Last Monday, I took my son to the library. They have a large playspace there and while he was at the top of the tunnel slide a slightly older boy clobbered him. The boy climbed right over top of Riley’s head in an effort to get into the slide.
When I saw what happened and went to respond to Riley crying right afterwards, the furthest thing from my mind was to tell him “You’re okay, that didn’t hurt.” Because I saw that something did happen, and it did hurt.
In fact, when anyone I love–my husband or a friend–tells me something happened and it hurt, I listen. And I never find myself wanting to tell them “No, that didn’t hurt.”
Over the past week, as the conversation about our broken relationships across racial divides has been more visible on social media, I have noticed a particular type of response that troubles me. I see people of color telling us who are white that something happened and it hurt.
“That horrible shooting?” we say, “Yes, that’s awful.”
But I hear our friends trying to say to us, very gently (because they know how easily we get defensive) that it isn’t just the isolated incident of the shooting. That what happened, what hurts, is bigger than that.
And this is what troubles me: I hear us say back to them, “No, that didn’t hurt.”
They tell us the presence of the Confederate flag hurts them. And we say, “No that didn’t hurt. That is just a symbol of states rights” or some other mumbo-jumbo that can barely be defended with any historical accuracy. (This piece includes good primary source quotations, if you’re interested.)
They tell us our policing and incarceration system hurts them. And we say, “No, that didn’t hurt. We are just standing for justice,” even though the demographics of our prison system tell us that ‘justice’ seems to come down much harder on people with brown skin than it does on those with fair skin. And then we are suspicious of critics who push too much on the fact that the prison system isn’t equitable, questioning their commitment to the law.
But those examples are big and complex. So let’s take something seemingly trivial.
Let’s take tennis.
There has only been one black athlete to win Wimbledon. And I have Real Simple magazine to thank for opening my eyes to that fact.
A publication that largely exists to take pretty pictures that tell me that a couple of $20 gadgets from a home store will make my life even easier helped me realize that the tournament has been happening since 1877 and only one of the 138 champions has been black. And I believe it would be pretty bold to claim that is for any other reason than a group of rich white people wanting to keep their rich white sport just how they are comfortable with it being.
That’s the thing. When we decide we do not want people of color to join us somewhere, we have the power to make that happen. And then we try to turn and tell them “That didn’t happen. You’re not hurt.”
And what’s worse is that our narrative, the narrative the claims it did not happen, the narrative that claims that nobody has the right to be hurt, often wins the day. And the narrative from our brothers and sisters that says it did happen and it hurt is silenced.
What I need to acknowledge, confess, and repent of is this: when someone I love tells me something happened and it hurt I believe them. If I am failing to give this response to my brothers and sisters of color, then I am failing to love them. They belong to me as much as my son, because that is what Jesus does for us. He makes us family. And my family members are telling me they are hurt. I want to be quick to listen to them.