Friends, I am ecstatic to introduce you to a friend of mine named Nandi Roszhart. Her husband, Jason, is a youth pastor from Texas who has brought his students to Crossroads Summer Camp for years and formerly served on summer staff. During the summer of 2016, the three of us struck up a conversation about racial reconciliation. She taught me so much in a 25 minute conversation that I couldn't resist asking her to give us some advice on how love people unlike us. I hope her vulnerability challenges you as it did me! —Sharie King
As a little girl, my parents would say, “you can be anything you want when you grow up!” Whatever crazy idea I came home with, they would listen attentively at the dinner table and encourage my dreams. Whether it was being an astronaut, a teacher or a professional athlete, I never had a doubt in my mind that I could “conquer the world” when I grew up—no doubt at all.
You see, I had really good examples of hard working, determined people right in front of me—my parents, both Jamaicans that came to the United States. My mom came as a 19-year-old with a green card, and my dad (who apparently followed her!) came illegally as an immigrant. America wasn’t the promised land, per se. They loved and longed for the place of their birth, but America had the opportunities they deeply longed for… and it did not disappoint. They started with absolutely nothing, and by the time I was 2, our family owned a home. They both attained degrees in college and worked for large corporations. They sacrificed for my brother and me, teaching us to do right by people and to never give up on our dreams.
So, I didn’t give up. I went to college at UCLA, played soccer for the U.S. Women’s National Team and have worked in full-time ministry since I graduated. I am proud of my story.
But, there is another side to my story.
Nandi, the college graduate and hard-working ministry leader, has been followed out of grocery stores and asked in the parking lot if I paid for my stuff—perceived as a thief because of the color of my skin. Sometimes, during a conversation, people are surprised when they hear me speak. They respond with comments like, “Wow, you are really eloquent,” with looks of surprise on their faces (What did you expect?). One time, while playing soccer, I was called names I will not repeat in this blog.
This is my story too. These are the experiences I have as a black woman and as a child of immigrants. The stereotypes and racial profiling I deal with on a daily basis are unfair and painful. All because of the color of my skin. I mean, think about that for a moment. This is the way God made me—and I love my skin—yet it offends and scares people.
How do I navigate the pain and tears? How do I let go, forgive and hope for better days? What does it look like to join with others who are like me, and those who are not, in order to push back against these realities?
I don’t know much, but I have come to the conclusion that I can’t do it alone. I really can’t. I need others to bring out my story, ask me questions and join me on this journey. At times, I long for someone to just ask me how it feels and to truly understand.
So, where can we start?
Cultivate cultural intelligence by listening
We all know that sitcoms don’t tell the whole story. Neither does the news, by the way. To sit down across the table from someone unlike you and allow their culture, race, ethnicity and story to enrich your life and challenge your innate biases is a gift. Maybe we could all learn something if we take the time to stop and listen. Stories are powerful vehicles that paint pictures we would not have otherwise seen without the bravery of the one sharing. Grow by listening.
Practice true hospitality
As Christians, the table is a place where all are welcome and equal. Prejudices, racial distance and economic disparity are overcome, even if for just a moment. Practiced often and with a level of intentionality, hospitality can help provide a safe place for fruitful conversation and mutual love. So, light up the BBQ or order a pizza, and invite the woman at the grocery store or across town over to eat. I have a feeling it will be a gift to you both.
Don’t ignore my color, or yours—White is a color too, you know?!
Being white has a set of cultural ideals and expectations. My husband is white, (yep!) and he has been on his own journey in seeing his whiteness as a place of privilege afforded to him in our society. When we started dating, our initial conversations regarding race, culture and ethnicity were heated to say the least. He would be the first to tell you that he had to face his misconceptions and be honest about his lack of understanding… even with many close friendships with people of color. Instead of giving up, though, he has continued to lean into the conversation about color, and he is my biggest supporter as we have ventured into turbulent waters from prejudices coming at us from outside our marriage.
Oh, and see my color too! If I had a dime for every time someone said to me, “I don’t see color,” I would be writing this from a yacht. I know these words are meant as a compliment to people of color, but they disregard a huge part of the other person. See my color because, just like you, it has shaped who I am and how I see things.
Question your prejudices and become sensitive to your inner conversation, to the point of being uncomfortable
We all have prejudices. There, I said it. But, it is one thing to see those in someone else, it is another to see them in ourselves. Let’s all ask God to help us be more aware of what we really feel when we come into contact with someone that is not like us. When we do this prayerfully and honestly, we allow the Holy Spirit the opportunity to convict, challenge and heal us.
Let’s actually be the church in this area. Call it what you want… racial reconciliation, loving the other, growing in unity. It doesn’t really matter what we call it, let’s lean in to this journey.
For the last week or so I have been studying the book of Ephesians. Take a look at Ephesians 2:14-16 when you get a chance. In this passage, Paul is describing what happened when Christ died—he united Jews and Gentiles. The hostility, frustration, hurt and misunderstanding between these two cultural groups is intense. Differences in manner of worship caused a stark division between the two groups, living in the same community. In the middle of all of that, Paul steps in and tells them both that on the cross, in His body, Jesus broke down the wall of hostility and reconciled both groups to God and to each other!
I’ll never forget when my nephew, Trevor, was about 3 years old and was meeting another little boy for the first time. We all sat in the living room, and the other little boy was really shy, not wanting to leave his mom’s side. Trevor, sensing this, put his hand out and said, “It’s okay, here is my hand; it’s brown.” So simple, so sweet and innocent.
I offer my hand (it’s brown) to invite you to the table, no matter your race, color, culture or creed, and say, “Will you join me?”