This weekend, I read a New York Times opinion piece that I knew I was going to be seeing all over social media today. It’s titled, “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” by a professor named Ekow N. Yankah.
The clickbait title worked like a charm. Within two minutes, I was knee-deep in a loving father’s raw honesty about his fears for his son. I take Yankah at his word when he says,
“I do not write this with liberal condescension or glee. My heart is unbearably heavy when I assure you that we cannot be friends.”
I say that I take Yankah at his word because I am sure a lot of readers won’t. If a white author had titled an article similarly “Can My Children Be Friends With Black People,” I’m sure that any answer other than a resounding yes would have been called gross racism and dismissed outright. But I believe less racism is at the heart of this father’s concern than cynicism.
In many ways, his heart is a mirror of my own.
“Thank Goodness I Am Not Like Other Men”
At the onset of this article, let me state, unequivocally, that, yes, I believe my son can be friends with white people, and, no, I do not think that statements to the opposite are defensible opinions for consistently biblical parents to hold.
However, I proceed with caution for several reasons. First of all, I do not want to be like the Pharisee in Luke 18 who, when going up to the altar to pray, said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11-12)
In this case, it would be, “God, I thank you that I am not like other black parents, distrusting, jaded, prejudiced, or even the author of this article. I have multi-ethnic friendships; I never race-bait.”
That line of thinking happens a bit too much on social media for me (“Can I get a round of applause for being a reasonable black person, unlike those other people?”), and I want to steer clear of it entirely. I am not the conservative black blogger who wants to be trotted out as an iconic bulldog against liberal black writers.
Secondly, I do not want this to serve as a rebuttal to Yankah’s article. I merely want to share some thoughts that were spurred on by his. I am not of the same mind that he is, but I do understand where he is coming from.
Looking At My Son
I am the mother of a black son.
And my boy is beautiful.
One look at my Instagram will tell you that I am a bit obsessed. Wynn is the sweetest, most relational little social butterfly you’ll ever meet. He’s got a tender heart, and he gives the best hugs. He dances like nobody’s business, babbles constantly, and makes his mama’s heart explode on the daily.
When I look into my boy’s eyes, I understand exactly where Yankah is coming from. Like so many other mothers, I would stand in front of a train to keep my son from pain.
I never want him to experience being called a “nigger monkey” by all the kids in daycare. To be told he’s ugly because his skin is brown. To be told that if he “intermarries,” he’ll pollute the “white race.” I never want people to assume that he is older and more threatening than he is because of the color of his skin. Or to believe that he is more aggressive or more sexual because he’s black.
I experienced every one of these things over and over again growing up. I was often the only black girl in class, the only black girl at church, and the only black girl on the block. Most of my childhood friends were white, and I would be lying to you if I said that it was always easy.
I’d also be lying to you if I said that I wouldn’t love for my son to walk into most rooms not feeling like “other,” if I said I sometimes wouldn’t rather him bring home a black wife than suffer through the potential heartaches of pursuing a white one, if I said I thought it was fair that he will endure indignities that his white peers will never have to even think about.
Because it’s not fair.
Looking At The Cross
Here is where we’ve come to expect the Jesus Juke. The pat little reminder that the Gospel is the answer to all of life’s complexities.
And so it is.
But while the Gospel does ultimately answer life’s deepest complexities, it doesn’t erase our responsibility to work through those complexities.
That’s one way that I’ve been hurt. I’ve been pushed aside when I’m trying to be honest about ethnically-specific hardships, called a race-baiter and a Gospel-hater and told to sit down, shut up, and stop rocking the boat. I don’t want my son to ever experience that.
We know that in Christ, there is but one race: the human race. That race/ethnicity is a social construct that has been levied to divide us for centuries. And that we all belong to one family, and, if we are believers, our spiritual identity supersedes our fleshly one.
We know that a thousand times over. But the knowledge of those truths does not eradicate the hardship of living them out here on earth. If anything, sometimes the knowledge makes life here on earth even more frustrating; the already and the not yet scream at us as we try to navigate transcendent biblical realities in the midst of tangible earthly heartache.
Looking At My Family
But the Cross enables us to keep on fighting the good fight.
While I would like to free my son from every single potential relational heartache that exists, I have even more of responsibility to equip my son to be a beacon of Gospel hope in the world that we live in (Matthew 28:16-20). I have a responsibility to teach him that those transcendent truths have equipped him with everything he needs to be “the black kid” in the room (Hebrews 13:21). I have a responsibility to remind him that love is often unsafe, often dangerous, and that vulnerability always comes with the risk of being hurt… but that it’s a risk we are called to take.
We are a family beyond the Holmes home, and beyond our black commonality –we are a family made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation on this earth (Revelation 7:9). Family members are not called to retreat from one another when things get hard, but to press even further into relationship with each other. A family knows that the Gospel is a compass to navigate these tough times, not a sledgehammer that instantly kills all awkwardness. Our family is united by bonds even deeper than their voting record (and love each other enough to call that voting record out if necessary).
This does not mean that I will subject my son to abusive relationships or actual racism. But it does mean that I will not teach him to adopt a defensive posture just in case his white friends might hurt him.
Because that’s prejudice. And that’s what led to my childhood pain in the first place.
Praying the Right Way
To return to the parable of the Pharisee, Yankah is not a member of my church (if he is a professing Christian), and this is not a Matthew 18 rebuke. I am not comparing myself to him; merely using his thoughts as a springboard for my own.
Today, his thoughts were a springboard for my prayer. I don’t want to pray like the Pharisee, but like the tax collector: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
I am a wounded, self-protecting sinner. A sinner who does not ever want her son to experience the pain that cross-cultural relationships can bring. A sometimes jaded, cynical sinner. A sinner who knows that the beautiful diversity in the family of faith can unite sinners of every skin tone. A sinner who knows that we share in the common cause of bringing glory to Christ’s name. A ransomed, hopeful sinner who has seen glimpses of the Gospel’s impact on her relationships with red and yellow, black and white co-heirs of the promises of God.
God, be merciful to me as I strive to love courageously. God, be merciful to my son.
I’ve been in Atlanta all week with my husband. We’re here half for ministry (for me), part for work (for him), and part for some quality time with just us two. We left on the heels of hosting my family all the way from Zambia. In fact, seven of my siblings, my mom, and my dad are back in our eighteen hundred square foot home with our sons. I should be laying in a hotel bed binging Parks and Rec with my husband. And I will be soon. But I have something to say about motherhood and mom guilt.
A few months ago, I wrote an article for Legacy about friendship. In it, I tried to be as honest as possible about the struggle of being a transplant in Mississippi’s foreign culture, and my own hang-ups with making new friends. I hit send. Weeks passed. A couple of months. Then the article went live. And I had more than one friend reach out to me and ask me if we were okay. “I thought we were friends!” Undercover Trust Issues I’m not a journaler, and I try not to use my articles as thinly veiled diary entries. However, there…