This article was originally published by The Mennonite

An offensive way in me

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)

I am a racist.

I was raised to believe that all people are equal, regardless of the color of their skin or the station of their birth, but that simple truth stands in stark contrast to the years I’ve spent receiving special treatment based on my race. My racism isn’t the variety of the Klu Klux Klan or spray-painted racial slurs. My racism is the kind that, no matter how many well-educated black men I know, I will still be surprised to find out that the one sitting next to me at the DMV is working on his PhD. It’s the kind that lingers in the periphery, subconsciously coloring the way I view the world. Not a racism of fear and hatred, but a racism of “us” and “them.”

I grew up as a privileged minority–a pale face in a sea of brown. As a white missionary kid in Kenya, I was reminded daily of my difference. Sometimes I was reminded by an old man cursing me for sins that white men committed long before I was born. Sometimes I was reminded by a marriage proposal, based solely on the affluence suggested by the color of my skin. Usually, I was reminded by children: babies screaming in terror at the sight of my unusual color, a processional of children shouting, “Mzungu! White person!” as they chased our car down the street, or the many little hands that stroked my blonde head and plucked my arm hair.

A few years passed, and I fell in love and married a brown-eyed, brown-skinned boy. Not long after, a new little life started to grow inside me. It began to flutter, then roll and kick and stick its little elbows into the flesh under the white skin of my growing stomach. When he was born, his skin was wrinkled and pale, as newborn skin tends to be. My subconscious mind was so busy trying to comprehend that he was mine that it never got around to categorizing him in terms of race: black, white or biracial. Instead, he was my child, my son, my gift of immeasurable worth.

I am still surprised when people talk about my children’s brown skin in a way that is categorical instead of descriptive. It seems unimaginable that this flesh of my flesh could be in some category that separates them from me, or in any category other than that of “Beautiful Human Life.”

It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that I subconsciously racially profile people every day, because when I imagine it happening to my precious little children, it feels absolutely vile.

Understanding this kind of racism has not been a revelation, but a journey. I continue to learn about and work to address this “offensive way in me,” even as I begin to see the ways that racism will shape my children.

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