Does Talking about Race Perpetuate Disunity?

Some evangelicals question the need to talk about race. Didn’t Christ erase our dividing lines? Aren’t we all one in Christ? Doesn’t Jesus want us to live in freedom, and not in (white) guilt and shame?

Yes, Jesus came to bring freedom to all who know Him. But when society does not treat people of color as equals, the church must speak up.

Sometimes we need to acknowledge brokenness before we can begin to move toward unity. We need to name it. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We sit, we listen, and yes, sometimes we speak.

It’s time for white evangelicals to enter the race conversation as advocates, friends and allies. Ignoring the race question is like pretending the mountain doesn’t exist because it is shrouded in fog.

Since completing a one-month series on race during the month of March, many people have asked me how I felt about it and how it was received. Honestly, it was one of the least satisfying projects I have ever completed. Writing daily about race opened doors that only led to other rooms with more doors. Talking about race is never a finished conversation, always just a beginning. A person is never fully “woke.”

Most of the feedback I received was from people of color giving me a thumbs-up for having the guts to even enter the conversation. They were surprised I would venture into volatile territory since most white people who engage in this conversation have stakes in it—they’ve adopted a child of color, married a person of color or live in a very diverse area. I’m a white woman living in a white bubble. If I wanted to, I could go on with my life without a thought to race. Except I can’t.

A few friends pushed back on my series, asking, “Isn’t discussing race just divisive?”

Though some may argue that pointing out inequalities is unproductive and even unchristian, I believe silence perpetuates abuse. Last week there were several hashtags causing waves on Twitter. #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear and #WhatWoCWritersHear revealed ways women in general and women of color specifically feel undervalued, overlooked and diminished as writers. In speaking truth, we blast the darkness with brilliant light. As we bring ugly, buried sin into the open, it loses its power. It’s time to talk about the scary aspects of our society and our humanity.

Though it’s uncomfortable, naming our pain unleashes the power it has over us. We cannot move forward in relationship when we carry unspoken offenses. There is no sisterhood or brotherhood without trust. 

Here’s the truth:

“One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.” –Just Mercy, (p. 15)

One in THREE black male babies are expected to go to jail or prison.

The book Divided by Faith, a highly-researched book on evangelical’s views on race, concludes that the white perspective often dismisses institutional and systemic racism. Most white evangelicals do not acknowledge that we currently live in a racialized society. The authors push back (with documentation for each sentence):

They claim this perspective misses “that whites can move to most any neighborhood, eat at most any restaurant, walk down most any street, or shop at most any store without having to worry or find out that they are not wanted, whereas African Americans often cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans can be almost certain that when stopped by the police, it has nothing to do with race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that whites are assumed to be middle class unless proven otherwise, are not expected to speak for their race, can remain ignorant of other cultures without penalty, and do not have to ask every time something goes wrong if it is due to race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans are far more likely than black Americans to get a solid education, avoid being a victim of a crime, and have family and friends with money to help when extra cash is needed for college, a car, or a house.” –Divided by Faith (p. 90)

God’s love sets us all on equal ground. But when American society does not, God’s love should be the fuel that sets his children on fire for justice.

I cannot speak for any one race—my own or anyone else’s. But I’ve been listening. And this is what I hear.

I hear my black sister say society calls her less beautiful, more intimidating and less intelligent than a white woman.

I hear my black brother say he feels unsafe.

I hear parents of adopted children of color say they need to have complicated conversations at an early age.

I hear my mixed race friends asked, “What are you?”

I hear white people say they don’t see color.

I hear the church say we have different cultures, worship and preaching styles, so we shouldn’t attempt to integrate on Sunday mornings.

I hear my black sister experience microaggressions as she is told, “You are so articulate.”

I hear white parents say they value equal education (until they consider sending their child to a failing school).

I hear white evangelicals say we are already equal in Christ, so we don’t need to belabor the race issue.

As of the 2010 census, the United States is 72 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic (included with other races), 13 percent African American, 5 percent Asian and 3 percent other races (U.S. Census Bureau). Race is and will continue to be a conversation as the U.S. becomes increasingly more diverse. Squeezing our eyes shut will not make this problem go away.

Followers of Jesus should be on the forefront of the race conversation. We should advocate for equal treatment, housing, justice, education and rights for our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. When others are silent, we should speak out. But we also must follow, listen and learn.

