I have had my name butchered at Starbucks on more than a million occasions. Most people who hear, “Leneita” without ever meeting me assume I have an ethnicity other than the blond, blue eyed German-English-French/Canadian from which I came. It’s pretty funny actually. So I found it really interesting that Starbucks decided to deal with their inability to simply ask me how to spell my name and racial tension by starting a campaign. My understanding is that as we discuss my spelling the Barista at hand should write “#RaceTogether” on my cup and then we are supposed to have a discussion about the origin of my name, or the color of my skin. As you can imagine Starbucks has gotten a lot of flack for this approach to talking about race but I believe their intentions are well meaning. It sparks a larger discussion we ought to be having in our churches and youth groups.
I live in an inner city neighborhood with my husband and children. It so happens that we and other church staff members are the only “white” families in our ‘hood’ among primarily African-American families. Our area is an under-resourced area riddled with many of the stereotypes of this type of community: drugs, violence, crime, and general despair.
The trouble is that all too often others on the outside make judgments about who’s on the inside of the homes that line our streets. My children have had friends from the suburbs who are not allowed to play at our house and friends from out of town would often rather not stay at our home. The idea of race in this locale has been tied to a bad reputation.
On the other hand I have great neighbors who have a hard time trusting why we would purposely move here. The color of my skin is synonymous to those who have made hard and hurtful judgments.
For more ideas on this topic, take a look at the article on pages 24-26 in the latest issue of Group Magazine:
Leading Our Students to Racial Reconciliation.
My neighbor “Grandma” is 97 and came here from Georgia when she was a newlywed. According to her figures she has over 100 grand and great-grandchildren. She refers to me at over 40 as a “pretty young thing,” and loves to hear the laughter of my teens when they play football and volleyball in our yard. I tell you this to say there is a story in the heart of each person that a hashtag can never figure out.
We live in an area that struggles under the weight of hopelessness. Still, I am not convinced that skin color has anything to do with this. I grew up in a rural area where there were two people in my whole school whose skin shade varied from mine. However, my home town dealt with drugs and even murder. Skin color didn’t have anything to do with our sin.
We forget Jesus loves us all equally. There is no parent “too far gone”. There is no young man who can’t walk away from dealing drugs. There are friends who grew up here and whose hearts burn for the day our community is transformed entirely by the Lord. Yet, in my current town our history of segregation is like a weight around our neck.
Race is a more complicated issue than any of us want to discuss. It is not linear. It is the way I see the people on my street and the way they see me. It’s the way we look at each other with attached ideas in line at the grocery store, or traveling on an airplane. It is more complicated than anything the media will ever cover.
I guess Starbucks is attempting to say we need to talk about it. Of course that means we all need to be honest with the opinions we carry. When do we look at someone and make assumptions based on the melanin saturation of their skin, the color of their eyes or the style of their hair? Can a three minute conversation as I pay for coffee help with this?
The world we live in is changing. Your youth group may only have one or two students who are a different shade than yours. Yet, each of them are following actors, singers and athletes who look different but are modern heroes. This acceptance makes us think that we can ignore the race issue. I believe this is because we don’t know how to talk about it.
So, let’s start a discussion with our youth about this issue:
Look up the campaign and lead a discussion about the good and the bad of it. Ask your students what their perceptions are of those who look different than they do. Talk truthfully about “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Be honest with yourself about all of the opinions you carry about ANYONE who looks different than you do. Deal with it.
Then remember we are all created in the image of God, man and woman in his image. Genesis doesn’t say anywhere that merely our spirits or souls look like him. Nope, from the ground up we each reflect the Lord. That is unfathomable.
I live where I do because it’s where the members of my local church, of which I am on staff, reside. If I want to minister effectively I need to be close. I am learning to love my neighbor as myself. Let’s teach our congregations to do the same.
*** Note: at the time of this posting rumor has it Starbucks is canceling this awkward campaign.