What Ferguson Has Done for One White Family

What Ferguson Has Done for One White Family

Michael Brown’s funeral on Monday isn’t sufficient closure for the tragedy that’s taken place in Ferguson, Missouri, or the tensions felt across America. Though the news coverage may have run its cycle in mainstream outlets, there are still so many unanswered questions, still open wounds, still deep confusion.

For some of us, it has felt like traveling back in time to a scene from the 1960s. The angry masses, the talk of police brutality, the divisions based on race — all seeming like some interactive history lesson from our parents’ generation. But then we realized that it wasn’t that at all, that actually, the horrors of the heart that fueled the violence of days past have only been swept under the rug. Racism and inequality are alive and well, even if the forms aren’t the same as fifty years ago, and their influence on our society is toxic — and especially heartbreaking for me as a mom.

What Can We Do?

No mother wants to see their children experience the kind of hopelessness that lies behind the death of Kajieme Powell, or the shockwaves of pain rumbling through Ferguson and beyond. We see today that in some places what Martin Luther King, Jr. said more than forty years ago still applies, that the black community is still inhibited by “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” And we all — whether we know it or not — suffer for it. For as King also said, “my destiny is tied up in your destiny” and “my freedom is inextricably bound to your freedom.”

Haven’t we learned that the destitution of any of our neighbors also means our destitution, too? Zoning codes can’t change that. Don’t we understand that the command of Jesus to love our neighbors is as much for our good as theirs? Can we ever understand this? Will we ever wake up to see that a society so gluttonous for “shared prosperity” has been starving itself by its own subconscious hate? Will it ever be truly different?

King asked such questions, and we must keep asking them, even though we know that we’ll never do the magnitude of the work that he did. His influence was momentous. He was a watershed figure in a world-shifting epoch. But who are we? What can we do?

We’ve been discussing these things as a family for the last couple of weeks, and after lifting our hands in the air and asking What can we do?, it has become clear to us, at least for us, that the way forward is small. Small, but intentional. Our little lives won’t shape a country like King’s did, but we can shape the little hearts we tuck in bed each night. Our family may not make a big dent in the atmosphere of racial tensions in America, but we can make the air breathed in our home to have the aroma of love, empathy, and respect. And that’s where we must start.

“Our little lives won’t shape a country like King’s did, but we can shape the little hearts we tuck in bed each night.”

A Deeper Dignity

How do we create a culture in our home that values and respects people who look different than us? It starts, we think, by turning the flawed logic of depraved humans upside down. We have tried, as long as our children have paid attention to people’s appearances, to explain the differences of others as features of dignity, not distrust. It is too easy, and silly, to think highly of ourselves. That is especially the case as part of majority culture where we’re so often propped up as the “standard.” There is this subtle take on the world that if someone doesn’t look like me, something is deficient in them.

But that isn’t the case in Scripture, not when we have a God who looks at the heart — not when the worth of a person is measured by their Creator’s glory.

The ethnic diversity of our world is one part that makes it beautiful, and rather than oppose it (which is our instinct in our pride), or try to ignore it (a wrong solution), we want to celebrate it. That starts with our hearts being shaped by Scripture, and then in the vision of life that we pass on to our children.

We’ll never be free at last as a nation until we are freed from the hopelessness that plagues so many of its people. And we’ll never be freed from that hopelessness until little white boys and girls not only join hands with little black boys and girls, but also see the people who look different from them to be a people of deeper dignity — people made in the image of God, people who make this world beautiful.


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Melissa Parnell is a wife to Jonathan and a stay-at-home mom to four delightful (most of the time) children. She and her family live in the Twin Cities.

Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.