A Letter to My Black Sons
Dear Ethan and Elijah,
I am in earnest hopes that you will never actually need to read this letter. Hopefully by the time you are of age to read these words, prejudice will be a villain of the past.
You probably do not realize this, but when I was in junior high, I went through a pretty difficult season. I say “season” because it did not last forever. In the seventh grade–that is, when all of the graduating sixth-graders of all the elementary schools in my hometown pooled into one larger middle school–I began to be the object of intense taunting. As you can guess, I received harassment because of my low vision.
“Four-eyes” and “How many fingers am I holding up?” were a regular refrain in my ears. Thankfully, the teasing was not everyday. Nor was it from everyone. But it was enough to leave a tender teenager emotionally torn for many years to come. Even nearly two decades after the fact, I still (at times) feel uneasy when discussing my visual impairment with those who may misunderstand.
In your case, I know there will be times when people–whether intentionally or unintentionally–misunderstand you. I am quite confident that a day is coming–indeed has already come–when you will face all kinds of discrimination and degradation because of the color of your skin.
Now I have to be extremely careful here. In the present matter of race, I do not want to compare apples and oranges. Not for one moment do I think that being black is somehow a disability or something to be “fixed.”
On the contrary, in the new heaven and new earth there will be an untold number of blacks, Latinos and Asians all gathered around the throne of our Lord Jesus, worshipping the King in sweet unison. Indeed, your race is not a disgrace–but rather a gift. Whereas my low vision is a result of the Genesis 3 curse–and will be utterly absent in glory–yet your pigments are a magnificent display of God’s perfect handiwork and will continue forever. You are not a cosmic accident or the result of the Fall. You exist–beautiful black curls and all–by divine design.
Of course, I am no fool. Not all agree with me on this sentiment. Some people will erroneously believe–and a few even voice aloud–that you are a sort of second-class citizen. Others by their actions (or inactions) will demonstrate a social bias toward you. Perhaps a cruel comment or cynical stare. Maybe an “overlooked” resumè. Or merely “one more” traffic stop. Words–whether verbalized or not–may well hurt you in a way that sticks and stones never could.
But I want you to hear your daddy on something.
Sure, I could tell you to just do your best. That is, if you excel in reading, writing and arithmetic, you will be fine. Just show up and do your work, then others will notice your extra efforts, and you will do great. Or I could tell you to simply listen and obey–no matter which police officer, no matter when or where–and all will exceed your wildest expectations. Or I could try to convince you that racism really is a thing of the past, that the statistics do not lie, and that your fears are simply unfounded. So get on with life.
Yet I would be wrong.
The fact of the matter is that we live in a fallen world. Prejudice permeates our planet. Racism runs rampant. Sin smells bad because sin is bad. Into a crooked universe you have been born. And you yourselves are not exempt from its perils and pitfalls.
Let me be clear: Your dark skin is not the problem; darkened hearts are.
More education is good but cannot be the final answer. Hard work, humility, and courage are all nice. But these are not enough. No amount of black cops or white cops can sufficiently alter the situation.
Why? Because the answer is neither black nor white. The answer is a Middle Eastern carpenter. Jesus came from the Jews but died for the Gentiles. He suffered at the hands of prejudiced authorities, though He excelled in his work and always obeyed the rules. You might even say He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But of course, He was not. On the contrary, our sinless Lord Jesus was exactly where His Heavenly Father wanted Him to be–namely, on the cross between two thieves. Not exactly the ideal place His earthly mama would have dreamed up for her son.
Yet His unjust sentence of death meant reconciliation for the world–whites, blacks, latinos, Asians, etc.
My sons, I cannot promise you that if you work hard, listen well, and stay out of trouble that somehow trouble will stay away from you.
But I can assure you that, for the Christian, a future day is coming when all the wrongs really will be made right. All the sadness and sorrow–and I know there will be many tears along the way; it’s okay to cry out for justice in the meantime–will be washed away. An age is coming when all the racial slurs and cynical stares and traffic stops will be driven away. In the new heaven and new earth all the “unfounded” fears really will be unfounded. There will be no social biases. No more second-class citizenship. Only first-class. All members of one family. Total joy. Discrimination and degradation destroyed. Free at last.
So go ahead, work hard and try your best. But even if in the coming years you should still need to read this letter, do not forget that a day is coming–in God’s kingdom–when difficult seasons and villains of the past really will be gone for good.
Your Earnestly Hopeful Dad