Race and ethnicity has been woven extensively through conversation among some of my circles lately – issues that I care deeply about and yet most often feel inadequate to discuss on the level my heart burns for. I tentatively dip my feet in the pool, adding my voice to the narrative, afraid even in my love that I might step on a toe or nick an already-deep bruise.
My skin and privilege as a middle class white American give me an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on where you sit. I will never escape this and it would be foolish to try.
For part of my childhood and nearly all of my adult life I’ve lived in cross-cultural scenarios. I’ve worshiped with Nepalese and exchanged flowers with Fijians, sipped salted tea with Sherpas and danced in city streets with Egyptians. I’ve made my home in harbors in New Zealand and cities in Australia, hostels in Hungary and high rises in Thailand.
My coworkers have been Norwegian and Korean and Indonesian and Brazilian. My flat mates have been Kenyan and Scottish, Texan and Mexican.
I’m married to an Australian and my children wave two flags proudly. Even my accent—though mostly American—sounds confused and sometimes inconsistent with what I hear in my head.
My two-year-old claims a Fijian-Australian as his best friend and he hasn’t noticed that his skin is different to hers. Yet.
They say “love is color blind” but I say love sees it all.
My friendships are deeper, my life is richer for seeing that her skin is brown, his eyes are more almond, her hair is course and curly, his nose is wider and flatter – so different to my own.
I’ve learned that honor becomes weightier under the volume of a Maori haka and hospitality becomes sweeter by the sharing of an Indian chai.
But even in my cross-cultural living and working and growing and learning, I wonder how much of this privilege of knowing diversity is afforded to me because of my privilege of being white and the opportunities my white, middle-class Americanness has helped pave the way for. (Ouch.)
I once walked with friends into an elementary school in China. Hundreds of eight-years-olds hung out of the windows to catch a glimpse of the white people in the courtyard. They pressed their faces to the bars, stretched their arms open wide, screaming while we shook our heads in newfound knowledge: this is what the Beatles must have felt like when they stepped off of planes.
We taught English and made progress and assisted teachers as per their instructions. But after classes we signed autographs and blushed embarrassed and mumbled this is crazy under our breath, wishing we could hide from the fake celebrity of it all.
Our race and our class set us apart in a way that afforded us influence (that at the time, we used for good – it’s always a choice), but it also separated us in a way that made us feel uncomfortable. Because aren’t we all looking for ways to connect and find love, discover meaning and make our lives count for something? Aren’t we more the same than not?
And yet our differences matter.
Love is not color blind – it looks for color because a world of grays is flat and boring and can only narrowly express a world of created splendor and masterpiece that was spoken into existence by the Most Beautiful One Of All – the God who sees and paints and dreams and promises in rainbows.
But color can also cause eye sore and clashing, competition, comparison, and confusion. It can be fertile grounds for misunderstanding and fear, a source of pride (both inferior pride and superior), and an excuse for division.
I sobbed—ugly cried, in fact—my way through Twelve Years a Slave from the opening scene until the end (and for a half hour after). It reminded me again that love is not color blind. Oh no, no it is not.
Love sees color and embraces it and looks it in the eye and says, “You are precious, just the way you are… You’re beautiful because you’re the way you are, not in spite of it. You are worthy of love because Love birthed you and nurtured you and released you to the world. You are beloved.”
Love sees color as a reason to dig deep, a motivation to ask questions, an incentive to not assume, and an invitation to be renewed in our ways and thinking and ideas and norms. Love sees color not as something to be tolerated or treated or even perhaps defended, but as something to be celebrated, pursued, honored, and recommended.
I can’t know the brilliance of orange without the cool of blue to contrast it with. I can’t know the depth of purple without experiencing the pure pop of yellow. I’ll never know the heavy ache of red without the distinct crisp of green juxtaposed next to it.
Diversity isn’t only important because it adds depth and beauty and better reflects the many facets of God. It’s also important because it helps me to see myself.
As an American living abroad it took me years to uncover the gift that I held from my place of origin – the pioneering, freedom-fighting, you can do it, sky’s the limit, just believe and become spirit passed down to me through generations of family and years of public schooling and endless athletic shoe ads on repeat through our television sets. I didn’t realize that the whole world doesn’t hug near-strangers or smile on sidewalks until my whole world moved beyond my American borders. (And yes, I’m well aware that not all aspects of my culture are unicorns and daisies, but pointing out faults seems to come much easier for most of us than drawing out redemptive characteristics and so that is my focus.)
When we allow diversity into our lives, it not only helps us to learn and grow and appreciate a world rich with other and color and different and interesting. It also helps us to learn who we are – the fabric of our beings woven from the fabric of our own ethnicity and culture and background and worldview.
I don’t want to teach my kids that love is color blind. I want them to see every color for what it is – an invitation to embrace the pain and beauty and wonder and revelation and depth and the very heart of God a little bit more.
I’ll ask God to open our eyes a little bigger and expand our hearts a little larger so we can learn to love a little better.
I won’t teach that love is color blind. I’ll teach them that love sees.