Before I became Pearl's mama, I liked to think that I was colorblind. I liked to think that was a good way to be. My high school was about 155 miles from Podunk, and I remember once that in my junior or senior year (16 years ago) there was a huge KKK rally planned for the outskirts of town. Many of the black, white, and Native American students in my community raged against it. We made red, white, and black braided bracelets. We wrote letters to the editor of the local newspaper. We were activists, doggone it, and we wanted everybody to know that we were all the same, united, and the haters could just canoe on downstream.
I liked to think that "we are all black in the dark," and that the color of one's skin doesn't have any impact whatsoever on who they are as a person.
What I was thinking was, race doesn't matter.
And that was fine and lovely and made me feel all progressive and such. Because, after all, there are a lot of people who do think race matters in a bad way. They think white people are better than black people or they think black people are better than white people. And that's so terrible in every way, right? So if the choices are that race matters in a bad way or race doesn't matter, then we are supposed to choose race doesn't matter as moral human beings.
That was where my heart and mind had settled on the race issue.
But then I became Pearl's mama. And gradually that point of view, the dismissal of race, felt hollow and empty. Because my baby girl, my daughter, is a black person. She is a person, but God chose to put her soul into a female body with beautiful brown skin and I could no more dismiss the fact that she is brown than I could dismiss the fact that she is a she. I not only want to acknowledge the fact that Pearl Girl is black, I value it. Being Pearl's mama taught me that there is a third choice when it comes to race relations. Race matters in a bad way or race doesn't matter are not our only options. The third, better, option is that race matters in a good way.
Last year I saw this TED Talk about the importance of not being color blind but rather color BRAVE in modern society, and Mellody Hobson nails it.
In teaching me to value rather than dismiss my daughter's race, God has drawn me to the point of yearning for racial reconciliation. There is so much work to be done in America as a whole, but especially the South. The past year has been especially volatile in all the events around the nation involving discrimination and brutality against people of color.
Mostly, the sickness that plagues my race is deafness to what black people have been saying for generations about how they feel and how they are treated and how that impacts every detail of their lives. As white people, we must be willing to listen to our fellow Americans of color and truly attempt to process what they say and feel. It sounds silly to even say out loud, but white people are not the experts on how black people feel they are treated; black people are.
In discussing some of this with friends, African Americans have told me that they are tired of saying these things because it doesn't do any good. They tell me they are afraid to speak out on social media or in their social circles because of the backlash (they'll be labeled as a troublemaker, or angry, and potentially lose their standing or even their employment if they speak up). That makes me so sad, and it reminds me of how John Howard Griffin was a respected member of the civil rights movement because he was a white person. Even though he said the exact same things the black men and women said, the white people would only listen to him because he was also a white person. Doesn't that sound insane? It feels REALLY insane to see that, all these years later, we still struggle with the same problem of listening between races, specifically white people listening to black people when they talk about their hurts and how they feel about the way they are treated today.
I've spent time being part of the problem, but I want so desperately to be part of the solution.
Race does matter, but it matters in a good way. Other than prayer, racial reconciliation begins with listening.
God, help us not only to see one another but also to hear and value one another. Help us to do better. Help us to be better.