It's been nearly 11 years since we brought our daughter home from Ethiopia. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I had no idea what racism really looked like until she was ours. I naively thought that everyone who loved us would love her, or at the very least that everyone who accepted us without question would do the same for her. She had been with us for less than a month when we encountered our first episode of racism. A little girl in the grocery store called her a monkey, to which her dad responded, "That's not a monkey, that's a n*****, and we don't even look at those". I was appalled, to say the least. I'll admit that I didn't say a lot other than "Don't ever say that. This is my daughter". I didn't know what else to say. I was not prepared. I failed.
Fast forward a few years, and an older man spit on her in a store. When I approached him, he said "I don't like her kind". I won't go into that story here further for the sake of time. But just let yourself for a moment go there: A grown man spitting on the back on a child.
There were kids at school who told others not to play with her because she was black, kids who said they didn't want to be friends with a black girl. There have been adults who've questioned "Why would you go get a black kid from another country when there are plenty of white kids here in the USA who need a home?" We've heard it all.
Two years ago when we made the move to our current city, we were excited to be in a place with more diversity. Until then, Ellie had been one of just a few black kids in her school or church. We wanted her to be surrounded by more people who looked like her. Our church here is full of people of all ethnicities, and that's been great for our family, Ellie in particular. Her school here was a rainbow of colors of children, and we were excited. Again, I was naive in thinking that we'd maybe not see as much racism in a place as diverse as we are now. I was wrong again.
I got a call one day from her principal telling me that there had been an "incident" where a kid had posted a mean picture of Ellie on Instagram with her face "X'd" out. Ellie's friends had seen it and told parents or adults (Ellie didn't have a phone at the time, so she hadn't even seen it herself). The principal said it had been done on a school account and they were taking care of it. When we picked her up that afternoon, it was obvious that this was so much more. We walked inside to talk to the principal after Ellie burst into tears as soon as she got into the car. What we discovered was that someone had hacked into a friend's account (we had evidence of that) and posted not only pictures of Ellie with her face marked out, but had made some gross racial and sexual remarks about her, then ended with a threat to end her life. This was way more than simple girl drama. This was criminal. Reading the screenshots that the principal had that day made me sick to my stomach. The thought that someone had made a threat of violence against my daughter simply because of her skin tone was something I could not grasp.
Law enforcement was called, both within the school and by us personally. The officer quickly was able to question some students that he knew personally and knew the child who was responsible, but the school's attorney blocked the police's ability to get information because it had all happened on school accounts. It's a long story that I won't go into here, but I can't help but wonder if things would have been different if my daughter were a white child that had been threatened by a black child. Where was the justice for my daughter in this? The officer was wonderful to work with and expressed his grief over the fact that his hands were tied. Thankfully the student moved away, and we were able to at least know that Ellie was safe.
In all of this, Ellie's response was simple: "I wonder how bad her life must be to want to hurt someone she doesn't even really know. That just doesn't make sense".
Y'all, I don't have adequate words to express how my then 12 year old daughter's words changed my heart. Not even a teenager, she had already learned something a lot of us could use today. She had learned the gift of empathy. You see, while she was not AT ALL condoning the wrong done to her, she was able to see a different side. She was trying to understand a perspective different than her own. Ellie was practicing empathy.
Please hear me out. The ONLY PERSPECTIVE ABOUT RACISM IS THAT IT IS WRONG. I'll say that again in case you misunderstood. ALL RACISM IS WRONG AND THAT'S THE ONLY PERSPECTIVE WE CAN HAVE ABOUT IT.
Lately, my social media feed is filled with posts and articles about the looting and rioting happening in our world. I get it. Seriously. I don't agree with violence of any sort. I am pro-life from womb to the tomb, so I can't get behind the violence happening. However, it is my own opinion that posts like this are taking away from the heart that started the protests to begin with.
Just like Ellie was able to see that a kid had likely had so much trauma in her life that she'd respond in a way that was hurtful and unacceptable, maybe we need to give space for some understanding that our brothers and sisters who are black have gone through so much pain and trauma that they too are crying out now. And sometimes that crying out may not look exactly like you and I would do it. It may not sound the same.
BUT CAN WE AGREE TO TRY AND HAVE SOME EMPATHY AND SIMPLY LISTEN TO THE HEART BEHIND IT ALL? CAN WE GIVE ENOUGH DIGNITY TO PEOPLE TO STOP FOCUSING ON WHAT HAS USURPED THEIR POINT AND GET TO HEARING THEIR HEARTS?
Our family marched in a peaceful protest this past weekend. It was awkward, and admittedly uncomfortable for me. I had never marched before. The chanting felt awkward, not like me. But I think I was SUPPOSED to feel awkward and uncomfortable. My life has been easy; I haven't had to worry if it's safe for me to run in the neighborhood or walk out of a store or get pulled over for a traffic stop.
But my daughter will grow up with those concerns.
She will have to worry that even though she may be the best candidate for the job, her skin color may keep her from being hired. She will have to concern herself with the fact that the white boy she has a crush on has parents who won't "allow" him to like a black girl or ask her to the dance. She will have to worry about being followed in a store by employees who think the black kid is probably trying to shoplift when her white friends won't have that same kind of scrutiny. She will have to worry about a speeding ticket turning into a fight for her life.
So, I'm trying to have some empathy today and in my life overall, for people who are hurting in ways that I can't begin to understand. I'm trying to remember that it's not about me or how comfortable I feel in this situation. I'm trying to remember that we don't have to agree on every single thing to still stand on the same side of justice and liberty for ALL. I'm trying to remember that this is a new fight for many of my white friends who have never experienced racism personally. I'm trying to remember that people all around me are hurting, and I want to be an agent of change for them and for this world. I believe that as a follower of Jesus, that is what I'm called to do.
A few days ago, I reached out to some of my black friends and asked if I could just listen to their hearts in this. I asked what it is that they would love to see from me. And I've had a few of my white friends reach out to me and ask "what is it that you need as a mom of a black child?". Let me share some ways we might grow our empathy for our black friends, how we can join together with them in unity.
1. Listen. Try to empathize and understand a perspective that isn't your own. Don't try to change the narrative. Let people say "Black lives matter" without changing it to "all lives matter". I heard it said that if your house was on fire, you wouldn't want the fire truck to come to all houses on your street but to yours. Think about that. Let's put the emphasis where the need is right now. Saying Black Lives Matter does not take away from anyone else at all. It never has. Listen to that narrative.
2. Have hard discussions. If you see racism, call it out. And call it out immediately. That doesn't mean posting on social media. It means one on one talks with the people in our lives.
3. If you have kids who are friends with black children (please please if your kids are friends with my girl!!), tell them to watch out for their black friends. If they hear other kids saying racist things, tell them to speak up to an adult. If they see racist posts on social media, tell them to get a screen shot immediately then tell the parents or teachers. This one act likely saved our daughter from more immense hurt, and possibly even a dangerous threat to her safety.
4. If you are a follower of Jesus, make racial unity a matter of prayerI. Prayer does change things.
5. Look for ways to get involved. March with your black brothers and sisters. Do it peacefully. But do it. Give to organizations that are trying to make a difference. If you need ideas for that, contact me.
I believe in a world where my daughter and all those who look like her will be accepted because of who they are. I have to believe in that. And I will fight for that day to come. She is worth it. All people of color are worth it. Because Black lives DO matter.