Black Olympians Matter

I haven’t said a lot about the racism that is making headlines lately for a lot of reasons. I will admit that ignorantly, I just had no idea racism was still a problem this far north in the US. My eyes were opened when my neighbor started flying a confederate flag just days after the Michael Brown shooting.


A bunch of stereotypical southern 20 something boys moved in three houses down in 2014. When I say “southern” I mean our street was now lined with pick up trucks blaring country music while overall-wearing boys played football in the middle of the street. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they had an easy chair in the back of a pick up truck in the driveway and on any given afternoon, 6 boys would be sitting in and around it, drinking cheap beer, and chewing on long stems of grass.  Seriously.


I don’t mind a little bit of character in my neighborhood. I pride myself in the diversity I find living within walking distance of an Islamic mosque, Hindu temple, Catholic and Lutheran church, as well as a well known Christian Science school just down the street. So a few good ol’ boys would just make it all the more exciting, but I could not tolerate blatant racism in my neighborhood.


I passed by in unbelief for a couple of days and just couldn’t take it any longer. One evening, driving by, I pulled over and asked the group of boys if they were new to the neighborhood and who actually lived in the house. They said one boy lived there but he was in the back yard at the moment. I asked if that was his confederate flag. They responded with a glowing, “Yes, ma’am.” I asked if they were sporting some Southern pride (Yes, ma’am) or racist pride. “Well, everyone has their own opinions.”


To which, I responded, “Yes, but given the present circumstances, flying that flag just seems tactless.”


“Everyone has their own opinions, ma’am” he repeated.


“I guess you’re right.” I said in disbelief. “Welcome to the neighborhood.” And I drove off.


Those boys lasted about a year and then moved somewhere else. I found myself praying for rain because they wouldn’t fly their flag when the weather was bad. We didn’t see it all winter but it came out again in the spring. One neighbor said she called the police to ask them to take it down. I’m sure that can’t be legal, but she said maybe because of the size of it, or the fact that it was flying on the back of a pickup truck, the police succeeded in making them take it down.


In the days and months to come, I realized how prevalent racism was in my own backyard. I had no idea. My parents talked to me about race growing up. They taught me to love everyone equally. They made fun of my grandma for always mentioning that her friend Betty was black. “My black friend Betty,” she would always say. We had friends who were black, it just didn’t seem to matter much to me. I judged a person by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I honestly didn’t think racism was still a thing among people in suburban St. Louis County.


But my parents never taught me about systemic racism* or white privilege. I don’t think they knew much about it themselves.


Since the events in Ferguson, a place I spent half of my childhood in, I’ve learned a lot about white privilege and racism and I’m trying to constantly learn more.


So when I read a Facebook post the other day questioning the importance of Simone Manuel’s history making gold medal, I made an audible pshhh. Asher heard me say it and asked why I had made that sound.

Simone Manuel wins Gold

I told him that for the first time in history an African American woman had won the gold medal in an individual swimming race but some people are questioning why that’s a big deal. They think, black people have had the same opportunity to achieve swimming goals as white people, why is it significant that this is just now happening?


I told Asher that those people would be wrong. It is very sad that black people are not treated the same way as white people in our country. Yes they can vote, yes they can sit where they want on a bus, and are no longer slaves but the fact that they once were, still very much matters.


You see, just two generations ago, black people weren’t allowed to swim in public pools with white people. When they were legally forced to desegregate, many pools chose to close rather than let black people into their white run pools. You can change the laws but you can’t change the people. This resulted in a disproportionate amount of black people who don’t know how to swim even today. I read that anywhere between 58% and 70% of all African Americans do not know how to swim.


If your parents didn’t know how to swim, it was likely that you never learned because they couldn’t teach you. So if someone in Simone Manuel’s family history broke the mould and taught their child to do something their parents couldn’t teach them how to do, that is a big deal.


And that’s what we have to do, too. I can’t ignore my own white privilege or the racism that exists all around me anymore. I have to make my kids aware of the brokenness of this world in order to fix it. If white people aren’t aware of the rampant racism in our city who will help? You may be thinking that you’re not racist and that you treat everyone equally and that’s all you can do. My parents did an excellent job teaching me to love my neighbors no matter who they are but it has become clear that treating people kindly is not enough to change the world.


What can we do? Well, to start off:

1) Educate yourself on the state of racism in this country. White privilege is a thing. Privilege doesn’t mean that you’ve had an easier life than anyone else, educate yourself on what it does mean.

2) Talk to your kids about what you’re learning.

And 3) start praying and thinking about how we can support our neighbors of color. I mean, who better than a middle class white woman to stand up to her racist white neighbor? People of color aren’t going to change the mind of someone who is already set against them but we can speak for them in many situations.


What else can we do? I have some ideas I’ll post about in the days to come but I’m still learning so feel free to comment below with your suggestions.







Jesus, may we follow in your example to love our neighbors sacrificially like you showed us how. Show us how we can stand up for black lives as someone who can’t relate to their experiences. Show us how to make real change in a country that has such deep roots in partiality. May we be your ambassadors bringing light back into this dark world.


*If you don’t have time to watch the whole 15 minute video, just start at minute 7.

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