOKE

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

I’m white, but barely noticed my whiteness until recently.

I’ve always thought white people were boring, actually. Friends from other cultural backgrounds had interesting food, festivals, cultural dress, customs and languages. Those from non-western countries lived communally, cherished family and celebrated holistic living. They did not divide the sacred and secular. They saw the holy in the ordinary, messy, seasons of life.

Like many from the U.S., I’ve been around people of other cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities my entire life. I attended a Jewish preschool, fell for an African American boy in kindergarten, ate fried tomatoes, onions and eggs with my Colombian friend in sixth grade, obsessed about boys with my Jewish friend in seventh grade, had black teachers, had a few African American, Indian and Latino friends in high school, taught in a 100 percent black school in inner city Chicago after college, another racially diverse school and even at a school in Chinatown.

But I also experienced other cultures abroad: I went on short term mission trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, lived in a village in Uganda for six months in college, spent five weeks in Tajikistan, traveled in Europe and Thailand and taught and studied in China for five years.

You’d think I would have known.

But it wasn’t until I moved to a nearly all white area in the U.S.–the last stretch of plains with tumbleweed cartwheeling up against the mighty Rocky Mountains–that I began to see my whiteness. And it was then that I saw all the shadows it casts.

What Does it Mean to be “Woke”?

According to Urban Dictionary, being “woke” means being aware and knowing what’s going on in the community.

Merriam-Webster “Words We’re Watching” describes it like this:

“Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke.”

I am on a journey. I have not arrived, nor will I ever be fully “woke.” But I am learning. I am growing. And I am slowly beginning to see.

The first time I ever wrote a piece about race, I wondered if I had a right to speak. I wondered if I knew enough or if I was going to say something stupid, offensive or ignorant. But an African American friend of my husband’s responded to my post in a way that gave me courage. “Thank you,” he wrote. “Because I’m tired. It’s refreshing for this message to come from someone who is not a person of color for once.”

Ijeoma Oluo recently wrote an article entitled, “White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves.” The more we understand our whiteness, the more we can understand how our whiteness affects all the people of color around us.

What Can You Expect in the Series?

Have you ever rewatched an entire movie with commentary from the actors and director on? (I have.) That’s what I’m hoping to do in this series. Mostly, you can expect stories from my life. For each post, I’ll ask myself (and possibly answer) the following questions:

What did I learn about whiteness through this experience?

Are there any blind spots that I missed the first time around?

How can I analyze this experience utilizing the concepts I am learning?

But I’ll also include practical information and resources as well as a few posts from some friends of mine who are people of color.

I’m mostly writing for myself, but you are invited along on this journey. I sincerely welcome your input, comments, links, corresponding stories, questions and even criticism.

When my dad taught me to drive, I sat in the driver’s seat of the parked car as he shuffled around on the outside until he disappeared from my view. He wanted me to understand the devastation of a blind spot. Please help me to discover mine.

Table of Contents

Here are some possible posts that will run every day beginning March 1st, 2017 (check back here each day for an updated link). Most definitely subject to change;-)

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2)

23. The People We See and the People We Don’t

24. (Guest Post) A Letter to My 13-year-old Self by Leah Abraham

25. Divided by Faith (book)

26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)

27. A Lesson Plan for Talking to My Preschooler about Race for the First Time

28. Two Poems//Teaching in Inner City Chicago

29. Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids

30. Talking Race with my Southern Mama (an Interview)

31. Conclusion: This I Know

 

Okay. *deep breath*

Let’s do this.

Be sure to sign up for email updates so you don’t miss a post! And please share if you feel this could benefit someone else.

 

Scared, but excited,

Leslie

A series exploring whiteness and racial perspectives.

80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

#GetWoke and #StayWoke

What does it mean to be “woke?”

Many people in the United States are experiencing a second sight, sometimes defined as being “woke.” In The Calling podcast, social justice activist Michelle Higgins says, “Woke-ness is a journey. It is saying ‘I’m done being blind’ or done saying ‘I’m sleeping on the whole truth about my community.'”

Maybe you read, watched and listened through the previous list of resources to educate yourself about race issues.  Or maybe (hopefully) you sat down over a cup of coffee with a friend who is a person of color and listened–really listened–to their story. Your heart is cracking open and you want to learn more.

