Today I decided to take my children to a local Civil War Museum. We live in Mississippi, and although the museum is just down the street from my house I had never been. I grew up taking frequent trips to Shiloh Battlefied so I suppose I figured I had seen all the historical facts there were to see, but it occurred to me today that my children had not. They’re still young. I figured the almost two and almost five year old might have trouble understanding it all, but my bright, seven year old would gain some great pearls of history from the excursion. So we went.
My seven year old knew about the Civil War from previous lessons, but I reiterated key points as we did our tour. In all honesty it probably wasn’t the best educational experience with the younger two running around, but I still tried to make sure she understood the seriousness of this particular piece of our history. As she sat on a bench next to a statue of an African American girl I asked her if she had any questions. I assumed she would, but I really didn’t expect what she said next.
She asked hesitantly, “are we bad people, Momma? Are we bad cause we kept them as slaves?”
I was caught off guard by her question and also saddened that it was something that even needed to be pondered, but I was also proud of her empathy, conviction, and introspection at such a young age. I answered the best I could.
In a way yes, and in a way, no. As humans ruled by sin we can do despicable things. Our ancestors did a very bad thing by treating people like property rather than living beings with a soul. We can be sad by what they did, we can learn from their mistakes, we can understand that black people today still hurt a whole bunch because of what happened, but we cannot change what happened. We can’t undo the bad things, but we can move forward in good.
We can make a point to live today and each day being kind, treating people equally and with love, and showing them the good in us. God in us. That’s the most important thing to know. We did bad, but we can still do good. We’re not bad, because of Jesus, and we’re only good by His grace.
When I finished I looked at her solemnly and asked, “do you understand?”
“Yes, Momma.” She smiled. “I love you.”
Then I thought, I love you too, baby. I wish I could take all the bad away so it never touched you, but then I also know that there’s many bad things, such as this, that you absolutely must see so that you’ll be better able to understand God’s goodness at work in our lives, how much we absolutely need Him, and how you can be His hands and feet in a bad world.
Are white people bad? We’re all bad; white, black, brown, yellow, and green. God is the only thing good in any of us.