This is the most difficult piece I have ever had to write. I have started and stopped, penned hundreds of words and then deleted them as quickly as I wrote them. Over the course of the last several weeks I have agonized and lost sleep about this article – not because I don’t know what to say, but because I’m not sure that anything I have ever written has been so deeply personal and painful.
I am a white mother of a beautifully multiracial family, with four kids from four different countries and a fifth on the way. And though I have spent the last decade of my life believing that my sweet children (black and white) were equal and beloved in the eyes of my community, my country, and beyond, the past few years have eroded that belief—and broken my heart.
These will be hard words for some of my family and friends to read. They will feel betrayed by the above admission, as if my grief over the state of our country is somehow directed at them. They might feel judged, or tell themselves that I’m being melodramatic—that things really aren’t that bad. After all, my kids are healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and profoundly loved, and our greater community has been overwhelmingly welcoming and supportive of our family. How can I be anything but hopeful about the future of our nation? The Baarts are one of the success stories, they’ll argue.
We are. And we love and adore our family, friends, and community. And yet, I do have some very real fears about our current cultural climate. Is it really true that this is the new world we live in, where we “say it like it is” and don’t have to adhere to collectively held standards of morality and human kindness? If so, this culture is a terrifying place for a family like mine. It allows all sorts of ugly behavior to crawl out from beneath the foundations of our communities—and I think we are learning that our castles have been built on sand.
This is a world where many are starting to wonder if tapping into hate is an acceptable method of achieving personal gain, a world in which decency, sincerity, compassion, and sacrifice are considered weaknesses. It’s a world where in my own small Midwestern town, Confederate flags are proudly flown from the back of pickup trucks during Sunday “cruise night,” and instead of the whole community being horrified, some people still smile and say, “Boys will be boys.” This is a world where a young, biracial friend of ours is routinely called a “dirty n****r” and threatened in school. Where my son was once told by a classmate (at the Christian school!) that he couldn’t like a little girl because she is white and he is black. Where racist jokes are told with a guilty smirk and a wink—and no one bothers to stand up and say stop.
Hear me well. This isn’t about politics or Trump vs. Clinton. I would be deeply saddened if this article ended in another shouting match of “he said/she said.” What I do hope to discuss is an ideology that has been given a (loud and vicious) voice in this tumultuous season in our nation’s history. Once considered peripheral to common culture, hate and vitriol and deep-seated anger have begun flirting with the norm these last several months. This has occurred on both ends of the political spectrum, and now that we stand in the ashes of the aftermath—now that everything grotesque has been dragged out into the open—we find ourselves at a crossroads. Will we begin the long, unifying process of actually listening to one another? Or will we continue to scream at each other across the divide?
If you would like to hear the perspective of one adoptive mother who is concerned about issues of race, read on. These words are close to my heart and capture just a few of the things that my family has learned along the way as we continue to journey towards a deeper understanding of each other and the world around us.
We believe the Bible means what it says when Paul declares in Galatians 3:28 that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And we believe that it is our job to stand up and be Christ to the least of these. We are one body, and parts of that body – on all sides – are broken and hurting. To ignore the very real pain of the people groups who feel marginalized, ignored, threatened, and abused is to marginalize, ignore, threaten, and abuse Christ himself. We believe that it’s long past time for us to stop pretending that these issues don’t matter—that we don’t struggle with racism—and to start having real conversations about how we can begin shining a light into the dark corners of our communities and beyond.
How do we start?
Admit that racism is real. I can’t tell you how hurtful it is to hear people denounce the issue of racism or proclaim that it’s something our country left in the dust of the Civil Rights Movement. To pretend otherwise is naive and disingenuous, because all we have to do is turn on the news to see a myriad of ways that racism is alive and well today. It’s neither true nor helpful to wish it away or assert that it doesn’t happen in our communities. It does. Sometimes racism exists in the subtle jabs of micro-aggression. Like when someone tells a joke that stereotypes a person or group of people based on the color of their skin or their ethnicity. Or when a person of color walks by and you give him or her a second glance. Or when you think quietly to yourself, “I hope my children marry someone who looks like them. It will make their lives so much easier!” And racism also exists when horrific things happen, like when spray-painted swastikas appear on a baseball dugout in New York, or a black baby doll with a rope around its neck is found at Canisius College in Buffalo the day after the presidential election.
