I am white. My adopted son is black. When I first carried him into the church I was pastoring at the time, a lady looked at him in my arms, gave a twisted smile, and said, “Well hon, just lather him up with sunblock. It’ll keep him from turning into a darky.” Off to Sunday School she marched and I took a chair in the classroom of American race relations.
I have lost count of how many times I talked to a coach about a kid on the team calling my son the N-word; of the hundreds of suspicious sneers aimed at my family; of how many ethnic jokes I’ve had to interrupt; of how often I’ve begged my son to be cautious in volatile situations – including traffic stops – for his own safety; of how many close friends and family I’ve had to confront or simply step away from because of their bigoted opinions.
Understand that my family has always lived in “normal, peaceful” communities. No cross-burnings, Klan rallies, or Nazis armed to the teeth flashing their hand gestures of white power. But “normal,” for huge swaths of this country, is white privilege; and “peaceful” is conditioned on everyone “remembering their place” and current social structures remaining as they are.
We who have never been subjected to racism or discrimination because we are white are simply blind, blind as the proverbial bat. We don’t see injustice because we have never experienced injustice. We don’t think there is a “race problem” because we have been winning the race for centuries, a race rigged from the outset of the American experiment. We can’t understand the burning, justifiable anger from those outside our tribal world, because we’ve never had to live outside of that world.
You don’t have to be a card-carrying white nationalist to be part of perpetuating injustice. You don’t have to don a hooded sheet to make a safe haven for bigots. You don’t have to drop racial slurs to prove your prejudices. All you must do is nothing. If “good, decent, Christian people” do nothing to oppose, correct, and uproot the heinous poison of racism, nothing will change.
I don’t say this to shame anyone or to make my family a symbol of white enlightenment or racial reconciliation. I say this as a father who loves his son with all my heart; a son, who now as a young man, continues to provide me a most necessary education on the veiled, unacknowledged, and unspoken biases of our society.
To that end, I want to keep learning, working for fairness, and trying to understand how we can heal our nation’s primal and original wound. And I want to be part of building a community where the only supremacy is love, and as Dr. King envisioned, where “The sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” – which includes this Georgia-born father and son – “will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”