Here are some additional resources I’ve come across in the last six months since publishing the first list. I listened to the podcasts and read the articles, but am still working my way through the books, though they all come highly recommended. This list is far from exhaustive (and mainly based on recent events, not historical documents), so I hope you will add your own ideas to the comments section of this post. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom to find new people to follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Podcasts:

The Calling

Michelle Higgins: “I Am a Worshipper” First and Foremost

How ‘Colorblind’ Christianity Broke Propaganda’s Heart

Jemar Tisby: It’s Never Too Soon to Talk about Race in Your Church 

 

Code Switch: Race and Identity (NPR)–various episodes

 

Epiphany Fellowship (Pastor Eric Mason)

In God We Trust (First sermon after the election)

#Woke Church Series at Epiphany Fellowship:

#WokeChurch

#WokeChurch: It’s Time for the Church to do Something

#WokeChurch–Lamentations 3:1-18   (the pastor provides a time for African Americans in his congregation to lament)

#WokeChurch–Jesus on Justice

 

Facing Ourselves

Are All White People Racist? (No. Well, Kind of. Let Us Explain.)

 

Fresh Air (NPR)

How the Systemic Segregation of Schools is Maintained by ‘Individual Choices’

 

Faith Conversations with Anita Lustrea

Lisa Sharon Harper

On Justice and Reconciliation

 

Faithfully Podcast

Will Christians Ever Get Race Relations Right?

White Christians, the Confederate Flag and the Civil War

Black Lives Matter, the Black Church and the Prosperity Gospel

 

A Mom’s Missionfield

A Sweaty Conversation about Racial Reconciliation: Retha Nichole and Emily Thomas

 

On Being with Krista Tippett

Vincent Harding (Civil Rights leader)–Is America Possible?

Isabel Wilkerson (author of The Warmth of Other Suns)

Mahzarin Banaji–The Mind is a Difference-Seeking Machine (on implicit bias)

Eula Bliss–Let’s Talk about Whiteness (refers to her article, White Debt, for the New York Times Magazine)

 

On Ramp: Two Christians Talk about Race

All of these are fantastic and only about 15 minutes long. So far, Shane Blackshear and Kerri Fisher have broadcasted episodes on privilege, stereotyping, diversity, implicit bias, levels of racism, lasting impacts of Jim Crow & slavery, and white supremacy. Find them all here.

 

Pass the Mic (put on by Reformed African American Network)

Defining White Privilege

Defining Systemic Racism

Roundtable: How to Be a White Ally

(And so many others)

 

Shalom in the City

Megan Tietz (on intentionally sending children to failing schools)

 

Truth’s Table–Coming this spring! (Hosts Michelle Higgins, Dr. C. Edmondson, and Ekemini Uwan)

 

Village Church

Justice and Racial Reconciliation panel (following July 2016 shootings)

 

Video:

Verge Network 7 Part Series on Racial Justice (includes interviews)

What Dark-Skinned People Will Never Tell You (5 min.)

13th Documentary (now on Netflix)

 

What does it mean to be a white ally? Here are 80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

Articles from the Web:

Talking to Our Kids about Race:

Children’s Books to Help Talk about Race with Kids  from an Alabama Public Library

What White Children Need to Know about Race, by Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli for the Independent School Magazine

5 Ways Parents Pass Down Prejudice and Racism, by Danielle Slaughter for Huffington Post

18 Children’s Books with Characters of Color, by Joanna Goddard for her blog, A Cup of Jo

55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, by Mrs. G at Here Wee Read Blog (and another great list from the same site). Follow her on Instagram for more great book ideas.

 

In the Church:

An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church, from the Black Girl in Your Pew, by Ilesha Graham for Huffington Post

Watching 81% of My White Brothers and Sisters Has Broken Something in Me, by Yolanda Pierce at Religion Dispatches

38 Resources to Help Your Church Start Discussing Race Today by Missio Alliance

 

White Fragility:

The Sugar-Coated Language of White Fragility, by Anna Kegler for Huffington Post

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People about Racism, by Dr. Robin Diangelo for The Good Men Project

4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears, by Jennifer Loubriel of Everyday Feminism

 

The POC Perspective:

Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City, by Nikole Hannah-Jones for The New York Times Magazine

A Letter to My Son, by Rev. Otis Moss III for Huffington Post

Lacrae: Humility is the Key to Understanding Race Relations: Guest Essay, by Lecrae for Billboard

