“Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Yesterday, my friend April and I took our kids to the beach. It was a perfect day in sunny California- the kind where gentle waves danced, and a slight breeze showed up just in time to offset the heat of the sun at noonday.
While our kids played and began to engage in very serious conversations about how to make sand castles correctly, and what sandwich they were going to eat for lunch, April and I engaged in a very serious conversation of our own. It centered around one simple, but not-at-all-simple question:
How are we possibly going to teach these children to maintain their love for each other in a world that overwhelmingly tells them not to?
April and her family are Black Americans. Our family is Lebanese American and White American of Lebanese and Jordanian descent. We love each other. Like, not the ‘oh-our-kids-go-to-school-together-and-we decorated-for-the-fundraiser’ kind of love. No, we actually really, really love each other. She’s one of the most intentional mothers I have ever encountered and my go-to girl for Christian parenting resources. We both come from pastor’s families and we understand the impact ministry can have on families in a way many others can’t. We are both committed to doing whatever we can to raise godly, obedient, service-minded, Christian children.
And you should see how our kids love each other! The BFF kind of love. They consume themselves with laughter and they play with abandon the very moment they get in each other’s presence. They are clueless that their differences in skin color matter so much to so many in this world.
But April and I are not clueless. We know the day is coming, and soon, where they’re going to figure out that some people think they should stick with their‘own kind’.
They’re going to feel the racist attitudes inherent in the world today. They’re going to be made aware of realities that we simply don’t want them to be made aware.
So yesterday, right there in the Pacific sand, we hashed and rehashed our plan to protect our children from the ways of the world. We agreed to go all-in to teach these kids to look at each other through the same lens that Christ Himself sees them, and all of us. Our plan starts with what we do ourselves. And the prayer that our children keep watching.
St. Paul describes it this way, telling us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
So what do we do?
April and I are both realists and we know simply singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and praying it’ll all go away won’t cut it. We also know that taking on the universe when it comes to racist behavior also means taking on the reality of sin. We will do our best, knowing full well that we won’t do it overnight.
But still, we are mothers. And God entrusted us with babies to teach, so we’ve got to try something.
Here’s what we’ve come up with so far.
1. Watch what you’re watching.
The media is a double-edged sword, my friends. Be hyper-vigilant in what you choose to watch and listen to. Not every media commentator or recording of content provides us with God’s perspective, or even a portion of the whole truth. And the powerful who control the media determine what is aired and what is said. And whether we like it or want to admit it or not, they have myriad agendas that don’t center around peace. Remember, media broadcasting is a very competitive business. The aim is to gain the largest audience, regardless of the content.
Don’t misunderstand- awareness is a critical tool in our arsenal against the evils of racism. Knowing what we’re up against is the first step to overcoming it.
But we have to be intentional in our pursuit of the truth, information, or awareness, to ensure that it doesn’t turn into gluttony. It’s all too easy to over-consume news images, sound bites and reporting that stirs our emotions, but breeds nothing good at all. (Fun fact: Did you know that the news outlets are actually classified not as news, but as entertainment? Check in your cable guide menu.)
Stop re-watching the video clips on Facebook. Decide you won’t participate in one more online forum that bashes one side or the other. Seriously, stop the cyber-fighting. You want to be heard? Find a way to partner with FOCUS, North America (focusnorthamerica.org), or IOCC (iocc.org). Those guys get stuff done when it comes to changing the lives of people. Let your voice and impact be heard there.
2. Stop thinking about your own perspective so much.
Listen. The fears and concerns are real. Yesterday, April shared a story of her friend whose son used to be constantly approached as ‘the single cutest baby that ever was’ just a few short years ago. But now, as a pre-teen of color, his mother watches with a sadness as people around him display a bit more trepidation, caution and suspicion of him. She is fearful of what it will look like when he’s 18.
I also shared my fears. Fears of being of Middle Eastern dissent and married to a man with one heck of an accent. I told her about an Edward Said book I once read that stated: “The last permissible racism here-and by permissible, I mean it’s okay publicly in the media and elsewhere-is to be racist against Arabs.” The truth in that statement still freaks me out.
The fears are real.
But seeking first to understand, and then to be understood is a powerful way to see another’s perspective. And it can’t happen if we’re constantly consumed with only telling our story, and repeating our perspective. Try stepping into the shoes of the other first.
Christ came to save all of us, Jews and Gentiles (like the Canaanite woman) alike. Our end game is to look, act and behave like He did. Emulating Him means thinking of and serving our brothers and sisters – first. There’s plenty of time for us to tell our story later.
3. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
Faithtree offers a workshop called “The Art of Fighting” that addresses conflict resolution, and in it, we talk about being like Jesus Christ by focusing on the needs of someone else. We are most like Him when we turn our focus outwards. That often requires forgiveness, which certainly isn’t easy when issues of race play out.
But think of that moment when Christ, on the Holy and Life-Giving Cross calls out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).
Even in the midst of scourging, blood, beatings, mockery and all His pain, He didn’t focus on His needs. Or on being heard. He focused on every man and woman He came to save.
Like Him, we’re also called to focus on loving our enemies. There are people who would spend a lifetime yelling hurtful perspectives at the top of their lungs. We could spend a lifetime opposing those perspectives with our own. (See Matt. 5:44.) We are called to love them anyway.
4. Remember, It’s a Process.
April and I agreed that this wasn’t an easy season for any of us. We agreed that only through prayer, and by welcoming the guidance of the Holy Spirit will we make it through these crazy times.
But we have to try.
We have to practice flexing our forgiveness muscle. We may have to bite our tongue; a lot. We have to take confidence in the reality that our God is sovereign. We have to choose our words and intake of information very intentionally.
It will take time. It will take great commitment. It will certainly take prayer. But the more we practice it, the better we’ll get at it.
We can’t pursue Him and do it any other way. And God willing, our pursuit will be seen by our children. Because we all know, our kids are watching.
And just maybe, when they see us engage in the pursuit of loving all of God’s children, it will be second nature for them to do the same.