These are days of renewed racial ferment. Greatly sorrowfully, in no small part, stirred at the price of the violent killings of more black lives. Protests, nationally and globally, against racial inequality and police brutality persist. The crowds, involving thousands upon thousands, form a multi-hued human tapestry spanning generations of city to rural inhabitants from every socio-economic stratum.
Another immediate personal outcome of this turmoil has been increased conversations with my white friends and associates about race.
Quickly, I add that any number of my black friends o’er the years and unto this day have renounced this engagement, saying, in so many words, “I’m tired of trying to teach white folk about race and I resign the role of designated ‘race-relations instructor.’” I get it. This work often appears to be, feels to be a Sisyphean task; one that seems to prove no progress. Indeed, if one begins at the end of the Civil War, it’s been a long time, too long to hear myriad white people, saying, among many things (and oft enough in these words):
“When I look at you, I don’t see color (or race).”
“I don’t have white privilege.”
“Racism ended in the 1960s. Why do you people continue to talk about racism?”
“I’m tired of hearing ‘black lives matter.’ All lives matter.”
“The Confederate flag and monuments are about Southern pride. There’s nothing racist about any of it.”
“I’m not racist, for I have black friends. Close friends.”
“Talking about racism so much is really what divides us.”
As I have written in other places, for some fifteen years, through the course of a life-changing journey of self-discovery, I, daily, consciously have pledged my life, in the name of the love and justice, the unconditional benevolence and fairness I perceive embraced, embodied in Jesus Christ, to be open to encounter with “the other” – any, all who think and feel differently than I.
Surely, those different from me are not only those of other races. However, in the context of today’s renewed racial tumult, my calling does lead me to remain open to conversing with my white sisters and brothers and, yes, at times, taking part with them in uncomfortable conversations about race, racism, and racial reconciliation.
Today, a friend called to talk. She told me that she thought to text or email me. However, considering the nature of her inquiry, short of being face-to-face, she felt the immediacy of voice-to-voice communication to be the better course. I know my friend pretty well, indeed, very well. She is a thoughtful and compassionate soul. A single mother with two children, a daughter, aged 12, and a son, 10.
What follows is (more or less, actually, pretty close to) a verbatim of our conversation, which, she, graciously, upon review of the following text, agreed that I could post.
“I don’t know how to talk about race with my children. I think I need to do it.”
“Your timing is impeccable. Talk with them about today.”
“The nineteenth of June. Juneteenth. An annual commemoration marking the end of institutional slavery in the United States. It has a unique history. I encourage you to look it up. You always can start by consulting Saint Google.”
(Note: “Saint Google” is my appellation for the ubiquitous internet search engine to which many, I think, regrettably, though given its frequency of use, understandably, ascribe omniscient capacities.)
“Okay, I will. I didn’t know about Juneteenth. Paul, I think…I know I need to do this, but help me understand why.”
“N. (her name), let me ask you. When did you teach, N. and N. (her children’s names), about personal hygiene? Bathing. Brushing their teeth.”
“And spirituality. Religion. When did you begin to teach them to say their prayers?”
“The same. Years and years ago.”
“Because all that’s important. Necessary.”
“The same is true of teaching N. and N. about race. It has to do with having them honestly face the world around them. I might say you’re a few years late, but now is better than never. And, by the way, I know you believe in Jesus and I know you believe in equality. You can teach N. and N., through the lens of race, about how good things, in this case, the gospel, can be used to do bad things, in the case of institutional slavery and its aftermath, by leaving out its most significant parts, love and justice, making Christianity a weapon of subjugation.”
© 2020 PRA