Solidarity demands a posture of humility.

Yes, we are called to love God and rest in who we are in Christ as representatives of the Imago Dei. But we are also called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And perhaps loving our neighbor means entering some uncomfortable conversations and spaces for the sake of love. It’s time to admit that just because we can’t see the mountain, it is there, looming behind our white fog.

***

How is God calling you to enter the race conversation?

(Consider joining the Facebook group Be the Bridge to Racial Unity to learn more about how God is moving in this sphere.)

***

I was recently interviewed on Anita Lustrea’s podcast, Faith Conversations, about the series “31 Days of #WOKE” and how that series came to be. Check it out here. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please leave a comment below (or if you are being accused of being a “BOT,” you can send me a comment via Facebook or my contact form–that seems to be working!)

Related Post: Wake Up, White Church

**This post includes Amazon affiliate links

Waiting for Life to Start

Waiting for Life to Start

A dove sits on her nest in the planter by the window. My brother in California sends us frequent (unsolicited) text updates on the soft grey mama bird. We see her from every angle. She waits in her manmade jungle, watching. Resting. Sitting. Protecting. A sacred vigil.

Five years ago I, too, waited for new life. It was about this time of year in the spring when I first felt the “quickening” of life fluttering in my womb. It felt like a fish nose bumping against a plastic bag won at the county fair. Life tapped my insides, reminding me I wasn’t alone. I housed a treasure.

I shared the dove’s intense desire to protect, guard and be vigilant. No poisonous food or misstep would harm this baby on my watch.

It was my pleasure to wait.

Now, three babies later, I wonder if mama dove feels isolated. Does she wish she could flit on the wind like her peers? Does she miss swooping down over the ocean at twilight? Does she resent having to stay close to home? Does she feel lonely?

And yet blood, bones, feathers and features are forming beneath her warm body. She is immobile, but not unproductive. She has less control than she thought. But miracles are happening in spite of her motionlessness. Or perhaps because of it.

Soon her nest will be full of noise and movement. Scrambling bodies demanding more food, touch and attention. No time to watch the wind or long for a day at sea.

Last week we received another picture text. Mama sitting still, awake and alert. I glance at my phone in line at the grocery story, wrangling kids and bagging groceries with a baby hanging off my body. In the parking lot, I check my phone before pulling out. My mom replied to the group text. “BABIES!!!” I scroll back to the photo, zooming in. Sure enough, three wet heads with large black eyes nestle under mama bird. It happened.

Messy life erupts from darkness.

***

What are you waiting for?

Do you believe your waiting is accomplishing something?

Perhaps newness is developing quietly. Silently. As you sit right where you are.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes

When Writing Feels Like a Waste of Time {for SheLoves}

On a rough day, my husband will cheer me up with a dozen yellow roses. For some reason, it’s often before we go out of town, so I immediately think how we will receive a sad, wilted welcome when we return from our trip. It feels like a waste of beauty.

How many days and months go into cultivating a single yellow rose? Daily sunlight, water and fertilizer encourage it to grow. At just the right moment, it is snipped, sold and carried from the store by some well-meaning suitor or lover (or more likely, a female who treats herself to this little luxury every once in a while). All for what? To sit on our crumb-laden kitchen tables for a few days, splashing our rooms with color and assaulting our senses with scent only to be thrown in the trash within the week?

Sometimes this is how publishing a piece of writing feels. When I think about the days, months and years that have preceded putting my thoughts into words, then the hours of molding and shaping them, coaxing out the beauty, the grace, the deeper meaning, it reminds me of these roses. I am the gardener and yet I also decide when my words are ready to be cut and offered to the world. When my offering of words is welcomed, I smile. And yet how quickly the glory fades as my article is overlapped by another, then another, then another article until what felt like vibrant, fresh and life-breathing words become faded and forgotten.

So is writing (without monetary compensation) even worth it?

***

Last night I tried out a complicated new recipe. I sipped red wine, dancing between the recipe on my computer screen and turning up the volume of the “evening acoustic” album on Pandora. My husband wrestled with the kids on the rug in the living room while I chopped onions, garlic and peppers to toss into the simmering oil in the pan. He took the kids out for a dusk walk and I relaxed into the smells, sounds and feel of a kitchen in use. When they returned, we washed tiny hands, strapped kids into high chairs and bowed heads to pray in spite of spoons banging and feet kicking.

