Thursday, July 7, 2016

Say Something

I haven’t been able to write much since Asher’s birth. The reality of two kids has hit like a freight train (super awesome, really cute, rewarding freight train), and I am left exhausted at the end of each day with so much to say and share but no energy left to do it. I made a pledge to myself the other day that I would start making time for writing again after Bradley’s birthday later this month. He will be two, and Asher will be four months. Surely by then I will have a few moments in the day to call my own. Right??

But then this week happened, and I cannot make it to Bradley’s birthday without speaking. Without saying something. At so many moments in recent years, I have wanted to write about this, but I have shied away. Lord knows there have been countless opportunities. But I am nervous to write about it. I feel (because I am) completely unqualified. But I have to at least try.

Because there is so much that needs to not only be said, but heard. And not just heard but listened to, chewed on, wrestled with and taken to heart.

This week, we have seen two more black men lose their lives at the hands of police in what appears to have been egregious use of excessive force.

As a human being, this saddens me. As a Christ follower, this breaks my heart. And as the mother of a brown-skinned boy, this terrifies me beyond words.

You see, right now Bradley is this adorable, smiley, squishy almost two year old. He is precious and eager to love this around him. We can’t go anywhere without someone telling me how beautiful he is. And I agree. But one day, he will be 16; he will be 30. He will be a grown black man in a country with a tilted perception of him.

Years ago I attended a class at an adoption conference called “What African American Moms Want You to Know About Raising Black Children.” It was one of the most eye opening hours of my life. But the thing that has stuck with me the most was said at the very beginning. The woman moderating the class began by introducing herself, and then she said something I will never forget.

“I know you look at your baby and you think ‘Oh, my little Ethiopian baby’ or ‘Oh, my little Congolese baby,’ but I want you know that when the rest of the world looks at your baby, they think ‘That child is black.’”

Those words sank deep down into my heart. I knew they were important, crucial to us attempting to parent outside of our race. But what did they really mean?

Honestly, at the time, I had no real, tangible idea. Why? Because I am white. I never have to think about my race. I never have to worry about how people in positions of authority will view me because of my fair skin and freckles.

That is my privilege as a white person.

This was made abundantly clear to me one day when I was driving home. From 2010-2014, Adam and I lived in a part of Birmingham known as East Lake. East Lake is a predominantly African American community filled with people from all walks of life. Birmingham as a whole is still very much trying to regain her feet following the Civil Rights movement, and nowhere is that more apparent than in this dear community that still holds a special place in our hearts.

One day I was cutting through the back part of our neighborhood on my way home when I came to a four way stop filled with police officers and detectives. I thought there must have been a raid of some kind. But as I rolled to a stop, a detective approached my car and asked for my license and registration. I asked what was going on; he told me it was a warrant stop.

I gladly handed over my license and my insurance card (remember, he asked for my vehicle registration). The detective looked at my license and asked if I lived in the neighborhood. I told him yes, and he seemed surprised. He then laughingly asked me if I had killed anyone lately. I responded, “Not today!” He laughed, returned my documents and waved me through. As I drove through the intersection, I noticed that every other driver was made to get out of his or her car. These cars were searched and licenses were run. And then I noticed something else. Every single other person at that stop had brown skin.

I, the only white person on the scene, was waved through without incident. Without even giving the correct pieces of documentation to the detective who stopped me.

I pulled into our driveway a few moments later and just sat in a state of disbelief. In a powerful way, I had just been confronted by my own privilege. My whiteness had bought me a pass to not only get through that stop without being searched but to be allowed to joke with the detective without ANY fear of being misunderstood.

That, friends, is white privilege. It is real.

And as I write this, I look at my precious, brown-skinned Ethiopian on the baby monitor, asleep and completely oblivious to all that is happening today. I look at my son, who has already suffered so much loss, and I know that his life will be different than mine. Harder. His experiences, not only with law enforcement, but likely with teachers and even parents of his friends. I know that my daughter will enjoy advantages that will likely be denied to my son. Where is the justice in that?

I imagine Bradley at 16, driving home from a football game or a party and being stopped for speeding or rolling through a stop sign or failing to use his turn signal. In that moment, my white privilege will not extend to him. What if, in that moment, he reaches into his pocket to get his phone to call me to tell me what happened? That officer, who has every right to pull him over if he is breaking the law, will not see my son as an Ethiopian who was adopted by white parents. He will simply be a young black man. And what I am seeing in the news these days makes that reality a terrifying one.

Please know that I am in no way anti-police. I am so thankful that we live in a nation that provides law enforcement, that our police officers do not have to be bribed to do their jobs, that the VAST and overwhelming majority of our officers strive for justice as best as they can.

And while what we are seeing in the media right now is racial bias from law enforcement, it is absolutely everywhere. It is in our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches. When my husband was a teenager, he and his black friend were turned away from a church event. I have heard educators talk about leaving certain teaching positions because “the blacks” were moving in. Yeah, you read that right. Racism is not dead.

But it is not enough for me to feel fear just because my son is African. My deep sadness comes from the reality that each human being on the face of the earth was made in the image of God and yet we continue to classify one another, even if we do it subconsciously. We bear the image of the most high God, and yet we battle for superiority. We label and buy into the systemic belief that one race not only could but should rise above others and that those who belong to that class are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. While those who belong to the minority are assumed to be one certain way from the start. As a Christ follower, I simply cannot accept that. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us that there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no man nor woman under Christ. I believe with all of my heart that God created our differences and most certainly celebrates them, as they reflect unique aspects of His own character.

So what I want to ask here is for us all to take a long hard look at ourselves, at our perceptions and preconceived notions. I want us to be willing to admit that things need to change. Being white is not bad, and I fear that so much of the defensiveness and push back we see from the white community is somehow rooted in the belief that things like #blacklivesmatter somehow mean that whiteness is wrong. It isn’t. That if you are white, you should be ashamed of your whiteness. You shouldn’t. All races and ethnicities were designed and created by God. Each one is beautiful in its own way. What we all need to work on is actually seeing and believing that.

There is so much more I need to work through and process, and I hope that I can do that here again soon.

With deep love,

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