Let Us End Racism

It’s been more than 20 years since that moment. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my dorm room in Brooke Towers at West Virginia University when a group of my friends came back to the floor. They lived just a couple rooms from me and, occasionally, we would go to dinner together in the cafeteria.

On this particular day, however, one of them noticed a shopping cart that was in the hallway. It was a long-standing game for those of us who lived in the Towers community to “borrow” shopping carts from the Kroger down the hill. I admit to borrowing one or two during my two-year residence at Towers.

For some reason, the presence of the shopping cart agitated this student. He became irate. He slammed the cart across the hall. He screamed out words I can still hear today.

I hate these n#####!

Down the hall was another hall friend of mine. He would soon become famous for his standout performances as a running back on the football team. I cannot recall if he was there, but the words were shouted loud enough that if he was, he would have heard them.

I was embarrassed. I was appalled. I was ashamed.

I didn’t shout the words, and it certainly wasn’t the first time I heard them. Growing up in southern West Virginia, you were exposed to racist attitudes and language that sought to separate people. As a kid, you didn’t always have the words and experiences to understand what it was that people were saying. You did, however, know it made you uncomfortable.

That moment, in my dorm room, changed everything for me. I didn’t want to be associated with racists nor did I want to be one myself. I wasn’t perfect in this area, but I wanted to live out the values of my faith stronger that God created us all the same.

I define racism as simply dismissing others because of the color of their skin and making contributions to society that separates people by race. It is a two-fold existence, and we have to recognize where we’ve contributed in some way to either side of the definition. Perhaps we have said things that have dismissed people because of their skin color or we’ve performed acts that have contributed to the separation of races. Sometimes we’ve done both and many times we are silent when we’ve witnessed it.

I pray for the day when racism ends.

I recognize we must be the answer to these prayers. A few years ago, I proclaimed in a sermon that my son’s generation would be the ones to see that dream come true. Several years after making that statement I’m cautious, because our children are formed by our examples and, often times, the examples we often share is of division and separation.

We share the example of dismissing concerns from people of color. When people of color share about institutional biases that favor whites, we often turn to the old advantage that everyone has an equal playing field in America. I’m a white male from Appalachia who has experienced institutional biases based upon my education and where I went to school. How much more so have people of color experienced? We need to hear their concerns and make the appropriate systematic changes that levels the playing field so all may have a chance to succeed in life.

We share the example of valuing heritage over the concerns of symbolic racism. When people of color express how displaying the Confederate flag and statutes brings up images of slavery and oppression, we often dismiss the concerns by saying we are focusing on our traditions and heritage. Instead of hearing their concerns and working together to find proper solutions and balance, we immediately dismiss the comments as detrimental to society.

We share the example of pointing out the differences instead of focusing on our commonalities. We do this by making specific references to the skin color of people of color we meet. There is an issue when we will use phrases like “that black person” or “my Hispanic helper” that we would not use if that same person is white. We point out our differences to the detriment of finding the places of common life and shared interest.

Perhaps, though, the most heartbreaking is that we will immediately accept someone based on their skin color and we will equally question someone by the same attribute. We see this in our politics, in social media, and in life. Acceptance is, sadly, as much about race as it is about the content of someone’s character today.

I bemoan all of this.

The sad thing is our children watch how we treat people. They see how we treat one another and the words and actions we use when it comes to race. Our actions provide more guidance for our children on how to live out God’s love than our words ever can.

If we truly want racism to end in our nation then it cannot begin by passing the baton to a younger and more accepting generation. It must begin with us saying, “Enough is enough.”

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We Need to Appreciate and Equip Men to Be Fathers

We have a fatherhood problem.

This is not a new realization. For decades, we have struggled with the problem of absentee fathers and the unfortunate numbers of mothers who must raise their child alone and without much help. It is a serious issue when men do not take responsibility for children, do not pay child support, or are not there for them.

It is problem that we need to address. However, I think our fatherhood problem goes much deeper than absentee fathers.

We have a problem in appreciating good fathers and equipping all men to be strong fathers to their children. It is something we are not doing well in society or in the church. I believe if we did a better job appreciating and equipping men for their roles as fathers then it could help to solve the issue of absentee fathers. Men need good and strong role models to provide the way forward in being good dads. Right now, we are not receiving that.

What we receive is a society that portrays men as incapable to raise children. Television depicts men, through shows and advertisements, as lazy and bumbling fools who are only interested in sports. When it comes to raising children, men are seen as uninvolved or trying to make excuses for why they can’t help.

The image portrayed in society is what is said in the home. We have taught men to believe that they are only “babysitters” of children until they reach a certain age. Fathers are not babysitters. They are an important part of a child’s development and can provide strength, comfort, and affection to a child.

If this is the dominant image of fatherhood in society, then it is no wonder why some men avoid their responsibilities. When we teach men that they have no role to play in a child’s life, we should not be surprised when men do not want to show up and be a dad. This is not an excuse. From personal experience, it is heartbreaking and sad when a father does not want to be a part of a child’s life.

The way we portray men in society, especially as it relates to their roles as fathers, must change. Just as we have supported women and encourage women to take a stronger role in society, we need to encourage and support men to take a stronger role in the home. I think this is where the church has a role to play.

First, we must appreciate good fathers and not just on Father’s Day. Just as we do for great example of mothers, we must highlight strong and supportive fathers and let their examples be a guide to other men. When men see how other men are as fathers it will affect them in how they are a dad to their own children. Much of what I know about being a dad I’ve learned from watching my friends be good fathers to their children. We appreciate in ways that inspire others. I can think of no better place to do that than in the church, where we are called to be a community that supports one another in fellowship and love of the Lord.

We need to also train men to be strong fathers. Appreciating good fathers is just one piece of the puzzle. We have to teach what it means to be a dad. By using examples from Scripture and life, we show men how to be the dad their children desire them to be.

Equipping also means we must change society’s attitude towards men. I admit this will be hard work, but work that needs to be done. We must correct sexist attitudes that claim men have no part in a child’s initial months, while women do all the parenting on their own. Both parents are important to a child’s early development and we must express this through both our words and actions.

The fatherhood problem is one that will not completely go away. Unfortunately, we will always have men who will not take responsibility for their children. By appreciating and equipping men to be strong fathers we can reverse the trend and change society’s attitude toward fathers.

There is not greater joy than being a father. We all have a part in sharing that message with men so that they will be ready to be an active role in their child’s life.