If you’re a parent, then you know what came after this seemingly magical moment.

“Yuck,” my son said, pushing his dish away. My daughter picked out a few pieces of food, but also declared my meticulously prepared meal “yucky.” My husband and I finished eating in less than 15 minutes and just like that—after nearly an hour of preparation–it was over.

But here’s the thing. Even though the food was underappreciated, consumed quickly and the process will need to be repeated tomorrow and the next day, it was still worth it. Why?

Because the process of preparation fed my soul. The meal gave us a reason to sit down together as a family. And it provided nourishment for the hungry ones at the table.

Just like your writing.

As you write, God is working out what He is working in you...

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 30: Talking Race with my Southern Mama {31 Days of #WOKE}

Talking Race with my Southern Mama

 

My mother grew up running through the orange clay of Buford, Georgia, a small town northeast of Atlanta. Though I’ve heard stories about their beloved black maid, Sadie, her father’s house calls as the town doctor and her attending boarding school to avoid the chaos of integration, I wanted to know more. Especially now, as I’m discovering the cost of a whispered history. We sat in her home in the mountains of Colorado this afternoon and had a chat while the kids napped.

Me: Do you remember specific ways you saw segregation in Buford?

Most of the blacks lived on one side of the train tracks and the whites lived on the other. I really don’t remember seeing many black children. We all kept to ourselves and went to different schools on different sides of the city. My dad was a doctor and I remember there being separate waiting rooms for whites and “coloreds,” as we called African American people then. My dad’s nurse, Katie, was black, though, and she was a close friend of our family. I don’t think she had much education, but was trained by my grandfather, who was also a doctor.

I don’t remember much overt racism growing up, but I do remember it was illegal for African Americans to even go to the next county over, Forsyth [We stopped and looked up more information on this at this time and found this Fresh Air podcast about the racial cleansing that went on in Forsyth county in 1912.]. Once when we were driving through Forsyth with my dad’s black nurse, Katie, I remember she had to lie down on the floor of the car because it was illegal for her to even be in that county. She also came on vacation with us, which always felt a bit clandestine because it wasn’t like she could even eat in restaurants with us.

Me: What was the perception of Martin Luther King, Jr.? What do you remember hearing about him? How did you feel during the Civil Rights Movement?

It was a bad time. I can’t believe my mom even let us kids watch the news during that time. Although he was respected for his non-violent stance, I just remember my mom telling me that it wasn’t going to end well for Martin Luther King, Jr. because the cops certainly weren’t taking the same nonviolent stance. I didn’t do any marches at that time, but I did do a march later when we lived in Florida for MLK day to become a national holiday. I remember the private Christian school your brother went to for a while voted not to observe MLK day.

Me: Can you tell me more about your house help growing up?

So our main interaction with African Americans was through our maids. Sadie was our maid for 23 years and was like family to us. The day my father told us she had terminal pancreatic cancer was the only day I remember my father crying. We loved her.

She would come to our house every day from 9 AM to 5 PM except Wednesdays and Sundays. We all came home for lunch since our school and my dad’s office was so close and we’d have traditional southern food. When we ate, Sadie would sit in the kitchen just a few feet away while the rest of us ate at the huge round table. Sadie would also do our laundry, clean and come on Saturday mornings to make us pancakes. Since I had four sisters, I remember her chasing away neighbors who were bothering us with her broom. We always hated Wednesdays when Sadie had the day off because the house just felt emptier somehow.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized Sadie couldn’t read or write. I also eventually found out she had a daughter being raised by relatives in the north. Because she worked full-time with our family, she wasn’t able to take care of her daughter.

We went to Sadie’s funeral in the black church when she died. We were the only white people there and they had us sit in the front row.

My best friend growing up also had house help. Their family was even more well-off than ours, so they had a live-in upstairs and downstairs maid. And their maids wouldn’t just put the food on the table for them to eat family-style, but would serve them at every meal. They also had a chauffer.

My aunt and grandmother had house help, but they would mostly just clean for them, not cook for them like ours did for our family.

Me: Do you feel like the portrayal of house maids in the book and movie The Help was realistic?

Yes, it was. In that movie, the help wasn’t supposed to use the bathroom in the house. Our maids did use our bathroom, but my wealthy friend I was talking about had a separate bathroom in the garage. And your dad’s grandmother in Jackson, Mississippi, had a bathroom out in the shed for her house help.

