Marriage is so good.
Marriage is also hard.
There are many reasons that these statements are true, but one is very specifically on my heart today. It is a racially belittling phrase I have almost grown accustomed to hearing from people I love dearly. For a while now I have had the conviction to address an issue that I hear many fall into–specially followers of Jesus–and that scares me.
Let me start by admitting the fact that my skin gives me a privilege others do not have. I am immediately trusted because I ‘look’ trustworthy. I recognize that this makes me less that qualified to share the message I hold today. Any input from anyone of color is welcomed.
I am also married to a black man. At the beginning of our relationship, I was told that I was choosing a ‘harder’ road. I laughed off that comment. “Things have changed,” I thought. “No one disagrees with interracial relationships anymore.” But I soon came to realize that that harder road would not be in the way people looked at me, but in the way they looked at this man that I adore and his own community.
Over the past three years, racism has been more visible to me than ever. I can genuinely say that I get to see its effects first hand, though I do not have to experience them first hand. There is so much that I could go on about in this short time we have together, but I want to address one very specific phrase. Often when talking about being in an interracial relationship with an African American man, I get the following phrase (or something very close):
“At least you got a good one.”
Let me be clear. The phrase ‘one’ is specifically referring to my ‘black man’. At least I got a good black man.
Whether it has been these explicit words, looks that say it, or even people trying to get me to justify why I made this choice for myself and family, I spend too much time feeling the need to justify that my black man is a good one. This is terrifying to me for a few reasons.
1. It communicates that an entire group of people needs to be justified.
First, it suggests that a “good one” is rare in his community. The worst part is that it usually begins with what he is wearing. After someone sees him in a nice sweater rather than a sweatshirt and old jeans, then deem that he is worthy of me. But its not about the clothes being the first thing seen. It’s about the skin tone. Now some are saying, “but I don’t see color!” I heard a really great response to that this week…
It’s okay to see color! The pigment in our skin is natural and good. It gives the world variety. It sets apart the nations. It is a staple of beauty given by God. The problem comes in when we start to treat or think of people differently because of that color. When we use phrases that seem to suggest that a group o
f people is for-the-most-part expected to be bad, we categorize a group of people created by the one we call our Savior.
2. It dehumanizes.
There’s not a ton to this. We need to ask ourselves exactly what we mean by the word “one.” If we say it because we are neglecting to point out this person is in a category (that needs to be justified), we are missing the point. We forget that they are people with struggles and pain and passions and heartache. People who are not like us experience things we can never experience. Yet we often seek to push them off and classify those differences as ‘scary’ rather than seek to understand why they exist.
3. It beckons you to compare a “good one” to the rest of the community.
The scariest part of this whole thing has very little to do with me or Austin. It is scary for other people out there. What if someone catches Austin in his best moment, then expects all the people who have his same skin tone to follow suit? Does that account for people who are hurting? People who’s physical smile is not as large as his? What about someone who is simply having a bad day?
So why do we not start trying to relate to the lives of those we are quick to look down upon?
Why do we not seek to understand the hurt that is pervading in this community? Why are we so quick to dismiss that these phrases are hurtful? If you we are followers of Jesus, we have zero excuses. We are commanded over and over and over again to love on the least. Did Jesus not say that when we do just this, we are actually loving on Him?
What we can do instead
Rethink who we are talking about. Try just describing someone as “my friend” instead justifying them. By justifying a friendship with a person of color, we communicate that that community needs our approval. But we know that no one needs man’s approval. Choosing to say something like “God provided you with an amazing man,” is much more respectful. It recognizes that the person you are talking about–the person made in God’s image–is set apart from all others in our eyes. Jesus sees that person just as He sees you. Someone who needs Him. Someone He came to this earth to die for that we may live in Him alone. Let’s start treating people that way.
Start looking at people as people, understanding that everyone is different, and recognizing that people will lead lives that do not look like yours, mine, or anyone else’s. Little phrases like “your black man is a good one” and many more may not seem harmful initially, but they teach us that it is okay to subtly belittle a group of people made in the image of God–even if it is hidden in a compliment.
I spent much of my life making micro comments like this one. Heck, I called Austin an Oreo to suggest he was black on the outside and white on the inside. I am so so so glad I have someone who corrected me when I spoke before thinking of the implications. If you do not know whether or not a phrase is going to belittle someone, don’t say it. You can then ask someone who is part of that community, someone who you share trust with, to explain why you should or should not say something.
Loving others like Jesus is an ongoing process. We have to start somewhere. Let’s start here in our own back yard. Let’s stop classifying people because they have more pigment than we do. Let’s stop politicizing things and begin loving people with the real, raw love that our Savior so graciously lavished upon us.