A Mother’s thoughts on Racism, Culture and History

I have a strong case of “I don’t want people to misunderstand me, so I will stay out of social media.” And that leads me in most cases to stay silent. But I realize that I can’t stay silent all the time. I have to engage. I have to stand for love and truth and compassion.  My heart is crushed by the hatred and anger that I see in this country. I am sad that I am seeking to raise my 5 children, including two bi-racial girls, in such a polarized culture. I feel completely inadequate to help them navigate it.  I don’t feel like I have enough wisdom or knowledge; I know I am white and have had power and privilege that I did not deserve—privilege that I didn’t even see for so many years, but took for granted.

Some things should be obvious: Racism is Wrong—flat wrong. It is sin. Hatred is wrong. Jesus equates it with murder. And sadly, it results in murder, as we just saw in Charlottesville. It makes me so angry when people who claim to know Jesus judge others out of their blind hatred, ignorance, and pride. I am shocked when I hear that some white supremacists claim to be Christian, and yet they think and act the way they do. My prayers are going out daily to the families of those who were injured in the act of terrorism by a white supremacist this week. We must condemn extremists like this.

But we must go farther. We must not hold the concept of “racism” as something only white supremacists do. I hear so many people say “I am not a racist,” and then post a nice article on Facebook displaying disgust at the horrible acts going on to prove it.  Yet if we are going to heal as a country, we must do more. White people and people of privilege must humble ourselves and ask ourselves what assumptions WE make and what ignorance WE have about the various “others” around us. I still have so much to learn about many cultures that are represented in the town I live in. When I see someone from a different background than mine do something that I don’t particularly like or feel comfortable with, I need to have enough humility to realize that much of my perspective is culturally informed, not informed by any true “right” or “wrong” standard.  As a Christian, I do have the Bible as a standard for guiding me to the truth, and I do believe it gives some clear moral imperatives—but those are not embedded in any one culture, and they don’t encompass things like how you should express yourself or sing or wear your pants or decorate your home or eat. Even as a “non-racist” white person, I still must humbly realize that my narrow perspectives and my ignorance can lead to prejudice and judgment if I am not careful. I must realize that the way I say things can really hurt people and lead to more division and misunderstanding between races and cultures.

Yet it also makes me sad when people try to overly politicize these real problems and horrible acts, and use them to label political parties as a whole. Lets call out hatred as evil, but not use it to label a whole group of people.  I am not Republican or Democrat—I am a follower of Jesus; THAT is my primary identity, and that is all I need to condemn racism as abhorent.

Individual people are messy and complex. Unfortunately, in our sound bite and “yell at the other side” culture, we often don’t have enough space, time or trust to seek to distinguish between principles that should be straightforward like “Racism is evil,” and details that are harder to simplify, label and dismiss.  For example, the backgrounds and nuances behind the motivations of people who choose to affiliate with certain political parties are incredibly complex. Even as an Independent, I am afraid of getting labeled on Facebook; Hence, my largely silent Facebook life.

If you know me, you know that I am a woman of nuance. I love seeing both sides. There is a reason that, as a lawyer, my career started by working for a judge for two years. I love to listen to both sides and really try to understand. And you know what?  It is almost always complicated when people are involved.

My experiences in life since that first legal job have only confirmed this. Participating in foster care and adoption have made it all the more real for me.  The foster kids I have had in my home do not have bad people for birth parents.  Every birth parent I have met and known loves their kids. Even when I have agreed with a judge’s decision to not return a child, I have been sad right alongside the birth parents, because there is such tragedy and loss in their lives. So often it is because of patterns set into their lives early on that were out of their control, launching them on a painful and destructive path. Knowing that humbles me and gives me compassion.  It is a simple and irrefutable truth that abuse and neglect are horrible and wrong; we must protect kids from the hurt and damage that results.  Nevertheless, in the reeds of Family Court cases, it is incredibly complex how and why these kids’ birth parents ended up parenting the way they did.

Our polarization and problems in this country are similarly complex.  Racial hatred is inexcusable, and we must condemn it strongly every chance we get! Yet the history that led us to where we are today is incredibly complex. As I studied US History with Isaiah this past year during home school, we listened to a great lecture series from The Great Courses that drew out those complexities well. We had so many good conversations about how different groups of people thought during periods in our country’s history, and why they were blind to other groups’ perspectives. There are many people in our history that make my skin crawl to read about (e.g., Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson). If I am honest, our current President often makes my stomach lurch too. That said, many, many more of our historical figures had both a lot of good and a lot of bad about them—even many of our heroes.

I think the solution is to teach MORE history. We must realize just how broken we are as a country, and that it is nothing new. Especially as a white person, I must not neglect to teach my children about the atrocities done to Native Americans. I must teach them about slavery and the fact that precious people were treated as less than human, beaten and abused, and denied even the chance to pursue justice. I must tell them about the horrors of Nazi Germany, when those in power brainwashed a whole people to find it acceptable to seek to wipe out Jewish people and experiment on and murder the disabled. I must tell them about how fear during WWII led people in our own communities to imprison Japanese Americans. I must teach them about the murders, beatings, fire hoses turned on peaceful protestors, and myriad of examples of voter intimidation that happened during the Civil Rights movement when my parents were growing up.  And I must teach them that—even in my lifetime—I have seen governmental structures perpetually disadvantage groups of people, and have seen fear lead to the mistreatment of Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, Native Americans and others.  So much of our history is tragic. But we must learn from it. We must remember what humanity is capable of so we can call people to intentionally avoid it. We don’t have to guess at what hatred leads to—history shows us. If you really study history with thoughtfulness, you cannot help but realize that we are not so different from the people who made all these mistakes—who believed lies, abused power and privilege, and sinned against their fellow humans.

Lets fight against racism and evil, and as we begin to plumb the depths of these problems together, lets seek to remember that we are broken people, each in need of compassion and grace.