Me: What do you remember about the schools being integrated?

It was my junior year of high school and instead of continuing  in the public schools, my mom decided to send me to a private boarding school. There was just a big fear that the schools would be violent when they went through the transition to integration. My sister who was five years younger than me did eventually attend the public schools and observed some violence, but it wasn’t as bad by the time she graduated. I don’t remember there even being many black people when I went to college at the University of Georgia, though I’m sure there were some.

***

Check back tomorrow for the last post in the series! (Woot!) I’ll be doing a bit of rehashing, reflecting and ruminating on how to move forward from here.

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.

Image: By Esther Bubley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

*Includes Amazon affiliate links

Day 29: Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids {31 Days of #WOKE}

I had this conversation yesterday with my 4 1/2 year old son and 2 1/2 year old daughter. They had never read this book before and were excited to read it together. Here is the truncated transcript of the video of us reading the book together:

 

[Look at the cover of the book Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.]

Me: “This book cover has lots of different kinds of kids on it. How do they look different? What are they doing?”

Son: “Silly things!”

Me: “Like what?”

Son: I don’t know. She’s all dirty and laughing. And she is …. no one knows. He’s playing pirates.”

Me: Do any of these kids look like you guys?

Daughter: That’s E and that’s me!

Me: The pirate and the girl with the baseball cap? Do any of them look like you guys?

D: That one looks like me.

S: That one looks like me. Cause it has white skin. That means it’s me.

Me: But is your skin “white”? This is white, right? This cover [pointing at white duvet cover]. Is your skin the color of this?

S: But what is my color? [lifting up his shirt] Yeah, what is this color? [pointing at stomach]

Me: This is “peach”…is what we call our skin color. But we sometimes call our color “white.” And then what do people call this color? [point at African American kid in book]

S: Black.

Me: But is she really black? Is her skin black?

S: BROWN!

Me: So actually even your skin is even a tiny little bit brown. Do you know why we have different color skin? Because God made us different. We all have something in our skin called melanin. Can you say melanin?

S: Melanin.

Me: And that’s what makes our skin different colors. So if you’re white you don’t have a lot of melanin. But if you’re what we call black, then you have a lot of melanin.

S: What IS melanin?

Me: It’s just like a special thing that’s in our skin that makes our skin different colors. So some people are what we call “white,” which is what we are.

S: Do I have that…that…word? Do I have…

Me: Melanin? Yep, we all do.

S: [High-pitched voice] I have melanin?

Me: Actually, when you go out in the sun, it brings out the melanin, so we can be even darker. In sun sometimes our skin turns even a little browner. So in the summer our skin is more brown.

Me: So do you have any friends that are black? Do you know any kids that are brown colored?

S: One.

Me: Who is it?

S: C–

Me: Yep. So C– has more melanin in his skin.

S: I have more melanin.

Me: You have less melanin.

S: What does “less” mean?

Me: Not as much.

S: I have SO MUCH!

[I laugh.]

Me: Let’s read a book.

[Begin reading the book together, asking questions and talking about the pictures.]

Me: So this girl looks a little different, too. What does she look like? [point to Asian girl in picture]

S: She looks like what?

Me: Well, you know how mommy has some Chinese friends? And we speak Chinese together?

S: Yeah.

Me: So this girl looks Chinese, which means she’s “Asian.” So their skin is a little bit white, but it’s also a little bit brown.

D: Read it!

[Continue reading and talking about the pictures and words in the book. I ask what the kids were doing in the pictures and make connections to our lives.]

Me: They all have different kinds of hair, don’t they? So everyone has different kinds of hair, too. It’s all beautiful.

[Continue reading]

Me: [Point at another picture of a black child in the book.] Sometimes, also, when people have brown skin, we call them “African American.”

S: I found an African American! And another African American!

Me: Uh huh. “African American” is what we sometimes call people.

D: And MORE African American. [pointing]

S: Noo. She’s not African American.

[Continue reading, talking and answering many many questions.]

Me: [Reading end of book] “Because they make the world…”

S: Different Colors!

Me: Different Colors. And different colors is better than one color, isn’t it?

[They ask MORE questions about the pictures–unrelated to race.]

Me: [Finish reading.] “Beautiful!” Don’t you think they make the world beautiful? Just like you guys.

