Kids & Racism

ellie-swimOver the last year, I have seen too many pictures of racism. For too long, I have witnessed people of different color and ethnic backgrounds depicted in pictures slandering and hurting each other. When I turn on the television news, I see racially motivated riots. When I scroll through my social media newsfeed, I read about one act of hatred after another. It has made my heart sad, and I am sure it has brought a certain type of despair to your heart as well.

And then I saw this picture. It was in real life and in real time. My eight year old daughter had just made a friend. We were over a thousand miles from home and swimming in a resort pool and my daughter was laughing and playing with an African American girl. As soon as I saw them, it warmed my heart. It was just what I needed to see, even though I didn’t even know that I needed to see it.

My eight year old daughter didn’t see it as a big deal because in her eyes it isn’t a big deal. In fact, she probably didn’t even really notice that her new friend was an African American. She just noticed that she was about the same age and they started to talk and they realized that they wanted to be swimming buddies. If it were only that easy.

Maybe our daughter didn’t see her friend’s color because she is so used to interacting with children who have different ethnic backgrounds. She has cousins who have different color skin. She has friends at school and church who have different color skin. So why did I sense something so meaningful in a swimming pool? Could it be that there might be some spiritual implications in this random interaction?

This event took place less than twenty-four hours ago, and yet I have probably thought about it more than anything else that has crossed my mind since the moment it took place. My mind continues to think through the simplicity, the pure love and acceptance shown by both of these girls. When the African American girl had to leave, they hugged and said goodbye to each other. Could it really be that simple? Could there be something that is inside children which adults need to pay more attention to? We always focus on what we must teach our children, but in this instance, should we be learning something from our children?

Something Jesus said about children has replayed itself inside my mind since this pool interaction. Someone asked Jesus who the greatest type of person was in the kingdom of heaven. For an object lesson, Jesus called a little child to himself and asked the child to stand in his midst while he proclaimed:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

In another conversation Jesus had with others, he made it clear that heaven will be made up of little children. There must be something important about the faith of a child. As an adult, it is difficult for us to venture back to those days of childhood faith. To have a vivid imagination where you don’t need logic, but you just need some free time. I remember when I started to lose my child-like imagination. I was approximately twelve years old and I was playing with my matchbox cars. After a few minutes of playing with them, I started to feel a sense of boredom. I fought against this feeling that what I was doing was not worth it anymore. After a few more minutes of trying to imagine in front of me a huge highway system, I told myself that it was okay for me not to enjoy this anymore, and so I put them away and went outside to play basketball. I never got my matchbox cars out again. I am not sure why I remember this moment with such clarity, but it was a pivotal point in my journey towards becoming a young adult. And it was okay. This is simply what happens as we get older. I notice it in my twelve year old daughter. There are some things she just doesn’t enjoy doing anymore. And that is okay.

But there is another type of childhood faith that does not involve imagination. A type that is much more important. This type of childhood faith involves trust. As a child grows older, the child learns to not trust everyone. For various reasons, certain older children and other adults have done something to rob them of the virtue of trust. The older we get, the more skeptical we become of other human beings. And we have good reason to be skeptical of some people, for there are evil humans in our midst. But when Jesus was referring to this childlike faith, he wanted us to be able to trust in him no matter what. Jesus was not asking us to trust everyone, just him. Because Jesus is the one who can save us, we must be able to place our trust in him, knowing that he has good in store for us.

I believe that we can learn an important principle from Jesus: Trust without prejudice. Don’t worry about teaching your child this principle, they are probably already living it out. You, as an adult, probably need to learn it much more than your child. What does  trust without prejudice look like? It means that your first impression of someone is to think the best of them no matter what their skin color. How many adults have made too quick of a judgment about someone because they are a different skin color than them? And how many people have given too many people the benefit of the doubt just because they wear the same skin color as them? Evil comes in all types of colors. So does good.

This principle is found in the Bible: “Love always trusts” (1 Corinthians 13:7). In some translations, it says, “Love believes the best.” No matter what someone’s skin color, do you believe the best of them when you first meet them? When you first meet someone who has a different color, do you think, “I wonder if we will be great friends someday?” Or does that not even enter your mind?

I would like to add one more aspect to the principle of trust without prejudice. Children love to play, but they loath sitting around to talk about something that is rehashed over and over. Adults seem to be the opposite. Adults seem to think that sitting around and talking about the same thing over and over will fix the problem. But often, talking with no action usually just makes the issue less attainable. I have heard so many times over the last year that we need to start discussions about racism and somehow magically all that talking will solve the problem.

I have heard this topic discussed on sports radio, evening news and even expert panels. But it seems that very little good has come out of so much of these “talks.” Those who seethe with racism cannot be changed with just dialogue. The racist needs to rub shoulders with someone of a different color and play with them. I am not talking about swimming, but I am talking about their world expanding. Like I said, children can teach us so much if we would just open up our eyes. Maybe we need to stop talking so much about this and instead learn how to play again. Look around in your swimming pool. How big is it? Is it big enough for everyone?


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