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

Dating and Racism

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In each discussion worthy of opinion, debate and persuasion, we should aim to bring as much harmony, history and humility as we can into each conversation; especially if we are Christians. I don’t want to win an argument while fragmenting a relationship doing so. I don’t have to be right if it means being unloving. I can choose maturity and disagree without being disagreeable.

With that foundation laid, I want to jump to the topic of interracial dating and marriage. And remember, we can disagree and I still love you.

God has blessed my wife and I with two daughters we were given via infant adoption. Our eldest is Caucasian, born in Joplin, Missouri. Our youngest is African-American, born in Virginia Beach, Virginia. As a family we purposefully chose racial diversity to be in our household. We want to be a family of unity, not division.

As parents, and as Christians, my wife and I will display a consistency of colorblindness when it comes to relating to the many beautiful people God has placed in our lives. We want to open our home for all kinds of different individuals. When it comes to our daughters choosing friends, dating (after age 35), loving on neighbors, roommates, we want them to try to see everyone as God does. As a family we will continue to recite and believe Galatians 3:28, which says:

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are ALL one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

From cover to cover, the Bible repeatedly shares God’s view of humanity and that view is:

We are all different, but we are all equal.

Even though each one of us are very different, God loves each one of us the same. He commands the church/Christians/people who love Jesus to love all people in the same way He loves them.

Knowing it’s a great possibility one or both of my daughters choose to interracially date or marry, I want them to know most conflict in romantic relationships and in marriage is not due to the color of someone’s skin. Marriage rises and falls based on whether or not we allow the selfishness in us to hang around and expose itself.

Selfish people struggle in marriage while selfless people thrive in marriage. 

If you want your children to have a vibrant, life-giving, joyous marriage when the time comes for them to seriously date and get engaged, it’s got nothing to do with the color of skin on who they date. If the person they date is selfless, the marriage is going to thrive.

If our oldest daughter, a Caucasian, came to me later on in life when, as a family, we agreed she could begin dating (so when she’s 35), and said, Daddy, there are two boys I could seriously date. One boy is Caucasian, and he’s pretty selfish, talks about himself a lot, how great he is. The other boy is Asian. He’s pretty selfless. He talks about Jesus and encourages me a lot. Any advice on what I should do? I hope I say, Honey, we don’t care about race in our family at all. Spiritually, we are a color blind family. After some time in prayer, if the boy who loves Jesus and encourages you is who you say he is, enjoy getting to know him, after he passes the Old Testament quiz I give him. And he also better have a job.

Any boy wanting to date either of my daughters must have the two J’s in his life: Jesus and a Job.

If God were to bring a Caucasian young man, who loves Jesus and has a job, to date our youngest daughter, an African-American, I wouldn’t even think color or interracial. If he’s selfless because of emulating Jesus into his daily life, I would bless and oversee her dating him. I don’t care if he’s white, I care if he’s holy.

Growing up in Cincinnati, a racially-charged city in the 90’s, my best friend for 8 years was Maurice  Bowden. He’s black. I’m white. Who cares. I loved him dearly. I didn’t want to go a day without seeing him. He had an intriguing imagination, a wonderful family and a great knuckle-ball pitch in backyard whiffle ball. If ever I was told I couldn’t be Maurice’s friend because of his skin color, I would’ve looked at you like you were the dumbest person on the planet.

Racism is stupid.

Racism is one of the stupidest things we’ve ever come up with as humans.

Also on that list is the Snuggie.

Racism is stupid. To think that I’m better than someone else, just because of the color of my skin?

That’s like saying, Because I was born in the first week of June, I hate all people who aren’t Geminis. I had no control over what month I was born in and I had no choice in what race I was going to be. If I did, I would’ve probably gone with Samoan.

Three months after adopting our youngest daughter, an African-American, we were at the County Fair with some friends. While eating some ice cream, a woman, with her teenage daughter, both Caucasians, were near our table. They began oohing and aahing over how precious our baby girl was, while also being curious about us adopting her (like asking what country from Africa she was from. I said, The country of Virginia).

The mom then asked, What’s her name? I replied, Israel Cate, and she said, Thank God you didn’t name her one of the crazy names those black people name their kids. 

Thank God? 

Those black people?

Christians just don’t think like that. If they do, that’s not what Christianity is.

Christians look at character, not color. 

Christians view people as God does: valuable, amazing, talented, smart, beautiful. Created in His image.

The church should be a reflection of what heaven is going to be – one day, God will redeem the earth when Jesus returns to take His people home and all languages and races and personalities will gather together in the same place. The church should be that.

Heaven is a place that is completely void of racism. A man named John, who had lived and traveled with Jesus for three years, describes heaven this way:

I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. (Revelation 7:9)

If that is what heaven will be like, that is what the church should strive to look like.

Children and student ministries in every church should have different races.

Adult small groups and classes in the church should have different races.

Church leaderships should have qualified different races.

Our children should date Christians who have character, who have Jesus and a job, and color doesn’t matter.

Our kids should make friends, no matter the race.

Families should pray about the prospect of adopting, no matter the race.

Adults should respect and support bosses, neighbors, family of different races.

Christians should intentionally open up their homes to those different than them to break bread, learning from and loving on each other.

Make that a goal this year: prayerfully seek how you can bring the void of racism in heaven into your home/neighborhood/church/life. You won’t regret it. We are all different from each other but bringing that difference together is called being Christ-like.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z