Reflection:

I felt like this conversation went really well. My son already knew the terminology “white” and “black,” though I’m not sure where he got it from (possibly from the hours of podcasts I listen to on this topic …). But it was refreshing to talk about how to describe people in a non-threatening, matter-of-fact way. From now on, I’ll try to be more intentional about talking about race as we read books together.

Have you had a conversation like this with your kids? Do you have any other recommendations for me? I’m sure it’s the first of many talks, so there is always room for improvement!

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

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 28: Two Poems // Teaching in Inner City Chicago // 2002 {31 Days of #WOKE}

teach (2/19/02)

I am afraid of the water.

Cold, murky,

yet others play

freely.

Whether I jumped

or was pushed,

I don’t know.

But I do know

that if

I don’t drown,

I may learn to swim.

 

limbless (2/12/02)

Like the babies born without arms,

without legs;

can I teach them,

pretending they are whole?

Not Civil Rights,

the Kush Empire

or the three branches of government,

but “Please.”

“Thank you.”

“Excuse me.”

“Don’t hit when she hits you.”

“Sit quietly when you are cursed

–when he talks about your mamma.”

As he throws a tantrum over

not getting called on to read about

brown v. board.

“Shut up.”

“I hate you.”

“You look like a black monkey.”

Imagining they are whole

even as I watch them

dismember themselves.

***

For further reading: What ‘White Folks that Teach in the Hood’ Get Wrong about Education

Day 27: A Lesson Plan for Talking to my Preschooler about Race for the First Time {31 Days of #WOKE}

“Kids do see color – and when parents ignore it, the lesson children learn is that diversity is something too scary to talk about.” –Kristen Howerton on Rage Against the Minivan Blog

Why is it important for white parents to talk to their kids about race?

People of color have these kinds of conversations with their children early and frequently, while white people often avoid discussing race with their children altogether. Many of us were taught not to talk about race in favor of being “colorblind.” But it turns out that colorblindness does more harm than good. Instead of raising tolerant children willing to build relationships across color lines, our silence forces our children to draw their own conclusions.

Several articles mentioned that just as you would not just wait for your teenager to learn about sex from the internet or friends, you should not wait for your children learn about race from an untrusted source. As parents, we are the first line of defense in fighting prejudice and racial bias in the next generation–through our children.

The more we talk about race with our kids, the easier it will get. Kids are not naturally awkward; we parents are the ones who need to overcome our fear and anxiety. Here’s my first attempt. I wrote a lesson plan. Because I’m a nerd. (And also a former teacher.)

A Lesson Plan for Talking to my Preschooler about Race for the First Time

(Age 3-5)

Objective: To equip my 4 ½ year old son and 2 ½ year old daughter with the vocabulary to talk about skin color in a positive way.

Materials:

Dolls of various skin tones

Books: Any book including characters of various races will do (don’t choose a book specifically about race—the purpose of this lesson is to normalize race, not talk about racism—that will be for a future lesson). Dr. Vittrup recommends using All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Got Our Skin Color, by Katie Kissinger.

Optional: Skin-colored crayons

Activity 1: Books

Before reading, ask my kids questions about the appearances of the people in the pictures on the front of the book.

“What is the same about you and them? What is different? Do you know any people that look like this?”

Teach the word “melanin”: (“any of various black, dark brown, reddish-brown, or yellow pigments of animal or plant structures (as skin or hair”)

“Every person’s skin has different amounts of melanin in it, which makes their skin a different color.”

“God made every person on earth and called them ‘good,’ so every color of skin is beautiful.”

“What color is your skin?”

“Our skin is peach or very very light brown, but sometimes people call it ‘white.’ That just means you have less melanin in your skin.”

“Sometimes people call those with more melanin in their skin ‘black.” Everyone is really just different shades of brown.”

Read the book together, asking them to describe the characters throughout, using the descriptive words we talked about.

Activity 2: Dolls

Pull out the dolls and look at them together.

“What color is your doll’s skin? Do they have a lot of melanin or a little?

 

Application: Use the skin-tone-colored crayons to draw pictures of themselves and their friends or color in a coloring book. Talk about race throughout the week as we encounter different characters in books.

***

My kids are away for the weekend with my parents, but I’m hoping to have this conversation with them in the next couple days. I’ll let you know how it goes …

Additional resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race:

This post from the site Raising Race Conscious Children has tons of examples of scripts to explain difficult topics to kids of a variety of ages.

