Close Encounters of the Unknowing Kind

trillia newbellTrillia Newbell is a freelance journalist and writer. She writes on faith and family for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and serves as Managing Editor for Women of God Magazine. Her love and primary role is that of a wife and mother. She lives in Tennessee with her husband, Thern, and their two children, Weston and Sydney.

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west and syd newbellI recently posted an encounter I had with a man in a local grocery store parking lot on the social site Facebook.  Here is what I wrote:

Just got back from Kroger. In parking lot man asked: “Those your kids?” Me: Yep. Him: “I mean, you gave birth to ‘em?” Me: Yep. Him: Perplexed, “Well, they sure are pretty.” Me: Thanks. :)

There is one thing that is certain, if I ever found myself in a situation that required an army of women to fight for me, I’ve got those women. Many of my friends were appalled by the apparent ignorance of the man asking the questions. Other women replayed stories of their own strange encounters with people who asked personal and probing questions.  It is obvious that regardless of what the situation is, many women find themselves answering questions about their children and  their birthing habits.

My children are biracial. Their father is white, half British to be exact. From the moment our oldest was born I realized that I would be asked questions about my ownership, so to speak, of my son. He is fair-skinned (barely olive skinned, there are many white people darker than my boy), with bone-straight hair, and big beautiful brown eyes. He looks white and he identifies himself as such. Actually, he says he is peach and I am brown.

When my son was a toddler he would lick my face because to him, I resembled chocolate. He used to ask often why God made me brown. He was very curious about that. Now, 6 years old, he is beginning to understand that God created the world and everything in it and that we are all created in His image. But at first I was a bit of a mystery to him. I’m trying to teach him about ethnicity and differences in hopes that he would celebrate the diversity of God’s creation and grow to love others. But what I realize is that if he isn’t taught, he won’t know.

What I am learning through having a son who is learning about race and ethnicity and discovering his own identity  is that ignorance doesn’t automatically equate to racism. As a matter of fact, I would say most people who may have questions or seem unknowing are simply unaware and do not harbor hate in their heart towards others.

Maybe I am being generous or naïve. I don’t know. But I’ve spoken and corresponded with enough loving and well-meaning people to know that there are people who genuinely don’t know much about other races. I don’t want to assume the heart of a person because of a question. I surely don’t want to assume that ignorance equals hate, how I would define racism. I want to assume that they don’t know and I want to be open to sharing parts of me so that they would understand.

My Response Matters

Another theme in my comments section was over my response to the man who unwittingly questioned my motherhood. I truly was not offended. It takes quite a bit to offend me but especially in relation to strangers and race.  I would argue that in the case of interacting with people of different cultures or ethnicities, ignorance is not bliss. Therefore, I want to be a catalyst for open and honest conversation. If I respond in such a way that is defensive and angry,  I imagine that person will not attempt to speak to another person about their questions. If I had time, I would sit down with every person who didn’t understand race. In the end they’d probably know more about what I  believe God’s Word has to say about it than they ever wanted to know.

This leads me to my final point. As a Christian, I want to be a light to the world, especially as it relates to race and racism. I would like nothing more than to sit with a racist and share the gospel with him or her. It is the gospel that reconciles all tribes and tongues with God through the blood of Jesus. The gospel reconciles men and women to each other, changing our names to sons and daughters of God and bringing us into a new family. It’s the gospel that motivates me to have peace with my fellow man who doesn’t understand or know when he speaks. Again, I don’t think the man was racist in the parking lot, but if he were, I would love him because Christ loved me and gave himself up for me.

My response is key to racial reconciliation and it is important to proclaiming the Good News. I don’t want to assume that ignorance equals hate. I want to be gracious and maybe even through my response they will think before they ask the next person questions . But all in all, I want to be thinking eternally. There’s more to think about than the here and now. I don’t want to become a stumbling block for open and honest conversation about race or the gospel.

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The original version of this article appeared at Trillia’s personal blog.

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