Accept that implicit bias and white privilege exist. Like it or not, we are programmed to feel comfortable, accepted, and at ease with people who look like us, think like us, and act like us. Different is not only uncomfortable, it can be scary. When we don’t question those biases, we begin to create narratives (consciously or unconsciously) that “different” means “less than.” In predominantly racially exclusive communities, this narrative becomes so entrenched that we can be utterly blind to our own prejudices. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise.1 Answer the following questions by filling in your “color” (white, black, brown, etc.):
- I am…
- My extended family is predominantly…
- My boss/supervisor is…
- My co-workers are mostly…
- The books or art in my home have stories or images of people who are mostly…
- The community I live in is mostly…
- My physician is…
- The teachers in my children’s school are predominantly…
- The police officers in my neighborhood are…
- My hairdresser is…
- My dentist is…
- My role model is…
Are you sensing a trend? Now, try the exercise from the perspective of a racial minority in your community. What would it feel like for an adopted child, an immigrant, or a new family who doesn’t share your ethnicity to enter your neighborhood? How might you overcome your own implicit biases to reach out to that person and make him or her feel respected, valued, welcome, and loved?
Speak up. In the midst of the atrocities of the Holocaust, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously penned: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” If Uncle John starts to tell a racist joke at Thanksgiving, stop him. Do it with respect for his position as a beloved family member, but for heaven’s sake: stop him. Our children are listening, and if we will not stand up for those whose voices are silenced or ignored, who will? If you see someone hassling a kid because of her natural hair, say something! Step out in courage. Be the hands and feet of Christ. It’s not enough to simply abstain from racist behavior ourselves; we need to call it out in other people. If we don’t, we are perpetuating racism in a devastatingly insidious way. And when blatant racism exists? Shout about it! Immediately and decisively, with a no-holds-barred, no-tolerance policy that leaves absolutely no room for doubt about where you stand. Christians can be pros at passing the buck, and I’m saddened whenever I hear or read comments in response to social justice horrors that sound something like this: “Well, not all people are hateful.” Of course not. But we need to create a culture where our disgust in the face of racism is obvious and our reaction to it is swift and vehement. A better response? “This is wrong. It’s sickening and horrifying and hateful. I am so sorry it happened. What can I do to help?”
Sit and Really Listen. I’m a novelist and storyteller by trade, and passionate about the belief that story is transformational. More importantly, our stories are transformational. I believe it is impossible to know someone’s story and not be affected by it. If we took the time to sit and really listen to each other, I think we would find that our commonality far outweighs our differences. Who can you reach out to? Where are there people in your community who are marginalized? People who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are persecuted for any reason? Jesus is for these people. There is so much we can learn by listening to one another – by opening our hearts, our minds, our ears, and our homes to each other.
Stand in the gap. It breaks my heart to say this, but my kids already have faced and will continue to face trials that I as a privileged white woman know nothing about. My skin color, socioeconomic status, and even my weight are all ways that people immediately and unconsciously categorize me. I am perceived as a non-threat at worst, a potential friend, partner, and asset at best. My children face a very different reality. It kills me to admit this, but the color of their skin will close doors for them and cause people to perceive them differently. I wish this wasn’t true, but it is. And if we, as the body of Christ, are not willing to be their shield, to stand in the gap and advocate for them and educate our children and each other about how to combat the subtle, “harmless” racism that is prevalent in our communities, then we are contributing to the problem. We have been given a place of privilege and much will be required of us (“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded…” Luke 12:48).
We stand at the precipice of a new era in our country. The apple cart has been overturned and our divisions are deep. But from great upheaval comes the opportunity for great transformation. May we as Christians, as the ambassadors of Jesus Christ in this world, use this moment in history to love radically. We are the people of the cross, and though “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
May we tap into that power, dig deep, learn from each other, and admit the many ways that we have failed. May we humbly and sincerely beg each other for forgiveness. And then, through the abundant grace of God, may we begin to build bridges, learn from our failures, and work together to find new strength. Friends, may we live loud and love hard. May our communities resound with the rallying cry: “We are one body!” May we preach a gospel of hope and healing, and may we be at the forefront of a movement that spreads radical, extravagant, unexplainable love throughout our communities, our country, and the rest of the world.
