It seems as much as I try to avoid conversations about the ugliness of our race relationships in America, the more I have to talk about them. Honestly, I’m tired! I no longer want to struggle to convince some people that evil exists, and treatment toward nonwhites in America is a problem. It seems as if every aspect of our lives are consumed with the dysfunction of the race relations in America. From social media post to sports talk shows, from the corporate offices to the church, we are all inundated with the racial divide: Black Lives Matter vs All/Blue/White/Everybody’s Lives Matter, and White Supremacy/Neo Nazism. It’s non-stop, ever-consuming, and no social ethic seems to solve the problem of the color line (see The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois). I no longer want to struggle to convince some people that evil exists, and treatment toward nonwhites in America is a problem.
Last night, however, the conversation came from an unexpected place: my ten-year old son. Each night as I tuck him into bed, he normally asks a question about what the next day will hold: “Can I eat lunch with him?, Can he ride his bike to school instead of walking?, What time will I get home from work?” Yet last night, he asked me a question that caught me by surprise.
“Why do some White people think all Black people are mean, especially when many of them are the mean ones?”
“Huh?”, I questioned.
“I know it’s not all of them, because my friends and their parents are nice,” he continued. “But a lot of them are mean, Dad.”
His eyes were sincere. He pointed out that when he sees videos of the past, whites are beating, punching, and cussing at blacks. He noted how he’s gotten in trouble at school for things some of the white kids do not. More importantly, he wanted to know why we have to be nice to them when they sometimes choose not to be nice to us. I’ve had conversations with him before about some of the issues that we face in America, and even watched documentaries and movies touching the issues of race, but never has the conversation been as personal as last night. I must admit, I was a bit angry.
Angry because I remember the racism I experienced as child, as a teenager, and as an adult. I grew up with friends who were white, black, Asian, and Hispanic, and can recall the social barriers set up by our racial difference. I, too, remember black and brown students getting expelled from school for issues that some of my white peers got slaps on the wrists for. I remember my white friend’s grandmother slamming the door in my wet face as I sought refuge from a storm that overtook me on my walk home because “the boys couldn’t have company!” And in that moment, last night, with concern in my son’s I eyes, I was angry. Angry because he has to experience, on a different level, but similar experience nonetheless, the same things I did, my father has, and my grandfather before him: mean white people!
The words I said to him, however, did not fully agree with what I wanted to say. I wanted to tell him that some white people are evil, and they have been made to feel like they are superior to every other race on this earth. I wanted him to know that if someone puts their hand on him, you put your fist in their mouth! To hell with “turn the other check”, we going “eye for eye!” I wanted to tell him that we are nice because retaliation in any way will more than likely end in jail or death. I wished that he wouldn’t have to feel the way he did in that moment: confused, concerned, and conflicted.
So what did I say?
I reminded him that he is a prince… My prince! That God has equipped us to be a royal people, full of peace, forgiveness, and love. That we will work twice as hard to be considered half as good but that doesn’t matter because our worth is not validated by anyone but God. I reminded him that in his blood is greatness, and that greatness will radiate no matter how mean people are to him. I encouraged him to treat every person with love, regardless of their actions toward him, because real change in this world can only happen when the darkness of evil is illuminated by love. I told him that the battle with certain people is not ours to fight with our fists but to slug it out with love and prayer. I told him what my faith guides me to do… but it was hard.
And while I could see in his eyes that he probably preferred my first thought, he understood my response. He understood because he’s watched me model it for him. He has witnessed my actions toward others, he’s listened to my sermons and bible studies, my interactions with my white colleagues and church members. He’s seen the love and respect granted to me by my peers and colleagues for the stances I take. He’s witnessed how I handle conflict, and even in my most frustrated moments, he’s seen my reliance on God to carry me, keep me, and guide me.
It is because I spoke what matters instead of what I felt that White America, you’re welcome. You’re welcome because we as a race, for the most part, have decided to stand on love when we received hate. You’re welcome because we teach our children to be nice when you are mean. You’re welcome because when we want to beat the brakes off of you and everyone connected to you, we choose good because something inside of us knows evil only begets evil. You’re welcome because the conversations we have late nights in our bedrooms, in our barber shops, at our social events, and our chat rooms, don’t materialize into the hate you’ve given us. Even if some of you never admit it, you know we have a right to be mean, to retaliate, to hate… but we don’t.
Who really knows but God? Religion? Fear? Maybe it’s a moral compass grounded in a love that is convinced there is no other method by which an evil heart can be transformed. Perhaps God has endowed us with the Spirit that liberates, that loosens the chains of injustice, releasing those captive to hate and selfishness, and speaking the truth that demands change. For centuries in America, Blacks (and brown and yellow) Americans have sought tirelessly to uphold the creeds of this nation while being considered less than equal. And we’ve done it well. We haven’t given back what we have received, we give better… YOU’RE WELCOME!