I'm still learning about racial injustice.
As snack time came to a close, my second grade teacher made her way to her reading chair and yelled out to the class like she did every day, “Storytime!” We all raced from our desks, hoping to grab one of the best spots on the railroad-themed rug.
As I plopped down cross-legged in an open spot, I noticed that our teacher didn’t have a book picked out like usual. Instead she held a wooden basket filled with half-folded slips of paper.
Her instructions were simple and solemn: “Grab one slip of paper and pass the basket to the person next to you. When everyone has one, I’ll explain our new classroom rules.” That’s all she said.
New rules? We glanced around confused and began to see that each of our slips of paper were marked with either a blue dot or a red dot.
When the basket returned to the front, she began to read off from a sheet in her hands. “From today forward, the color dot you have on your piece of paper is very important. When we line up for lunch, blue dots will line up first and red dots must stand in the back.”
A few hands immediately shot up into the air. “I’ll answer your questions when I’m finished.”
She continued, “When we get to lunch, red dots and blue dots may not sit together but must sit with their own color. At recess, blue dots get to go outside on the playground, but red dots have to stay inside and do extra work. Blue dots may attend field trips, but red dots are no longer allowed.”
She couldn’t read any further, even though the page held a long list of rules, because the tears were already pouring. I can still see the faces of utter dejection of some of my classmates.
My teacher let us sit there for a moment. She let us feel it, really feel the weight of it. The unfairness, the anger, the questions. Why was this happening? Were we being punished? What did we do to deserve this?
I was confused but selfishly breathed a sigh of relief as I looked back down at my little piece of paper.
My dot was blue.
That day from second grade is etched into my memory. It was the first time I remember learning about racism. I didn’t know such a concept existed. I was ignorant to the reality of such injustice.
In many ways, I’m still ignorant. I don’t know what it’s like to be a victim of racial injustice. I don’t know what it’s like to view a police officer with fear rather than trust. I don’t know what it’s like to bear the generational scars from ancestors that were in literal chains. I don’t what it’s like to be perceived as less than solely because of my skin.
My dot is still blue.
I’ve learned a lot since that day and I’m still learning. My second grade teacher ended up reading us a story that day, but it was far different from the usual fairy tale. It was a true story about a woman named Harriet Tubman and her role in the Underground Railroad.
She finally explained the significance of the dots and the ways our history has been undeniably stained by the division of the dots.
At the time, I saw racism as something distant. Something that had been defeated by Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass and the like. Something we need not concern ourselves with today. If anyone struggles, it must be their own fault because we all stand on equal ground today. Right?
But I’ve learned since that sadly that isn’t true. I’ve seen and heard enough to know confidently that racism still exists. And it’s more pervasive than we want to admit.
I’ve heard the “n word” used more times than I can count. I’ve talked to countless teenagers who were punished for dating the “wrong” race. And I would be ashamed to tell you some of the things I’ve heard in church from the mouths of professing Christians.
It’s sad. But what makes me the most sad is my own role in racial injustice and allowing it to continue. I regret my lack of historical knowledge that has led to today’s continued struggles. I regret my complicity in jokes and comments. I regret not speaking up when I should have. I regret not caring about the struggle of my black brothers and sisters. I regret not befriending more people of color. I regret making this a political issue or social issue when it’s fundamentally a gospel issue.
Thank God for his grace. He’s still teaching me, and he’s using this moment in a powerful way for many. The death of George Floyd has not only reminded me that racism still exists but that I also have an obligation to combat it alongside the hurting.
It’s time for me to go beyond social media posts and onto tangible action. Actions like educating my children, listening and believing those affected, using my voice to speak up and out, learning about the systems and powers that harm people of color, and supporting change that brings justice.
I don’t have the answers, and I don’t know the exact path forward. But I’m still learning.