My upbringing was as lily white as they come. I recall one black kid in my entire grade in my public elementary school. My churches, my schools, my friends were all white. Educated. Wealthy. Privileged.
I also happen to hail from the mighty Capital of the Confederacy- Richmond, Virginia. Where Lee-Jackson-King Day was celebrated with school holidays and where statues revering Confederate heroes still stand tall and proud on beautiful Monument Avenue.
This is my context.
And, you know what? I did not bat a single eyelash at this until early adulthood.
MLK Jr. Days came and went, year after year, without me even taking notice. Because staying sheltered in my own cozy world had bred naivety. I was shielded from the inequality and profiling and snap judgments that my black and brown brothers and sisters had long known. I had made so many boxes and drawn so many lines and erected so many invisible walls out of my sheer ignorance.
It wasn’t hate. It was apathy. And apathy certainly was not love.
But God sent my angsty-privileged-teenage self to the streets of Jamaica and my equally angsty and privileged college self to the slums of Kibera and forced me to gaze outside of my own experience and consider the novel thought that “Oh, hey. My experience is not normative. And this life may not be all about me after all.”
But God sovereignly moved me and placed me in an entire community that was starkly dissimilar to mine. Blessed me with dear friends whose stories, in many ways, seemed so foreign to mine. While we talked of relationships and work and childrearing, we also talked of immigration reform and deportations and families torn apart. They taught. I listened. And I saw walls fall down as “they” became “us”.
But God, in his mercy and grace, allowed us to bring our African daughter home, welcoming a little black girl into our predominately white world. And I stumbled and fumbled and quickly learned that, if I was going to try to do this thing right, I had better slow down. Humble myself. Listen close and listen well to voices within the black community.
But God placed us in a church that highly values the importance of being multi-ethnic, making our previously-predominately-white world a little less so. Not for the sake of trendiness. Or to increase numbers. But because we believe that our church should reflect our surrounding community. That God created ALL, and ALL people are His image-bearers.
And, man, the more that I listen and learn, the more I want to speak up. Because I’ve been too naive and too silent for too long.
“Did you hear?” I feel like yelling to my white brothers and sisters. “Tamir! Michael! Eric! Trayvon! Sandra!”
“Have you read?” I keep going. “Have you read about the racial disparities in in-school suspensions? Death penalty cases?”
But then the voices creep in. “Catherine, people think you’re extreme.” “Catherine, you’re white. Just an average white soccer mom. Who are you to talk about these things?” “Catherine, just stick to cute kid anecdotes. This race stuff is making everyone uncomfortable.” “Catherine, you’re a broken record. Just stop already.”
And, maybe most of all, the question that is forever churning through my mind is this: “Alright, Miss Opinionated. Are you loving your issue, your cause, your stance more than you love Jesus Himself?” Always this self-check because I know myself. How I can be stubborn and prideful. My tendencies to hold MY opinions more tightly than those of God Himself.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
Y’all, we’re living in the days of presidential wannabes advocating for giant walls to keep “those people” out. Days in which wary glances are cast toward anyone donning a headscarf. Days of blatant courtroom injustices toward black men and women. Days in which God-fearing, gospel-preaching ministries are forced to defend themselves for preaching that #blacklivesmatter.
This idea of social stagnation is terrifying to me.
So, I’m going to keep on beating this drum. Because I believe that we are absolutely loving and honoring God when we’re honoring His people. When we hold high the truth that all people, no matter the shade of their skin or the nation from which they hail, reflect the image of God and should be treated as such. This isn’t just a hot-topic social justice issue- this is the heart of God Himself.
In that same letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr. King wrote, “I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action.”
And to that, I say to my black and brown brothers and sisters: I will never be capable of fully appreciating or understanding your experiences or stories. But this, I will do- I will listen, and I will groan right along with you as we long for justice and equality. And I will absolutely share that vision to see injustice outed, working and speaking to this end until Jesus returns and we see justice and peace fully realized. At long last.
There are lots of voices out there advocating for justice and racial reconciliation these days. Really influential voices on big stages, with large platforms. Those matter so much. And there should be more of them.
But this is my voice. Just the voice of an average white soccer mom. The voice of one who has been so naive and, in many ways I’m sure, is still so oblivious. But also one who cannot un-know what she’s come to know and un-see what she’s seen.
So, this voice of mine? You better believe I’m gonna keep using it.