I grew up in the rural South of the United States. I’m the exact definition of a WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant). I get ridiculously sunburned every time I go to the beach, I can binge eat any form of potatoes, and I was raised to nestle orderly in a church pew every Sunday with my middle class family. That about sums up my racial identity.
I say that to begin this post because I want you to know the perspective from which I write. My biological race is one of unearned privilege; it’s also one of often unstewarded responsibility.
My formative years were full of confusing signals about what kinds of people were safe and what kinds of people were charity.
The society I knew and understood was one in which law enforcement was in place to be my protection. I believed that hard work and honesty were about as valuable to my success as personally knowing people in positions of authority.
My passport allowed me to travel anywhere in the world I wished. My skin color somehow legitimized my education level. Doors of opportunity were opened wide to me because I had been granted a life of material wealth, emotional stability, and given status.
I could afford the most professional clothes for interviews, I never once knew fear of physical harm or relational abandonment, and I shamelessly used my own entitlement to work systems in my favor.
If I had wished, I could have continued to live in a world where I believed everyone enjoyed the same privileges as me. I could have written off poverty as a result of laziness and destitution a result of poor life choices.
But my whiteness continued to clash with so many of my life experiences until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Then came the cycle so many of you will recognize, when the “white man’s burden” kicked in and overwhelming guilt motivated my interaction with those different from me. I spent years chasing after good works to cancel out my disgusting wealth.
I wanted to perfect my charitable deeds. I wanted to claim that I didn’t see color. I wanted an easy fix for race relations.
But OH THE CLASHES. Messy, uncomfortable, and awkward clashes between my white worldview and—I don’t know—the REST OF HUMANITY.
I remember introducing myself to someone recently. As we got to know each other, she asked about my children. So I explained that I had two daughters and pulled out my phone to show the lady a picture.
When she saw that my oldest daughter was clearly adopted, she turned to her husband, and said, “Awwwww! I want one!”
She had already told me about her children, so my face must have looked a bit confused because she added, “I’ve always wanted a black kid.”
Honestly? I wanted to be angry at her comment. I wanted to lash into a full lecture about how inappropriate it was to speak in such a way about my daughter, or any other child for that matter.
But I thought back to all the completely inappropriate comments I’ve made about other races.
I’ve said things like, “Well, you know Asians…” and used story markers like, “Then this black guy came up to me.”
I’ve objectified humans. I’ve struggled to allow people to be individuals rather than forcing them to carry stereotypes that were never theirs to carry. And nothing has revealed my sin in this more than welcoming a child of another color into my family.
Any hint of racial tension or cultural frustration must be addressed. If we ever hoped to avoid discussions about race, well…those days are far gone for us in this home.
I heard Tyler Burns say on the Upsidedown Podcast last week that “No one will stumble into racial reconciliation.” And how true it is that the hard work of loving your neighbor is uncomfortable and awkward and full of self-denial.
Loving my neighbor doesn’t mean getting her to look and act and think like me. Loving my neighbor means asking her questions and seeking to understand her and walking alongside her through this thing called life.
Sometimes that means even learning to love the neighbor who shares my race, too.
I feel confident that this community of women holds a wealth of knowledge that far exceeds anything I could write in 700 words. So I’m counting on you in the comments.
What has living cross-culturally taught you about race? How has the fall of man been reflected in your actions and thoughts among people different from you? How have you come to understand the reconciliation of the cross as it relates to your interactions with different races?