Friday, July 21, 2017


There is a difference between white skin and black skin. There shouldn't be, but the statistics bear out otherwise. The color of your skin is relevant to your jail sentence, your job hunt, your mortgage, and your student loans, among other things. Rising awareness of the ways racism has been built into the way our systems work has revealed another difference in our skin, that of thick skin and thin skin.

I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw a post about five teenagers who watched a man drown and got away with it. I was perturbed but unsurprised because I'm studying for the bar so I am deep in the "no duty to rescue" doctrine, but the OP was livid that such cruelty could go unpunished in our society. What caught my eye was the sole comment below the post, "They sound like black kids . . . go figure."

My heart started pounding. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Unsure if I should say anything (quick list of reasons why engaging is a bad idea: I didn't know the commenter, I only very loosely know the OP, and nothing good ever comes from a Facebook debate), I googled "how to respond to racist Facebook comments" and chose to engage after reading this article.

I'm always deeply conflicted about engaging on such things, and I have a quick anecdote as to why.

My neighbor flies a Confederate flag, and I often wondered what our black neighbor thought of it, driving past it every day. When a lawn jockey appeared beside it, my rage intensified and I felt helpless knowing our cousins would see the unequivocal combo. When I worked up the courage to ask one of my cousins if the display offended him, I was stunned by his response, just a shrug.

In that moment, I thought of that Cracked article that counseled that it's pretty rude to get offended for someone else, and you can't force someone to be offended. Maybe it was gracious and mature of my cousin to let my neighbor's racism roll, to not internalize it or take it as an affront of his personhood. Maybe he has thick skin.

On the other hand, My dad occasionally recounts with shame the time a police officer in pursuit of some neighborhood criminal stopped my dad to ask him if he had seen "where the n***** went" and all my dad said was no. We often have opportunities to speak against evil, but it's hard to know what to say or how to say it.

See, I have thin skin. I often see for the first time things other people have witnessed all their lives. I don't have a good barometer for what fights are worth fighting. I don't want to contribute to the widening of the culture wars by jumping down people's throats about things that don't really matter. (I don't want to be part of the hamburger problem.) Like the penguins in Madagascar say, you have to pick and choose your battles in life!

And I wonder if people who say things like, "They sound like black kids" also have thick skin. When I came back to that Facebook post an hour later it was filled with comments levied at the first commenter, calling her a c**t. Not only did I feel guilty for stirring the pot, but now I felt obligated to come to her defense. #classicFacebookdevolution Much to my surprise, she let it roll.

Maybe it's better to just have thick skin. But it must also be true that there are consequences for our harsh and evil words. Words aren't just words. For Jesus said, "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." (Matthew 15:18) Careless words, careless hearts, and then a careless culture? Luke puts it a little differently than Matthew, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."