I remember so vividly the moment I met my son. Rushing home early from work, I barged through the back door and laid my eyes on the most beautiful, tiny, precious soul I'd ever seen. Child Protective Services had just left, dropping this little stranger off with my husband, and in a few weeks, we would bring his twin brother home from the hospital. With our decision to adopt, we knew that our family would look different—particularly because we were a white couple adopting twin boys who were black. We were prepared to encounter the occasional, overt, "crazy people" racism from those who didn't agree with our family. We were not expecting, however, to have our eyes opened to the complexities of what it means to be a black male in America.
I know, from experience, that many of you reading this are starting to feel uncomfortable or have some defensiveness growing inside your heart. I could address that by writing about all the disparities between how different races are treated in equal circumstances, give you fact after fact, post links and bar graphs and refer you to studies to look up. I could talk about how a resume with a “white-sounding” name attached is 50% more likely to lead to an interview than an identical resume with a “black-sounding” name or how black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than their white friends. The truth is, none of that information will change your heart if you aren’t willing to listen and consider someone else's lived experiences—to empathize with their struggles rather than rehearse your objections.
I understand the difficulty of what I'm asking of you. I was raised in a lower-class white family, where my dad made $12 an hour to support his wife and four children. More than once in middle school, I had more money in my bank account than my parents did. I remember being made fun of because we could only afford to shop at garage sales and thrift stores. I remember listening to Rush Limbaugh talk on the radio about how affirmative action was actually reverse racism. My parents weren't able to help put my siblings or me through college, so we each had to work for what we had. Because of how I was raised, I held the belief that people just needed to stop complaining and start working. “We all have the same opportunities! This is America, after all,” was a common refrain in my family.
His grace has allowed me to see that, deep down, I had been elevating my culture and preferences above that which was different.
But I wasn't partial; I wasn't prejudiced. I didn't have any black friends growing up, but that was because they weren't around. It wasn’t because I was unwilling to befriend them. Yet I remember becoming more alert and aware when several black men were walking by me in the park. But that wasn’t prejudice; I was just using discernment. When I looked to buy a house, I sought one in a predominantly white neighborhood. It wasn't biased; I just felt more comfortable there and thought the property values would be a more stable investment. When I heard words or phrases that I didn’t understand, I thought maybe it was an education issue. The justifications I would subconsciously rehearse to myself were endless, and I expect many of you could add your own. But no one wants to admit to being prejudiced. Because “prejudice” and “racist” are big, scary words. They're evil, and they're surely not for any of us, right? And yet, the gross majority of us are completely comfortable living within a society where black and brown people have, historically and systematically, been suppressed, silenced and taken advantage of, and in many ways still are today.
Until the Lord began to soften me, I wasn’t able to see myself as prejudiced. His grace has allowed me to see that, deep down, I had been elevating my culture and preferences above that which was different. I didn't feel the weight of my biases because the way I felt was how everyone around me felt. I didn't even see myself as biased or as having a preference because I was surrounded by a culture that looked like, acted like and thought like me. A culture that continually affirmed and reaffirmed to me that my way of thinking was “normal” and everything else was “otherized.” That's what’s scary. I know how invisible systemic racism can be, how easily and effortlessly it hides in white culture. The problem is so deep and so rampant that it's nearly undetectable, unnoticeable because it's seamlessly woven into the fabric of who we are, and most of us have the privilege of being completely unaware and unaffected by it.
I am thankful to the Lord for making me aware of such privilege. He began to expose that privilege the moment I laid eyes on my sons. It's not because of my sons that I care about racial justice; but rather, it's because of them that I have been able to see the injustice I was previously blind to. I’ve learned that there is remarkable power in nearness and relationship. Indeed, all of the facts and information in the world seem to pale in comparison to even one such relationship. For me, that proximity to my sons has brought clarity. That proximity has allowed me to pause long enough to consider and see the plight of another. And now that I’m seeing it, I can’t be silent about it.
A love that looks not only to my “own interests, but also to the interests of others,” a love that considers “others more significant” than myself.
In continuing to become more aware of the racial injustices embedded in our culture, I have been brought consistently back to the gospel. Indeed, the gospel shows me a radical love, where my Savior set aside His deity and privileges and came in the form of man (Phil. 2:7), that He might bring those who were far off into relationship with Himself (Eph. 2:13). Scripture tells us that, in Christ, we are one body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12), yet disunity and racial separation in churches is nothing new. In fact, Jesus directly addressed the issue with the Israelites in Luke 10:25-37, when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Through it, we learn who our neighbor is and how we ought to love them.
This is the love that I want to mirror. A love that looks not only to my “own interests, but also to the interests of others,” a love that considers “others more significant” than myself (Phil. 2:3, 4). In my life, this has looked like confessing and repenting of where I have settled for comfort and familiarity, where I have elevated my cultural preferences and believed them to be more valuable than the preferences and experiences of others. Luke 3:8 says to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” meaning, godly repentance moves beyond a changed heart to changed actions and the continued pursuit of truth. As I pursue truth, I am continuing to grow in humility, striving to be one who bears the burden with and walks alongside those who have been wronged. Albeit imperfectly, I want to be one who lets “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)—in my church, in my community, in my home and in my heart.
Confronting and questioning my preferences, my prejudices and my own privilege has been—and continues to be—a needed pursuit. Christ's bride, after all, is not primarily American or white—far from it. We know that Christ has broken down the wall hostility, uniting both Jew and Gentile as one people (Eph. 2:14). And Revelation 7:10 says that there will be a multitude of ethnicities and cultures and languages represented in the new heaven and new earth who will stand together—as one body—before the throne of the Lamb, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” May we look forward to that day with hope and expectation and may we live today as a picture of what is it come.