It was nearly three decades ago but today the memories are still clear. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile, and our group of missionary families and national pastors just happened to be at the epicenter. At one point we rushed en masse from a shuddering building and as we set foot on the hard earth outside, cracks began to appear. Not the people-swallowing schisms of Hollywood fame, but nonetheless substantial splits in the ground right before us.
And so it has been this week in the world of court cases and racial tensions, of real-life rents in the fabric of national life in the United States. Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman. Each name summons an emotional response - grief?? horror?? anger?? despair?? confusion?? fear?? - depending on which side of this fracture we find ourselves.
Tonight I have spent a long while reading blog posts, news stories, and interacting with others via F*cebook and private messages. Over dinner with my five precious children, I gently guided us toward conversations about safety and caution in our public presence and interactions with others. Online in a civil conversation with differing opinions, I found myself advising, "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater."
I don't claim to know all the facts. And I understand that in some ways this case raised more questions than answers. I realize there were errors in judgment on both sides. And I don't by any means intend to cast my opinion onto the pile of presumptions that have already contributed to the ever-widening rupture among us.
But what I cannot avoid - independent of this tragedy - is that this does affect my family, and my children. Today it was chilly outside and I told my 5- and 8-year olds boys to put on their hoodies and cover their heads so as to not catch cold. Then I wondered if at 15 and 18 years old doing so would place them under suspicion, if not in danger itself? And should I start now to avoid clothing them in attire which as teenagers might be cause for conflict?? Because as one black male blogger wrote, "Right or not, this ruling has reminded me why I prefer to let the rain fall unhindered onto my head."
Rather than getting caught up in who's right and who's wrong, I simply want to say that as brothers in sisters in the human race - and even more poignantly, as brothers and sisters in Christ - we must do better. We must leave our comfort zones and lock arms for human dignity and worth because we are all made in the image of God. We must increase our solidarity with those who struggle and redefine our own perceptions. I really appreciated this perspective from another adoptive mom:
I am not a proponent in making trouble where there is not. Sometimes, situations just are what they are and it's an issue of a miscommunication or an accidental offense. And I'm not sure I would define it as "white privilege". To me, privilege implies something earned or a choice one makes to accept the benefits. I don't think that's where a lot of white people live.
Instead, I think it's an issue of perception. I once heard issues of racial sensitivity compared to having a sunburn. Because of past experiences, many black people walk around with varying degrees of sunburns. Start with slavery and the lack of civil rights as the first layer of the burn. (Yep, it's over but it still stings to know that is where you came from.) Add in any bad experiences at elementary school, things like having someone tell you they don't want to play with you because you are brown (probably not racist just a kids' way of saying "I don't want to play.") Pile on more experiences like a store manager who follows you as a teenager, maybe because of your skin color or maybe just because you come off as a loud teen, or feeling forced to laugh at jokes that use the n word. Maybe add in a true racist incident where someone did call you a nasty name. And by the time you are an adult, you have burn after burn. So then when something that has racial overtones happens, it's as if someone slaps your sunburn.
For most white people, they don't have those layers of burns so the incident doesn't carry the same weight as it does for a black person. And that's is one of the complexities of being a transracial family. I don't have the burns but there's a good chance my kids may find themselves at least singed. So now my ears perk up and my thoughts go a bit deeper. Not because I am looking to make a race issue but because I have a better understanding of how it might look through the eyes of someone else.
It makes me wonder about the layers of burns my boys may have already begun to accumulate. This week my 8-year old said, "Mom, the kids in my class say I'm black because a thundercloud hit me and turned my skin this color. And some of them say I got too burnt. But one of them said, no, he was just born that way." How would any of us feel to have people talking around us and about us and making (to them) humorous evaluations of our physical person?
At the risk of jumping to conclusions, I am fairly sure in piecing together clues that there have been other, more hurtful remarks said. One day as I was walking my son to our car, we passed the open window of a school van when someone loudly yelled an ugly sterotype typically associated with race. My son either did not hear or ignored it, and I realized it would be impossible to identify the culprit or prove it was directed at us. I didn't mention it then. But weeks later when that stereotype came up in conversation, he reacted in such a way as to indicate he had heard it and been hurt by it before.
So I say again, "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater." Yes, there has been much damage done by both sides in this trial and as a result of the decisions made. But putting that aside, let us focus on the fracture that exists, and on healing the hurts caused by it. I for one will be starting that healing at home.