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What Matters

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Photo by Gretchen E.K. Engel

If anything good has come out of the events of the past few weeks, it’s that I’ve taken the time to think about race. My world has been pretty homogeneous. I went to a mostly white grade school. My middle school and high school was rural, almost totally white, with a bit of a racist reputation. My university experience was pretty homogeneous too even though I went to a Big Ten university.

Our first home in Phoenix was pretty much only experience being in a diverse environment. We were somewhere between a plurality and a minority. Among the kids in our neighborhood and daycare center, our son was the only white kid (and only boy). The kids went to each other’s birthday parties and had play dates. Now we’re in a small town where my son is “Number 10” because the “kid with the sandy buzz cut” described a third of his team.

One school year I shared a locker with the only Asian girl in our school. We chose to be together, but I never thought about it. That’s how I am. I don’t sort by black, brown, red, white, or yellow friends (none of those colors are even accurate except brown; I happen to be the same color as my beech wood desk). I gain friends based on things we have things in common: running, writing, faith in Christ, whatever puts us in the same Venn diagram.

When I heard about these shootings, my thoughts were, “this doesn’t even apply to me. I’m not racist.” Then I started reading posts. The ones that touched me the most were written by white parents with black children. That’s my world. I could name around a dozen friends in this situation without even thinking.  The idea that they have to teach different rules to different children made me sad. How far we still are from judging by skin color and not character? These black children have the same values and upbringing as their white siblings and yet outside of their family circle will be perceived as different.

Then the arguments started. I bristled at being urged not to counter with “all lives matter” because I assumed it to be perpetuated by self-righteous white people pontificating on their “tolerance”. I soon realized black people were pleading for us to understand that it is different for them. While I didn’t always agree with every point of these articles, I got the underlying concern. The tipping point for me on whether or not to write about this topic was the account of the guy who grew up in Naperville as the only black kid.His experiences were cringe-worthy, and I wondered how many ways I would have behave similarly if he’d been my classmate. I don’t think it hurts to do a little soul-searching to make sure however we say it, we understand what we’re saying and truly mean “all lives matter”.

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About Gretchen E K Engel

Chemical engineer by day, spec fiction writer by night

2 comments on “What Matters

  1. Thank you Gretchen.

    I find it very interesting after living in North America for the last 38 years, questions of race never seem to go away. I was 16 years old when I migrated to Canada from Jamaica in the West Indies. My “visible status” morphed after just one 3.5 hour flight from the Tropics.

    While the US has its evident share of racial tension, Canada is no exception. While not as in your face as things are portrayed via the media, there are elements in my country that are more insidious. Both countries have historical foundations that have allowed the infusion of racial discord; whether it is against the Indigenous people of Canada (and the US), or the descendants of African slaves in America.

    I totally concur with your stated reference to the commonality of things that determine your bonds of friendship. Character should (and does) trump skin colour. Faith in Christ reveals most things are really not about us at all; the common denominator being He who laid down His life for the world’s vibrant and colourfully created spectrum. That truly then clarifies and verifies that “all lives matter”; because He made it so.

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