By Chad Pierce
More scholarly and eloquent pieces have been written on the racial divide that has come to a head in the last few months (see Theresa Latini’s wonderful post last week for one). I will not add to these. I simply want to share some simple thoughts as a new father of a black child.
Americans love superheroes, at least I did growing up. I don’t think I’m alone. The first Superman comic “Action Comics 1” is reportedly valued at over $5 million! Growing up I pretended I could fly like Superman, swim like Aquaman, and run like The Flash. In short, I dreamed of greatness. After all, that’s what being a superhero is all about. Given the state of our country, there are many who claim that America could use a good hero right about now.
As I watched the news a few weeks ago, it dawned on me that America had found its hero, or maybe its heroes. On June 27 Brittany “Bree” Newsome scaled a flagpole and removed the confederate flag at the South Carolina capital building. After the horrific tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, in which a racist murderer gunned down nine black church members, our nation has discussed the history and role of the “stars and bars” in our culture. Bree decided that something needed to be done. No, Bree decided that she needed to do something. Some have seen her as a criminal or worse. To me she is a hero.
Bree Newsome did not have the power to end racism. She could not undo the ill effects of slavery or white privilege. She could not write the final chapter on individual or institutional racism. What she could do was climb a pole. America has had a history of heroes who did what was in their ability to right a wrong. For every Dr. King who spoke to the masses, there was a Rosa Parks whose heroism was demonstrated through mere sitting.
As the father of a black child (my wife and I adopted our daughter, Greta, from Haiti), my eyes have been opened, at least a little, to the experience of what it means to be a person of color in America today. I do not claim to be an expert on race relations, but I am confident that America needs more heroes. While we long for the next Dr. King, what we need is for more people to stand up (or in some cases sit down) and do what is right for those still on the margins. We need more everyday heroes. For our country’s sake, for my daughter’s sake I am committed to two things.
1. I will recognize that there is still a problem.
I remember the first day Jodi and I decided to bring Greta to church. It was one of our first outings. Of course, we were the center of attention. While Greta was moving around the fellowship area, one of the members said, “what a cute little monkey!” Excuse me? In our first public outing I learned that life was not going to be the same. I pastor a very friendly church, a church that actually welcomes and lives into diversity quite well. Nor does this individual have an overtly racist bone in her body. And yet there it was…day one of Greta’s public life…monkey.
Thankfully that has not happened again. But other things have. People will be in the middle of stories or jokes and then suddenly stop short when I am present. We are stopped multiple times every day by strangers who single Greta out to tell us how cute she is. She is cute…so are my white children, yet nobody except grandma tells us that any more. While as a four year old girl, she is “cute,” I wonder what she would be if she was a 16 year old black boy in a hoodie?
2. I will become a hero
Don’t get me wrong, I do not intend to morph into the next beacon for racial equality. I wish that were the case. Rather, I am committed to becoming an everyday hero. I am committed to doing what I can to call and fight for justice.
Some of this will be easy. I don’t need to participate in the “harmless” jokes and stereotypes. I also can be an advocate for eliminating hurtful items and symbols from my world that are offensive to others. I am quite convinced that not everyone who flies the Confederate flag has racist motives. I am fully aware that for many the symbol represents positive aspects of the history of this country. And yet to think that somehow these positives outweigh the pain brought about by that symbol is ludicrous at best. In other words, those in the majority of culture must be willing to give things up for the sake of those who have experienced and continue to experience injustice.
In the beginning of this blog I said I that I had seen a hero or heroes. Bree Newsome is a hero to me, but so is James Ian Dyson, the white man who helped her over the fence and spotted her during her climb. He was arrested too. I don’t know either of these two individuals, nor do I know if they are role models. And yet, I love the image of a white man lifting up a black woman to help her make a statement for equality.
This won’t be as easy, but I am committed to lowering myself, my goals, my desires to help others achieve their most basic rights and dreams. I will never be able to fly like Superman, but I can call for and live into justice. I can become a hero.
Chad Pierce is the pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.