I am a Dad: How My Son From Africa Exposed My Ugliness

About 4 years ago I would have never considered myself to be racist in any way. By that I mean, I would not have thought of myself as someone who thinks he is more valuable than someone because of a difference in race. I wouldn’t refer to people of a different color or ethnicity in derogatory ways. I wouldn’t knowingly treat people different than me in a devaluing way. I have had roommates in college, close friends and coworkers who are from multiple ethnic groups.

Then something happened. We began to the process of adopting a child from Ethiopia, Africa. We were about to become a multi-racial family.

Father and son.

Father and son.

As I looked towards the future of having a black son, I became extremely sensitive to race issues. Anything I heard that was remotely racist would bother me and at times make me angry.

It was as though my antennas went up and I started becoming more aware and sensitive to other people saying things like,

  • “We had some black neighbors once and they were really nice.” As if it would be expected for black neighbors not to be nice.
  • “We take our car to get worked on by Mr. Smith, the black man at the shop and he does good work”. I have never heard a white person say, “I get my car worked on by Mr. Smith, the white man at the shop, and he does good work.”
  • “Well you know, there are blacks and then there n—–. There is a difference you know.”  Then to hear them try justify their statement with, “Well, there’s white people and white trash”, as though either of those judgements are “ok”.

There were even things said about us and our new son that were blatantly hateful. All of those stereotypes and judgments began to bother me more than ever.

But, me a racist? Never. Right? After all I was about to bring a black child into my family.

Then something began to happen that I did not expect. At some point in our journey, as I was getting more bothered by what others would say or do, I began to realize my own ugliness. I was a great example of Matthew 7:3, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.”

I began to see my “plank”.

Again, it was not flagrant racism, but subtle, elusive, deeply ingrained racism. The kind that would look at someone of another race with slightly different eyes. The kind that would refer to someone of another race as “them”. The kind that would believe, just a little, that I was better. The kind of racism that wouldn’t fully trust some people, simply because of their skin color.

It was sickening to me. I realized that I was racist. I did not like it and knew that my heart needed to change.

I have wondered if this below the surface racism is more dangerous than overt racism because it is harder to recognize in ourselves. Since it is harder to recognize it may never be dealt with. If it is never dealt with then we allow it to effect the way we relate to others not like us our entire lives.

It is sad that it has taken such a dramatic life event for me to see this part about myself but I am thankful that I have seen it. Once I began to see it, I began to ask God to forgive me and change my heart. I began to ask Him to give me a greater love and respect for ALL people. I began to ask God to give me a greater understanding of what life will be like as my son, Andy, grows up.

These are a few of the thoughts I am having on this journey. I don’t even know if they are “right thoughts” but they are helping me move forward in honesty and truth.

1) Racism runs much deeper in us than we imagine so we need to dig deep to find it and get it out.

I assume that there is more in my heart in regards to race that still needs to change. We are all impacted so much by our culture and heritage that we are almost blind to it. Our thoughts and perspectives on people and life are deeply ingrained in us. Whether they are good things or bad things like racism, they are in our hearts and we need to see them. The prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?”  I need the Spirit of God to continue to change my heart towards all types of people. I don’t want Him to stop working in me until He is finished.

2) The goal is not to just change how I think but to help change the future for my son and others.

I know that my heart is a work in progress but so is our culture when it comes to race. Though I honestly haven’t figured out my role yet, I want to do what I can fight for my son’s future. The more I think about the fight, the more it overwhelms me. But, it is not just a good fight, it is the right fight. I was reminded last week as my family watched videos of Dr. Martin Luther king Jr.’s speeches, we need to fight for what matters. And what matters is people of every color being treated for who they are, individuals individuals made in the image of God.

When my son, Andy, is a grown man, I long for the world to be better for him. This may seem self-centered, but I also want Andy and my other kids to know that their dad was in the fight.

3) Skin color does matter but not for the sake of determining someone’s value.

I understand the statement people make, “I don’t see skin color”. I think what they are saying is they don’t see skin color as a determiner of a person’s value, which is good. But, when I look at Andy, I do see skin color. He is brown from head to toe. That is how God made him and it matters. His color reminds me of his heritage. It reminds of how he will be treated differently in our systems than my other children.

If I ignore Andy’s color then I may never see the different struggles he will walk through in life. For me to be the best dad that I can be for Andy, I want to honor who he is, color and all.

I am a dad, and hopefully a less racist dad now than ever.

Cheese

Cheese

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