Wisdom from my Daughters

As a mother, I like to think that I am a source of wisdom to my daughters, that they look to me for advice and counsel.

But it is really great when my daughters share words of wisdom for me.

Recently my youngest daughter, who is a pastor, spoke something in a sermon that has really been meaningful to me. She said:

“We don’t draw lines to keep people out. We cross lines to bring people in.”

The more I thought about that statement, the more I realized that sometimes I have drawn lines to keep people out.

  • They did not meet my “standards.”
  • They were not dressed “properly.”
  • They were not of my political viewpoint

How many times have I missed an opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ because the lines I drew shut them out? Made them feel unwelcome.

Then my oldest daughter, who is a school teacher, shared with me her experiences this year with the Covid crisis in school.

She had a coworker whose dress was eccentric, whose walk was strange. This coworker greeted her every morning when she came to work with a cheerful “Good morning Mrs. Thomas.” My daughter was struggling just to make it to school on this stressful year and that last thing she wanted when she came in was a “sunny side up” greeting. She said for awhile she just gave a quick reply and hurried past the coworker to her room.

But one day the Holy Spirit quickened her heart and she began asking God to help her see this person as He did. She began stopping to talk each morning and listen to the person.

She knits caps for all her students and when the coworker commented how much they liked the hats, she made one for them.

The person did not change – what changed was how my daughter saw them.

Again, I wonder how many times I quickly pass by that person whose personality I do not care for, that person who annoys me. How many times do I fail to see them as God sees them.

So – I have two prayers today:

  1. God help me not to shut people out because they are different from me – help me not to be judgmental but to reach out and show them your love.
  2. God help me to look past what annoys me and help me to see people as you see them.

When I was pregnant with both my daughters, I used to put my hand on my stomach and pray that they would grow up to be people who made a difference, who shared God’s love.

How grateful I am to see that prayer was answered.

Now I’m trusting that my two new prayers will also be answered.

What a better world we would live in if we all prayed those prayers.

I’m Not a Racist – or Am I?

There is so much talk today about being racist. Many are quick to call others by that name while as many as quick to insist they are not racist and that they are tired of people using the “race card.”

While I have never been called a racist (at least as far as I know) and I would say I was not a racist, I still took a look at what the dictionary said a racist is.

According to Webster’s dictionary a racist is someone who holds “a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

A more complete definition lists: “Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different ethnicity. Modern variants of racism are often based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. These views can take the form of social actions, practices or beliefs, or political systems in which different races are ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities.”

Using that definition I think I can honestly say I am not a racist. I have never believed that one group of people is inherently superior to another.

But using that definition I must say that I was raised by a generation who were clearly racist. Let me say that my parents and my aunts and uncles were good people that I loved and respected. I don’t believe they realized how racist they were. But looking back at that generation I see it is so clear that prejudices have been passed down from generation to generation. Only within the last few years have many been able to recognize this and to work to break that terrible cycle of beliefs.

As a young adult I had many arguments with my father who insisted that black people’s brains were not as big as white people’s brains. He also had other beliefs about physical differences that I will not even mention here.

For years I thought my father was just a country boy who came up with some crazy ideas. It is only as I have begun to research and read the history of black/white relations in our country that I have discovered this was not some crazy ideas of one man. This was what he had been taught along with many of his generation.

And that terrible lie has been a part of our history going back even before our country was established.

As our country was founded and began growing, there were many physicians and scientists who advocated that there was a difference between the “pure” race (white) and Africans and Native Americans.

One was Dr. Charles Caldwell. Dr. Caldwell visited the Musee de Phrenologie in Paris where he studied a collection of skulls taken from people from all the world. After his study, he determined that the skulls of African people show that they had a “tamableness” that not only made them perfect for slaves, but actually required them to have a “master.” This belief which was shared throughout our nation served to contribute to the belief that slavery was an acceptable part of nature. It contributed to the idea that whites were superior.

Another was Samuel George Morton. Morton’s collection of skulls is today part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and is one of the most famous collections of human skulls in the entire world.

Morton published a book in 1839. In “Crania Americana” he described five “separate species.

(Excerpt from “Crania Americana” showing the supposed differences between the skulls of different races. Morton claimed similarities between the skulls of primates and African people.)

They were (in descending order) Caucasian, Mongolian, Malay, Native America and Negro. He wrote that these differences were dictated by God. He concluded that Native American minds were “adverse to cultivation, slow in acquiring knowledge.” His book was very popular in America and many believe this was used to justify removing Native Americans from their homeland and taking the land for white settlers.

His book became popular in Britain, France, Germany, Russia and India. Charles Darwin called him an “authority” on the subject of race. Others applauded his work and many in European countries began to also publish such ideas.

You might think the abolitionist would not have bought into this thinking. But many of the renowned abolitionists also believed this. The apparent “tambleness” of the blacks served two purposes. One, it could reassure that if the slaves were set free, they would not take revenge on their masters. Two, if they were naturally weaker and inferior to whites, society had an obligation to help them, not enslave them.

While I am sure today almost anyone would say these studies were ridiculous, I believe that this thinking has been passed down generation after generation.

My parents did not dislike blacks. I saw them often be kind and friendly with blacks we came into contact with at church services. However, without really stopping to think, they had been indoctrinated with that thought that somehow we as whites were superior to blacks. It was an almost unconscious thing – as natural as breathing in and out.

