A Memoir of Racism and Repentance: Andrew Arp

June’s blog post is provided by NazToo’s Andrew Arp. Andrew is a part-time pancake chef/child wrangling father of four. He and his wife Crystal have been married for almost 16 years and he currently teaches Science at a local middle school and serves as the Lead Pastor at Odessa First Church of the Nazarene in Odessa, TX.

November 28th 2006 is a day that is forever burned in my memory. It was a Tuesday morning and I was sitting in my office looking at my computer doing who knows what to pass the time. All of a sudden the secretary patched a call through to me. “Mr. Arp, this is Chris from Bethany Christian Services” (the adoption agency we had been in process with for seven months). “I wanted to let you know we showed your profile to a birth mother.” My internal monologue was buzzing. “Yes Mr. Arp, and the birth mother chose you.” This is awesome. Most of the time you get 6-8 weeks to prepare for the baby’s arrival. I was ecstatic. “And he was born yesterday.” My reply, “So it’s a he . . . ” The next week was a blur as we prepared to welcome our first born. We were collecting supplies and buying every preemie outfit we could get our hands on as we found out he weighed a little less than five pounds. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle we really had no idea how much welcoming an African American son would transform our world.

Anyone looking from the outside would have never picked me to be the father of someone who was black. I grew up in Rossville, GA, at the foot of Lookout Mountain. A locale so historically racist that it warranted mention in Dr. King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech. I didn’t even learn until later in life that my great-grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But inherent racism wasn’t so much taught, as it was just a part of the fabric of society. Many of our schools were still mostly segregated not by law, but by county and city lines. There was even common understanding about which parts of town you could go to and which parts you didn’t need to be caught in after dark if you were the wrong skin tone. I grew up surrounded by rebel flags and friends whose given names were even Robert Lee or Jefferson Davis.

Under the shadow of this culture I really wasn’t exposed to much else in terms of diversity. It wasn’t that I was necessarily hateful, but the implicit superiority complex was expressed in different terms. I even recall being a junior high student at church camp where the late night jokes we shared in the cabin were of a racist variety. I still remember the delight we took in saying the n-word as a punch line where we proudly enunciated the final “r” as if it was our divine right as Southerners. After all, we had been educated regarding the war of Northern Aggression from an early age and we knew the way the world worked. We knew that extended to us white southern males was a divine right to look down on other races because that’s the way God made us. I shudder to even write the words today. But as I grew older I fortunately grew wiser. I was able to travel and I was exposed to various cultures and got to know specific people from other races. It began to rock my world a little bit. But I still had on blinders. I remember even hearing the song “Colored People” by DC Talk and thinking, “Yeah, we’re all in this together. We can be color blind and the world will just magically fix itself.” It wasn’t until that 4lb 8oz baby came bursting into our lives that we realized the world isn’t so easily put back together.

The first eye-opening experience that we were privy to was losing a job. Prior to the arrival of my son I had been a youth pastor at a church for about a year and a half. It wasn’t the healthiest of working environments, but we were managing and the youth seemed to still respond to us. When we brought our son into our home and the church for the first time everyone was so excited because we had adopted an African child. “Um, correction. He’s actually African American.” “Oh.” A few weeks later I was brought in on a Monday and told to have my office cleaned out that Tuesday. I didn’t even get to address the students. We honestly thought the laundry list of complaints they gave us for the termination seemed petty. And when my wife was telling her boss at Pottery Barn, who happened to be black, about it, her boss began weeping. She said to my wife, “Crystal, you’re in a different arena now.” Later we even heard that some parents were apprehensive because since we adopted a black child might mean that we support inter-racial dating…mind you, this was 2008.

Then February 26th, 2012 happened. My son was four years old and an unarmed black child named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida. All of a sudden my world was rocked again. I knew that life for my son was never going to be the image I had in mind for him. I knew that eventually I would have to have conversations with him about how he interacted with authority figures outside the house. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to let him play with guns in the front yard. Even today I am terrified of how he is perceived as he is a 5’4” 11-yr-old who wears a size 11 shoe and looks so much older than he is. I am always careful to tell him to obey any authority figure until mom or dad can get there and sort things out…but I feel like I have been a complicit part of this society. Even last year when he was learning about the Civil War the teacher kept referring to “us” and “we” in the class notes when speaking about the Confederacy. Don’t you know that “us” and that “we” fought to keep my son in chains? Don’t you know that I am a part of that history and for that I can never repent enough?

I am a white male living in twenty-first century America. I have been raised from a place of privilege and power and have taken it for granted most of my life. But now my family consists of a son who is black, another son who is Latino and one who is bi-racial. I have sought forgiveness for the heritage and hate of which I was a part in my youth. I have come to terms with the implicit racism that defined my early years. But now I am learning to listen and participate in a community different than the one that raised me. I have engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement. I attend Martin Luther King Jr. day festivities. I even go to a barber shop where I am usually the minority. I realize these actions are small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but my son is only now eleven. I have a lifetime with him to continue to repent, continue to relearn and continue to embrace cultures different than my own. And maybe that’s how I begin to see the Kingdom come.

God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.