Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
Following is a letter she wrote to her students.
We watched a documentary a few days ago about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. Just miles away, an area Booker T. Washington called “Black Wall Street” was destroyed overnight.
People who looked like me shot people who looked like you. People who looked like me burned the homes and stole the property of people who looked like you. People who look like me must look a lot like the enemy to you.
I’m so sorry.
I feel no connection to whites who looted and killed during the riot. I wish my skin were a different color so you wouldn’t see a connection either.
We’re learning together about the painful history of race relations in this country, and an ugly pattern has emerged: people whose skin looks like mine mistreating people whose skin looks like yours.
I try to show you the source of racial tension is not whites and blacks coexisting. I point out racism globally because I want you to see beyond the black-white struggle in America and recognize the problem of racism begins in the human heart.
We studied Rwanda’s genocide so you’d know it is possible for humans to slaughter humans whose skin is the same as their own. When we let hate take hold in our hearts, no one is safe. You need to understand that.
I point out to you the good and bad men and women on both sides. I show you civil rights champions of different races. Not every white accepted slavery. Not every black understood love of neighbor. I want the way you choose your heroes to go deeper than skin color.
Nate and I are adopting children from Africa, first generation African-Americans. I talk about them in class; you laugh at the thought of your white teacher braiding black hair. I look like the enemy to you. You look like my children.
I cried in the back of the class during the documentary. You stiffened, uncomfortable with our history. Rightly so. This is not comfortable. It will not be comfortable for my children.
What saddened me most was how familiar it felt. “It’s still like that where we live,” you said.
You know two responses: fight or flight. I want to teach you a third: faith. Faith in a God whose multi-racial family will one day live united, glorying in Jesus whose greatness swallows our distinctions in collective worship.
Note from Noel:
The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 are called the worst in the history of our country. And yet Miriam’s story is the first time I remember hearing of them. If this is true for you too, here is a 2-part video that’s worth watching: part 1 and part 2 .
After watching, and maybe reading some more, I hope you have as hard a time controlling your emotions as I am having right now. And I pray that, with God’s help, we can redirect the energy of those emotions–whatever color we are–toward loving our brothers and sisters, whatever colors they are. It’s the mark of who we are.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
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