My President Was Black, by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Washington Post

30 of the Most Important Articles by People of Color in 2016, by Zeba Blay for Huffington Post

 

Take Action:

6 Things to Do When You Live on White Island,  by Leslie Verner at Scraping Raisins blog

25 SOLUTIONS for Police Brutality, by Shaun King

Life After ‘The New Jim Crow,’ by Brentin Mock of Citylab (an interview with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness)

5 Actions White Educators Can Take to Help Make Schools Anti-Racist, by Jamie Utt for Everyday Feminism

 

Race and Trump:

Trump Syllabus 2.0 by N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blaine (an actual syllabus of a course that explores the foundations of “Trumpism”)

 

Websites:

Barefoot Books: Diverse and Inclusive Books

Faith for Justice

Reformed African American American Network (RAAN)

White Allies in Training

Sign up to receive a free weekly newsletter from The New York Times on current racial issues.

[Join BE THE BRIDGE Facebook Group if you haven’t already!]

News, Politics, Pop Culture Sites with a P.O.C. focus

Blavity

Black Politics

Good Black News

VSB (Very Smart Brothas) Washington Post says about this site: “Very Smart Brothas has emerged as a stream-of-consciousness sounding board, an expletive-laden fuse and an absurdist inside joke.”

Books:

Nonfiction:

America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart

Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Let Justice Roll Down

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times

Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right

Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America

Fiction (great for book clubs):

Americanah

The Bluest Eye

Brown Girl Dreaming (YA book)

The Help

Homegoing

Interpreter of Maladies

The Invention of Wings

Invisible Man

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Kitchen House

Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Underground Railroad

 

People of Color to Follow on Twitter
(*also on Facebook):

*Ahmed Ali Akbar

BJ Thompson

Charles M. Blow

*Christena Cleveland

*Deray McKesson

Drew G.I. Hart

*Eugene Cho

Eugene Scott

Ilesha Graham

Jemar Tisby

Lisa Sharon Harper

Michelle Higgins

*Shaun King

Soong Chan-Rah

*Ta-Nehesi Coates

*Traci Blackmon

Tyler Burns

Velynn Brown

Yolanda Pierce

***

We are on a journey towards greater “woke-ness.” As allies, partners and justice-seekers, we do well to heed the words of Rev. Traci Blackmon:

“… the invitation to the ally is always to follow the leadership of those who are at the center of the pain. Understanding the situation is not the same as owning the story.

The story matters. And choosing to work toward liberation of any kind requires a commitment to support the narrative of the ones who own the story. The role of the ally is not to lead or to fix. The ally holds the story and amplifies the voice of the story teller.

The ally:

  • Shows up to listen, not lead.
  • Follows the directions of those at the center.
  • Uses privilege to point the spotlight in the direction of the pain.
  • Uses power to disrupt oppression.
  • Does not expect to be tutored on what is easily learned.
  • Knows that the moment is not for them, yet the Movement is about us all.”

 

There is more to learn. Our responsibility is to listen, educate ourselves, dive into the pain and speak when our voices can amplify the narrative of our hurting brothers and sisters. Peace to you on your journey to #staywoke.

~Leslie Verner

 

Check out the first list of resources:  70+ Race Resources for White People

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

80+ MORE RACE RESOURCES for white people

6 Things to Do When You Live on ‘White Island’

Your island is comfortable and for the most part it is safe. Let’s call it “White Island.”

