Last year, during one of our Sunday morning services, I was asked to read the story of the Binding of Isaac with my then 8-year-old son. While in the course of the scripture reading, I unexpectedly became overwhelmed with emotion. Tears started to freely flow. The thought of facing what Abraham faced was just too much for me as I looked down upon my own son. So many thoughts were running through my head.
Well, last night I attended a series of short plays presented by a number of theater groups in Dallas. All the plays had been commissioned after the trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman. Two, in particular, profoundly struck my heart.
The first was a telling of the Santos Rodriguez shooting that occurred in 1973. The other was a short play entitled “Dressing”. The latter brought those thoughts of that Sunday scripture reading rushing back to me.
“Dressing” depicted a conversation between a mother and her son. She expressed her concern about how her son was dressed. It wasn’t about fashion, it wasn’t about indecency…it was about safety. This black woman was warning her son that his manner of dress might evoke trouble from others. Shortly after he leaves the house, she hears a gunshot.
After the plays ended and during a group discussion with the director, I mentioned that I had a feeling that a disconnect might exist between a parent of bi-racial child and the need to have this type of conversation. I was thinking how difficult it would be for Shelly to have “the conversation” with our sons.
People of color must have these conversations with their children all the time. My father had this type of conversation with me. I remember it well. It was timely too. The year I started as a freshman at Southern Methodist University, 1977, the Justice Department was investigating the cities of Highland Park, University Park and Dallas for pulling over drivers that were passing though the university area and happened to be brown or black. I was stopped.
That conversation my Dad had with me informed me how to behave. It went beyond acting with respect. It is the same lesson we teach today. It is the conversation that reminds our children that they are treated differently when they walk into a convenience store, shop in a department store, walk into a new school or classroom, have a substitute teacher, drive “too nice” a car, enter into a new church or simply walk through a neighborhood. Most importantly, they are treated differently when they are stopped by a police officer. I’m not sure that one can appreciate the importance of these conversations if one has never experienced security following them around a department store, having the police stop you when you’re simply walking (we always seem to fit the description of someone the police are looking for), or being pulled over for reasons like “one light is dimmer than the other” (yes, they have all happened to me, some more recently than I care to think).
My wife is well-read, intelligent, intuitive and can be extremely empathetic, but she grew up in a white, middle-class family and was shielded from what people of color face everyday. I am not sure she can grasp the concern I have as a male, person of color, with the concept of driving while brown. My car did not pass inspection recently and I needed to have a repair done so that it would pass. That forced me to drive with the sticker expired while I drove the needed miles to reset the computer. I was terrified to drive because I know how things can go drastically wrong in a second.
Implicit bias knows no bounds. The manner of dress, the level of education, how well-spoken a person is can be easily lost by the tone of one’s skin.
Which brings me back to the Binding of Isaac. Abraham was faced with following God’s instruction to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. God demanded Abraham’s faith be put into practice. Well, we all know the story and we all know the ending. As I look down upon A.J. and Max, in their youthful innocence, I hope that I never have to have “the conversation” with them, but I know that I will. I know that I will tell them, time and time again to not wear their hat turned at that angle, don’t wear that hoody, don’t play the music too loudly in the car when you are driving, be aware of your surroundings and who you associate with, don’t give your friends rides, go straight to school/work and straight back afterward. But like Abraham, I will offer them into the hands of God, daily, in faith, praying and hoping that God will bring them home safely by providing an alternative to sacrificing my child to a society that sees only the color of their skin. Because for people of color, sometimes just going about our day-to-day business can be risky. Sometimes it can be fatal.
Why did I cry when I read scripture that day? Because the Binding of Isaac is, in reality, the faith commitment people of color make daily with their children whenever we send them out our doors.