The Tension of Race: Choosing Grace in the Face of Hate
I grew up in a bi-cultural context; born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and raised in central New Jersey. At home, I was African—my identity and reference points needed no explanations. There, race, ethnicity, and culture were interchangeable and embraced, not dissected, and resented. Outside, however, things were different.
Remember in the movies when someone would place a sign on the back of a person’s jacket as a joke? Outside of home, that is what the cultural experience for many people of color feels like. Except the jacket is the skin that you cannot take off, and the sign is consent to experiences that come with that skin. Just like in the movies, some make light of the experience, but the object of the sign sees nothing funny about any of it.
My first recollections of forced consent were in the 4th grade. One night my mother came home from her first American PTA meeting. I overheard her telling someone that my teacher commented that “Andrena is so smart, that it doesn’t seem like she’s from Africa.” My mother was livid, and I, somehow, knew that my teacher’s comments were a veiled compliment intended to make me an exception from the other Black children in my class. During that time, there was also the unrelenting teasing from classmates about everything from the texture of my hair to the hue of my dark skin. Even in the 4th grade, it was clear, I was no longer at home.
If you are a person of color, you understand the plight. One day you are protected by childish naivete, then suddenly you are confronted with being different and reminded that you must live the rest of your life in that light. This is where most of us will see the fork in the road. One road will lead to a general acceptance marked by the assumption that things have always been that way, and always will be. On this road, a person’s effort to be a part of a systemic change will be stifled by hopelessness.
Then there is another road. This road will lead to anger at the inherent biases and the inextricable results like racial profiling, systemic failures in education, barriers to economic mobility, and subsequent disparities in crime and violence. This road is uncomfortable because it is you knowing there is a sign on your back and instead of taking it off, you embrace it. It is marked with righteous indignation that seeks to confront the elephant in the room, have discourse, raise awareness, support causes, and to actively fight.
In a Christian context—another part of my identity that has shaped my worldview—there is a pervasive narrative that fighting is wrong, and pacifism is always the higher calling. I disagree. In fact, I hold dearly to many scriptural references that clearly define righteous anger and subsequent action as being upset about the things that are morally and spiritually wrong. In this context, it is an earthly demonstration of grace because it refuses to be compliant with the painful reality of racism and injustice.
Grace acknowledges that although I do not have the comfort and safety of home, I will embrace a moral compass the compels me to speak up and advocate for myself, for those who came before, for those who lost their lives to hate and injustice, and for those who have not yet been born and should not be subjected to the same fate.
Andrena Sawyer is the President of P.E.R.K. Consulting, and the Founder of the Minority Christian Women Entrepreneurs Network. She is also the author of several books including The Misadventures of a New Entrepreneur, and The Long Way Home. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @ Andrena_Sawyer.