An Honest Commentary On Race Relations from Someone that is Curious
The perspective of kids concerning race is one of the most amazing sights. I hope I can keep my kids from “growing up” in this one area.
I’ll never forget the time my son told me about his new friend with the “brown skin.” He was playing at the playground near our house when he was 7 years old. When he came back I asked if he played with any other kids. He responded, “yes, I made a new friend and he has brown skin.” I smiled and told him “that’s great.”
That account is similar to the time my daughter met her soon-to-be best friend. My daughter was 5 and the little girl was Asian-American. They hit it off quickly and my daughter asked why her eyes were “shaped different.” Her parents laughed and so did we as I told my daughter that she was Asian-American and simply had eyes shaped differently than hers. The two were best friends from that moment on.
What I love about my kids is that they are free to see the differences in people without prejudice. It would be unfair to say they don’t see color, because clearly my son noted the difference between his skin and the skin of his playground friend. But it didn’t matter. His skin color wasn’t a prerequisite for playing nor was it a barrier; it was just a factual difference he noticed. And both my son and my daughter felt free to ask honest questions and make honest observations about the differences they saw in people.
America seems to be at a point in history when race relations are as tense as I can remember. It has been noted that race relations are as tense as they were during the 1992 L.A. riots resulting from the Rodney King incident, or even in 1965. Some wonder if they will get worse, or if they even can get worse.
I will confess that I am at a bit of a loss. I’m tempted to place blame on politicians that at times appear to be inciting tension between the races. I’m tempted to place blame on one group or another for seemingly seeking to find a reason to be offended. I’m tempted to place blame on the media for deriving some twisted joy in reporting every little occurrence and making it a national headline. But I also wonder if I’m to blame.
To be sure, politicians, some political groups, and the media share a part in worsening relations between specific groups of people: blacks and whites, Christians and homosexuals, Democrat and Republican, you get the picture. But while I can clearly see the share of the blame each of those groups owns, it’s not as easy to see my share.
No, I’m not a racist.
What I have to confess is that I’m not well versed with the struggle many minorities have faced. Though I’ve grown up in cities with plenty of minorities, I’ve never noticed any inequality. I don’t remember feeling unsafe in a mostly black neighborhood. I do remember feeling less safe living next door to known drug dealers…white people. And though there were parts of the city I spent my high-school years in that white people didn’t go to after dark, I didn’t feel unsafe.
What’s that like? What’s it like to feel unsafe because of your color, gender, or ethnicity?
We should never feel that we cannot make observations about the world we live in. But the current state of our culture seems to tell us we can’t. The implication is that if we note the difference in someone’s skin, hair, or accent that we are inherently racist. I can’t understand that. How could it possibly be racist or wrong in any sense to note that someone has a different accent and ask about where they are from? Is curiosity about the world we live in and the people we encounter wrong?
We have this curiosity naturally as children. We learn by asking questions. But somewhere along the line it’s as if we are no longer allowed to learn by asking questions. And yet the implication there is that we somehow know it all and should not need to ask questions. Nothing is further from the truth.
I don’t have the perspective of an immigrant. I don’t know what it’s like to leave my homeland in search of peace, safety, work, or security in another land. How can I learn that perspective if I’m not allowed to ask an immigrant to share with me because it’s “racist”? The media wants us to know what it’s like to be an immigrant or a minority but they only seem interested in sharing the perspective they have on the issue. That is suspect, at best.
While I’m honest enough to say I don’t have a full perspective on current race relations, I’m at a loss for how to change that. If I ask people to share with me I’m racist. If I listen to the media for my perspective I will no doubt end up misinformed and jaded. This is classic “rock and a hard place” territory.
I think we need to be bold enough and loving enough to ask questions. We need to summon our inner child and allow our curiosity to propel us to learn. I currently work with a large umber of people from many places in the world. Their perspective on the current state of race relations and immigration is far more valuable to me than any talking head or pundit. I show my support for them each day by serving them well, and being a great business partner. My respect for them shines through each day and should underlie the questions I would like to ask out of curiosity.
Even within evangelical circles some would have us to stop talking about race. That is a bit disconcerting. A recent article noted a 2012 survey in which many evangelicals said it might be best for race relations if we stop talking about race:
“A 2012 survey found that most evangelicals believe ‘one of the most effective ways to improve race relations is to stop talking about race.’ More and more Christians realize that in order to do something, we cannot avoid these discussions or remain silent as society around us grapples with such an imbedded issue.”
To be honest I might have said the same thing not too long ago. But at some point I thought deeper about the issue and wondered what would happen if we talk more, talk open, talk honest with each other about our differences. I’m not saying open dialogue is the solution to this very complex issue. Frankly, I’m not smart enough to know what the all-encompassing answer is. But open dialogue seems like a really good place to start. It’s the place I hope to start with my kids. It’s the place I hope they will start with every person as they grow up.