I married a black man.
As his aunts would say, I have caramel kids.
I don’t have to go further than my kitchen table to experience diversity, and yet
I still have racial biases.
Sometimes I don’t notice skin color. During my ten years in South Africa, I could sit for over forty minutes in a room full of people before suddenly realizing I was the only pale face there.
I often don’t realize the color of my own kids’ skin until we’re at the beach and I’m nearly blinded by the paleness of other children running around in their diapers, and I think, “Wow, those kids are really white.”
Other times, I see it. Like now, when we’re living in a predominantly white suburb of West Michigan, and a black person rides past on a bicycle, and I think, “Oh look!” because it’s such a rarity here.
My kids often get invited to play dates with adopted children, so the mocha kids in otherwise all-pale families will see faces that look more like their own. And I wonder about that sometimes, like, “Does it really matter?”
But maybe it does. Maybe it matters a whole lot more than I will ever know. Because while skin color really doesn’t matter to me, it does matter to many, and they matter to me. And most importantly, they matter to Him.
But also, maybe if we all just checked the tags in our shirts, we’d realize we were all made in the same Place. Different shades of the same fabric, a rainbow of material woven by the same Person.
And while this might come as a shock to most of the children’s Bible illustrators out there,
Jesus wasn’t white.
And you know something else? Neither were Adam and Eve.
So why don’t our books reflect that? Why don’t our churches mirror that? Why don’t the faces gathered around our tables, both online and in real life, look more like the table we’re anticipating at the wedding feast of the Lamb?
In South Africa, cashiers at the grocery store would recognize the surname on my debit card as a Tswana name, and their perplexed eyes would move from the card to my face and back again before they’d venture to ask, “Is this your card?” and then sometimes, “Why does it say ‘Motaung’?”
“Yes, it’s my card, and that’s my surname,” I’d reply, and they’d furrow their brow and ask, “Why?” As if it would be easier to believe that I were using someone else’s debit card than to believe I would actually marry a black man.
And when I’m in the grocery store with my kids, I wonder if the people looking at us assume that my kids are adopted. Because don’t I presume the same, when I see a white woman with children of darker shades?
And maybe they are adopted, and maybe they’re not, and does it even matter? Because aren’t we all made in the image of our Creator, all just lost souls that desperately need to be adopted into the only family that really matters, the body of Christ?
As the white mom of a beautiful caramel girlie, I’ve had to learn what it means to relax hair, and how to braid. And I believe with all my heart that my life is richer and fuller because I have a mother-in-law who makes koeksisters and teaches me to cook dombi and samp, who speaks multiple languages in one conversation and who might not understand why I like to wash my hair every day.
But there were also times when I’d sit with a group of friends in Cape Town who happen to be black, and the guys would joke with each other about how they would walk past cars stopped at traffic lights, and they’d hear the “click” of the doors being locked, and I’d let out a half-laugh of understanding while my face would flush with shame, because haven’t I done the same?
But wouldn’t I scoff or maybe just chuckle at the white woman who locks her doors when my black husband walks past, because doesn’t she know he’s a pastor?
Of course she doesn’t, and maybe that’s the point.
If she knew him, she wouldn’t be afraid.
Maybe our fear stems from the unknown, because we don’t know enough people who look different from us, like, really know them. Not just follow them on Twitter, or ask them to speak at our conferences, or smile at them once a month as we serve ladles into bowls at the soup kitchen, and think we’ve paid our dues.
I have friends online who are #GoingThere. Deidra Riggs is a woman you should get to know online, and she’s been #GoingThere for a good long while now. But she’s getting tired. So others are coming alongside her and throwing wide their fears and slips of the heart and extending the conversation. Others like Lisa-Jo, a white girl from South Africa, and Jennifer, a white girl from rural Iowa, and Alia, an Asian American now living on the west coast. And they’re inviting you to go there, too.
To get uncomfortable with yourself, and with your monochromatic table.
And as both Lisa-Jo and Alia so eloquently challenged, just because we have a multicultural family doesn’t mean we get a pass from the race conversation.
So what does that look like for you? How might the Lord be prodding your heart with regard to racial diversity, both online and in real life?
Heaven, my friends, is going to be one glorious concoction of every tribe, tongue, and nation, every shade of skin … How can we do a better job of reflecting that now, in joyful anticipation of things to come?