The Hard Choice of Confronting Prejudice in the Church
The Hard Choice of Confronting Prejudice in the Church

As a woman of color in America, I am often on the receiving end of little reminders of my ‘other’ness. When I try to purchase nude pantyhose without special ordering them. Any time I put on a bandage. Or endure off-handed comments like, “I thought you people loved” this or that. The ten dollar word for this is micro-aggressions:

When you are faced with micro-aggressions, you are forced into a position where you must decide whether or not to let it go for the sake of your blood pressure, or conduct a formal inquiry: “What do you mean when you say, ‘I thought you people loved _____’?” A recent article published on the Gospel Coalition website triggered a similar response: a white mother’s outline of her “come to Jesus” moment regarding her black son-in-law also not only made me acutely aware of my otherness, but how blackness itself is treated. Even the title, “When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband,” is problematic. What to do? I’m sure the author meant well. She is just telling her truth, right? Why do I need to say anything about her truth? I am going to have to go the ‘if you see something, say something’ route on this one because how we talk about God, blackness and prejudice MATTERS. So the following is a conversation I had about the article with my sister-pastor-friend, Rev. Kentina Washington.

Churched Feminist: I guess her mention of her son-in-law’s hair is a good place to start…why did she feel the need to mention her son-in-law’s hair?

Rev. Kentina: it’s respectability. He had “dreads” (ugh) BUT he came to Christ, graduated and found a job, he opened doors…I guess that makes him a respectable Negro.

Churched Feminist: I couldn’t help but wonder if she felt compelled to tell us how her son-in-law styled his hair because (mostly) black people loc their hair. Was it a cue to let her audience know just HOW black her son-in-law is? Or maybe she was offended by his hair? I’ve read the term ‘dreadlocks’ comes from slave purchasers who saw the loc’ed hair of kidnapped Africans and deemed it ‘dreadful.’ But maybe she called attention to his hair to punctuate her predicament: dealing with an interracial marriage in her immediate family.

Rev. Kentina: right. Also, we never heard about the daughter’s desire to be married, we heard only about her prayers for her daughter’s husband…until God heard her bluff, as the opening line says. It’s a hetero-normative and assumptive thing…did her daughter even want to be married? And married to a man?

Churched Feminist: not only that, it is this notion of God “sending” spouses that bothers me. I know this is a theological dispute so I don’t want to get into issues of right vs. wrong or free will vs. predestination, but when you believe that God “sends” (rather than we “choose”), what happens if that spouse was not for your highest good?

Rev. Kentina: The issue of race as well. When the author says he “moved from being a black to a beloved son” NO! He is still a black man. What does that even mean? And what did she think of black men before? Is she trying to erase his ethnicity?

Churched Feminist: Right! Is she only able to love a black man in Jesus’ name? With regards to the erasure of ethnicity, I happen to think my blackness is some of God’s greatest work. Is blackness not a holy part of her son-in-law’s identity? Is blackness itself not already a divine expression of the creative prowess of the Almighty? Or is blackness just an ‘issue’ that God helped her to get past? This type of binary thinking is how the practice of “othering” got started in the first place. It has been very dangerous for us; it stirs up dynamics of power.

Rev. Kentina: Yes! When the author said If your daughter has chosen a man who’s in Christ, and assuming there are no serious objections to their union, loving her well means not only permitting an interracial marriage but also celebrating it,” what exactly does she mean by permission?

Churched Feminist: And when the question of “which world will you live in, black or white?” and also the concern for the “hard life of the children,” it again raises issues of separatism that I struggle with. It also shows that choice can be an option, apparently. All of this shows that in the nearly 150 years since American slavery ended (on paper), we still do not have a definition for what it means to be black in America. Blackness still seems to be a problem that needs to be addressed and not a vital, vibrant part of the American project. This entire piece reflects her concern about her family’s acceptance and embrace of her daughter’s black husband. But where is the reciprocal? Is she concerned at all about his family accepting her daughter? When whiteness is the default setting, I guess it doesn’t matter.

Rev. Kentina: Well, she did express befriending her son-in-law’s mother.

Churched Feminist: She talks of her as a friend more so than a family member. Baby steps, I guess. Thanks for agreeing to this public conversation!

Rev. Kentina: my pleasure.

Although I am confident that the author of this piece was doing her best to show us how her faith in God helped her with some (dormant?) bigotries she may or may not have fully subscribed to, some of her thoughts on race NEEDED to be addressed. I don’t berate her, I applaud her even for the attempt. When I was in seminary I remember reading Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s thought that “11 o’clock is the most segregated hour in the nation.” There is STILL so much more to talk about with regards to race, prejudice, and Christianity. So much work yet to be done. I remain hopeful that the controversy over this article and the keyboard displeasure that erupted based on the author’s points of view will continue this much needed conversation.