Watching How to Train Your Dragon 2. I turn to my kids — “Hey guys, what ethnicity did all of those good guys belong to?”
They look at me blankly. “Umm…. white?”
“And what ethnicity did that one lone bad guy look like?” Realization starts crossing their faces. “So guys, all the kids across our country watching this movie… what kind of message did they get without even realizing it? And what message did all of the mixed-race kids get about themselves, without even realizing it?”
I grew up believing racism occurred in two places only: South Africa and the distant past. After all, as a kid, events of twenty years prior count as ancient history…
Predominantly white school, neighborhood, church. Pretty easy to think concerns about racism must be overblown. I mean, in theory, I really liked black people! I even had a couple of them in my circles. There. Equality. Point proven.
My kids are in highly diverse schools — where no ethnicity represents more than 30% of the student population. And some of my kids are also in middle school, which means they have gained a whole new awareness of groupings. One day, a daughter began to talk me through the racial makeup of each of the lunch tables. The funny-geeky table. The athletic table. The skaters’ table. The popular table.
“Mom?” She eyed me cautiously. “Why do you think all of the popular girls are white or Asian?”
And my mind flashed painfully to my stunning African American friend whose beauty any girl should love to have… and who had prayed repeatedly as a middle-schooler that God would give her white skin.
Little things, perhaps you say. Perhaps I say.
On a hot June evening, a group of devoted Jesus-followers met as they did every Wednesday evening. To open God’s Word and soak it in. Hospitable as a rule, they welcomed the stranger warmly. The lead pastor was there, and four of their ministerial staff and key leaders, as usual, I’m sure. An all ages gathering, one family had four generations present.
I wonder, was that church building hot and stuffy, like the Charleston air outside? Or did its paneled walls create a cool refuge from the heat outside — just as for 200 years they had served as a refuge from the heat of white supremacy around them?
Either way, I think you know the outcome. Hospitality betrayed. A gun reloaded five times. Nine people killed. Unthinkable devastation.
Clementa. Sharonda. Myra. Tywanza. Ethel. Cynthia. Daniel. DePayne. Susie.
I cannot tell any of their stories — of the lives of love and family for which each of them were known, of the young man who tried to place himself between the shooter and his grandmother, of the tremendous forgiveness being extended by their community. Those beautiful, heartbreaking stories belong to those much closer to the pain.
This horror in Charleston is no isolated event. It is one full-fledged manifestation of the wider racial divisions and injustices in our society. It is a conglomerate of the thousands of “little things” that have been normalized in our culture. And what on earth is a person to do against a force like that?
David D. Ireland, pastor of a multiracial church representing 40 nationalities, states: “Racial diversity and inclusion begins in the heart and becomes evident in one’s personal lifestyle.” (1)
John Perkins said it simpler: “Love is the final fight.” (2)
And so, as I grieve and pray for the community of Charleston, South Carolina, I find myself forced to ask what evidences of racial reconciliation can be found in my life? Am I an active participant in the unity that is the heartbeat of God — and that Jesus said would be the attribute in his people which would cause the world to recognize Jesus’ true identity and character? (John 17:23)
Or, by my preference for a comfort zone and for people who seem like me, do I contribute to the acceptance of separation and division among God’s people, along racial or cultural lines?
I am learning to ask myself some specific questions. If you are not white, chances are you do better on these questions than I … and yet, whomever you are, I invite you to ask these of yourself as well…
- What friends do I have who are of a different racial or cultural background than myself?
- How can I grow the intimacy of those relationships? … so that I am more shaped by that person, and by the experiences and perspectives they bring?
- How do my routine environments contribute to the possibilities of building cross-race friendships? Or to more racial isolation? Are there any of those environments I should change to better reflect God’s heart for building unity?
- What ethnicities are represented by the speakers, shows, music, books that I watch & listen to… and am impacted by?
Together, let’s weep and mourn for Charleston… and then let’s get to work building some friendships — that we may truly pray…
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi
Just a few additional resources if you’re interested… and I’d love you to send me your favorites!
- Ireland, David D. “The Skin You Live In: Building Friendships Across Cultural Lines.” (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012), 12.
- Perkins, John M. “Love is the Final Fight.”
- Cleveland, Christena. “Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.”