I am not a racist and in tracing my ancestry as far back as I have been able, I find no record of anyone owning slaves. But if I remain silent when I hear or see others making comments that are racist because I am afraid of losing friends, then what does that make me?

Examples of things I have heard from others:

One pastor friend said “We did blacks a favor by taking them from the jungles of Africa.”

One family member moved from one mobile home park to another because a black family moved in across from them and asked me “Would you like living next to a black family?” My response was that I did have black neighbors and they were some of the best in our community.

One family member, when hearing that my husband had found that one of his ancestors was a slave from Ghana said, “Well, that explains a lot of things.” Was she just trying to be funny? Maybe – but still – that is not funny.

Finally, while I do not agree with most of the items on the BLM agenda and I am not in favor of rioting and destroying, I have found it interesting to see the anger of many of my white friends over the restrictions or loss of rights they have experienced with this Covid crisis.

For over a year now we have been told we cannot gather in large groups, many of our sports, our schools, even our churches have been shut down. We have been denied entry to most retail stores unless we wear a mask. And the anger is real. And the anger is right.

But – I have to ask:

If we get so angry for some loss of freedom for almost two years, how can we not see that the history of not only loss of freedom, but loss of life, not for two years but for hundred of years might lead to anger.

And, if you really want to know the history that our black friends know (passed down from grandparents) I recommend the following books:

  • Red Summer, the Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America by Cameron McWhirter
  • Forever Free, the Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner
  • Wilmington’s Lie, the Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino
  • Life of a Klansman, A Family History of White Supremacy by Edward Ball

We can say we are not racists and we never owned slaves or we can begin to read and research our nation’s history and try to understand where our black friends and neighbors are coming from.

I Refuse to Be Color Blind

We often hear people say we should be color blind. When we look at someone we should not see white/black/brown but rather just a person. That sounds like a good idea. But it is one I cannot accept.

First of all, I think it is simply not possible. How can you not observe what color someone is when you look at them? I have grandchildren whose skin color runs from white as snow to warm chocolate brown to black as midnight. It would be hypocritical of me to say I do not notice the difference in their skin color.

I used to call these two my “salt and pepper” loves.

While I understand the idea of being “color-blind” is a good one when used as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did in his great “I have a dream” speech, I think it can be misleading.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Clearly we need to be people who judge a person by who they are, not what they look like.

However, to try to not see someone’s color can mean not really seeing who they are. When I meet a black person if I try to pretend I do not notice they are black, I am really refusing to give them the acknowledgement I should. And exactly what does that mean? Am I pretending they are white? Am I trying to treatment them like they are white? Well, they are not. Like it or not, we are all shaped to some extent by the culture we were raised in, by the way we see the world and the world sees us. The color of our skin plays a role in that.

To try to pretend that a black woman has had the same experiences of life that I have, that she will view the world exactly as I do is to deny who she is.

An example of what I mean. On my first job after high school I had a black co-worker who became a friend of mine. (This was in the 1960’s when there was a lot of unrest in our cities over the Civil Rights Movement.) At that point I really had not taken into account the difference in our skin color. I thought I was color-blind. One day we went out for lunch. I enjoyed the meal and was surprised when she refused to go out again to eat with me later in the week. I could not understand. Had I done something to offend? Did she not like the restaurant? We could go to another one.

She told me she was not comfortable with the stares we got from the other customers. At first I told her I did not know what she meant. But after thinking about it a little, I realized we did get very poor service and our waitress was very unfriendly. Still I did not have a clue why until she told me she felt they did not like our eating together and being so obviously friendly with one another.

Up to that point I had basically lived in a white world. She was my first black friend. To a white woman at that point I did not feel what she felt when people stared or when our waitress was rude. But now I realized I needed to not be color-blind. I needed to try to see the world through her eyes, to acknowledge that her skin color caused her to be treated differently, caused her to notice the stares more than I did, to feel the waitress’ rudeness more deeply than I did. Only when I quit trying to be color-blind, could we begin to navigate how our friendship would work going forward. She wanted to keep our friendship hidden but I wanted to go back to that same restaurant and dare someone to be unkind to her.

To this day I do not know if I did the right thing but I tried to push her to step out and not let others stop us from having a friendship that we did not have to hide. She finally continued to eat lunch with me, but when her car broke down and I wanted to give her a ride home, she stupidly refused. To be honest I was never sure if she did not want our co-workers (who were white) to get upset with me or if she did not want her family to know that she had a white friend. While we remained friends at work, we were never able to take our friendship to a deeper level. To this day I wonder – did I unknowingly treat her with prejudice? Did she unknowingly have prejudice toward me? I have always been sad that our friendship ended when I left for another job. That it did not survive outside our work place.

Now that I have grandchildren who are black, I again cannot ignore how the world treats them differently because of the color of their skin. My grandson, who is black as midnight and handsome as can be, and I have had discussions of what he faces as a black man. To try to pretend that he is the same and faces the same world as my white grandsons is both not true but also unfair to him.

Only when we acknowledge our differences can we then celebrate those differences. How dull this world would be if we were all one color, one background. I want to see that whiteness, that blackness you wear and then learn what your experiences have taught you and how you can share with me and we can celebrate who we are.