When my kids ask me about what it was like for me growing up, I usually explain to them that I didn’t have a typical childhood. Certainly not the childhood they are experiencing. I happen to have grown up in an extremely large family in an extremely poor neighborhood in north Louisiana alongside predominantly African-American families.
I remember standing in line with my mom at the welfare office to get our allotted block of cheese, powdered milk, and peanut butter you had to stir to make it come together. I don’t ever remember being hungry, but I always knew we had a more difficult situation than many.
When I talk to my kids about racism, I liken it to my experience being poor. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about my situation. Adults told me things like, “Your mom should never have had that many kids!” or “You don’t have a chance; you’ll end up just like your siblings!” just to name a couple. Believe it or not, their kids seemed to have the same opinion about me and made sure I knew it on the playground and in the classroom and just about everywhere I went.
I don’t even want to admit the amount of self-worth I had at the time—I spent a large part of 30 years feeling like I didn’t matter much. That’s how long-lasting and deep-rooted that pain can be. If I’d only been born to a better family, a better situation, or if I’d only been born someone else, are some of the things I used to think. All because we seemed to be the poorest, largest, neediest, and most mentally troubled family. Things we cannot control about ourselves, especially as children.
That’s the closest thing I have to explain to my children how deeply racism can hurt. It’s my best attempt to scratch the surface of what cruel words do to the human soul. I think the enemy works best in the nasty things we say to each other. Years ago, I watched a TED Talk about how to tell a liar just from facial expressions. Honestly, I remember very little about it other than one part that showed the look of a person condemning another person. It’s a bit like a curled-lip expression. I had the eerie feeling of seeing that look my entire childhood. Just for being born.
I fall in love more and more with Jesus knowing He’s not here to condemn us. He actually condemns those who curl their lips and look down upon us and make us believe we have no worth. He condemns our condemners. He is and always was and always will be fighting for us before we even know to fight for ourselves.
We talk about racism around our dinner table often. It comes up sometimes with what the children talk about at school and what they learn. Oftentimes, I tell my kids to look at their skin color and ask them, “Who made your skin color?” They answer that God did. I then tell them that God has so many types of flowers in the field and they don’t look at each other comparing their beauty, but they look around and see how beautiful the world is with all of us in it.
Really, how dull would it be if it were all just one shade of flower? God knows what He’s doing. He has a plan and a call on our lives. Even with this girl, who according to others “should never have been born”!