Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4
My middle son was barely 7 years old, at the kitchen table eating string cheese and crackers, when he saw the newspaper’s front page photo of President Obama, eyes downcast. “Mom, why is the president sad?”
That was July 2013 and the president looked sad because a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
I took a deep breath and asked God to help me speak the truth in love about race & violence. I am white and my son is black. Like Obama, he was born to a white mother and black father and is growing up in a white family.
It was a stressful conversation. I wanted to be honest but not explain more than he needed to know. I’d explain a little bit and let his questions guide us.
Before I became the mother of children of color, racism was an academic, not personal, truth. Now it’s personal.
When Obama described his experience as an African American man, I listened with my heart turned toward my own children:
“There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me – at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.”
I didn’t grow up knowing these things. I grew up thinking everyone was basically nice to everyone else, that people basically trusted each other. I am learning to see another perspective because I love my kids.
What my son and I came around to after a few minutes of conversation was this: In America, some things about life are different depending on whether you have white skin or brown skin. I hope you’ll tell me how it is for you as you get older. We might get to something I don’t understand but we will talk with someone who does.
He looked at me, smiling, “Good chat, Mom, and great snack!” He hopped out of his chair and ran off to find his brother.
By then I was ready to fall on the floor and cry. Why do we have to talk about this? Why does the world seem to value him less? IT’S NOT FAIR!
Does talking about race seems like a responsibility unique to families of color? When my husband and I adopted our children we became a multi-racial family. We accepted responsibility for raising them according to their needs. They need to know that our society interprets their skin tone as cause for suspicion.
But are white families free of this responsibility? Or is it only less urgent, often invisible?
Philippians 2:4 suggests that this conversation belongs to all of us. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I think Paul gave us this instruction because, in the body of Christ, it is all shared interests. As a white woman, I do not feel the effects of racism every day but I still suffer from them.
Love compels us to care for needs not our own. When Paul tells us to look to the interests of others, he is telling us how to love.
Try this: Tie your life intimately with someone who is racially different from you. Nurture a friendship, live life together, and see how that relationship teaches you to care for the interests of another. Let love compel you.
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. – Philippians 1:9