Imagine you live on an island. Your island is small, but secure, and you have everything you need to survive. You have as much contact with the mainland as you want, but can switch off communication at will. You also have the freedom to leave the island to travel to the mainland if you wish. Your island is comfortable and for the most part it is safe.
Let’s call it “White Island.”
White Island is my home right now. My city is 93% white, the ten churches we have visited since moving here over a year ago have been 99% white and all of my neighbors are white. I am a stay-at-home mom of three children, four and under and never truly need to leave a five mile radius from my home unless I choose to. My portal to the outside world—the mainland–is a Smartphone with apps to read the news, listen to podcasts and stay in the social media stream. But that device also has an “off” button.
I can ignore the fact that there is a mainland if I choose to do so.
This is where many white people like me live. And when the news of the happenings “out there” on the mainland begin to disturb us, we simply shut down our portals for a little while so we can move on in peace with our quiet lives on White Island. We have the luxury of an “off” button.
But those who do not dwell on White Island do not have that privilege. They cannot tune out or turn off the news because they are living it.
I never realized I lived on White Island until a friend brought a black baby from the mainland to live on the island with us. It was only then that I realized her non-white son was treated differently than my white children. Soon, I began to stop tuning out and start tuning in to the pleas of those on the mainland. They had been calling out for a long time, but the stations I had frequented weren’t picking up their cries. It wasn’t until I began dialing in to different sources that didn’t originate with White Island that I began to hear a broader range of messages.
I cannot get off of this island right now. But that doesn’t mean I am powerless. And it doesn’t mean I must live in ignorance of the mainland. So what can those of us who feel stuck on White Island do?
1. Listen and learn.
Before we speak or act, those on the mainland have asked that we research the problem—with humility. Michelle Higgins said in a recent podcast that “Solidarity looks a lot like humility.” Our black sisters and brothers want us to get buried in their history, pain and struggle before we emerge. They will respect our silence at the beginning as we step down from our leading, teaching, and lecturing and take a seat in the row of desks for a while. So sit down, listen, take notes and do your homework.
2. Find friends who are different from you and visit the mainland.
We will live in greater solidarity with others as we notice that those who are different from us are also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Tears, rage and joy are part of humanity. We will see this as we enter life with someone who is different from us and perhaps begin to empathize. Do you attend a gym, take your kids to a park or work with someone different from you? Don’t be weird, but do be intentional about pursuing a friendship with someone who doesn’t live on your island.
3. Move off the island.
Most places in our country have the coloring skills of a five-year-old who is content to keep solid colors in the lines of the coloring book. It’s time to develop our skills as an artist and dabble in the magnificence of a mixed pallet. This may require that we make plans to move off White Island all together. Find a diverse school for your children to attend, visit a new park, or look for a new church. Research the demographics of a neighborhood before buying a house and be intentional about seeking out diversity.
4. Use your platform.
How many lives do you, your spouse or your kids touch in a day? Who is in your square you interact with on a daily or weekly basis? What do you talk about? How can you cast light on topics some prefer to keep hidden in darkness for fear of offending? How can you use your voice in your particular slice of life to speak out and speak up for those who don’t have a voice?
5. Drench your everyday world in color.
How many people of color do you come across right there in your home? If you are a parent, do your children have books, dolls, decorations or games with people that look different from them? What about you? How diverse is your social media feed? What steps can you take to diversify your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds? Who can you follow who will give you a fresh perspective from the mainland? If you are a reader, how many books have you read by people of color this year? Do you watch T.V. shows or movies or read magazines featuring people of color? The mainland is always reading about and watching stories of White Island, maybe it’s time for us to branch out.
6. Don’t tune out or turn off.

We on White Island must resist the urge to close our portals and pretend the problems on the mainland don’t exist. Yes, sometimes we need to step back, catch our breath and live small. But sometimes we need to gather courage and make space for the pain of other mommies, daddies, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters to hurt our hearts. Sometimes we must open our eyes even when we may prefer blindness.

***
Related Posts:

70+ Race Resources for White People 

The Ugly Truth about Diversity

I once was (color) blind, but now…

An Evening with Bryan Stevenson: Get Closer  

White People Are Boring

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Your island is comfortable and for the most part it is safe. Let’s call it “White Island.”

A Muslim in Our Home

This 4th of July weekend, while Americans attended swelteringly hot parades, grilled hamburgers and sat under a bursting night sky, those in the Muslim world had a holiday and a succession of explosions of their own.  My family was no different from most Americans in the way we spent our weekend, though this year in Colorado our fireworks followed a rodeo and the parade included more farm equipment and horses than anything else.

Perhaps the only difference between our Fourth and yours was that we spent ours with a devout Muslim who is currently living in our home, a close friend whom our children call “Auntie Boo.”  She lived with us for a year in Chicago and is now staying with us for a month after recently finishing her studies in Denver.  We invited her to celebrate the 4th of July at my parent’s house a few hours away in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.   

On our drive home over the achingly beautiful mountains, Auntie Boo and I reflected on the weekend.  Neither of us had experienced a rodeo before and decided anyone who would strap their children to sheep (called “mutton bustin”) was certainly crazy.  She remarked that her favorite memory of the weekend was learning to kayak. But as we talked, I thought about the many events she missed because she was sleeping or didn’t join us for meals.

