By Lisa Mouton
Note: Lisa and I were college roommates for several years and have maintained our friendship for over twenty years. With the recent death of George Floyd and other Black Americans, I invited Lisa to share the thoughts in her heart about racism and how we can all help.
When the recent protests and subsequent riots began, I went through so many emotions. Sadness, frustration, incredulity, isolation, hope… I experienced it all, but not always for the reasons one would expect from a person of color. This latest wave of protests was precipitated by a despicable act of hate, but the amount of hate I have seen in response was more personally overwhelming because it so often came from people I love and respect. There was so much animosity as people took sides. It broke my heart.
So I decided to reach out. I posted a general invitation to my friends on social media to contact me if they wanted to talk. I was floored by how many people responded. Black friends, white friends, Latino friends. People who told me they were just waiting for me to say something. We text, we email, we Zoom, we talk. Most importantly, we listen. We listen to each other’s hearts, and somewhere in all of that, healing begins.
In all of the conversations I have had recently, the question I get asked most is, “So what can I do to fight racism?”
Everyone wants a checklist for fixing the problem, but that’s not how this works. There aren’t steps that you take once, mark them as complete, and then earn the “I’m not a Racist” certificate of completion. Being a better person is a process, and NO ONE does it perfectly all the time. All we can do is try, succeed a little, mess up a little, and try again. There are a few things that you and your family can do over and over again as you work through the lifelong process of becoming. Disclaimer: There isn’t any one race that has a monopoly on hate, so these suggestions can apply to people of ALL colors.
1. Engage in honest and prayerful self-reflection.
To collectively conquer the disease of racism, the battle must be waged in the hearts and minds of every individual. Start with yourself. This introspection doesn’t have to be played out on social media in order for it to be valid, despite the pressure that may be placed on you to publicly declare a side and hashtag it. Guilt and shame are destructive and have never brought a true and lasting change of heart. If people are jumping into the fray just because it is a trending topic, then we won’t see the widespread, deep, lasting results our society craves.
Be honest with yourself, even if it is uncomfortable. Do you prefer associating only with those of your own race, or actively rationalize why there aren’t other races in your social circle? Do you feel proud of yourself when you show how not-racist you are? Do you believe that another race is responsible for your failures? Do you justify racist remarks or beliefs? Figure out where your prejudices are, confront them, and repent. Acknowledge that your past experiences have contributed to your world view and with sincerity of heart look for what needs to change.
This process of stillness may go contrary to your instinct. Maybe you wonder how you can be still when you are fired up and want to march with an organization. You can do all that, but do the introspection first. In your stillness you can connect to the divinity that is inherent within you, and that will make it easier to see the divine nature in others. Without that foundation, all the zeal born of a collectively emotional moment will be lost when the next big event hits the newsfeed. You can’t shine a light for others that you haven’t first built inside yourself.
2. Engage in productive conversations rooted in mutual sincerity, humility, and respect.
These conversations need to happen both with people who look and think like you as well as those that do not. Have conversations with your spouse, significant other, or friends. Tell them about your efforts and experiences, and listen when they tell you their thoughts. Let your co-workers and acquaintances know you are open for discussion. Be transparent about not having all the answers, but that you want to be better. Despite how awkward it may feel, you may be surprised by how many people are craving meaningful connections about this topic.
Moreover, don’t exclude your children from age-appropriate conversations. Do they know what you believe and why? Have conversations in which they can ask questions and learn from you how to think critically as they develop their own beliefs. Model for them how to have a civil and respectful conversation. If we are going to heal this country, we will need a generation of people who can have a dialogue without demonizing those with differing opinions.
3. Make your home a place of Christ-like love and intentional learning.
Skip the virtue signaling and promote true excellence by helping your children develop a solid character and sense of worth that doesn’t require public affirmation. A child is never too young to learn how to receive and show love in appropriate and constructive ways.
Don’t teach your children to be colorblind. Instead, create a space where it is safe for them to see differences and learn to love the beauty that can be found in that diversity. More than once I have been in a position where a white, preschool-aged child asked me about my skin color. When it is just the young child and I, the conversation usually goes something like this:
“Why is your skin so dirty?”
“My skin isn’t dirty, it is just a different color than yours.”
“Everyone has something in their skin that makes it a different color. Some people have lighter skin and some have darker skin. God makes everyone look different because it is beautiful to have a world made with all different kinds of people.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, it doesn’t hurt, and it isn’t bad or scary. Would you like to touch my hand or give me a high-five, so you can see how my skin is like yours?”Embed from Getty Images
On the other hand, when the parent is there and they project their mortification onto the situation, it usually ends up with the parent saying “We don’t say things like that!” and apologizing profusely. Everyone ends up embarrassed as they drag away their child, who is still asking, “But why?” You can avoid this situation by having intentional conversations at home. You might be surprised at what conclusions your child has drawn from your silence.
Even if you live in a racially homogenous community, your children can read books and watch movies about people from different cultures and races other than their own. If all of your children’s dolls look just like them, consider adding some variety. Travel as your circumstances permit. Join clubs where your kids can befriend people from different backgrounds and races. Intentionally expand your circle.
Let your children see you reaching out and serving people of a different background or race. No one wants to feel like a project, or like they are the “token black friend,” so start with things that feel natural. Something simple like holding the door with a smile can lead to greater action and eventually genuine friendship.
One final word of caution: It is just as damaging to teach a white child that he must apologize for his skin color as it is to teach a black child that he must be a victim because of his. Any discussion about race will ultimately prove detrimental if it leaves either side feeling ashamed or victimized for things they cannot control. Our hearts may be pricked when we realize our shortcomings, but a godly sorrow that moves us toward repentance is very different than a worldly shame that leaves us feeling disempowered or afraid. As we fix ourselves first, we become the good the world desperately needs.
Lisa Mouton is an instructional coach and educator from College Station, Texas. She holds two history degrees, a B.A. from Brigham Young University and an M.A from Sam Houston State University. She has authored several academic publications and advocates for the preservation of historic sites in the Black community.