An article posted on the Gospel Coalition website yesterday began as follows:
For years I prayed for a young man I had yet to meet: my daughter’s husband. I asked the Lord to make him godly, kind, a great dad, and a good provider. I was proud of a wish list void of unrealistic expectations. After all, I knew not to ask for a college football quarterback who loved puppies, majored in nuclear rocket science, and wanted to take his expertise to the mission field. I was an open-minded mom.
But God called my bluff.
This white, 53-year-old mother hadn’t counted on God sending an African American with dreads named Glenn.
Can we pause for a moment and remember that Bob Jones University didn’t lift its ban on interracial dating until 2000? And can we remember that, particularly in the South, much of the opposition to interracial marriage came from fundamentalist Christians, who believed that “race mixing” was against the Bible? What we see here, of course, is both more benign than these examples, and also, I would argue, more common. It’s also not limited to evangelicals.
Have a look at this excerpt from the article:
It wasn’t long ago that interracial marriage—particularly a black man like Glenn marrying a white girl like Anna—was considered the ultimate taboo in American white society. (In fact, it was illegal in 16 states until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that race-based restrictions violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Hence the film releasing this fall, Loving.) Though I never shared this prejudice, I never expected the issue to enter my life.
Today, 87% of Americans approve of interracial marriage. See this graph:
But I suspect that many individuals who think they approve of interracial marriage, and would say they approve of interracial marriage—like Gaye Clark, the author of this Gospel Coalition article—would respond differently if faced with the issue directly, in their own lives. Clark claims that she “never shared this prejudice,” but her troubled reaction to her daughter’s choice of a mate makes it clear that she did share this prejudice—she just didn’t realize she did.
I grew up in an educated upper middle class family. I didn’t realize I held class prejudice until one of my siblings married someone from a working class background, someone with no college education and no expectations or plans of obtaining such education. I didn’t respond to that situation by claiming that I had never held class prejudice, I just “never expected the issue to enter my life.” Um, no. I didn’t respond perfectly, and it took me time to realize that my priorities were askew, but I ultimately responded to the situation by admitting and naming my class prejudice, and then taking steps to fix it. And you know what? Denial doesn’t help with that.
Anyway, Clark next adds a list of things parents who “never envisioned” their children in “an interracial marriage” should bear in mind if their “white daughter brings a black man home for dinner.” Let me just hit on a few of them.
Glenn moved from being a black man to beloved son when I saw his true identity as an image bearer of God, a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir to God’s promises.
This from a woman who claims she never “shared this prejudice.” Um no, I’m sorry, but if your daughter’s beau being “a black man” is something you have to get over, something you have to find a way to see beyond, you hold some pretty serious racial prejudice. And completely unacknowledged, it appears.
One woman in church looked over at Anna and Glenn and gingerly asked, “Are they . . . dating?”
“Engaged!” I grinned and winked at them.
She gave a pained smile, and then sighed and shook her head. “It’s just . . . their future children. They have no idea what’s ahead of them!”
I nodded. “When Jim and I were married, we had no idea what was ahead of us either. I stopped believing the lie we could control our trials years ago.”
Oh I see. So it’s a-okay to take glee in your daughter’s interracial marriage shocking your fellow parishioners when you yourself had to get over your daughter’s fiancé’s race before you could welcome him. Nope.
Calling Uncle Fred a bigot because he doesn’t want your daughter in an interracial marriage dehumanizes him and doesn’t help your daughter either.
I’m sorry, but Uncle Fred is a bigot. That’s just how words work. Using words accurately does not dehumanize people. Do you know what dehumanizes people? Racism. And do you know what contributes to that dehumanization? Allowing your loved ones’ racism to slide by because you’re not willing to call them out for it.
Clark may feel comfortable around Uncle Fred, but has she even stopped to wonder how comfortable her soon-to-be son-in-law feels around Uncle Fred? Or about how comfortable her future brown grandchildren will feel around their Great-Uncle Fred? It’s far easier to accommodate racists when you’re not the one feeling the full force of their prejudice.
Several people asked Anna and Glenn, “Which world will you live in—black or white?”
The problem may be worse than I’d thought.
Before the wedding I reached out to Glenn’s mom, Felicia. As we sat and talked about our children, we realized we have similar hopes and dreams for them. As we share a common bond, I’m hopeful Felicia can become a friend.
So, honest question: Had Clark ever met a black woman before? Actually, let me rephrase this: Had Clark ever had a black woman as a friend before? Because Clark’s surprise that Felicia has the same hopes and dreams for her son that she has for her daughter suggests that the answer to this question is no. I mean, seriously? Clark acts like she was surprised to find that her daughter’s black boyfriend’s mother was a person she can relate to, a person like her. WTF is going on here?
Let’s be very clear here. In choosing to publish this piece, the Gospel Coalition acknowledged that prejudice against interracial marriage is a big enough problem in the evangelical community to need a rebuttal. After all, there’s no need for Clark’s list of things for parents to bear in mind if interracial marriage is no big deal in the first place. There’s only need for this list if, well, if there are still lots of evangelicals like Clark out there—individuals who fancy themselves not prejudiced when they are in fact definitely prejudiced. I’m seriously shaking my head over here.
I have multiple friends who have personally experienced prejudice against interracial marriage within fundamentalist and evangelical communities. In telling their stories, they’ve often had religious leaders or friends accuse them of imagining things. Oh no, they’re told! Racism is a thing of the past! The church today doesn’t see color! This article—whether or not the Gospel Coalition realizes it—is a serious validation of my friends’ experiences. They aren’t imagining a thing.
My own evangelical parents always insisted that they would be fine if I brought home a black man—so long as he loved the Lord, of course. But I heard other things, too. My parents had an interracial couple from church over once. I think it was as an object lesson for us kids, because we never had them over again and our parents only ever knew them peripherally. After they left, my father explained that black culture is bad, with its drugs and its crime and its welfare dependence, but that some black people—like the husband in the family we’d just had over—were able to overcome this. These individuals dug themselves out to lead fine, upstanding lives through hard work, and by leaving the victimhood complex behind. The implication was clear—bringing home a black man was fine, so long as he wasn’t, well, too black.
Of course, this isn’t limited to evangelicals. There are millions of Americans today who believe they aren’t racist, who are certain they aren’t prejudiced, but who would react like Clark did if their child brought home a black significant other. It’s not just about interracial marriage, either. It’s about a society in which three-quarters of white people don’t have a single non-white friend. It’s about a society in which white people do and deal more drugs while black people are more frequently arrested and do more time for these same offenses. It’s about a society where black people are perceived of as lazy and promiscuous while being sent to chronically underfunded schools and treated as criminal by the very police force tasked with protecting them.
We need to be woke. Fixing this problem doesn’t start with lists of overly simplistic platitudes. It starts with acknowledging that there is a problem.