I cannot imagine what it’s like to raise a child in an environment where he is discriminated against, and at greater risk for harm, merely because of his race or the color of his skin. But my mother can.
My parents immigrated to Canada in 1953. My dad was a refugee due to the ethnic cleansing of Germans from East Prussia. My mom, because of the expulsion of Germans from Poland. My parents fled Communist East Germany for the West. But there, they found that refugees were ostracized and treated as second-class citizens.
Hoping for a better life for their children, they immigrated to Canada. Poor, living in the slums, and unable to speak the language, they faced yet more suspicion and discrimination. In grade school, my brothers were mocked, bullied and repeatedly beat up because of our heritage. My oldest brother lost an eye when a neighborhood child shot him in the head at point-blank range with a bow-and-arrow for being a “bloody kraut.” The boy’s father sneered when my dad begged him for assistance with the medical bills.
Walking to school and through the neighborhood, my brothers learned to avoid certain houses, to keep their heads down, to avoid eye contact, to shrink back, to do nothing to draw attention to themselves, to remain quiet, unobtrusive and invisible—and above all, to remain acquiescent and passive when mocked, approached, or challenged. The consequence of looking at someone the wrong way or saying the wrong thing might have led to another beating, or worse. I cannot imagine the fear that my mother must have felt for her sons those first years in Canada.
Precious in God’s Sight
I am grateful that things slowly changed. And I thank God that what my family encountered on the street was not what we encountered at our church. There, we were warmly welcomed. Church folks helped pay the medical bills. They purchased the eye-glasses to shield and protect my brother’s missing eye. They provided rides to the doctor. They bought groceries and filled up our empty fridge. They passed along hand-me-down clothes and toys. They gave us a turkey for Christmas—and brightly wrapped presents. They helped us learn English. They helped my Dad find work.
In the community of believers, we found kindness, love and acceptance. Our heritage was no barrier. I can still picture the circle of children sitting cross-legged on the floor in the basement of that tiny church singing the Sunday School song that declared the truth: “Jesus loves the little children. Red and Yellow, Black and White, ALL are precious in His sight!”
Walk a Mile in His Shoes
My brothers’ childhood experience of discrimination pales in comparison to the stories I hear from friends around my kitchen table: Like the young man who witnessed his family murdered in the Rwandan genocide. Or the Coptic Christian couple who fled Egypt because they feared for their children’s lives. Or the numerous football players who’ve described what it’s like growing up in communities where racism and violence is rampant, and who regularly face suspicion and discrimination simply because they’re black.
I’ve listened to the slogans and impassioned arguments surrounding the recent police shootings of young black men, and the retaliatory slaying of white police officers. The slogan, “Black Lives Matter” can be taken to imply that other lives don’t. But the slogan “All Lives Matter” fails to recognize the reality of racially-based suspicion and discrimination. It fails to acknowledge what it’s like to be part of a group that’s discriminated against. It was the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans who said “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”
Black Lives Matter Too
I hope that the situation in our churches is radically different than out on the street. I hope that immigrants, refugees, people of color, and people of different nationalities are experiencing the same warmth, kindness and acceptance that we found in the community of believers. I pray that followers of Christ are genuinely living out the truth that Red, Yellow, Black and White–all are precious in His sight.
Because Red Lives Matter. Yellow Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. And Black Lives Matter Too.