I skimmed the headlines, my heart dropped. I could not believe what I was reading and dared not to watch the video. A news story I somehow missed when it first happened and now was just getting my attention a few weeks back, the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. My first thought as I processed what had happened was, that could have been my sons. Fast forward to this past week as the heart wrenching story of George Floyd filled the news and set social media into debates. My heart grieved, that could have been them.
I was once naïve and ignorant, thinking that racism didn’t really exist or at least not to the extent that they report. It is a thing of the past I thought, unfair treatment because of the color of one’s skin, that doesn’t still happen. Until five years ago, when I (a white woman) became the mother to two black sons. It didn’t take long before my blinders were removed and my erroneous thinking was corrected.
They were only four years old, riding their first bikes, something that just a few months ago had only been a dream for them. We were out for a family walk when a vehicle drove by and a man yelled racial slurs out the window at us. My jaw dropped, shocked, stunned. Did I really just hear what was said? How could anyone yell at them? Little boys with training wheels, how are they a threat just simply by existing? I remember my initial anger, the mama bear in me roaring, I wanted to chase the vehicle down and set them straight. Unfortunately, that would not be the last experience of racism we would encounter.
Our family is multiracial so by default we stick out; we are noticed when in public which is both a blessing and a curse. I should clarify that there have been many supportive people, compliments on how beautiful our family is, strangers surprising us by paying for our meal or someone standing in line telling my black son how nice his salmon colored shirt looks on him. There is kindness, compassion and love, but it doesn’t take away the reality that sadly racism still exists.
Not all experiences of racism have been direct in its language and action, but apparent enough to know that they happened because of the color of my sons’ skin. The man in the grocery store who called my then six year old a drunk driver as he pushed his baby sister in the grocery store. Or the man at the doctor’s office who didn’t see me behind the van door as I was getting my youngest three out and my boys stood respectfully on the sidewalk waiting. He told them that a parking lot was no place for them to be causing trouble. Just three days after the death of George Floyd my sons went for a jog around the block and were called derogatory names because of their skin color and were then not permitted to pass through on the sidewalk.
As a white mother I feel unequipped to handle these situations, because I don’t know what it is like. I have never experienced it nor will I fully understand other than hurting for them as they hurt. Still it will never happen to me, so there will always be a part of me that doesn’t get it. Admittedly and shamefully, I hold my black sons to a higher standard in their dress, appearance, public behavior, manners, etc. because I am so scared of them being targeted. Why can’t my nine year old have the hood of his sweatshirt up when he is cold outside, I would never think twice if it was my white son. I am terrified of what could be when they are seen walking down the street as teenagers without their white family.
It is having the heart wrenching conversations with them at a young age that shatter their innocence, things I never had to worry about as a nine year old. And as hard as I try to comfort them, they become fearful. The questions of “why”, “mom, it doesn’t make sense” and “ didn’t all of that end with Martin Luther King.” I cannot make sense of the senseless, justify the unjustifiable, because we can never make sense of sin whether mine, yours or anyone else’s.
People have asked me what is the cause or what can they do to help bring an end to racism. I am probably the least qualified to speak to it, but I think a good place to start is having age appropriate conversations with our children. Being aware of how we act when we are around people of color. Seeking out books from the library that feature a black person as the main character or at least show more than just pictures of white people. Not being afraid of having a conversation with a black person.
Ultimately racism is caused by sin. The answer is a person, Jesus Christ. Only grace and true conversion of hearts can cause a change. A change that is only heard through peace and prayer. A change that will only begin once we remove our blinders and recognize the need for it to happen. We are a nation that needs to turn our own hearts to Christ and in doing so will recognize the dignity of all mankind.
Cassie Everts is a wife, the mother to five little ones in heaven and five children on earth, including two sons adopted from Ghana. She is the co-author of Nursery of Heaven: Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss in the Lives of the Saints and Today’s Parents. She blogs at Everyday Ann and is a contributor to Catholic Mom. Before becoming a full-time mom, she was a producer for The Drew Mariani ShowTM on Relevant Radio.