Your father and I have talked at great length about this, and we feel that it is necessary to let you know something that will impact your life greatly.
Every person you ever meet will make a judgment about you before you ever open your mouth. It does not matter what color your skin is, how intelligent you are, how educated you are, what job you have, what you are personally going through at that moment…people will form thoughts and opinions about you based on how you present yourself. So, your father has this specific advice for you:
“Learn to speak well, and articulate your words when you express yourself. Learn to look at people in their eyes when they speak to you and when you speak to them. Learn how to shake people’s hands firmly. Learn to greet people, and show yourself to be friendly to whomever you meet. Dress appropriately. Learn how to become dignified and respectable. And as I have taught you, the Law is not made for the righteous, but for the lawbreakers. Therefore, don’t get mad at the varying degrees of treatment people may receive for breaking the law. You are to be above reproach, in all things. And here is an umbrella statement for you to remember: First impressions are usually correct. Not always, but usually. So perceptions matter.”
Now, we want to expound on this so that you understand what we’re saying. Consider, what thoughts first come to your mind when you see a black girl wearing tiny booty shorts and a halter top? What do you think of when you see a bald white man wearing all black with tattoos on his neck? What do you think of when you see a young black man who can’t keep his pants up or look at you in your eyes when he’s speaking? What do you think of when you see a white woman wearing expensive jewelry and clothes? What do you think of when you see men of Hispanic descent standing on the street corner early in the morning? I mean, these are pretty classic examples for you to consider, but I hope you are catching our point.
People may say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but everyone does. It’s the same reason why we have pushed you to read books that other people aren’t interested in. Why aren’t they interested? They looked at the title and cover, thought it was boring or too much for them, and they moved on to something else more appealing. And if you need firm evidence, you can turn to Scripture. God specifically told the prophet Samuel that men judge by the outward appearance, but it is He who judges our hearts. The statement that God made is fact and truth. We all judge by the outward appearance. So, we do not want you to be foolish, but exercise some wisdom in your life. Do not believe the myth that your actions reflect nothing about your character as a person. They do, and they reflect a lot.
This is also why we have taught you about double consciousness. The reason this concept exists is because older black people understood that the public perception of our culture is not conveyed as we would wish, and it is easily misinterpreted by others outside of our culture. So, the response isn’t to get mad at those who don’t understood, but to know that most people probably won’t take the time to understand it. Exercise some wisdom and patience, and present yourself in a way that people feel more encouraged to get to know you better. And before you jump on the bandwagon and say that that shouldn’t be necessary, please know that most minorities do that in our society. It is why you meet so many people of Asian descent with common English names. It is also why you see foreigners speaking English publicly and then speaking their own language when they return home or are among their own people. Think humbly about yourself, and be patient with others.
Finally, we want to say that we know all too well that racism and discrimination still exists today. We have both dealt with it in our lives, and you will probably not be exempt from it either. However, there are much bigger things to be concerned about. No man will be able to make you change the color of your skin, but people will try to make you change what you believe. Now, that is more, much more important, for you to be concerned about. You have heard your father often say: Sinners will do what sinners are supposed to do – sin. He is correct. Sinners sin. So you should not expect any differently in this life. But you ought to live and conduct yourself in the fear of the Lord as we have always taught you.
Don’t concern yourself about the “privileged” or things other people have that you don’t or may not have access to. God has blessed you, as He has blessed us, with the things that are sufficient for you in this life to live in the way that pleases and glorifies Him. Trust His wisdom. Trust His sovereignty over all things, even things pertaining to race, gender, socio-economic status, and everything else. He is the One who exalts some, and humbles others. He makes some rich, and He makes others poor. He grants some good health, and He grants others sickness and pain. He often prolongs the judgment of the wicked, and He hastens to chastise His children. Nothing escapes His eye, and all things will give an account to Him. So you have no need to ever fear any man, not even a white police officer, because God holds your life in His hands, and nothing can happen to you without His permission. You have only to trust Him, as we have demonstrated to you.
Let us be clear, you will face problems. This advice will not completely keep you from unfair treatment in your life. In fact, you will be hurt. You will be treated unfairly, and a lot of times it may very well be based on the color of your skin. You will even face mistreatment from other Black people who will tell you all sorts of foolishness. Do not believe the lies and arguments that they will tell you, especially that changing how you present yourself in public is assimilating to the culture (aka: you’re acting white). It’s foolishness. Please remember that. People will always do what is right and wise in their own eyes, but even God’s “foolishness” is better than the best wisdom from men. We are trying to impart to you the wisdom of God. Please heed what we have said here. Please follow the example that we have diligently lived before you. Do not make yourself to be a reproach in the eyes of men and before the Lord.
And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death. – Proverbs 8:32-36