When I was a little, I always pulled the apricot crayon from the cardboard box when I needed to color a face. I would lightly brush that crayon against the page, face after face after face, page after page, to make everyone in the coloring book look like everyone in my Barbie case, everyone in my neighborhood, everyone in my little white world in northwest Iowa.
The brown crayon was reserved for tree trunks. The black one was saved for the color of a night sky. Or for patent leather.
I remember how, when I was allowed to wear pantyhose at age 13, it never occurred to me that “nude” would be any other color than a shade similar to my own whitish-peachish legs.
My limited exposure to people of color came through the Zenith console TV in our living room. Hunched over a bowl of dry AlphaBits, I would watch Gordon on Sesame Street. Or the Cosby’s. Or the Harlem Globetrotters. That was a rural Iowa white girl’s brush with diversity.
So, maybe that’s why I have rarely felt qualified to talk about race, even at age 42. Maybe I have bought into the false notion that my view doesn’t count. Or that I’ll mess something up. Or say something wrong. (Which I very well might.)
But fear has always been a horrible excuse for not doing the right thing.
I’ve had a lot of meaningful talks about diversity with my dear friend Deidra Riggs. She’s been out front, willing to sit at the table and have these kinds of conversations. She calls it #GoingThere. She writes about it on her blog from time to time, and she talks about it from the podium. I’ve listened from the audience as she’s Gone There with almost-all-white audiences.
I have always told Deidra that I am “cheering you on” and that “what you’re doing is really important, D.”
As if that were enough. But is it? I mean, is it ever really enough to cheer on a good friend from the sidelines? Is it enough to raise my little white fist to the sky, in agreement? I want to get off the sidelines and onto the field.
I have an obligation to do more than “cheer on” the leaders. I have to become a part of the conversation, and I have to risk stubbing my toes or losing face or saying something stupid. I want to do more than placate myself with words like, “Oh, but look how much progress we’ve made!”
I don’t know exactly what this looks like, but I’m not willing to sit on the sidelines anymore. I want to sit at the table — but I’m not satisfied with sitting at tables where everyone looks sort of like me. I also want to be willing to mess up, for the chance that I can be part of making something better.
Let me start here: Color matters. I see color. I know that some people say they don’t see color, and that they are “color-blind.”
But if we don’t see color, maybe we don’t see people?
I want to see color, and I want to celebrate it, and I want to go places where color is seen and celebrated and included. I want to sit at tables where people are willing to Go There.
I don’t want to hide, all paranoid-like, with an apricot crayon in my fist.
For me, it’s starting here–
It starts with standing up right here, to say I’m #GoingThere.
If God went to the effort of thinking up all these colors, it seems we ought to take a good long look at each other. And then, we ought to reach out our white or peach or brown or black hand to hold the one right next to us.
The Jesus people — of every color — ought to be the ones leading this, but what are we as Christians doing about it today?
Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963: “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Sadly, almost 50 years later, the church is still overwhelmingly divided by race.
And it’s not just the Sunday morning churches. It’s our weekend Christian conferences and our retreats and our blogging trips.
I want to be a part of conferences and retreats and trips that celebrate diversity, not tokenize it.
I want to read more books and blog posts and essays from people of color. I want to learn, and listen … and speak up.
I also want to teach my children well — not only with my words but with my life. Our family goes to Haiti almost every year, and I don’t want my girls to have some sort of Savior complex that messes with their developing thoughts on race and humanity. Yes, we want to go there to help the impoverished Haitian people. But we also desperately want our girls to have a balanced, truer picture of Haiti and her people. As much as we want our girls to serve a bowl of rice to a starving Haitian, we want them to meet many Haitian men and women who have already risen up in their own country to lead well. I want my girls to go to Haiti to learn from people of color.
I want to talk about this. I want to #GoThere. I stand with Deidra, and I’m sticking with Deidra. Just as she’s stuck with me. I don’t want to miss out on the richness of all God has made us ALL to be. I don’t want to make excuses for the lack of diversity in my rural Iowa life. I want to Go There — with Jesus.
I am picturing it all now … that Great Day, when – at last – every tribe and tongue and nation shall bow at the feet of one very inventive Creator who came up with ROY.G.BIV … and all the stunning shades in between.
Until that day, I shall take one big breath, coax out my courage, then put these peachy, Caucasian fingers to this keyboard. Not because I’ve got any big answers. But because I’d rather be color-celebrating, than naively color-blind.
(And I’d rather talk about it, than hide.)