A Letter to Izzy: a white father’s apology to his black child

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I am a Caucasian (white) male. My race, ethnicity and gender do not define me, they merely describe me. 

I am a father of a beautiful African-American (black) daughter. Her race, ethnicity and gender do not define her, they merely describe her. 

I am a white father to a black daughter. Her name is Israel Cate. Her name has meaning. She was purposely given the names she has. 

The name Israel means: With God there is victory. My wife and I knew that being a black female, Izzy was going to have more of an uphill battle when it came to the way people related to her, gave her opportunities and viewed her. We wanted her to know in her core that there is only victory with God – only identity and purpose – in the way He views her. If she is going to succeed in her desires and dreams, it will be because of Him. If she was going to heal from the pain that is coming her way by being a non-white female, it would be because of Him. 

Her middle name Cate means purity. When her own choices stain her, when this world throws it’s trashed opinions onto her that are about her, when she is dismissed and left out due to appearing different, because of God’s love for her through Jesus, God sees her as perfect. As pure. As stainless. 

I have been praying about what to say her about her life. Already in her world, at 6 years old, there is heartache due to her being black. 

What I am hoping to do with this post is convey what I am personally sorry for to her and also what has hurt my heart in what others have said and done. I can apologize for myself but I cannot apologize for others. Instead, I will simply say my heart hurts seeing what I’ve witnessed. 

Let me look in the mirror first. 

To Israel Cate: 

I am sorry I have not been a proactive learner of the dynamics in being a white father to you as a black child in a country that still has much unrest and undertones racially. I am sorry that it has taken circumstances in America, and even death, for me to learn more, read more, have more conversations about racial equality, justice and reconciliation. I should have been doing these things more throughout the six years of your life. I am sorry for being a reactive, pharisaical leader of you. 

I am sorry that when you are in my office at work, and you look at the poster on the wall that has a quote and a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. that you don’t recognize who that is or what cause he was predestined to lead. 

I am sorry that as a family we instinctively watch television shows like Full House and Little House on the Prairie. While these shows are mostly wholesome and have good lessons to share, I am sorry you very rarely get to see someone who looks like you as you continue to see people who look like your mom, myself and your older sister (who is white). I am sorry for being an unintentional father during our down time as a family. 

I am sorry that when we went to go visit your birth-mother when you were 5 years old, that I did not make 110% sure she was able to meet us at the time and place we had agreed to meet. I know when she did not show up to meet us, it broke your big heart and left a scar there. I am so grateful for your birth mother and what she has done for our family in giving us you – and I want you to have a possibly close relationship with her as you grow and when you are grown. I am sorry for not nurturing more of a relationship with her since she did not show up to be with you a year ago. I will extend forgiveness and grace and be in constant communication with her. 

I am sorry that I used to spread the message to others that I was colorblind. My intentions were to show that I loved all people equally, no matter their appearance. What I now know is I was showcasing that your unique, specific, beautiful ethnicity was being ignored. You are black. I see you. I want to point that out in you in a positive affirmation and not sweep your race away in a quick, hidden way. For me to say “I’m colorblind” is to not acknowledge the specific way God has created you.  

For these things I am sorry. 

My heart hurts as well on what I have witnessed from those around me. 

My heart hurts that when we informed extended family members that we were going to be able to adopt a black child, we were asked, “Why would you ever want to do that?”. 

My heart hurts that through our nation-wide adoption agency, there were two categories to choose from to adopt a child. You can either adopt a non-black baby or a black baby (this is how these were worded). There are so many babies born to black women that are not being adopted by people in our nation that they outnumber the amount of babies who are not African-American. 

My heart hurts reflecting on a meeting I had with elders at a church in Tennessee. When I informed them of the exciting news that God had added a second child to our family, and then showed them your picture as an infant, one long-time member, a leader in the church, said, “Oh, she’s black? Okay. Just make sure you raise her right because 1 out of 4 black women have abortions and we don’t need more of that.”. 

My heart hurts remembering when you were a few months old and our family attended a county fair. I was holding you and trying to eat an ice cream cone at the same time, and a mother and her adult daughter were oohing and aahing over you. They came close to see your adorable face and the mother asked, “What’s her name?”. When I told her, “Israel Cate”, she responded, looking at her daughter, saying, “Thank God he didn’t name the child one of those long, confusing names those black people name their kids.”. 

My heart hurts when people assume you were born in another country. I tell them you were born in the country of Virginia. 

My heart hurts when people wrongly assume that your older sister is biological and you are adopted. Both of you, in God’s providential plan, are our daughters through infant, domestic adoption. But, next to you, your sister “looks” like us. It’s said continually and we are sorry that you hear those comments and feel left out. Remember, with God alone there is victory. 

