“Am I Black?” This question has echoed in my mind since it was so loudly projected from the mouth of a little boy (approximately 5 years old) to his parents as he sat with them and watched a portion of a video about the middle passage at The Griot Museum of Black Historyin St. Louis, MO. The innocence and complexity of his question is what wrenches my heart. In this beautiful world, it would be great if slavery never existed and if African American parents and those of other ethnicities never had to share with their kids the atrocity of their nation’s past. In particular, their decision to treat certain people inhumanely. This little boy could not understand why, in his own words, “only black people were treated this way…” He actually asked his parents, “where are the white people?” His mind could not process the reasoning behind the variation in treatment. They spoke honestly and with lots of grace; not with malice or slander, but with love for their son and his tender, impressionable mind. I am not a parent, but I commend these parents for walking gingerly with their son to help him understand his history and the importance of valuing all human life. This indeed was one of the most precious moments I’ve experienced recently in our racially charged society that wants to dismiss the impact of years of oppression on people groups.
For the past few days I have juxtaposed this little boy’s simple question with the recent events in Orlando, from the #PulseShooting to the shooting of #ChristinaGrimmie. I love the city of #Orlando and I’ve been grieving with those in my hometown. My community and people that I love and know are hurting deeply. We cannot understand the senseless act of these shootings.
The beauty I beheld as this little boy asked this question was profound. You see, he didn’t “know” he was black because his experience as a little black boy was just as it should be. He has not yet known what it is to be treated differently because of his skin color. I am not sure that I want to wake him up from this dream.
As a follower of Christ, I believe the church is called to make this child’s “ideal perspective” more of a reality, but we have to first deal with the sin in our own heart. The reality that we just may be treating people differently because of their skin color. Sunday is still a very segregated day in our nation. The reality that we, the church, may be choosing not to get to know people because their lifestyle(s) don’t align with our beliefs.
People are more than their ethnicity. They are more than their sexual identity. Oh that we would learn to live and love one another as people. Not as pretentious, external, superficial, descriptors such as race, gender, and economic status. This week in the wake of the Orlando tragedies I believe I was granted a gift from God to spend time in Colorado with a couple who co-founded a non-profit, which is making a difference in the lives of children who are aging out of foster care. The gift for me was that although I “knew I was Black” in Colorado, I didn’t “feel” Black when spending time with their family. I held tightly to this feeling because it was refreshing. Typically, “feeling Black” when I am the minority means that I am treated as inferior and presumed weak. To be in a community where I am clearly an ethnic minority (Colorado isn’t particularly racially diverse) and to be welcomed and loved as a person first, is a gift I treasure. There might have been second glances from others as I sat around the table with this couple, their daughters, and a friend, at a local eatery, but at that table we laughed together and enjoyed each other’s company in earnest. And although I am not their daughter, I felt protected by this couple in an incredibly beautiful way. This was a dose of authentic love.
If there was a gift that I could give to those who’ve experienced marginalization, it would be the gift of authentic love. To authentically love allows us to accept people as a part of God’s beautiful creation. There is no doubt today that I am proud to be black. But if I am honest, I have had to fight for this freedom of pride in my ethnicity, namely the darkness of my skin and kinkiness of my hair and all that I’ve been told that this represents in our western society. What I have recognized recently is that fighting for freedom of an insecurity can be costly. It can mean rejection from those that love you. It can mean career assassination. It can mean depression and sleepless nights. I do not presume to understand the fight of those who are in the LGBTQ community. What I do know is that I would like for #America and at times, those in the church, to stop making presumptions about their character and worth because of their sexual identity alone. This is nonsensical. Seriously. We are people first. Let’s treat each other as such.
I grieve with all of the families whose loved ones lost their life during this tragedy. I grieve with those in the LGBTQ community who feel the palatable weight of being targeted because of their sexuality. I grieve with the family members of the shooter who may now be treated differently because of what he did. I grieve for the christian church who has yet to learn that we all share a mutual brokenness as people; we are all in need of a Savior (Jesus Christ). Those who are black are in need. Those who are white. Those who are heterosexual. Those who are homosexual. Those who are wealthy. Those who are poor. Those who are human are in need. As we have a greater understanding of this need, we will lower our personal pedestals and stand together as people.
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15