Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Response to Michael Brown's Death

My name is Rachel.  I’m a St. Louisian.  I live in a middle class community that is safe, clean, and friendly. We have excellent schools, manicured lawns, and pristine parks.

But I’m still really scared.  And disturbed.  This bubble doesn’t protect my family members.  This bubble doesn’t exist. 

I’m a mom of three young children: two girls and a boy.  Right now, we are preparing the kids for the start of a new school year.  One is headed to kindergarten, the other to preschool.  

My life as a stay-at-home mom, wife, author, and freelance writer is busy. I run my kids to activities, I fold laundry and clean up spills, I prepare meals, I make appointments, I read to my kids and kiss their hurting places.

But right now, I’m really distracted.  I cannot easily focus on the tasks before me.  Because when I look at my children, I cannot stop thinking about Mike Brown.  I think about looting, about guns, about dark skin and light skin contrasting, about perception, about the media, about history, and about the future.

I’m white. My kids are black.  And we live just 24 miles from Ferguson. 

As my children meet their new teachers for the year and we begin a new session of gymnastics and swimming lessons, I keep thinking about people of authority and asking myself, “How can I teach my children to obey and respect authority when I don’t know if I can trust that the authority figure has my child’s best interests at heart?”

This isn’t a rant on the police.  This is about any person of authority who holds power and exercises that power over my three precious children and children who look like them.

Right now the news channels, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, co-workers and the couple next to us at the restaurant, our hairstylist, our friends:  they are teaching us with their photos, their opinions, their lack of comments, their shares, their likes.    There seems to be many arguments that divide Americans on the death of Mike Brown, but one of the most prevalent is this: was the shooting about race? Overwhelmingly, people of color are saying yes while white people are saying no.

My children love the police and what they believe cops stand for. They love to put on police hats and “arrest” one another and their playdate friends with toy handcuffs.  They love to give out “tickets” for speeding and stealing stuffed animals. When we have the opportunity to speak with a police officer in our community, the cops offer my children sheriff’s badge stickers, high-fives, and even a quick viewing of the red and blue flashing car lights. 

Will these same officers who high-five my children today be arresting them, questioning them, following them, or even shooting them tomorrow?  What happens when my children are no longer living in my home, or when they are driving or walking somewhere with their teenage friends, or when they apply for a job with their white-sounding last name but show up as they are, people of color?

One day last winter, I overheard my children giggling in my son’s room.  I opened the door to see that the older girls had taken my son’s hooded shirt and pulled the hood over my son’s head.  My son was furiously nodding his head from side-to-side, laughing in delight at the feeling of the hood against his short hair while enjoying the attention of his sisters. There they sat, sunlight streaming in to the baby blue bedroom, happy and safe. And in that moment, I thought about Trayvon.  And then about my son.   I could barely breathe.

I worry what will happen when my middle child, a very dark skinned little girl, misbehaves in class.  Her high energy personality can certainly propel her to be driven in life, but it may also get her into trouble.  Will she be punished more frequently, more harshly because she is black?  The statistics say yes.  

I am very concerned that so many white people refuse to talk about race with their children and instead boast of colorblindness.  Newsflash: colorblindness doesn’t exist.  And not only does it not exist, but it dismisses people.  I’m reminded of the day my daughter started at a new preschool.  I was waiting outside after school to pick up my daughter.  One little boy rushed out and said to his mother, “There’s a brown kid in my class!” And the mom shushed him.  She was unaware that I was one of the brown kids’ moms. 

She shushed him.

Colorblindness does exactly what it seeks to avoid: ignorance.

And honestly, I feel that parents who preach colorblindness do so out of a lack of racial literacy, a lack of self-awareness, a lack of a diverse circle of friends, and/or a lack of willingness to look at personal biases.  They are scared.  Uncomfortable. Uneducated.  So they pass those things on to their kids, smiling, and saying, "We are all equal."  And, "There's only once race.  The human race."

My kids are black.  They will face issues that white kids won’t, and my whiteness can only protect my kids for so long.  They are growing up and they will be under increasingly more care by authority figures who aren’t their parents: teachers, coaches, other parents helping in their classrooms, friends’ parents at play dates and birthday parties.

I don’t know how I can tell my children to trust and respect authority, because even when they do everything right, everything we expect of them (be polite, stand up for truth, fight for justice, love Jesus, be kind, use their manners), they won’t necessarily be protected or respected by the imperfect humans who surround them. 

My only hope as a mom is that God protects my children, because I cannot always shield them with my white privilege or my motherly protection.  They will meet police officers without me by their sides.  They will be in classrooms without me by their side.  They will be in swim class and gymnastics without me by their side.  They will be at a friend’s house without me by their side.

Our family has and always will live in a sort of racial purgatory.  We love first and teach that our value comes from being redeemed by Jesus.  But we do not, we do not, ignore race, racial injustices, or racial triumphs. And we know that we have this blend of blackness and whiteness that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  

My heart aches for this young man and his family. My heart aches because I’m a mom and that teenage boy who died shares the same brown skin my boy has.

I know this post is a jumbled mess.  I don’t know how to bring it to order. I can’t make sense of this tragedy.

What happened to Mike Brown brings out a lot of things that white people normally don’t have to confront.  But when confronted, as I’ve seen on social media, a lot of ugliness comes out. And the looting of local business, that’s just a complete distraction from the real problems and the tragedy.   Two wrongs do not make a right. There’s a disturbing lack of empathy.  

Let me be clear.  I believe every life has value.  I believe that Jesus died for every person and wants to see each of us redeemed by saying yes to His gift of salvation.  And in the meantime, we’re going to live in a world that overwhelmingly worships sin: pain, gossip, injustice, thievery, disillusion.

There is only one hope for redemption.  The only justice is in Him. 

When we see people the way Christ sees them, everything changes.  When we carry the burden of another, we are loving like Jesus.

But in order to get there, we have to push past every distraction, every roadblock, every temptation which so easily ensnares us.  And that’s hard to do.  In fact, we cannot do it on our own.  We can only do “all things” through Christ who gives us strength.
There is so much noise right now.  The television, the computer, the conversations (and the lack of conversations, which speak volumes).  I just want to make like a little kid, put my fingers in my ears, and hide under my bed.

Every time I have found myself teary eyed, heavy-hearted, and disgusted, angry, and confused, God has whispered Romans 12:2 (NIV) to me:

 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

God, place divine protection on my children, particularly right now as we start a new season of our lives. Help us as a family to be discerning, empathetic, and strong. Keep us from succumbing to the temptation to believe that the world will ever satisfy. Renew our minds and calibrate our hearts. We are yours. Let everything we do point to You. 


  1. As the mother of two Black children I can really relate to this post. It is scary.

  2. My family just moved from Beavercreek Ohio. We lived less than 200 yards from this Wal Mart. We lived and raised our girls in this neighborhood. This is the Wal Mart we ran to for last minute or late night items. I am black, male, 30 something. This could have easily been me. I watched the video and was simply disgusted. Then I was sadden. Then I found myself holding back tears.
    My kids are mixed and my 6 year old is one of 3 black kids in her school. She has really red hair and freckles. She is so cute. Kids in her school have been super curious about her "brown dad". So we have had several light hearted conversations on her uniqueness and why she is so special. I need her to understand she is going to always get questions. The way to handle them ive explained is to teach the ones who want to know and are friendly. For the ones who arent being nice to just ignore them and walk away. So far she has only experienced the friendly version
    All we can do is be honest with our kids and love them. God will handle the rest.


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