By Jenny Fulton
It was another ordinary day at the park. Chloe, my oldest girl, was a fearless three-year-old. I was keeping a close eye on the time. If we stayed too long, her fair skin would burn (even with the SPF50 sunscreen I’d applied).
Another mother with a girl close to Chloe’s age showed up. I smiled a greeting at the mom and, other than noting that both she and her daughter had flawless ebony-colored skin, didn’t think too much about their arrival.
After spending a few minutes getting acquainted with the new girl, Chloe ran up to me. She was obviously very excited about something.
“Mommy, mommy! Look at that girl! Her skin is black!”
I wanted to die.
Sink beneath the wood chips of the playground.
A million thoughts ran through my head. Were we so isolated as a family that my daughter hasn’t been around others with different skin tones? No, we did have several friends with darker skin than ours, though granted, none who were quite that rich in color… Where were Chloe’s words coming from?
And then I realized something.
My daughter was simply being a child making an honest observation. There was no value statement attached to her words. For the first time in her life, she had noticed something different about herself and another little girl.
“Yes, Chloe,” I said, acknowledging her observation. “Her skin is dark. It’s beautiful, isn’t it, just like yours.”
Chloe paused for a second to think about my words. Then she smiled. “Yes!” she yelled, and immediately ran off to play with her new friend.
I was afraid and embarrassed to face the mother. What must she be thinking of me? How did she perceive the exchange?
As awkward as I felt, I knew that addressing her was the best thing I could do.
I didn’t mention the conversation with my daughter, and neither did she. Instead, we talked about our commonalities – motherhood, where our husbands worked, what had brought us to the park that day…
The grace she showed me in that moment still washes over me. She could have responded in so many other ways. Instead, she responded with kindness. I felt no judgment, only camaraderie.
In a time when race and racial issues are still largely sensitive hot buttons, this mother’s treatment of me stands out. It highlights an aspect I feel is so often missing from the numerous conversations and discussions on race: the element of grace.
Definitions According to Miriam-Webster
Race: c : a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
Racism: 1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
Grace: d : disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
In spite of the progress America has made in eliminating slavery and in establishing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is easily apparent that tensions and hurts surrounding race and racism are still very much present.
The Facts of the Present (to the degree I understand them)
- Racism still exists in America today.
- Racism isn’t prevalent everywhere.
- Some people are racist.
- Many people aren’t racist.
- While some may experience racism first-hand on a regular basis, others may go through their whole life without seeing or experiencing any first-hand evidence of it.
- There are still pockets in America without much, if any, racial diversity.
- It is extremely painful to be on the receiving end of racist behavior.
- Lack of experience (or ignorance) isn’t a sin or a crime, any more than the color of someone’s skin makes them a criminal.
Can we, regardless of the color of our skin, approach matters of race with grace rather than judgment, kindness rather than condemnation?
My hope and prayer is that we may approach these issues, and each other, in a manner that is kind, respectful, and open, without jumping to inaccurate conclusions, casting harsh judgments, or making bold, overarching assumptions. I pray we may treat each other with grace, as people beloved of God. I pray we will refrain from taking on the guilt and sins of our ancestors and, similarly, from placing the sins of the past onto the people of the present. Instead, may we deal with each person according to how they show themselves to be. Let us believe God’s words that He covered every sin on the cross and will judge each person according to their deeds (Romans 2:6).
So what about me, the author of this article? What right or business do I have to be talking about matters of race?
First off, as a member of the human race, I live in a world where, like it or not, people are classified according to their appearance.
Secondly, like many in America, I’m a mutt. Is that insensitive to say? I mean it in the best way. Maybe “mixed” or “blended” is a better term.
My skin tone, though it tans quickly and easily in the summer, is of a lighter color, and my hair alters between light to medium brown. In spite of my brown eyes, those first characteristics lend me the most common identification as a Caucasian or white girl.
However, my grandmother on my dad’s side is Lillian Deshnod of the Todích’íí’nii (Bitterwater) clan. She grew up on the Navajo Reservation and, after some years away at a Bible College, returned there to serve as an interpreter at a mission. This is where she met my grandpa – a full-blood German whose grandparents met on the ship to America.
My mom’s side of the family is of northern European heritage, predominantly English and German.
One of my uncles on my dad’s side has good-naturedly referred to me as a “white Navajo.” Others on the Navajo reservation have called me a “bilagáana.” In Mexico, I’ve been a “gringo.” In China, I was a “laowai.”
Background and Experiences
I grew up in a small Kansas town where you could count the racial diversity on one hand (it has since increased in this area).
In my life, I’ve known and worked with European Americans, Africans, African Americans, Mexicans, Hispanic Americans, Asians, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.
I love variety. I love seeing the commonalities through the differences. My brain classifies people according to the context in which we met. I don’t remember my friends by their race, but by their personalities, our commonalities, and the place they hold in my heart.
That said, I know my experiences are limited. I know there is much I don’t understand or think about when it comes to race. It is my hope and prayer that we may respect and value each other’s heart and experiences and that we may speak to each other kindly in these matters. May we be like the mother I met in the park who didn’t take offense at my daughter’s ignorance and like our children who didn’t let the color of their skin prevent them from being friends.
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