The Admission that Changed Everything

As a woman whose mother is African American and whose father is from the Caribbean, I am dark-skinned. And even though I know the atrocities that have been committed in the United States against people with dark skin like mine, I’m just recently beginning to acknowledge that this fallen dynamic persists today.

My parents taught me that everyone was equal. They taught me that I could do whatever I wanted in life, if I was willing to work hard for it. That no matter what I looked like, no matter my background, I would get a fair shot in this world, just like everybody else.

My dad immigrated to the United States from Dominica in his 20’s with barely anything. He worked very hard and was able to make a better life for himself. So growing up in a predominantly Black community in Maryland, nothing of my childhood countered the lessons they taught me. I had no reason to believe anything else.

When I was 14, my family moved to a wealthier suburb, and I was plunged for the first time into a community that was largely made up of White families. With my age also came a new self-awareness, and I began to care a lot more about how others saw me. In my predominantly White neighborhood, I began to notice that if I behaved in the ways that I was used to in my former neighborhood, I would be seen in a negative light.

Slowly but surely—to keep from making the (usually White) people around me feel uncomfortable or suspicious of me—I birthed a list of things I couldn’t do: Don’t walk too quickly out of a store; someone will think you’re stealing something. Don’t laugh too loudly; people will think you’re uneducated and vulgar. Don’t speak with too much sass. These behaviors, amongst others, became off-limits for me.

And at some point, my perception allowed for the possibility that the people around me might think negatively of others just because of the color of their skin. I could admit that such a reality existed, but I couldn’t yet accept that it was true for me. Even today, I find it difficult to believe. Because if I admit to myself that racism exists—not just in theory, but in real, present-day experience—if I admit that, it changes everything.

At some point, my perception allowed for the possibility that the people around me might think negatively of others just because of the color of their skin. I could admit that such a reality existed, but I couldn’t yet accept that it was true for me. Even today, I find it difficult to believe. Because if I admit to myself that racism exists—not just in theory, but in real, present-day experience—if I admit that, it changes everything.

It means that my friends and coworkers may actually believe that the stereotypes they see about African Americans on TV apply to me. It means that I have another new monster to fight, that I have to beat back more lies about being worthless with the words of Christ, who says I’m worth dying for.

Today, I’m serving as a missionary with InterVarsity Link in Puerto Rico, an island whose people have a mix of Taino (Indian), Spanish and African blood. So to see a mix of skin shades here is the norm, and from what I can see, everyone is seen as equally Puerto Rican no matter where they fall on the spectrum.

But living on this island doesn’t keep me from seeing and reading about the numerous Black men and women being treated like animals back home. The truth is there, bright enough for me to see. Every other day, it seems like there’s a new hashtag on my Facebook feed of a person who was wrongly killed because of their skin color.

And I’m tired. I am so tired or reading about this day after day. And I need Jesus—his hope, his love for humanity, his forgiveness, and his recognition of those who are on the fringes of society.

How can I accept that people actually think the worst of me—not because of my actions or ideas, but because of the way that I look? How will I get over how wounded and hurt I feel each and every time I experience that? How will I fight against someone’s prejudices?

To accept that racism is still a reality today in the United States is not only painful, but overwhelming. I can easily see myself falling into an abyss of depression, weighed down by the disbelief that such deep-seated hatred and bigotry still exists in this world, in my own country.

And so this question remains: Is there any way to accept that the world is this damaged without also inviting reconciliation and restoration into it through Jesus? Jesus is the only one who enables me to admit the presence of prejudice without being completely destroyed by it. There is no answer for this darkness but the Light of Christ.

This is missions.

The students I work with here in Puerto Rico are studying about who Jesus is, about the character of the God that we serve, and how the Holy Spirit was and is still at work. They’re discovering how to love others, even in the midst of pain. And they’re exploring how to approach a campus of nonbelievers with this news of the incredible hope we have in Christ. The work that they are doing on their campuses will have a lasting impact that none of us can imagine because the Holy Spirit is here, alive, and working. And that is such good news!

And as I look at myself, there are still questions that need answers. I’m still figuring out what my response should be—inwardly and outwardly—to the ongoing treatment of Black people in the United States. But in the midst of all of this, God is still working in, through, and around me and my country. All hope is not lost!!

So my prayers for us today are these: that the Lord would continue to reaffirm the truth about our worth as his sons and daughters; and that we can continue to have honest conversations with ourselves and others about faith and race, in the hopes of seeing God’s kingdom brought to Earth.

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