The protests resulting from George Floyd’s asphyxiation by a white police officer arose just as COVID-19 measures were being loosened somewhat in Texas.
So, my husband and I decided we would be as careful as possible and go to the protest here in Houston.
I had vacillated. I was not sure about taking the health risk.
The same day as the protest, I was finally able to get my little matted hair Bichon Frise an appointment to be groomed.
As I dropped him off with the young African American woman at the door, I asked her if he could be ready just a bit early.
“We are considering going to the protest this afternoon,” I told her. I could not see her smile. She was wearing a face mask, but I could imagine it because her eyes lit up.
With a mixture of joy and surprise and even excitement, she said, “Really? That is awesome!”
That decided it for me. If this small action of a stranger said to her, “We are with you!” then I would take the calculated risk and go to the protest.
In truth, we were speaking out against more than oppression and discrimination of black people here in the United States.
Racism is not unique to our culture and it is not unique to one race. The refugees and other displaced people we work with also experience racism, oppression and systematic discrimination.
Refugees come to us because they are forced to leave their homes. The vast majority are forced to leave because they are unwanted at best and hated at worst.
They are hated because of their birth, their color, their political ties, their religious beliefs.
They are systematically deprived of work, status, education and too often life itself.
They come to us believing and hoping in who we are as a nation and as a people.
They come anticipating opportunities to thrive and build lives for themselves and their families.
Instead, they encounter anger that a place has been granted to them here. The brownness or blackness of their skin puts up barriers.
Some years ago, I did a master’s thesis on refugees’ perception of how we receive them.
Some of the statements were: “I am treated like I am stupid.” “I am yelled at when my accent bothers someone.” “My opinions about work and ministry are completely disregarded.” “I am called trash and told to go home.”
How many are afraid to practice their prayers in public because they do not want others to know they are Muslim?
How many nervously and anxiously lay aside their traditional dress because they do not want to be singled out?
How many will not buy tickets at a box office, preferring online, because they do not want to be ridiculed and treated like they are ignorant when they speak with an accent?
The following are five suggestions for helping move us forward in ending racial discrimination for our country and for those who are coming to us seeking refuge:
- Read a book that stretches our understanding of where refugees come from and what may have brought them.
Two suggestions are “Do They Hear You When You Cry?” by Fauziya Kassindja or “The Ungrateful Refugee” by Dina Nayeri.
- Bring together a group from a local mosque or temple and a local Christian congregation for a time of tea and coffee.
This is more about getting to know one another and less about interfaith dialogue. Let the relationship be the priority.
- If you own a business or are able to do so, proactively provide employment and opportunity for economic growth to a refugee.
- Contribute to the educational potential of refugee children by tutoring.
Help preschool children prepare for success as they enter the school system using a curriculum such as Ready for School.
- Prepare a welcome basket for a refugee family and deliver it to them. Share the gracious hospitality we are called to as followers of Christ.
Racism transcends geographical, cultural and, yes, racial boundaries.
We went to the protest because America should be leading the way in eradicating systems of oppression. It should begin here. And it should happen now.
For African Americans. For refugees. For those pushed to the margins.
Followers of Jesus who believe in the good news of abundant life should be at the forefront of helping people experience that abundance here and now.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for World Refugee Day (June 20).
Nell Green, an ordained minister, has served as a career missionary since 1986 in Dakar, Senegal Miami, Florida, North and South Carolina and Brussels, Belgium. Currently serving with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Houston, Texas, Green ministers to the needs of refugees helping them resettle, providing educational programs, and social entrepreneurship. She partners with various agencies to raise awareness about and prevent human trafficking.