As a Latin woman, I have experienced racism and discrimination, some at the hands of my stepfather who was of Dutch German ancestry (i.e. white). There’s another VERY LONG and SORDID story there, but I remember hearing him speak negatively of my Puerto Rican father and being confused. I couldn’t understand how anyone could espouse the mindset that they were better than someone else, just because they had less melanin in their skin.
Then I met his dad, my step-grandfather. He was a hard man with no kind words for anyone, including family. He made my stepdad look like a bleeding-heart, liberal, snowflake who bucked the establishment by shacking up with a woman of color to prove a point. It was an uncomfortable visit, because, you know … racism. He had an obvious disdain for brown people, but I would say that at the core his issue was about something else: it was about self, it was about “What about me?”
Numbers 12:1-2 Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite, woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman). They said, “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does He not also speak through us?”
I read this Bible verse many times but it never really made sense to me. I mean, here you have Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ older siblings and co-leaders with him, criticizing Moses’ decision to marry an African woman. Their OPEN response to him was racist (working with family is always fun <insert eye roll here>), but their argument was, “Has no God also spoken through us?”
To understand this, you have to look at their backgrounds. Moses had lived the life of an Egyptian prince, while his family languished in the Jewish ghetto. He had everything provided, while they suffered. He was chosen, while they had to wait. And now he has the audacity to bring home a foreigner. I think Miriam and Aaron were less concerned about her skin color and more concerned about what this meant for them.
“What about me?” they were saying, even as they criticized the woman for her ebony skin and African features. “What about what we’ve done in the service of our God?”
Maybe they feared being set aside once again, being forgotten, being replaced. And she was the one who represented the loss of their moment, the loss of their glory, the loss of their spotlight. So they shot her down to raise themselves up.
“What about me?”
Suddenly she was the reason they were soon to lose their jobs. Or soon to lose the praise of the people. Which then spirals into the reason everything was going wrong in their lives. And then her and her kind were only there to get a handout, while they had done everything right …
“What about me?”
Racism, at its core, is about selfishness. It starts with selfishness, then evolves into the evil we see today. The abuses, the slurs, the mindsets, the lack of human empathy. Because when you repeat, “Me, me, me,” long enough, no one else matters. Nothing else is as important. It’s about a focus on what happens to me, what can be done for me.
Unfortunately, we’ve let this go beyond the point where we can nip it in bud, but even as we protest to bring about change, we can raise our children, bring up this next generation, and live according to our purpose as Christians — really, as human beings. If we love one another, if we are kind to each other, then our response ceases to be, “What about me?” That is something we can preach, something we can model.
Black lives matter.
My stepdad never changed, but I did. Following that episode (plus a few years to mature my thinking), I learned how to feel sorry for my stepdad and how he was raised. His mindset was wrong on every level, and his words and actions were hurtful, but I understand that he was repeating what he was taught, and that, to me, is sadder than anything else.