And this post from the same site has a great list of strategies to use in talking to our kids about race.

How Children Learn Who’s In and Who’s Out by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson for Redbud Post

Day 11: Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race from Scraping Raisins

How to Not (Accidentally) Raise a Racist on The Longest Shortest Time Podcast interview with Dr. Brigitte Vittrup. The show notes for this podcast have a ton of great ideas for books and videos to watch to help educate yourself and your children on race.

**Contains Amazon affiliate links

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 26: The White Savior Complex {31 Days of #WOKE}

 

At first, she was scared of my white skin. But I know we will learn each other. We are bound together by spirit and our humanity. And now, by cloth. I feel like mothering all of this country's children. I was chosen for this! #babygotback #mybackthatis #tickettoride #morningworkout #trim4Him #squatdatot #notmybaby #yet
barbiesavior At first, she was scared of my white skin. But I know we will learn each other. We are bound together by spirit and our humanity. And now, by cloth. I feel like mothering all of this country’s children. I was chosen for this! #babygotback #mybackthatis #tickettoride #morningworkout #trim4Him #squatdatot #notmybaby #yet

In her recent memoir, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, former missionary Amy Peterson proposes that it is time to retire the word “missionary.” Why? Perhaps because the word carries vestiges of imperialism, colonialism and the white man conforming the “heathen” to his culture and way of life. It also perpetuates the white savior complex where the white person swoops in to save the day such as in films like Dangerous Minds, Avatar, The Blind Side and The Help. (Which I tried and failed to do my first year teaching in the inner city.)

A popular Instagram account, called Barbie Savior, capitalizes on this theme, showing a Barbie doll in a variety of exotic settings followed by humorous hashtags: #imagiver #igivetopeople #andijustkeepgiving #justlikethegivingtree #exceptiambetter #thesetshirtsaresohotrightnow

The word “missionary” is certainly a loaded word.

Our new church is taking a short term missions trip this summer. Equal parts of me groaned, but also longed to take off for a week this summer to travel to Nicaragua. As someone who has been on short, medium and long-term missions trips, here’s my take on the matter of missions.

On a 5-week trip to Tajikistan in 2004.

1. Short-termers can do a lot of harm.

I won’t harp on this, but when you go into a place without knowing the culture or language, you can create a lot of chaos. (Read The Poisonwood Bible for many examples of what NOT to do—this should be required reading for missionary hopefuls. Also, see my post on The Problem with the Wordless Book.) Many short-termers go on trips to build churches or other structures, but in reality know nothing about building and take jobs away from locals.

Sometimes short-term trips can harm the work of the full-time missionaries. I lived in a remote area of China that had a very large Muslim people group. We had numerous Christian groups come through and talk to Imams at the Mosques and people throughout town, then leave us in a wake of new suspicion from the government. Being a Communist country where missionaries were not allowed, this behavior put our positions at risk. In addition to this, hosting large groups of short-termers can distract long-termers from the work they need to be doing and be very draining. Planning for meals, rides, accommodations and work all while using another language in another country is a lot of work for the long-term missionary.

On a one-week trip to Central America.

2. In spite of this, there is still value in doing short-term trips.

I decided to go into full-time missions because of a short-term mission trip I took with my youth group when I was 16 years old. I don’t think I would have made that decision otherwise. I now see short-term trips more as “vision trips” than anything else. They are an amazing opportunity to expand your worldview and see firsthand what God is doing in other cultures around the world. Even though they can be very expensive, I think this window into another world has life-long implications for westerners experiencing an entirely different way of life. Because of this, I would still encourage anyone to go on a short-term trip.

3. Long-term is better.

Any sort of sustainable mission work is only sustainable because of the longevity of the relationships built over months and years of trust. Learning the nuances of language and culture takes more than a week-long crash course. It requires being immersed for a long period of time. Once you have survived the waves of culture shock, you can begin the hard and sometimes life-long work of making friends and earning a right to share your faith or introduce new ideas for community development.

4. Empowering locals is best.

I still think local people are usually more effective at helping those within a culture than a foreigner would be. Many missions organizations now have this view of training local people and working themselves out of job. This is a broad statement and dependent on the kind of work, but a Chinese can best explain the Bible to another Chinese. A Ugandan will trust another Ugandan more than a white face. And a Nicaraguan will understand where to buy building materials, communicate with contractors and how to complete work on a project in cheaper, more effective ways than a white missionary.

