There's a fire, low and hot, spreading and speeding rapidly - reaching its smoldering fingers into every corner of our nation, and bursting our communities into raging flames of reckoning. We’ve run from it before, and stifled it out. We’ve doused it and blocked it. But this time it’s different, and we can’t run from the fire any longer. We have to let it burn - sometimes slow, then raging, sometimes racing, then simmering - for as long as it takes to burn down the ugliness it’s after. Then, when there’s nothing left to catch, the fire will extinguish itself. And we can begin our renewal.
Our bodies are expectant of change in the Summer because year after year we shift our rhythms as we end the school year and crash into summer. We usually find our Summer renewal in the rest and play and lightness of heart of the season. This year, though, even as we are tired from months of social distancing, and even as we crave renewal more than ever, this summer brings a work for us. Our renewal will not come through rest and play and lightness of heart, but through the bitter and excruciating work of tearing down, brick by brick, the institution of hate which has formed a rotting bedrock in our country for generations - racism in America. This summer, renewal is still ours for the taking. But I’m telling you, it won’t come through rest, it will come through deliverance.
For white Americans, our entire belief system is being challenged and we are being forced to look into a generations old mirror and see what we’ve refused to see before. It’s hard to look at and we desperately want to believe we’re not seeing the truth. But we can’t look away anymore. There we stand, looking regretfully into a reflection that has enabled, abbeted, and further solidified racism in this country. And this summer, we will face it, and we will BEGIN the work of dismantling it, first in ourselves, then in our homes, then in our neighborhoods and churches and schools. The work will move outward like a spreading fire, and over time, and with great perseverance, we will burn this institution down. It will be ugly and painful for us to face, and we will get burned. But from the ashes, we can arise a new America.
Last week when I tucked the big girls in, I talked to them about God’s children. I told them how we’re all different, all beautiful, and all made by the same loving Father. We talked about race and skin color, and the beauty of the world’s diversity. We talked about slavery in our country, and how black Americans were freed from slavery so many years ago, but still treated unequally and cruelly by white America. We talked for the first time ever about how black children were not allowed to attend schools with white children, and how black people weren’t allowed to sit near white people in restaurants or on buses, and how they couldn’t use the same bathrooms or swim in the same pools as white people.
I told them that even today, black people are treated unfairly just because of the color of their skin. We talked a little about Ahmaud Arbery going for a run and being killed because white people were afraid of him and thought he did something wrong because he was a black man in a mostly white neighborhood. Raines said, “That’s so mean. He was only trying to get his exercise.” She gets it.
As we talked, they listened, wide-eyed, and asked lots of sweet questions. The conversation didn’t frighten them or scar them. And I’m pretty sure it was harder for me than it was for them. Because you see, to me, racial injustice feels ugly and scary, and I don’t want to look at it because I don’t know what to do with it. I want to deny my place in it. And if I choose to ignore it, I can, because in reality, racial injustice doesn’t affect my everyday life. I have the privilege of not talking about racial injustice with my kids because they’ll never be on the receiving end of it. But now I see what I didn’t before. Talking to them about it gives us all a chance to change it because it means we’re admitting it. Not talking about it is a perpetuation of the systemic racism that I’ve been participating in without even realizing it. Not talking about it says it’s ok to benefit from a system that supports me and suppresses others. Most of my life, I’ve believed that because I’m not a hateful person, I’m not racist. But now I am beginning to understand how deeply the roots of racism run in this country, and I see that its ugly roots are entangled in my own mindset, behavior, and lifestyle more than I ever knew. I’m ashamed to say that until today, I believed racism wasn’t my problem to fix because I wasn’t racist. And I certainly never took an active role in anti-racism. I lament and repent for my way of thinking and lack of action.
Now that I know better, I can do better. My work begins at home by talking to my kids about racism and human rights. For my girls, at 4 and 5 years old, learning about racial injustice brought feelings of grief and regret for our nation’s past. Their instinct at such a young age was to immediately lament and repent for our history. Raines said of slave owners, “They should have thought about the Golden Rule because they wouldn’t have wanted to be treated that way.” She also said, “I wish Georgia had been on the right side. They needed workers for their farms, but they should have paid them. The slaves should have had a choice.” And right there, I knew that speaking to her about racial injustice at age 5 had not frightened or burdened her, but empowered her to do better.
She also said something that broke my heart. She told me she wasn’t like the “mean white people” because she had black friends and played with them all the time. And then she rattled off a handful of very tan white people she knows. Now she's as porcelain as they come, so a very tan white person’s skin does look very different from hers, but the sad truth is that she doesn’t actually have a single black friend. And when I told her that, no, those people were not black, she told me that she didn’t think she knew what black people looked like. My heart sank that she was so confused by the idea of another race other than our own. Racial injustice - it was a story for her. She is so far removed from it that she can’t even picture who it actually is about. We have lots books on diversity, but it’s not part of HER LIFE. And so now we have a mission to infuse diversity, inclusion and belonging into our home, hearts, and lives.
Talking to my kids about race forced me to look into the fire, and finally understand why it needs to burn. This work is going to be painful and it’s going to take a long time to deconstruct what we’ve been building for centuries. This is white work, and it begins with repentance, which is just so hard for white Americans. But God calls us to repent so that we can heal our hearts and our relationship with Him. And then, we can carry on in His good work. And THIS IS His work. We cannot tire of it. And we cannot be distracted by hate disguised as power, politics, or patriotism. This is not about respecting an office or even a nation. Because ultimately when we really get to the heart of Black Lives Matter, this work is not political or patriotic. It’s Kingdom work. It is the work of Light, and it is about serving a God of justice.
So don’t look away. Don’t turn back. Stare into the face of the fire and step forward. Let the fire convict you to lament and repent for our nation and for yourself. This fire is not here to consume us, but to deliver us.
What I'm doing to learn more and do this work:
This list is only the beginning of my own personal anti-racist work, but I hope it encourages you to take a small step towards self education, lamenting, repentance, and reconciliation.
Love + Light,
*Book links are affiliate links. I am part of the Amazon Affiliates program.