I’m standing in the movie ticket line with my white son-in-law, and people are staring like crazy. That’s because I’m black, and Paul, who’s actually biracial with a Mexican American mom and a Scottish American dad, looks more “white” than anything else. So do his three little kids, my three youngest grandchildren, all standing in line with us to buy popcorn and tickets to see Incredibles 2.
It’s an innocent enough outing. Take your grandkids to a movie. Stand in for their mother – my African-American daughter – who’s at work. Try not to act as if your family’s racial makeup and the tension it causes for others doesn’t alarm people, as if both the alarm and the tension aren’t real or a problem. Even worse, don’t write about it, because racial subplots can make people run. Some might assume I’ll rant, but I won’t.
I share my movie story here only because I’ve been worried, to be honest, about how to write on my number-one nut to crack — the world’s sorry state of race relations. It’s a tough divide, and some people won’t even allow talking about it
But real friends talk about real things. They share real stories and real fears. Yet if I do, and my stories and fears are occasionally about race, will that be okay for this community of ours?
I’ve wrestled hard with these questions in recent weeks. As a newbie contributor, I shared my first post in June but spent days writing and rewriting that post to avoid talking about race. I told myself, Don’t ruffle any feathers. Don’t stir up controversy. Don’t mention the obvious — that I’m black but also older, nerdy, introverted, impassioned for justice, and still carrying a lifetime of hurts and insults that some would rather not know or hear.
However, if you’re not bearing those same burdens, can we talk about such things? Enough to be friends?
The Bible encourages such honesty, opposing deception. As the Apostle Paul told new believers in Ephesus:
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor,
for we are all members of one body.
Ephesians 4:25 (NIV)
Jesus urged it this way:
This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you.
John 15: 12 (CSB)
It’s such a simple, lovely instruction for talking to each other and also for building friendships: just love.
That’s what we’re called to do as friends but also as mothers, wives, grandparents – and as in-laws. I never expected to have an interracial family, for example, yet I do. And the key to making it work? Love.
Jesus teaches us how to do this: without fear, judgement, worry, assumptions, or second guessing. Open-hearted honesty helps, too. That’s how we can talk about race. After making my own mistakes, I offer three suggestions:
Instead of hiding or holding back, just be your human selves. As a white friend once asked, “What should I say when I meet a black woman at a community meeting?”
“Say what you’d probably say to any friend,” I suggested, “Oh, that traffic!”
Then you can tell each other what part of town you live in, and what route you took to the meeting, and how your brakes need fixing, but how your schedule is full. From there, you can share stories about each other’s families, kids, jobs. Then right there, before the meeting starts, and because you were real, you’ll have a new friend.
It’s the juice of real talk along with vulnerability, too. I can tell you a little bit of my own life: how my daughter and her husband converted to Islam and became Muslims, and how I’ve struggled with that. How I’ve made some bad choices in life, and how I’ve struggled with that. How my husband and I have been married forty-two years but only recently began praying together daily.
When we tell the truth about what weighs us down or hurts us, we can connect with one another with obedient courage. Then we can do the best thing:
Be Like Jesus
As a writer, I sit at my humble desk — in a grown daughter’s former bedroom – and I write this essay to ask one simple question of myself: will I love you? Love you as a friend? By telling you my hardest stories and listening to yours?
In Christ, I make the choice to do exactly that — be truthful and loving as Christ did. It’s not always an easy thing; Jesus showed us that. As our Abiding Friend, He went to Calvary’s cruel cross for us. So I ask myself, Will I at least reach out to you across the color line?
I’m trying to do that here, and I’m thankful that many have already reached back. You’ve considered the potential of friendship in the face of hard issues and decided to give it a go. I’m making the same choice – saying yes to loving and liking despite our possible differences. And saying yes to talking about it as well. The Lord gently leads the way, so I will follow.