While we feasted, she fasted.  Tuesday marked the final day of 30 she has been fasting from food and water during daylight hours for Ramadan.  Fasting while in America presents many challenges for Muslims in that others are constantly eating around you and you are awake at night while others are sleeping.  In community with other Muslims who are fasting, she tells me there is nothing like the solidarity you feel, but alone in America, she has felt very isolated.  At my parent’s house, she would spend hours praying and reading the Quran while the rest of us slept. 

As I slowed the car for the tourists in front of us to gawk at a few elk along the side of the mountain, she asked if I had heard the news from her country, Saudi Arabia, over the weekend.  When I admitted that I hadn’t, she told me of the three bombings that had occurred there–one close to the burial site of Muhammed.  “These people,” she said about ISIS, “they are not true Muslims.”

We also discussed the attack in Iraq on Sunday where more than 250 people were killed in a crowded square.  “Those people were simply out in the market preparing for our holiday the next day,” she lamented.  In America, it would be similar to the shopping district in New York or Chicago being bombed on Christmas Eve.  Unthinkable.

As we discussed ISIS, she expressed shock and disbelief over the ways this terrorist faction has managed to “wash the brains” of young people around the world.  In an article in The New York Daily News, Shaun King notes that, “Claiming a religion as cover for terrorism doesn’t make you a genuine follower of that religion. Yelling “Allahu Akbar” (which simply means God is great) before killing people makes a man a Muslim no more than yelling “Hallelujah” before a mass shooting makes a man a Christian.”  The recent attacks on Muslim holy lands further prove that ISIS and Islam should not be equated.

Back home on the other side of the mountains, our friend broke her fast with us yesterday evening and then spent an hour showing us videos and pictures on Snapchat of her friends and family celebrating Eid in Saudi Arabia and around the world.  Doe-eyed women peered out of burkas or more daring women took selfies of themselves in elaborate new costumes or cocktail dresses. Groups of men draped in white cloth with red checkered head dresses chatted on white leather couches and children opened beautifully wrapped presents and envelopes full of money from doting family members.  Candies, dates, cakes, fried bread and Arabic coffee were artistically spread across tables.  Laughing, Auntie Boo said that Pinterest has had a definite influence on the Eid preparations.

Watching the millions of people celebrating this holiday that most Americans don’t even know exist reminded me of the smallness of my world.  My world right now is feeding, clothing and nurturing two teeny people and one big person.  It is getting by on the limited reserve of energy I have as my body grows this new life inside of me.  It is zoo trips, scribbling thoughts in the margins of my days, church, a plastic pool in the backyard, date nights and slow walks to the park.  If I’m honest, I admit that I try not to think about terrorism, bombings or refugees so desperate to survive that they are willing to stow away on boats.  In an age of selective news, I can see what I want to see and hear what I want to hear.  It is so much easier to pretend those people and places don’t exist. 

Until you can’t.   

It’s not until a person from another culture literally moves in with you that your world cracks open and you look up from your narrow view.  It is then that you are reminded that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.  There is nothing like a single relationship to personalize pain and remind you to care about the rest of humanity. 

