I won’t forget La’Shon’s question. It was one of those moments that burrows deep in your soul, teaching you something that marks you.
“Mrs. Yoder, how did you make it to adulthood?”
La’Shon was a twelve year old boy of color I had worked with since he was nine. He was in an alternative classroom for students whose behaviors were too disruptive for a traditional classroom.
I absorbed the moment. No child in America should wonder how you survive to adulthood. My sons never wrested with that question at age twelve. It was wrong that La’Shon did.
La’Shon had known multiple people killed by guns or drug overdoses. Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) does something to a child, especially those affected by generations of racism. It bleeds into their life. It’s not something La’Shon or other kids I’ve worked with have asked for. It just is.
Yet, in the chasm between what shouldn’t be was something that should be in that moment. La’Shon asked the question because he trusted me. As his school counselor, I was there when he messed up, I advocated for him and listened to him. I was straight up with him, even when it was hard. And he was straight up with me, too.
This was a straight up moment. Instead of seeing the differences in our story. He saw two humans who built a relationship. He knew I saw him and cared for him.
How It Should Be
Kids are honest with you. They spot hypocrisy when they see it. To build a relationship with them, you have to see them, hear them, and not be who they expect you to be.
The conversation that day between La’Shon and I impacted me because it felt like sacred ground. He invited me into a space that should have been marked by “you won’t understand what I’m talking about because you’re not like me.” Instead, it was human to human. I don’t know if you’ve had experiences like that. They’re hard to describe. But when you have one, you know. It’s like a glimpse into God’s heart, and you feel it’s sanctity
It’s how it should be.
Eyes Wide Open
As a child, my world was different than La’Shon’s. In my small, homogenous, community, we were the diverse family with the ethnic last name. My dad was the son of Italian immigrants. I didn’t know racism, but I knew stereotypes and learned the unwritten rules about conformity and being different.
When I was nine or ten years old, two stories significantly impacted me. The first, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, opened my eyes to racism, reading the scene where a man was tarred and feathered. As a girl who loved Jesus, I didn’t understand why people would treat each other that way. The mini-series and book Roots taught me enslavement and racism didn’t end with emancipation. Mistreatment of African Americans passed from one generation to the next.
Historical stories impact me, and I chose history education as a profession. My mind functions like a timeline. History is not compartmentalized. It’s never disconnected from the present.
Once a history teacher, books like Lies My Teacher Told Me and slave narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project impacted my teaching. I devoured primary sources, seeking to understand the complexity of race relations. A few books impacting me included Black Boy and Native Son by Richard Wright, collections of stories and poems by African-American women. Our Town by Cynthia Carr, Killers of the Dream by Lilian Smith, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Black Like Me. Historical events in movies like the Amistad and Twelve Years a Slave leave impressions you can’t rectify.
I learned racism is complex. As a teacher, I wondered how to speak into it? How do you teach it in a way that creates change? How do you personally respond?
Racism is Abuse
To me, racism is a word we put our own images to based on our experiences or belief system. We can package it to feel comfortable. It’s what we do with atrocities, both present and the past. Now a licensed counselor, child advocate, abuse and trauma educator, I know how people shy away from uncomfortable topics. It’s easy to turn away from what we don’t want to know, or to package it in a way that feels comfortable.
But there’s nothing comfortable about racism. Racism is abuse, centering on power and control like all abusive relationships. Racism includes murder, rape, and all forms of physical, sexual, mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse. Bodies and brains store traumatic events. The complex trauma of systemic racism doesn’t end from one generation to another. One hundred fifty years after slavery, children of color are still wondering how they will survive to adulthood.
How do we, as Christians, respond to this?
Why Color of Compromise is What Every Christian Should Read
For three hundred years, we allowed the peculiar institution of slavery to exist. For the last one-hundred and fifty years, we’ve allowed racism to exist. Racism is a sin. There is nothing in it that glorifies Christ.
In his new book, Color of Compromise, author Jemar Tisby tackles the complexity and history of racism in the United States, chronicling the complicity of American Christianity. The historical context Jemar presents is comprehensive and challenging. It’s a book I would have devoured over the years searching to understand why things are the way they are. It will challenge the reader. What challenged me was how modern evangelicalism is tied to racial integration of public schools. As as educator, it made connections for me, making me further ashamed at the multiple ways racism is disguised and repackaged.
Exposure to racism through education and experience confronts our individual prejudices. Working with children and parents of color has forced me to deal with personal prejudices. I’ve learned that to build bridges, we must educate ourselves, become students of one another, and honor each other’s stories.
Color of Compromise is one book every Christian should have on their bookshelf. It educates and challenges, but also provides practical opportunities to respond to racism. Both educating and engaging is how we make a difference in personal and systemic problems. Jemar presents multiple ways to dismantle the abuse of racism. The American church can no longer be complicit or ignorant.
I’d personally encourage you to read Color of Compromise, and then get involved with schools, agencies, or ministries that meet the needs of children affected by racism. Connect, somehow, on the front lines, creating sacred spaces, human to human, the way it should be.
Giveaway of Color of Compromise
I’m excited to give away a hard back copy of Color of Compromise! One of you will win a copy by entering. To enter, responding to the question, “Why do you want to read Color of Compromise?” in the comment section below.
- The giveaway will be open through February 4, and a winner’s name will be drawn.
- If you don’t win, buy a copy of the book and pass it on to someone.
- Buy one for your local library.
- Read it in your book club, small group, or Sunday School class.
- I am giving away my own copy I purchased, I am not being paid for this giveaway.
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