I remember the junior high/middle school years as a somewhat confusing time of wonder and painful adjustments. It was during those years that I first formed friendships that I enjoy to this day! It was also the time that I noticed more overtly, unprovoked racialized behavior amongst my peers. I saw students of a lighter hue harassed by students of a darker hue for walking in the “wrong part” of a hallway or for “walking too cool for your kind.” It was also during these years that I heard the “n-word” used regularly as an insult resulting in violent exchanges. Those types of memories have always made me particularly concerned for my own children, fearing that their middle school experience would be baptisms by fire into the uglier sides of American culture. As of this writing, I am 4 for 4 in seeing my concerns realized in the lives of my daughters.
Victoria is a strong young woman who possesses a keen sense of humor and energetic personality while at the same time, exhibiting traits of deep thought and a contemplative nature. Very recently, after climbing in the car as I picked her up from school, I could see that there was something on her mind. I assumed it was an academic question or goofy anecdote from school. It was neither. She began by sharing the awkward, middle school struggle to find a place to sit, when cliques are beginning to form and suddenly who sits next to whom becomes a greater concern. Finding “friends” she recognized, she sat down and began to eat.
As she consumed her lunch, one “friend”, out of the blue, launches into a rant, proclaiming in bold terms a ridiculous, negative generalization about people of African descent. Victoria listened unbelievingly. Others at the table, also stunned, cautioned this individual by reminding them that Victoria was at the table. The friend responded, “I don’t care!” and continued with her racially charged words. Victoria quietly at her lunch, and kept the incident to herself until she came home and shared the happening with us.
This type of incident is what keeps those of us who are people of color on guard, even as we “relax” and what keeps those of us who follow Jesus prayed up and prepared. My gut reaction was one of anger and the words that first came to mind were not edifying in any way. Nevertheless, I believed that my response would be critical in shaping my daughter’s perspective on herself, her heritage and others who were of different backgrounds. I swallowed hard, silently prayed hard, and began to share and encourage in what would be a series of discussions on the incident, advising her on reactions to such rants and advising her of when the issue would be considered an escalation worthy of teacher/administrator interaction.
I share this today not for pity, but for perspective. The day was long enough for all of us as it was, without this extra grenade being tossed in. Nevertheless, the grenade was thrown and had to be dealt with. I also share it to remind us as adults that our children hear and repeat the less than righteous things we say. The content of the rant Victoria heard clearly originated from the home of the person that delivered it. I know this family and could her the parental voice in my mind that planted the seed. The thought of such ignorance coming from the mouth of my “friend” was painful and disappointing.
We don’t have to wonder why our nation is as divided as it is. For the last few decades it is apparent that for the most part, we have been posturing and play acting that our hearts are for togetherness and our minds are united as one. Our children, from the university level to middle school, are exposing a different truth. Brothers sisters and friends, if there is to be any semblance of peace among us, it must begin with us in our own homes. My recent experience gives me pause and less hope that overcoming progress has been made. Nevertheless, I am committed to teach the righteousness of love until my dying breath. I pray you might be convicted to do the same in your homes, amongst your own kindred as well. One certainty is this. Our shortcomings in loving others will be ultimately exposed for all to see. Hatred cannot be forever hidden. May God save us all from ourselves.