“Where do you come from?”
“South Africa!?!” (pointing to my skin or making a rubbing gesture on their own) “Why aren’t you black?”
If my language skills were good enough, I would probably have answered in all honesty: “God only knows.”
After all, I could very well have been born to a family living in Bangkok, an Indian slum, a Chinese mega-city, a village in Egypt along the Nile, or Jamaica. Why South Africa? None of us chose when or where we would come into this world or what our skin color would be.
The color of my skin doesn’t even tell half of my story…being white may even seem contrary to my national identity… but I can assure you that not everyone who comes from Africa is black.
My story is one of a white farm girl who grew up in the middle of “apartheid” and ended up living in Asia. I truly believe that life is about more than the way we look or where we come from. And yet, during our journey on this earth, we are all but flesh and bones wrapped in skin of various colors. We all come from “somewhere”, and our features and skin color often give clues to where that might be, that is, to the origin of our life’s journey.
The other part of the story of racism has everything to do with history and belief systems that go much deeper than “the color of the outer wrapping”. It is the story of our fathers and their fathers and their fathers’ fathers who made decisions long before we were born…decisions that affect us. Whether it was their intention or not, their decisions often led to division and separation for their descendants just as our decisions today will affect our children.
In South Africa, we refer to our story of racism as “apartheid”. Racism, however, is not a story restricted to a single country: it is the story of the sinful humanity evolving from the very root of disobedience in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. That root of sin thrived on selfishness, stubbornness, and pride.
New chapters in this story of racism are yet to be written for generations to come if we keep on refusing to break with the past. However, the decision to allow God to change our hearts is all it takes to change what will be written in the future chapters of racism.
It is certain we cannot change what happened in the past, but we can choose to let go and forgive instead of holding on to hatred and grudges which will be passed on to our children and to our children’s children. We have the power to break the curse through God’s love.
Skin color is genetic, racism is a choice.
We can choose to love – even our enemies – and pray for those who hurt us.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43 – 48
We can choose not to be intimidated by those who are different from us. Isn’t it a form of pride to assume we know it all or that we are better than others? It is human nature to fear the unknown, so we need to seek understanding to gain tolerance for the differences which might even show us “a better way” than “our” way. And perhaps we can then find the love to choose forgiveness instead of revenge.
I know my story and my world view have been changed by so many encounters. From little black hands who reached out to me in Malawi to wonderful conversations with some of my black patients during the years I worked in hospitals and life abroad, I have made friends who are different from me from all over the world.
It has opened my eyes to see that one’s outward appearance may give an indication of where one comes from, but it can never reveal who he really is. Where you come from is nothing more than a place on a map which conjurs up a stereotype image to those living elsewhere.
Listening to – or even reading about – others’ stories doesn’t change our stories: it changes us, and when we change, we get to live better stories.
We get to be part of the bigger story written by a God who loved the world, the WHOLE world, not only one people, group, or nation. This love was manifested when Jesus came to His own Jewish tribe first, but then opened His arms to receive the Gentiles who received Him by faith.
How can we “go to the nations” if we hate them? How can we love our neighbors and be racists at the same time? It’s a contradiction. When it seems hard to love where we are, it is an opportunity to grow in love as true Christians.
Perhaps for our stories to change we need to be able to look past ourselves first, embracing who God created us to be.
I chuckle about the hours I spent lying in the sun or even on a sunbed to get that “perfect tan” for whatever occasion, only to move to Asia where almost every beauty product – including deodorant – contains “whitening ingredients”. Not only that, but women generally go to extremes to avoid the sun to look as powder-puff white as possible.
We can choose to accept our histories and genetic predispositions for what they are and start living with an eternal mindset instead. God knew exactly what He was doing when He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, when He chose the time and place and every other detail surrounding our births.
It might take longer for some than others, but truly walking with God always leads us away from racism and towards love. It has to.
I know there is hope for the story of racism to be rewritten one life at a time because my own dad is a living testimony of how it’s never too late to have a change of heart.
And I cherish this beautiful story of how a black ‘muruti’ (the Sotho word for pastor) walked into my mom’s office one afternoon to ask a question about fridges next door, while my dad happened to be there too. He ended up sharing the story of how God changed his life and held hands with my mom and dad as they prayed together. It is the story of a special friendship and mentorship that was forged that day, beginning a chain reaction of changes in attitudes toward racism.
The only way we can ever break down the barriers is to reach across them by joining hands and closing our eyes so that we can see what really matters. And as we gain sight, may we be diligent in praying for our nation, our leaders, and for each other.
Because the story of racism is still being written.
Image Credit: Pixabay