Monday, January 17th, 2011
On this birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, here’s a true story from early in our years of being a multiracial family.
I spread a shabby, faded quilt on the grass beside the baseball diamond, waiting for our son’s game to begin. One-and-a-half-year-old Talitha and I were in jeans and jackets because the day was cool and windy. She was wearing her big brother’s baseball cap and it kept slipping down over her eyes.
When Talitha spotted three little blond girls nearby – about four or five years old – she toddled toward them, hopefully holding out her big purple ball, an invitation to play. They glanced at her, and turned back to their make-believe, ignoring her.
I sat still, puzzled. I had never seen anything like this happen to Talitha. Little girls usually would try to get her attention and beg her to play with them. She hovered near these girls, too young to realize she was being snubbed, and enjoyed watching them play. They continued as if she weren’t there.
What does a parent think when her child is rejected? Talitha might be oblivious now, but that wouldn’t last many more months. Why did those girls treat her as if she were invisible? Only a few possibilities came to my mind. “Is it because they’re good friends with each other and don’t know how to let a new person into their circle? Is it because she’s so much younger and doesn’t know how to play their game? Or is it because she’s black?”
After about ten minutes, a gust of wind cleared away my fog of perplexity when it blew off her oversized baseball cap, uncovering her beads and braids. I heard one of the children squeal, “She’s a girl!” Another picked up the big purple ball from the ground and they began to play a rolling game with her.
Later, as I watched them teaching her how to somersault, I realized that the cold spring breeze had uncovered something besides a little girl’s hairdo – it had revealed my inclination to sift the actions and attitudes of other people through the sieve of my own sensitivity and expectations. I was so tuned to find racial prejudice that I thought I’d found it. How else, I had thought, could I explain their treatment of Talitha? The real “prejudice” of those little girls – against little boys – had never occurred to me.
In the first months after we adopted Talitha into our white family, my radar for detecting reactions around us was extremely sensitive. I remember some times when people watched us intently, and I thought I read disapproval of our mixed-race family. But then they might say, “What a beautiful baby!” And I would turn off my radar and realize that sometimes I myself stare at families, enjoying the sight of their beautiful babies.
The 19th-century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said, “Avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion which sours some men’s lives, and to all things from which you might harshly draw an unkind inference turn a blind eye and a deaf ear” (Lectures to My Students, Zondervan Publishers, p. 325). If my antenna is always circling to detect prejudice in the way people treat my family, my radar screen will be covered with blips.
James 1:19 reminds me that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” If I am quick to listen, perhaps I will hear more clearly what a person really means. If I am slow to speak, I won’t react instantaneously with wrong assumptions about another person’s intentions. If I am slow to become angry, I can hear God more clearly when he shows me what is really happening.
As I turned to watch my son step up to the plate, I thanked God that he spoke in the springtime wind.
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