When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!”

Last December we were at dinner with Grammie, which means we were in Charlotte. Memory says that we were dishing fried zucchini and salad, dipping bread in olive oil. The boy went into a spiral that surprised us all, even him.

He started crying about how he knew that God didn’t love him and how God was going to be mad at him because he hated white people. “I hate white people,” cried my then four-year old son. I think we were all stumped for a moment, stumped the way people who talk to other people all the time get stumped when something even you didn’t see coming comes.

It was only so appropriate that two pastors were at the table. Given my boy’s confession, we were immediately put on the interior spot. “I don’t want God to mad,” he said in quick fashion as if to convince us so that we’d prevent trouble from coming. Perhaps it was God’s goodness that we were there together to hear Bryce’s comment and plea and intention.

Grammie took up the theological matter about God loving Bryce. She did it the way a pro would. Grammie’s been communicating about God’s love for more decades than I’ve been alive. She was a star even with a kid. Her explanation was simple and brief.

I looked at Dawn as if to ask without asking whether it was her or me who would pick up the rest. One of us had to deal with the part about hating white people. Now, me and Dawn have a way of teaching the boy. We share. We move toward our strengths. I was telling her the other day that she’s a better teacher to him than I am. She has more patience. But oddly, I’m better at explaining things. Where her explanations get complex for her attempts to tell him the whole story, mine are swift and simple.

She tends to answer the question, “How can I explain it all to Bryce?” I tend to think about how I can explain it to satisfy his specific question. So my wheels were turning as he made his claims about hatred. I called him over to me, telling him he wasn’t in trouble, something Dawn had already been saying. He doesn’t get in trouble for telling the truth. Of course, this is immediately tricky during moments where his truth-telling leads to a consequence for unacceptable behavior.

At dinner, he wasn’t in trouble at all. So he came to me. I told him that he didn’t hate white people. “You love Auntie Maggie and Uncle David, don’t you?” He seemed relieved but a little confused. He said he did. “Aren’t they white?” He knew they were, and he knew that they loved him too. And this simple love, this relationship between my son and a white couple became the bridge between Bryce and whatever moral crisis he was experiencing.

I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to relieve him of his internal pain. It had to be enough to say that he didn’t, in fact, hate white people. He even loved a few of them. We were able to name several white people he loved. And it was an easy move from there to say something less major about how hating white people and saying that he hated them was okay. “Telling the truth about your feelings is good,” we said. And of course, my son doesn’t know any white people that he hates. That was great. He’s not experienced the mass of faceless sphere called “white people.” He knows particular people with specific stories and clear ties to him. And thankfully, he enjoys those relationships.

I thought about that dinner conversation last Sunday when Alan came up to me after church with tears in his eyes. Alan’s one of those people Bryce loves. He and Sheila were among the cloud of witnesses we named to remind Bryce of white people he cared for. And when me and Alan chatted about how hard it must be to talk through junk like Charleston, we were both glad that Bryce hadn’t seen the news or asked a question. Depending on his question, I may not have had a good answer, an easy or quick answer about his feelings.

10 Reasons Why This Picture Pleases Me


Me & Bryce After Taize

Jon Roy commented on my wall that I must have been pleased by this picture.  I replied that he—a soon to be dad—would soon know the pleasures of which he speaks.  Then I figured it worthy of further reflection.  So here are ten reasons why this photo pleases me.

  1. The person taking the picture was Bryce’s pastor.  David had taken Bryce and Eliot up to the altar when we arrived, oriented them to the grand space, pointed out things, said things I couldn’t hear.  It was splendid to watch him being a father and pastor in that moment.
  2. Bryce got to sing.  It was melodious even if his voice was creating a song different from the one on the page.  He’s not reading music yet, but he’s definitely making his own.
  3. Bryce sat and played and sang and worshiped with his friend and cousin.  When we met for arepas that evening, before worship, the boys sang gleefully (or yelled), their characteristic greeting.  They’re friendship was on display and they got to participate in Taize together.
  4. We worshiped as a family.  For different reasons, I work in a different congregation than the one my family worships in.  It’s always always always a blessing to sit next to Dawn and Bryce, with all that it brings, and respond to God.
  5. Being there was an education.  We had seen one of my greatest teachers, Dr. Scottie May, who taught me the rudiments of what it means to form children faithfully.  Seeing her, and introducing her to my son for the first time, was a gift on many levels.
  6. We were with friends.  To speak of the Swansons as friends is a poor statement because it hardly reflects the deep reality of who they are.  We are relatives in the best sense; we’ve chosen to steadily cultivate an extended family with those good people for more than a dozen years.  I cannot say that about most people in my life.
  7. We had done something twelve times.  Maggie suggested last December that we attend to our joint relationship by getting together at least monthly, eating, talking, and playing, and the habit stuck.  We celebrated last night, against our nutty schedules, and decided that what we had done, in our homes and in other places was worth attempting again.
  8. No one was burned.  We lit candles together, us and our children, along with hundreds of others, and no one was hurt.  We lifted them together, singing about Christ the Light of the World.  Then we went in straight lines to dig our candles in pots of sand around a cross and icons of Jesus.  We almost set a woman’s butt on fire as we walked to the altar, but we made it without incident.
  9. Bryce—and Eliot—had spent 10 minutes in silence during Taize.  This is not something two and a half year olds and three and half year olds do as a matter of habit.  It was an accomplishment in itself.  But it also felt very much like the point of it all; there are reasons to close up, sit on a cold marble floor, and say nothing.  
  10. Walking Bryce to the altar was metaphorical.  The image and gesture of taking him, with our candles, and kneeling before the altar was memorable.  It was one of the moments where, upon reflection, I felt like I had done my duty as his father: ushering him to an ineffable something and letting him respond with awe and blazing eyes.

    Eliot & Bryce after Taize

    Eliot & Bryce after Taize