What Cooking and a Book Taught Me About Racial Injustice

**** I wrote most of this post a few weeks ago because I’ve been reading a book called The Warmth of Other Suns. In light of the racial injustice that continues to happen in our country I finished the post over the weekend.


Last week I spent the better part of my Monday afternoon looking at recipe websites in an attempt to get out of a cooking rut. Even though I’ve been largely dissatisfied with the meals I’ve made for the past few months, I haven’t been able to shake the boring meals I keep making for our family. So I set out to find some new recipes. But I also learned something about myself.

If I don’t understand what the ingredient is for, I won’t buy it. If I can’t pronounce the recipe name, I won’t make it. If it seems unfamiliar to me, foreign to me, or too new to me, I will pass over it. As a result, we continue to eat the same types of foods and never expand beyond what is familiar to us. As a result, we miss out on a world of food combinations and ingredients that are probably really good if only I would take the time to branch out a little more to make things that I can’t fully wrap my mind around.

I think that’s often what we do with people who are different than us.

We don’t need a large sociological experiment to tell us that we tend to gravitate towards people who are like us. As this Q Ideas talk reminds us, we all have preferences that we choose over other things. It’s part of our nature. The problem is when our preferences and our choices move away from things like food and ingredients to people, human beings who bear the image of our God.

As I already said, I’ve been reading The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration for the last month or so. The book chronicles the stories of African-American men and women who moved from the segregated, rural South to the North during what is called “The Great Migration” (1916-1970). I’m almost finished with it and it has been everything I heard it would be. It’s fascinating and infuriating, hopeful and grieving, eye-opening and mouth-shutting. Men and women went to great lengths to escape the horrors of the South, and I don’t ever want to forget the perseverance, courage, and suffering they endured to get them to a place of safety and freedom. As I reflect on the tragedies of last week, that are a continuation of the tragedies of the past year and decades, I am struck again by how much we all need to listen, understand, and remember those who have gone before us. In many ways, I think it is providential that I am reading this book at this time.

I have nothing to contribute to the conversation except solidarity and a willingness to listen with the goal of understanding. I come from a place of privilege. I’m white. I live in a post-Jim Crow South. I’ve never known any real persecution. I live in relative safety. I also have spent the better part of my life being thankful and proud to be an American. But this book is shaking all that up for me.

Few things are more polarizing right now than race, politics, and the quest to make America great again. But as I read this book I wonder how many African-Americans, especially those who experienced the Jim Crow South firsthand, really see our collective nostalgia about the past as a good thing. Maybe America has been great to white people like me, but has it really been great for people who had to live in fear of being lynched simply over a false accusation or who had to leave everything behind, travel miles to a new place, only with the slim hope that life might be better in the promised land called the North? The question that keeps coming to my mind as I’m reading this book is “When was America great?” because mob violence, unfair trials, and refusing medical care to black people is not my definition of greatness. As a mother, my heart aches for the countless women who lived in fear over their sons being slaughtered for no good reason, only to see those fears realized at the hands of racist men. And let’s not forget the many women (named and unnamed) who were practically butchered in a quest to make obstetrics and gynecology safe for white women like me.

It’s hard for me to celebrate freedom and liberty when those things still don’t exist for everyone in America. Sure, I can eat at a restaurant with my African-American friends and not worry about them being kicked out, but do our boys really live in a country that will treat them all the same? Last week is a sobering reminder that the sins of our past are still haunting us. I’ve heard enough stories from people on every side to know that we still have a long way to go.

America has a dark, dark stain on its past that won’t be removed by a reversal of laws and integrated schools. We all know that worldviews don’t change overnight, and that hearts are deceitful, stubborn, and in need of the transforming power of Christ. We must grieve over the systemic racism that is still evident in our society. We might not have played a direct hand in it, but our systems certainly have.  I also think a whole lot of listening goes a long way, too. Let us refuse to buy into the idea that nostalgia for a better time will make America great again, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see any part of that America ever again.

As a privileged, white American I want to do a whole lot of listening and a lot less talking. If you feel the same way, books like The Warmth of Other Suns (or Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson) are a good place to start.

In my greatest moments of sadness these last few days I was reminded again of the power of prayer. I often feel stuck in my season of life. I can’t do much. I have three little kids who keep my homebound most of the time. But I can pray. I hope you will consider praying as well. My friend, Trillia, has a passionate call to prayer and fasting on her blog right now. God delights to answer to prayers of dependent people—and after a week like last week, we are all desperate for him to act on our behalf.