It begins now. And it begins with us.
adapted from Race and Culture, an adoptive education curriculum courtesy of Bethany Christian Services ↩
Thank you for something well-thought and well-spoken. Thank you for calling our attention to what we can do right here and right now. I want to piggy back on the second to last paragraph: We are in a time of upheaval; what better time to act as a follower of Jesus and make a difference.
Thank you, Kevin. I couldn’t agree more: now is the time to make our lives reflect our Savior!
Beautifully, honestly written. An issue that cannot be ignored/avoided as a body of believers!
Thanks for your encouragement, Julie. I’m so grateful for believers who are willing to stand up and face these issues head on.
Thanks, Nicole. It’s hard for us to understand the trials of people until we actually experience them. Thanks for helping me to better understand what these experiences are like for you and your family. I hope this vicarious experience will help me listen, speak up, and stand in the gap for people who are different from me in various ways. I know that is what Jesus wants me to do as His child.
I’m grateful for your open heart, Ed. We need people to join hearts and hands and speak out against injustice.
Thank you for your message. I too feel a spirit of unrest. I have an adopted child who is half black and he has four children. My youngest son, not adopted, has adopted four children from Africa, three from Ethiopia and one from Uganda. That makes eight grandchildren who are all or partially African American. I pray each day for each of them and also my other eight white grandchildren to be changers in a society that needs change. I have some fear but also some hope that they will bring the message that Christ taught us. Pray for that to happen.
Joining you in prayer, Pam! I love your family and the diversity it represents. May all our kids be world changers!
Thank you, Nicole. Finally someone willing and able to tell the truth in a helpful way. I hope your words will spark an inferno of compassion, confession, listening and encouraging for all parts of our body.
Thanks for taking the time to respond, Vicki. The first few versions of this article were a bit more heated… 😉 But I don’t want to lose my audience. We must learn to speak civilly and respectfully to one another. And reclaim the lost art of really, truly listening. I believe it’s the only way we’ll begin to heal the brokenness in our world.
Thank you for this courageous and practical article. I will share it with a few friends who are mothers in multiracial families. there are a great many of us who will stand up and make this country a safe and thriving place for your children to grow up in.
Andrew, thank you! I really need to hear this right now–that there are people who are willing to put themselves at risk (emotional, interpersonal, etc.) for people who are marginalized and/or afraid. It doesn’t take much. A simple “I hear you,” “I see you,” “I am for you,” is incredibly powerful.
Thank you for writing this Nicole.
You’re welcome. Thanks for reading.
What a wonderful testament, spoken with love and conviction. May we all have the courage to change the things we cannot accept. Thank you for using your voice!
Thanks for joining the conversation, Sarah. May we all speak with deep love and courage!
My heart hurts for you Nicole. I will stand in the gap. You are so right it starts with each of us. This issue will not be solved by legislation but by people speaking out and naming it as not acceptable. People are people know matter what color, age, weight, race etc. Our souls have no color and are hearts beat the same. I am rambling but it is hard to put into words what my heart feels.
You’re not rambling at all, Faye. I think so many of us feel this way–tongue-tied and convicted and ready to DO something. Thank you for your openness and your willingness to stand in the gap. The world needs people like you!
Thanks for sharing Nicole, definitely eye opening
You’re welcome, Winnie. Thanks for reading.
Oh Nicole, I love and appreciate your words. I’m one of the friends Andrew Hoeksema mentioned above, and I’d love to chat with you further, perhaps in the new year. My manuscript, about my journey into issues of race, will be shopped around next month, and I’ve off and on been doing interviews with people I think might have something to add to the story. Let me know if this is something you might be interested in, or if nothing else, let’s connect in general!
Thanks so much for your encouraging words, Cara. I’m so glad this article resonated with you. And I’d love to connect! Shoot me an email if you’d like: firstname.lastname@example.org
All best to you!