How many Muslims do you know on a first name basis?  How much would one relationship influence the way you see the rest of the world? 

~~~

Related Posts:

When the Nations Come to You

The Ugly Truth about Diversity

Last Post: Monthly Mentionables {June}

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"If I'm honest, I admit that I try not to think about terrorism, bombings or refugees so desperate to survive that they are willing to stow away on boats.  In an age of selective news, I can see what I want to see and hear what I want to hear.  It is so much easier to pretend those people and places don't exist.    Until you can't..."

 

The Ugly Truth about Diversity

The Ugly Truth about Diversity

I am a white girl in a white city and I would never identify myself as a racist, but how many people of other races would actually call me “friend”?

Until recently, my family lived in Chicago and our neighborhood reflected many colors, languages, sexual orientations and ages. Our apartment building housed a Muslim Indian family and two married lesbian couples. Nepalese women lounged on straw mats at the playground and moms wore hijabs and pushed children in strollers. We were often the only Caucasians at the grocery store as my son and I mingled with grannies who would pinch his cheeks and bless him in other languages. Over the years, I was a teacher in three different schools throughout the city: one was 100% African American, another was in Chinatown and a third was a magnet school with students of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Diversity is what I miss most about living in Chicago.

But though we were exposed to the world’s flavors, colors, textures and sounds, I often felt like an imposter. Was I actually friends with anyone who looked different from me or spoke a different language from me? Had they been to my home or had I been to theirs?

Do we wear diversity as a badge, patting ourselves on the back for being racially diverse without actually entering into any relationships with people of other races and cultures? 

Living in a diverse city may feel hip, but brushing shoulders with someone is not the same as knowing them.

Diversity has become just a trendy word, often devoid of actual relationship.

This year, we moved to a city that is 93% white. Now, I’m wondering how to expose my children to diversity without accosting the first person of another race that we meet and begging them to be our friend.

So why is it so important to have friends that are different from us and how can we make them organically?

When we develop relationships beyond our color lines, the first wall to fall is fear. We fear what we do not know or understand. Personally, I had to overcome my fear of Muslims.   

In 2004, I volunteered to help a missionary family for the summer. I ended up having only one offer–in Tajikistan. I was terrified to go to a Muslim country that was near Afghanistan (won’t I get kidnapped?). But when I finally made the decision to go, my prejudice unraveled. The country was ruggedly beautiful, the culture was fascinating, and the Tajiks were kind, hospitable, and generous. And I quickly found that once I had relationships there, I no longer felt afraid.

Later, I lived for five years in a Muslim area of China, where I visited my students in their homes and shared meals with their families. Even now, when I meet visitors to the U.S. from other countries, I feel indebted to the kindness I experienced from my Muslim friends in China, and am quick to ask them how they are faring in America.

In 2013, I volunteered to help some Saudi Arabian college students practice their English. One of the girls, a devout Muslim, ended up living with us for a year. She ate with us, joined us on vacation and camping trips and babysat our children. She became a part of our family.

She visited us recently and over tortilla soup and bread, she told us how four of her female Saudi friends in four separate large cities have had individuals follow them and tear off their head-coverings (hijabs). She said she no longer wears hers because she’s petrified. This is our dear friend, who my children call “aunt,” so we were livid.

It made the injustice personal. 

Though my children have one person in their life who is of another race, she is the only one right now. And I’m ashamed of that. So how can parents of children living in predominantly homogeneous areas of the country ensure that we and our children form friendships with people who look different from us? 

 
For that to happen, we can’t just stay in the stream we are in, floating along and being swept by the current. We need to turn around and swim against the push. Or possibly, we need to jump out of the water all together and change streams.

One way is to intentionally live in diverse neighborhoods with diverse schools. We can also visit universities near us that have international students, many who will never set foot in an American’s home in all their years in America. Many cities have ESL classes with volunteer opportunities to help international students or immigrants practice English. Every city has enclaves of people who are different from us if we are willing to look.

When we develop relationships, the fear of the unfamiliar seeps away and is replaced by understanding. It is replaced by love. And if we are Christ-followers, we are called first to love God, then to love our neighbors. And we can’t love someone until we know them. 

The Ugly Truth about Diversity


These friendships change our perspective when we hear that another black teen has been shot, because we not only know of someone like him, we’ve had them in our homes and we’ve been to theirs. We have empathy because we no longer hear “single black male,” on the news, we hear “My friend, Justin, who plays video games with me and likes pepperoni pizza.” Or when we hear “Muslim man held under suspicion,” we think, “My good friend, Ahmed, with the belly laugh who likes to tell silly jokes.”

When our friends experience injustice, it gets very personal, very quickly. And though one friendship will not topple the tower of racism in our country, it will cause it to quake just a bit. 

~~~~~~

How many true friends do you have who are different from you?

If you are in a very white city, what do you do to ensure that your children are exposed to diversity?

The Ugly Truth about Diversity



Resources:
Why Christian Parenting Includes Talking to Your Kids about Race

This Shalom in the City podcast hosted by Osheta Moore with special guest, Megan Tietz, the host of the podcast, Sorta Awesome, who shares why she and her husband chose to send their children to failing schools on purpose. 

On Race, Rights & Raising a Black Son: An Interview with Rachel Yantis An interview with a friend about how her perception of race in our culture has changed now that she has to see the world through the eyes of her African American son.

~~~~~~

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The Ugly Truth about Diversity