“Are you ashamed of your race?” I was asked that about two years ago in an unexpected conversation with a white supremacist. He didn’t “wear a hood” he told me, but knew plenty of people who did. I didn’t know that was still a thing. Call me naive.
How do I answer that question? Am I ashamed of being a white person? I tried to think quickly because here’s the reality: that question had never, literally ever crossed my mind before. Sometimes you’re slow to answer because you want to word an answer carefully. This wasn’t that. I paused because I had no category and no point of reference to answer from. He might have asked me what temperature was the color orange – that would have made about as much sense to my mind at the moment.
So after a pause and repeating the question back to him incredulously, I said in complete honesty, “No! I’m not ashamed of my race. And what even kind of question is that?”
That rather dramatic conversation came rushing back to me a couple times this past week. The first time was when I was watching a documentary on WHRO (local PBS affiliate) telling the story of the Norfolk 17, the first 17 black students to integrate Norfolk Public schools. Andrew Heidelberg told the story of how he was harassed, excluded, taunted, mocked the first two years he attended Norview.
He said there were periods during that time when every day would say in anger, “God, why? Why did you make me black?” It was devastating to hear him talk about that time in his life. Heidelberg overcame that adversity to lead a tremendously successful life and become rightly proud of his skin color and the place in history he played.
But seeing Heidelberg’s tears and hearing the pain in his voice reminded me that I had no category when someone had asked me if I was ashamed of my “race.”
Then this morning I saw an article from Christian rapper Shai Linne. I’ve long enjoyed his music and admired his theological clarity. Shai is fantastic. He wrote an article describing the answer he gave when a white friend asked him how he was doing over the past few weeks. It’s powerful. Please read. There are several reasons this article is so powerful but please read this paragraph:
“It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, ‘Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.’”
Guys. Please. After you’re done weeping over what you just read. Please understand. This is not 1959. This is 2020. We still live in a world where socialization and whatever forces are at work, even in spite of most of us not harboring personal racial prejudice… we still live in a country where black children wonder why God made them the way he did.
This cannot stand. We can’t be ok that our world is like this.
From the youngest of ages black children should hear us and see us demonstrating the truth that black lives matter. Even more that their black or brown skin is beautiful – just as beautiful as every other skin color God has made and blessed this earth with.
No, I’m not “ashamed” of my “race.” But I’m not ok until everyone else around me can say the same.