Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African and together they have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung.
The conversation took place way back in my Bible college days, but for some reason it stuck with me. I was playing table tennis with a guy friend of mine, like we did most days, when we weren’t in class or playing euchre. And like most days, we talked as we rallied back and forth, the lightweight plastic ball a picture of our conversation. It would usually alter between lazy, nonchalant flicks of the wrist to the more serious, intentional points.
And one day, I don’t remember how we got on the topic, but we started talking about race. Specifically mixed race marriage. And then, as we tapped the white ball back and forth, my friend said this: “I might consider marrying a girl of a different race, but I don’t think I could do that to my kids.”
I challenged him, as I did in most of our discussions, and hit the ball back over the net: “What do you mean?”
“Well, if I married a woman of a different skin color, that would be her choice, but the kids wouldn’t have a say in it. They would just be stuck in the situation, and it wouldn’t be fair to them.”
My friend went on to explain that the kids might get teased or ridiculed, or feel out of place having parents who didn’t look the same. They might struggle with identity issues as they grew up, and feel like they didn’t belong.
I have to say that I don’t hold this conversation against my friend. At all. We were young then, and both thought we knew everything. Shucks, neither of us had yet made it out of our teens.
But it does make me wonder if it’s this kind of thinking that plants the seeds which grow into uncontrollable weeds like the sad, sad situation in Ferguson. If it’s not these kind of notions that cause worldviews to form, stereotypes to be shaped, racism and biases to emerge.
And I wondered, nearly fifteen years after that conversation, if my friend thinks I’ve done my children a disservice by marrying a black man. If he thinks giving them a biracial identity is not fair to them.
So I asked him. I sent him a rough draft of this post, and we bounced the virtual ping pong ball back and forth over the net.
He said he remembered the conversation, and even agreed that he’s a good example of “dumb things said.”
He pointed out that at the time, his 19-year-old self naively held the view that one of the greatest goals of parenting is to make life easy for children. Now that he’s a dad, he knows that making life easy for kids shouldn’t be a parent’s ultimate goal, even though children obviously ought to be protected.
But what about those who do think having children of a different skin color would just make life too challenging? Too complicated? Too awkward?
What about those hopeful adoptive parents who are faced with a jillion questions on the adoption application, and have to tick certain boxes regarding racial background of potential children?
What should they choose?
I’m not implying that white parents should never choose to adopt white children. Where there is a need, we should be ready with open arms to love any child the Lord gives us. But I am posing the question of priorities and motives.
Is it possible, that in some cases, our desire for comfort trumps our desire to show Christ? I know it often does for me.
As a white mom of biracial children, I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair number of awkward comments, however well-intentioned. And I anticipate many more to come, as well as the potential conversations I may have with my kids as they get older and wrestle with their own identity.
But by raising my kids in an environment where the people who filter through our home cover a wide range across the color spectrum, my hope is that they’ll learn by experience that one’s identity is not wrapped up in the external. That it’s not defined by the shade of brown infused in our skin.
And my prayer is that as my children grow up, they will be so firmly rooted in their identity in Christ Jesus that they’ll never question whether they belong, because knowing that they belong to Him will be more than enough.