I’m a White man married to a Black woman. Actually, she’s only 65% Black. She wanted a DNA test for our anniversary and, being the romantic that I am, I got it for her. So we know that 65% of her DNA traces itself to Sub-Saharan Africa.
But the DNA test also shows that 29.8% of her DNA traces back to European descent. It was a shock for her. She sat looking at the test results for minutes with her mouth agape, processing the information. When I asked her a question she stopped me and said, “Give me a minute – I’m having revelations here!” Nowhere in her personal sense of identity and self did she imagine that such a large chunk of her DNA was European. But the world in which we live doesn’t give a hoot. You see – she’ll always be Black here in America.
So here we are; a White man and a (partially) Black woman. And we had the audacity to bring children into the world. So what are they? Seriously – how would you classify them? They’re 65% European and 33% Black. Do you classify them as White kids or Black kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking You, the reader. How do you label them?
We choose not to label them. They’re just our kids. To them, skin color is merely a description of their outward appearance – right now it plays no part in their sense of ethnicity and heritage. They only know that Daddy’s side of the family is “peach” and Momma’s side of the family is (mostly) “Brown.” Descriptively, they see themselves more on the peach side than the brown side. If you were to listen in on my daughter talking about family you would hear her describe herself as “peach.” They don’t have any vested interest or history in skin tone and identity. But the rest of the world does.
I find it odd that parts of the world, even parts of our community in the good ol’ U.S. of A., label my kids based on their parents rather than on themselves. For a Thanksgiving project my daughter’s class colored paper Pilgrims. Everyone in the class got a peach pilgrim to color. Not my daughter. She was given a brown Pilgrim. There was no malice involved. There was an assumption made because my child has a brown parent. She was classified as brown. It tore her up, not because she has an aversion to brown skin but because she wanted a Pilgrim that she thought reflected herself – one that matched her own sense of identity. Even well-meaning people in our church have described our kids as brown, not realizing that they have a different self-image.
I will pause here to admit that I’m getting angry and choked up as I write this. These are my kids we’re talking about – my babies – and the idea of people making them feel “other than” tears my heart out and makes the protective parent in me LIVID.
I’m not writing this because I have a problem with brown-skinned people. I don’t have a problem if my kids decide they want to identify with my wife’s side of the family and their “brown” heritage. It’s part of who they are. One day they’ll understand that better and we can have open discussions about identity and ethnicity. I think that would be wonderful.
No, I’m writing this because it seems that our country recently has lost its ever-loving-mind when it comes to race relations. The Zimmerman/Martin incident in Florida only highlights already existing tensions.
The original incident, the trial & verdict, and the national response show that there is still a racial rift in this country. Recently, President Obama made a statement that was, in my opinion, an attempt show solidarity with a grieving Black community and to help enlighten an unknowing White community.
I have seen and heard a lot of outrage at the President’s remarks. I have seen some ugly behavior and some terrible words thrown around. In my opinion (and that’s what you get – remember…my blog) the President was not making any statement as to the guilt or innocence of Martin or Zimmerman. The heart of his message, as a Black man, was:
“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
Years of slavery and abuse, yielding to discrimination and abuse, yielding to a façade of equality, have given the Black community a unique filter through which it interprets events. It’s a filter that lends it a sense of identity and purpose. When White America waves a dismissive hand and says, “It’s not about race” we are saying that our interpretation of who you are and what things mean matters more than your interpretation of who you are and what things mean. It’s an exaggerated scale of what happened with my daughter’s Pilgrim. My lens is better than your lens.
It does no good to tell someone that the lens through which they see and interpret events is wrong. It’s their lens. You have your own. A better conversation is to say, “I want to understand your lens and paradigm and then want to share with you about my lens and paradigm.” It’s hard to do – we all believe that our own lens is the best lens, the only correct lens. But sometimes our lenses get smudged and dirty and could stand being wiped off. It’s the only way to move forward.
As it stands there is too much of an Us vs. Them attitude when it comes to race relations. We focus on the “other than” instead of focusing on the unifying and uniting elements. Here’s the thing – In God’s Kingdom, there is no such thing as “Us and Them.” We’re all part of the community of faith. It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, for our faith transcends ethnicity. This isn’t a concept limited to the New Testament. It’s also found in the Old Testament. God tells Israel:
You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells a story of how the Apostle Peter acted differently towards Gentile Christians than he did towards Jewish Christians. Paul called him out and Peter repented.
We’re in a situation today where many people seem to prefer to exercise their politics before their faith. White and Black alike play the “race card” on each other. Neither side is exempt or immune. We certainly fail to treat each other like equals with the same privileges. We certainly don’t love the “other” like we love ourselves.
It’s time to change. We don’t have to continue down this path. We can turn around. We can work to see things through the lens of the other and help the other to see through our lens. We can work on finding common ground. We can work on true equality – which really only seems to come from God (humanity has a grand ability to botch things up). We can love others the same as we love ourselves.
So be careful how you talk to people. Be careful how you talk about people. Words have power, and you can use them to build or destroy. I firmly believe that God would prefer us to build. So watch what you say. When you speak, say it in love. And whatever you do, watch how you treat my kids.
They don’t know they’re black.
~ Reflections on Race from a Mixed-Race Couple