***

Our Spiritual Hierarchy

Those in the church need to be careful about creating hierarchies within Christianity. Growing up, I believed missionaries were at the top of the spiritual hierarchy, then pastors and those involved in domestic full-time ministry. So naturally bankers, construction workers, servers and stay-at-home moms were at the bottom of the spiritual totem pole. You can read more about my journey stepping off the missionary pedestal here and here.

Youth groups and college ministries often perpetuate this myth of the missionary hero as they play intense music, show emotionally moving films and then follow with messages about not wasting your life by getting a normal job and buying a house when you could do the real kingdom work and be a missionary. Why would you want to waste your life when you could make your life count for God?

Now I realize the danger in emotionalizing the call into missions. Many people are on the mission field who do not belong there. And if there were less sensationalism surrounding missions, perhaps the average person might actually be able to see themselves there after all.

I still have a love for other cultures, languages and countries. I would still rather go than stay, but I also know that the subject of missions is not as simple a topic as I once believed.

Amy Peterson concludes: “The word missionary has become more problematic than helpful. Instead of describing reality, it blurs our vision and limits our imaginations. It has outlived its usefulness, and I vote we give it a proper burial” (Dangerous Territory p. 207).

I have to agree.

***

Have you ever done a short term missions trip? What did you learn?

In what way did your “whiteness” impact your ministry positively and/or negatively?

 

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.

Image: Barbie Savior Instagram

**Contains Amazon affiliate links

Day 25: Divided by Faith {31 Days of #WOKE}

I have a confession: I choose my Twitter friends based on the color of their skin. Admittedly, this is reverse racism of sorts, but it is the best way I have found to hear the thoughts of people who are underrepresented in my daily life.

Since the election, the collective cry resounding from my Twitter feed is that people of color feel angry and scared, but also betrayed by the white evangelical church, who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump.

I picked up Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America at exactly the right time. Divided by Faith is a highly researched book digging into the racial divide in our country, but especially as it pertains to the evangelical church. As a culture geek, this was exactly the analysis I was looking for. The book digs into the history of race relations in the church in the United States including the responses of “the greats” like D.L. Moody and Billy Graham towards the racial inequities of their time.

In a national survey of over 2,500 Americans, only 4 percent of white Protestants named racism as an issue. In contrast, a third of African-American Protestants cited racism, with one-quarter naming it as the single most important issue for Christians to address.” (p. 87) The book confronts this discrepancy head-on.

Here are some parts of the book that stood out to me:

“Most evangelicals, even in the North, did not think it their duty to oppose segregation; it was enough to treat blacks they knew personally with courtesy and fairness.” (p. 75)

Early leaders developed four major steps to achieve racial reconciliation:

  1. “Individuals of different races must develop primary relationships with each other.”
  2. “People must recognize social structures of inequality and that all Christians must resist them together. These structures include … unequal access to quality education and housing.”
  3. “Whites, as the main creators and benefactors of the racialized society, must repent of their personal, historical and social sins.”
  4. “African Americans must be willing, when whites ask, to forgive them individually and corporately. Blacks must repent of their anger and whatever hatred they hold towards whites in the system.” (p. 54-55)

Divided by Faith emphasizes the individualism of white evangelicals, pointing out that most do not recognize structural racism. This paragraph gives a good summary of the findings of numerous surveys and interviews conducted by researchers of this book:

“Because the vast majority of white evangelicals do not directly witness individual-level prejudice (with the exception of some relatives who used the “N” word occasionally), the race problem simply cannot be as large an issue as some make it to be. Granted it was a problem in the past, and a residue may remain today because orginal sin remains, but the race problem is not severe. A number of respondents, as a result of their isolation and cultural tool kit, stated that the race problem was overblown, exaggerated by vested interests. A common theme was that the media exaggerated the race problem.” (p. 81)

“One consequence of thoroughgoing evangelical individualism is a tendency to be ahistorical, to not grasp fully how history has an influence on the present.” (p. 81)

“After hundreds of years of efforts, far from being brought closer together, white and black evangelicals, and Americans in general, are widely separated, perceiving and experiencing the world in very different ways.” (p. 88)

This letter from the book exemplifies why I am writing this series:

Letter from Christianity Today, 1971 (p. 57)

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

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.