I remember the first time I heard the “n” word. I was young and still in my elementary days, I believe. My family was on our way to a much-needed vacation. We were driving down the road in a town far from home and then I heard it – the “n” word. In the moment, I had no idea what that word meant.
And, the impact on me as a small child didn’t come from the fact that my grandpa uttered that word. However the thing that impacted me is still having an impact on me today. The thing that made me sit up and take notice was the moment after my grandpa said that ugly word…when my dad spoke up and corrected him.
My dad…a middle-aged, white man spoke up against racism in that moment. And the thing that speaks volumes to me today is that he didn’t have to. He could have kept silent. No one would have known. It would have been “easier.” But he chose to speak up and speak out any way. And, that had a profound impact on this white guy from Indiana that still impacts the way I live and lead today.
My wife is black. My in-laws are black. And, my children are black. That puts me in a place that most white people cannot find themselves. Especially in light of the recent tragedies that we’ve seen in our country. I don’t have the “luxury” that most of white America has to be able to be removed from the impact of this recent round of shootings.
I have people all around me…family…that are devastated emotionally and are finding themselves dealing with feelings that span from anger, to hurt, to fear, to sadness and mourning. Truthfully, I’ve felt many of these things and have found myself wondering what it all means for my four children, in particular.
I want to make some basic observations that I hope will give everyone perspective…
- There are differences between the races – and that should be ok. It should even be celebrated. In our attempt to create “sameness” between the races, we’ve erased any remnant of individuality and when those cultural differences surface, we find ourselves thinking that there’s something wrong or dysfunctional or, even worse, destructive.
- Racism comes, primarily, in two buckets. There’s the racism that many of us have only seen in movies – which still exists today, unfortunately. The kind where people are hateful, mean-tempered, and angry. Then there’s the second kind which is far more subtle. It’s the kind where those who do it are far less aware that they’re engaged in racism at all.
It’s the one where someone doesn’t get the job because they’re not as “articulate” as the other guy. Or, someone doesn’t get the car loan because someone that “looked” like them didn’t repay the loan before. It’s the one where someone starts their story with the race of the other person even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. It’s the one where we immediately assume that someone’s behavior is a given based on the color of their skin.
- Being uneducated about this issue can be very dangerous…for us all. What I’ve seen on social media this past week have been largely uneducated opinions and comments from people who are speaking as though they are informed. And, they may think they’re informed. Usually because they have a black “friend” or they went to a school where there were a lot of black people. But proximity does not equal understanding. Just being near someone who is different than you does not make you an expert on race relations.
What does it all mean? The truth is, I have NO idea. All I know is that one man changed the world for me because he stood up to injustice and intolerance. One man taught me what it meant to love others and always assume the best about them. One man showed me how to stand for truth in the face of ridicule and retaliation. And, I want to ask you to do the same.
Also, check yourself for the 3 things that I listed above and see if any are true about you. Do you celebrate differences or do you find yourself judging others because they don’t live like you, work like you, make decisions like you, discipline their children like you, dress like you, look like you, talk like you, and so on? Are you someone who recognizes even the most subtle racism in your life or do you find it difficult to accept others into your deepest circles of life? And, lastly, are you a person who is educated on this topic or are you isolated and insulated to the point that you can’t imagine why the events of this past week are even an issue?