My heart hurt at Thanksgiving one year, when many of your aunts and uncles and cousins were gathered around the table, having a good meal. Your sweet two year old cousin looked around the table and said out loud, “Everyone is white. Izzy is brown.” And that was an innocent observation on his part. He’s learning his colors. I was confused when all of your aunts and uncles laughed out loud. You looked at me unsure why people were laughing over the fact that your cousin had stated your skin was brown. 

My heart hurts that you are the only black person many of our family and friends know and love. 

My heart hurts when having conversations with other white pastors in the community on how diverse their churches are and they blame the lack of diversity on the fact that either their community isn’t diverse (which, through my eyes, I see diversity all over. They have scales on their eyes that only allow them to see people like them) or, the lack of diversity in their church is due to the fact that “those people” have “their own churches” to worship at. My heart also hurts that these white pastors are posting pictures of them and people of color with them when all of these pictures are people they met briefly on a mission trip, not someone in their local community. 

My heart hurt and was enraged when you and I went for a short run through our neighborhood last month. Our run took place after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death while jogging. When you and I jogged by a man who was outside his home we both overheard him say, “That’s smart, dad. Run with her. Keep her safe.” I was not happy with my response to him as I noticed the Confederate flag on his pick-up truck.  

My heart hurts that I get worried when you are outside playing away from our home.

My heart hurts when you and I were playfully wrestling in the home shortly after George Floyd had been murdered. While we were tickling and laughing and jumping – as I rolled over you to make you laugh and you felt my weight, you said, “I can’t breathe.”. I was horrified inside and stopped wresting right away and began praying for the day when I sit down and walk you through some of these tragic events that are happening.  

My heart hurts that just like people in our nation were praying for Sandy Hook, praying for Paris, and they were praying for Las Vegas – the reaction of most people is going to be a phase in terms of standing up for racial justice. 

My heart hurts that as you grow older and learn more about your heritage, our nations’s history, the present day shortcomings and lack of progress, that I will be bewildered and at a loss for words for the many questions you will have. I am here to process your emotions with you. I am here to work toward making the desires you have for a better world with you. 

I will listen to you. 

I will be in tune to your feelings. 

I will continue to ask you specific questions about how your day went. 

I will provide reminders on how much you are loved by God and by your mom and I and by your sister who is utterly protective of you. I am thankful that she sees you. 

I will strive to correct the wrong done against you. 

I have one other apology: I am sorry that I have never been the subject of racism. Though I try to understand and pray to empathize through what you will endure, I will be a step removed. I will feel powerless. My heart aches that I cannot fully ensure your well-being through the myriad of elements in this life when it comes to this ignorant (at least) and hateful (at most) comments and actions those near you choose. 

I want you to know any attack on you is an attack on me and against God Himself. I want you to know that the pain caused by others, unintentionally or purposefully, does not need to be repaid with revenge. We will love. We will be peaceful.

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

Thanks for reading. Thanks for learning. Thanks for seeing a side you don’t normally see. You are loved. 

Z

6 thoughts on “A Letter to Izzy: a white father’s apology to his black child

  1. Susan Alexander

    As always, Zach, thanks for sharing. I appreciate your heartfelt words! Take care, Susan

    On Fri, Jun 19, 2020 at 10:00 AM The Ugly Pastor wrote:

    > zachstewart81 posted: “I am a Caucasian (white) male. My race, ethnicity > and gender do not define me, they merely describe me. I am a father of a > beautiful African-American (black) daughter. Her race, ethnicity and gender > do not define her, they merely describe her. I am a ” >

    Like

  2. Natalie Noah-Wilson

    Oh, Zach, you speak my heart as well. My heart aches for Izzy as it does for my own Nadege, Patrick, Miklene, Tristan, Elijah and Sammy. I require the same forgiveness from my children because I thought if I just loved them and showed that love in public as an example for others to see, somehow that would overcome the obstacles. I have been blind and wrong and have not equipped and enabled my children adequately. Thank you for helping me find words to form my own apology to my dear ones.

    Like

  3. Ken Weiner

    Wow Zach, that is totally a powerful heartfelt post and I could not be more moved. We share a lot of similarities, as I have an adopted Korean daughter. God Bless you old friend from Northside!

    Like

  4. Lillian Letters

    You don’t know me Zach, but I know you through the wonderful things my sister Louise Catton has told me about you. God’s light shines so brightly throughout this post. I can’t wait to meet you the next time I’m in Michigan. Twin Oaks is so lucky to have you as their new pastor.
    God Bless you and your family.

    Like

  5. Sue A McCarthy

    I just want to say you are a good dad. To be able to grasp what your daughter may feel or experience now and in the future is insightful of you. Keeping the open communication to your children is important no matter what color you are. Also I thank you for teaching your children what love really is. I am also so happy to hear you realize that we can’t be color blind. To do so ignores our existence. We are not all the same outside but inside we all are made of the same materials. Our hearts may not be in the same place but if we are a child of God we are all brothers and sisters. Bless you and your family.

    Like

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