Racism, Our Story

A mouthy, disobedient, (clearly unarmed), 15-year-old girl was thrown to the ground by her hair and then restrained by an officer who knelt on her back as she lay prostrate in the grass. Apparently, a fight between two women at a pool party in McKinney, Texas had prompted a call to the police. According to accounts, most of the officers present handled the situation calmly and with level-heads. Cpl. Eric Casebolt, unfortunately, seemed to think he was auditioning for an action film as he chased down and intimidated kids, dropping f-bombs, doing barrel rolls, separating out the white kids (who were allowed to go) from the black ones (at whom he waved a gun and handcuffed). Finally, in a grand show of his strength and power, he forcefully threw the aforementioned skinny, bikini-clad, African-American girl to the ground and sat on her.

(Look, I totally get it. As parents of five, we understand that when your kid talks back and refuses to obey, you sometimes have to get a little rough with her, throw her to the ground, point a loaded gun at her. Except we don’t understand, and if we did treat our children [disrespectful and disobedient as they may be, at times] the way that Cpl. Casebolt treated this child, we would be the ones handcuffed.)

But I digress. This isn’t a blog about a pool party in Texas. This is about our experience with racism, trivial as it may be in comparison. I tell these stories because many of you know our daughters. You comment on their sweet attitudes, their faith, and their kindness. You find them endearing. You cannot explain them away because they live in the inner city or belong to a gang or dress immodestly or shoplifted once or have a police record.

One of my earliest memories of people discussing race was when I was in second or third grade. My parents wanted me to take swimming lessons and I recall family members discussing the pros and cons of sending me to the YMCA in the next town over. Our small town was not very diverse, but Nashville was, particularly the area in which the Y was located. “Do you really want her to swim with all those black kids?” someone asked. I remember it clear as a bell to this day. Seeds of racism, planted into a little girl’s heart.

No one in my large, extended family would have ever physically attacked someone of another race, but they might privately have spoken unkindly of them. They would never have suggested re-segregating schools, but they might have relocated to another area in order to avoid a highly-African-American population. They would have hated the institution of slavery or the establishment of Jim Crow laws, but still might scrutinize non-moral aspects of black culture, saying, “We don’t do that.”

Three of our daughters came home from Ethiopia nearly two years ago. While I can’t say how many dirty looks our transracial family has received (because I am totally oblivious to these things—maybe none?), I can recall at least four very clear instances of racism toward our kids.

Three of the instances were in dealing with a woman down the street who has since moved (because she didn’t like “where the neighborhood was headed,” referencing the increase in non-white refugees and immigrants). This woman, and her daughter, who lived with her, would not let her pre-teen granddaughter play with our children. She explained simply, “My daughter is overprotective and doesn’t really let her play with those kinds of kids.” She later went on to tell another neighbor about our two sweet kids in front of my husband. My husband interrupted and explained that we actually have five sweet kids, since we had recently adopted. “But those two,” she continued, undeterred, “they’re really something.”

The fourth incident occurred when our eldest daughter was invited to the birthday party of a friend-of-a-friend, who promptly sent her away after she first accepted the gift our daughter bought for her. My daughter’s friend’s parents later talked to the girl’s parents, and sure enough, the family had a problem with a black girl showing up at their house for the celebration.

This is racism. Singling out the black kids and throwing them to the ground for minor infractions or waving a gun at them is racism. Avoiding people or locations because black people are there is racism. If you agree that all people should have equal right to a water fountain, but then relocate and start a new water fountain so that you and your white friends don’t have to go back there to that water fountain, this is racism. If you take mission trips to third-world countries populated by people of color, but then avoid certain “black” areas of your own city, this is racism.

Tiny, seemingly minor racist actions like avoiding a certain race of people or quietly speaking negatively about them, or seeing them as “less-than” because of their hairstyle or the slang they use to express themselves, breed a culture in which, on one hot summer day in Texas, it seems completely reasonable for a white cop to sort a bunch of kids by color and go all ‘Barney Fife’ on them. But of course, it is not, it’s racism.