I have a podcast interview coming up this month in which the host would like to discuss my new book, The CULTURE Challenge. As his protocol entails, he emailed me a list of questions he will ask me during the interview. Upon reading the email, I was immediately caught off guard by question number one.
“I notice in your bio you start with ‘as a young biracial child.’ Why is that? Why did you feel the need to address race?”
As I continued reading, he explained the reason for asking and shared a little about his own struggles–especially ones that come along with being in an interracial marriage. Ah ha! That makes sense, I thought to myself. I can dig it … and I appreciate where he’s trying to go with it.
Although this interchange happened weeks ago, that specific question keeps circling around in my mind. Of course, my own memories of identity struggles surfaced as I recalled feeling “stuck in the middle” at times. But a part of me knows it goes much deeper. And now, it seems like those dusty, race-inspired pieces of this invisible (yet somehow very visible) puzzle are coming together like never before.
Today, my personal memories of racism (against my family and me … from both Black and White people) violently swirl around in my mind. These memories sometimes override other thoughts, as they demand more attention and yearn to be used for good. So here we are.
I was about 7 or 8 years old, and our family friend was babysitting me as usual. She was hip, fun, and much older than me; I looked up to her. Listening to her talk about boys and life was the ultimate honor in my little eyes. I never once gave a second thought to the fact that she was White.
That evening, she called me over to the recliner she was sitting on and asked for my hand. As I gave it to her, she pointed to it with her other hand.
“You see this?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Dirty” was the next word out of her mouth.
She proceeded to point to her own hand and asked the same question … then boldly declared it “clean.” She told me I was dirty because of the color of my skin, but she was clean.
My adoptive family was White, too, and had never told me such a thing before–this was new news to me. But my mom’s way of trying to protect my already fragile heart was to brush it off when I told her what she said to me. When others would stare at my parents and I in public (and they did … often), she would tell me, “it’s only because you’re so beautiful.” I don’t fault her for not having deeper or “better” talks with me about race as we encourage today. She meant well and already had her hands full with all my emotional baggage, not to mention with my wild hair. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel beautiful, and the cruel adoption comments that eventually came from some of my peers didn’t help either.
More recently, my oldest son and other fellow students experienced blatant racism at the “Christian” school he briefly attended. At first, I gave the staff the benefit of the doubt until we met with the principal who openly admitted to his wrong comments. Yet, in my son’s previous school (which was a public school – we later returned him to), the teachers there truly cared about him and still do now. We’ve gotten to know some of our local cops around here who care deeply about him too (as well as caring about other young Black kids in this community). You better believe I still teach him that all police are not kind so to always be wise and careful. We use wisdom and still prepare him for the “rest of the world out there.” But ultimately, we trust in God and are always praying for the protection of all our children.
We prepare him because racism does exists, but living as if things and people groups are all bad or all good is quickly leading us into more trouble. You would think racism, at a Christian school? Never! Or a White cop truly having a heart for ALL people and becoming a police officer merely to protect and serve his community? No way!
But just as I have witnessed racism from one side, I’ve also seen it from the other side. Before I share more memories, please understand my experiences can differ from the experiences of a darker-skinned woman/man and vice versa. Even if we are all classified as “Black” by some, our experiences can and do often differ … and it’s been like that ever since the days of slavery.
While on vacation one year, another biracial friend and I decided to go to the movies. As we walked near the theater, a group of Black girls probably around our age, yelled over to us.
“Oh, they think they’re cute cause they light-skinned and got that good hair,” they scoffed. They laughed at us. They mocked us. I’ve always wondered … did we do anything to cause that? I was hurt. They didn’t even know us!
During one of my very first conversations with my son’s paternal grandmother, (a lively old-school Black woman), she made a statement I’ll never forget. After telling me how disappointed she felt when her late son told her how young I was, she proceeded to praise the fact that “at least I wasn’t White.”
“I told my son he can do anything in this world, but one thing he better never do is bring home a White girl”, she said proudly.
I know her mindset, upbringing, and culture were different than what I had known, but I was floored. After all, I was half White! Those beautiful, caring people who took me in as their own to love and raise me were White! Along those lines, I saw a post recently about a Black woman who joyfully adopted several White children. I couldn’t help but wonder, why don’t I hear of more Black people adopting White children? Why not adopt these innocent White babies and raise them to ‘not be racist’ – for the greater good of society if ‘White people are the issue.’ My mind continued to race and ponder on the various ways we are all failing, especially as the church.
When I first met my biological father (who is Black), I loved visiting his house. The sound of gospel music always warmed my heart even though I didn’t personally know Jesus at all then. One day, he gathered me and my half siblings in the living room and got out the Bible. He turned to Revelation 1:14, brought it over to me and said, “Jesus was Black. Look, right here, do you see this? Always remember that he was BLACK!”
I remember feeling confused, not because of the Catholic-style image of Jesus on my parent’s bedroom wall, but because I didn’t understand why it mattered so much. From the little I did hear about Jesus up to that point, it sounded to me like he didn’t make the impact he made because of the color of his skin.
As a biracial woman, I’ve been told by White people that I act too Black, and I have been told by Black people that I act too White. Today, I act like ME– a daughter of the King, whose identity is in Him and in Him alone. I live to please the One who created me, not for the approval of others. God is the One – the only One – Who can and does determine that which is “dirty” and “clean” and as far as I’m concerned, He has made me new. I forgave that sitter and all others who have offended in this area. That woman was clearly taught to think that way as we are all broken and bleed our issues onto the next generations.
Again, yes, racism exists, and yes, we should have healthy and fruitful discussions about it. Even more importantly, in this world full of so much noise and deception, we should make sure we are properly educated and cautious about what we believe. The more we research history and God’s word for ourselves, the more we can sharpen one another and make true progress.
This is why knowing God on a personal level and living a spirit-led life is so important. Martin Luther king was a praying man and was extremely effective in his approach. He also understood that at the end of the day, the human heart was the issue. It’s prideful, and it’s deceptive—mostly against our very own minds. Even with all the progress he made and long after he’s gone, we find ourselves here. So wrapped up in our own mess that many people can hardly sleep at night. We just suppress our pain and fears by popping all kinds of pills and spewing hate. The good old days of surviving “hard talks” and coming out stronger and wiser are few and far between.
These times we are living in are worse than ever, and will get worse over time even if there’s small windows of calm in between. But our job, as Christians-as those who have found our identity in Christ is to act out that identity. Our skin colors, political views, and everything else should first fall under that God-given identity. Otherwise, we make those things idols, and we get swept up in the giant waves rather than being the hope-filled lighthouses we are called to be.
And as we divide more and more and build our walls higher and higher instead of serving the Savior who came to knock walls down, we only feed the problem. I’ll say it again – things will never be perfect on this side of life because the human heart is the real problem (mine included).
To sum it all up, this country has needed prayer long before all this tension, and it still needs prayer now.
Prayer for every person standing on American soil of every color, background, age and belief.
Prayer sent to the One who loves and created us ALL.
God help America.