Conversations of race are a part of our everyday world.
Sometimes it’s purposeful, and sometimes it’s accidental but, always, it happens. My husband and I seek to make conversations of color a part of our dinner table rhetoric, woven threads of the well-worn cloth under our plates and in our hearts. Together, his creamy milk chocolate skin and my silken vanilla skin mix and mingle and intertwine in dialogue, in an effort to model to our caramel-colored young boys what it means to take pride in the world around us.
Far from the elephant in the room, it’s part and parcel us.
But I realize this isn’t always the case. This may not be part of your world at all, but maybe, given various events of the last year, you find yourself wanting it. You desire it. You yearn to enter into conversations of race.
I think about my own story: in the mostly white, suburban town I was raised in, we celebrated diversity once a year when our teachers made us attend an all-school assembly. We didn’t think about what it might be like to be different, just as we didn’t think issues of race had anything to do with us.
So we just avoided the topic altogether. Talking about race was impolite and uncomfortable. It wasn’t what we were supposed to do or say, let alone engage in, because we were white.
But by not talking about race, we denied some children their very identities, the individual parts that made them who they were.
We denied them their stories.
“In the end,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
His words haunt me. How many times have I kept silent because I didn’t know what question I should ask, because talking about a certain subject, like race, made me uncomfortable?
I guess you could say I’m on a learning journey now. I am a fellow sojourner in dialogue and conversation as I seek to learn and grow and understand the world around me.
After teaching high school English in my 20s, I left the classroom to work for an outreach organization as a youth ministry director. As I got to know the teenagers in this ethnically, culturally, and racially diverse environment, I learned that in denying a student their ethnic identity was to deny their very being.
Asking questions became my mission, the musical chords of my existence: Who are you? Who’s your family? What makes you so gloriously spectacular, so uniquely you?
While none of the questions implicitly asked about race, I found that race was almost always in the answers. And the more stories I heard, the more I wanted to know and hear and engage with the world around me.
By the time I met my husband, I knew I’d never be able to avoid the topic of race again.
He and I knew that if and when children came along someday, they’d experience a whole new understanding of color—an understanding based solely on their mixed identities. We also knew they’d come to understand race differently because of how their granddaddy broke down barriers for all Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.
But mostly, we knew our future kin would be loved simply for who they were because isn’t that the hope of every parent, everywhere?
So, as for my family, we’ll continue to talk about race around the dinner table, maybe even every day.
But then we’ll stop.
And we’ll pause.
And we’ll thank the good Lord for who he’s created us to be on the inside and the outside both, giving thanks for all the parts of our beautiful, messy, holy story.
Parts of this post originally appeared on Michelle DeRusha’s website in June 2016.