A couple summers ago my parents took the kids for the whole weekend so John and I could catch up on some much needed sleep, enjoy a few dates, and just have some much needed alone time. Saturday was rainy and slow so we decided to hit up our local antique mall to browse at length without having to rush before the kids got bored and agitated. I wasn’t expecting our trip to be cut short by racism.
We didn’t get more than halfway down the first row of booths before a display stopped me in my tracks and made my blood run ice cold. I stood with my jaw hanging open and my eyes widened in shock at the small glass cup with a picture so offensive it caused my hands to shake.
I slowly looked around the booth and found it full of similar merchandise. Shelves were filled with figurines, cups, framed pictures, and more – all with overtly racist messages and depictions. I choked back tears of rage at the blatant hatred and, likely, ignorance I saw displayed there. My hands continued to shake as I grabbed that cup and marched to the front desk.
“Whose booth is this?” I asked while holding up the offending merchandise. The young lady behind the desk looked nervous and explained it was owned by a woman who buys a lot of her stuff online to stock her booth.
“And you allow this type of thing here?” I pressed back. She didn’t own the place, she explained, and she told me they’d received a couple complaints before but it’s not their place to dictate what vendors can sell in their booths.
“Do you know the history of this particular image?” I asked, continuing, “Did you know that this was actually something that happened? That black babies and children were used to lure alligators out of the swamps in Florida and Louisiana? They were used to ‘chum up the waters’ for slave owners and the white men who kidnapped these kids?”
She shook her head while my hands continued to shake.
“This is awful and it’s racist. I have black children.” I told her. “How do you think it makes me feel to see this displayed in your building?”
She shrugged. “I didn’t know it really happened.” Was her only weak reply.
“Well it did and this is incredibly offensive and I needed to tell you that.” I said, as I placed the cup in front of her and walked out the front door.
It ruined the rest of my day, to be honest, and I still get a little angry any time I drive by that antique mall. But what I really wondered is why I felt the need to tell the lady at the counter that I have black children. Why did that matter? My anger and shock was just as reasonable and justified without that information. Did it make the offense a little more personal? Yes. But would it have still made me angry even if my children weren’t black? Yes.
We belong to each other, and as GDM says, there’s no such thing as other people’s children. We don’t just care about things when they personally effect us. We ought to care about injustice and racism and oppression whether we are directly impacted by it or not. And we need speak up in the face of it.
I have often wondered how many people walked right by that booth in the antique mall and were disgusted but kept walking. I have wondered how many kept walking because it didn’t directly affect their children, their families, their lives. I’ve wondered what would happen if every single person who was offended by that booth went to the front to express their outrage. Maybe the booth would be shut down. Maybe the people of color who live in my mostly white city would feel a little more at home, a little more loved, and actually invited to the table if everyone just spoke up.
My best friend here is a woman of color raising three beautiful children and she’s said this about how it feels to live in a place where symbols white supremacy have long been tolerated: “It makes me feel oppressed, it makes me feel alone, it makes me feel scared; holding onto my children’s hands a little bit tighter.”
It’s been suggested to me recently that if I profess to be a Christian I must remain silent on politics. I can’t do that. As much as I’ve hated confrontation my whole life, I’m growing more and more comfortable with having hard, but civil, conversations with people who hold different views and beliefs. I suppose it might be easier to simply stop sharing my views altogether in response to some feeling that to do otherwise is “off brand” for me. I’m not willing to do that, though.
You see, politics is just people and relationships and community and the world. And if you’ve been here any length of time you know that’s what I am all about. I’m all about compassion and hope and love and living with arms stretched wide open. I’m all about speaking up for good and truth. When I sit down at my computer I try to write with honesty, vulnerability, and transparency in the hopes of my story serving as a reflection of you. I hope that laying my heart out there for you to see causes you to look inward and discover things about your own heart – your hopes and fears and joys and heartaches. So I will keep writing and keep speaking up even if the topics make us both uncomfortable sometimes.
My faith informs my politics and it is because I love Jesus and try to live my life following the red letter words of the Bible that I speak out on issues I feel passionately about. Every issue has a flesh and blood person behind it and I am called to love my neighbor as myself. A lot of my neighbors are in trouble right now, so I will seek truth and speak in love. Shaking hands and all.