“No one is excused from the conversation. Instead of hate, we choose subversive joy and indefatigable faith. We hope for another way, for new paths forward, for healing truly to come to our land.” – Cara Meredith
For a long while I’ve excused myself from the conversation on racial justice in America. It’s not my place, I said as a white woman. I don’t want to overstep my bounds.
Living in the Middle East and South Asia, I involved myself in learning from my Muslim neighbors. Working in non-profits coming alongside local workers who are leading the way in issues of poverty, slavery, women’s rights, education—these were my chosen conversations. I spent my time immersed in the needs of the majority world, so I excused myself from taking a look in my back yard.
For the last year I have lived outside of the US and watched from afar as old divisions grow wider and discussions grow hotter and more hateful. And this feels like my life as a whole—watching from afar, not truly engaging.
But I have been watching. I’ve quietly widened my social media circles, the books I am reading, and the news sources I am taking in. I’ve written for a couple years for a magazine whose primary demographic is women of color and I have poured over the articles by the other writers, wanting to know. Wanting to listen.
Cara Meredith is one of those voices I’ve been hearing at the periphery of my life for the past few years, nudging me—telling me just silently watching isn’t enough. We met through common online writing circles and I’ve watched her journey and growth as a smart, engaging woman who is leveraging her voice and experience to call us all into new depths.
You see, Cara is married to a man whose father who had a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. She is a white woman who has chosen to walk into the conversation of race, not just out of love for her husband and sons, but because she has seen that it is her journey too. I knew all this when I read her new book The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice. I was ready to listen some more, to hear her story. What I didn’t expect was to see that it is my story, too.
I read her book in large gulps, enraptured. I was taken in by her personal story but then I was hooked by the history as well. As Meredith fell in love with her husband, she learned about the legacy of his father. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard the full story of this incredible man, James Meredith. Maybe his life was a blip on the radar of black history month, but his was never a story that I’d truly known before. I was ashamed of this.
“For too long I refused to let myself see history’s one-sided affair, listening to and learning from the stories of my past, stories told from the point of view of the oppressor,” says Meredith. These words echoed in my heart for weeks.
At the same time I was reading in The Very Good Gospel the account of a racial reconciliation pilgrimage Lisa Sharon Harper had taken part in. One of their stops was in Dahlonega, Georgia where the American government began passing laws in 1828 to strip the Cherokee of their land when gold was discovered in the north Georgia mountains. This led the way to the removal of “nearly forty-six thousand Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole men, women and children. The illegal deportation cleared twenty-five million acres of land for white settlement, mining, and ultimately slavery.” I vacationed regularly in these very mountains as a child where some of my ancestors lived (and I know that some of my forefathers were, indeed, slaveholders). This was another story I’d never been told yet this is part of my history, my story.
As I thought about what I would say about The Color of Life, I knew it had to be my story. Another reason I’ve stayed out of the conversation is a common excuse: fear. What if I say something offensive? What if I make everything worse for people who have already been so wounded? But really, it is self-preservation. What if I am embarrassed? What if my own bias and ignorance shows?
Like Cara Meredith bravely told her family’s story and how she has journeyed closer toward reconciliation because she realized her place in the bigger picture, all of us have a place here in this story of our shared humanity. I hope I can find a place next to people like Meredith who say “I cry out against the chains of oppression because although we are equal in our status in human beings, we have not all been found equal in the eyes of society and in the eyes of each other.” All of us need to do what we can to understand our history…and our way forward toward truly seeing the image of God in all people.
If you aren’t sure where you fit in this conversation, if you aren’t sure why all this talk about race right now even matters—read The Color of Life. Meredith weaves theology and history into a compelling story with the humility and compassion of a mother struggling how to understand how racism will impact her own sons. This book is a place to start and especially if you are a white brother or sister, I hope it is a start indeed. We have a long way to go and we can only do it together.
Where do you consider yourself in the conversations happening today around racial justice? Where would you like to be? What obstacles do you need to overcome to get there? What motivates you to dive deeper?
How have stories you have heard shaped your views of racism? Do you feel you need to shift or broaden the narratives you are taking in?
Their smiles were hidden behind burqas, the black veils covering most of their faces. But there was a glimmer in their eyes as I caught their gazes and returned their shy smiles. They laughed as they worked up the nerve to ask for a photo. The encounter was repeated several more times with other welcoming strangers as we walked through the park.
My friends and I wore brightly colored salwar suits that day and tried to fit in, but we couldn’t hide the white skin that made us the celebrities of the day. We laughed later as we looked through our photos and thought how many family pictures we ended up in, strangers in a sea of lovely brown skin. The boldness of the South Asians who asked for “a photo ma’am” or snuck a selfie with us in the background made us snicker.
But a whispered second thought halted our lighthearted laughter. How do we make foreigners in our midst feel?
When we see people who obviously don’t look like they belong, do we treat them with such adoration? Do we stop to see them at all?...
I AM OVER AT SHELOVES MAGAZINE SHARING ABOUT HOW GOD OPENED MY EYES TO THE BEAUTIFUL DIVERSITY AROUND ME. JOIN ME THERE...
To the Ones I Want to Give the World To,
In just a few days I will have to say goodbye to you. Every time I leave I think it will be easier than the last, but it never is. Just thinking about that parting brings tears to my eyes. I am so used to you being the biggest part of my day. From waking to sleeping, there are so many moments in between in which you need me.
When I am not with you I wonder how I can be apart from someone who feels like an extension of my very being. I can't believe I have only been mother for nearly 7 years and was something else for 28 long years before that. I can't remember what it was like to not be your mom.
These moments of leaving are glimpses into what someday will be more permanent. Right now it is me setting out without you and only for a short time. One day it will be you leaving me for the big world out there and there will be a permanence to your leaving that I can't bear to think of just yet. I hold onto you as long as I can knowing that day will come far sooner than I am prepared for.
As your dad and I get ready to go we talk to you about the places we will visit and show them to you on the map. World travel doesn't seem strange to you as you speak a few words in languages not your own. I laugh at Arabic or Hindi spoken with your little southern American drawls and when you ask if the people in the part of the world we are visiting live in tents like in the Bible.
But I hope you understand more than a couple words of foreign languages or an acceptance of what is outside your own culture. I hope you grasp the reason we do what we do and it seeps deep down into your heart even now. Continue Reading