James Hampton, University of Miami
Hi, I’m James. I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. For college I attended the University of Miami, where I graduated in 2014. I then moved to Dallas a few months later to begin working, and also to be closer to Trenae who transferred to UTD to finish her bachelor’s degree. Through her, I got connected to FOCUS and this has been my third year being a part of this ministry.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about my experience with race, is a question. It’s one of the most common questions I’ve heard in my life, particularly when getting to know new people, is, what are you? Early on, that question would result in me giving a confused look as I try to process what exactly they’re referring to. However, as with most things, with much repetition, it became easier to answer. That answer is typically something along the lines of, well, I’m mixed. My parents are both mixed with my mom being half-white, half-black, and my dad being half-native American, half-black. I don’t mind the question now, but in middle and high school I hated this question. Why was this important; why did it matter? People saw me as someone that looks different and wanted to know the cause. I look like a black person, or to some, Puerto Rican, or Indian, and so on, yet something’s off and they know it. They know I’m different. Oh right, it’s my hair.
Many of my experiences with race have been me not fitting within the stereotypes that we’ve created.
My earliest memory of this goes back to elementary school. My mom loves to tell this story. Me, not so much. When I was in first grade I was bullied. He was another kid in my grade and like the typical bully, made fun of me for various things. Usually things I had no control over like, my shoes, or being a nerd (back when being smart was a bad thing). And then there was one other thing that repeatedly came up: my hair. Most of the kids at my elementary school were black; I had only ever seen one white person. This being the case, this fierce bully of mine took it upon himself to make fun of me for being different and having weird hair. I tried ignoring it at first, but man, he was persistent. One day he really got to me, and I went home that day and cut my own hair with scissors.
I still remember the look of shock on my mom’s face when she saw what I’d done. Let’s just say it didn’t look pretty and I had a few bald spots. At that time though, I just wanted to fit in.
Since then, I’ve had more experiences being told I don’t fit what someone expects I should fit based on their narrow definition of race and this has come from people of all races including the race I most closely identify with. At some point in our lives, we’ve all been stereotyped and many of us, myself included, have stereotyped others. Sometimes in small ways such as my bully, but sometimes in much bigger and more hurtful ways.
Here are some of the things that I’ve experienced or have been said to me: How can you like that white people music? You’re black, you’re supposed to know how to dance (Spoiler alert: I don’t). People being shocked that my best friend is white. Being told I would likely continue my family tradition of getting someone pregnant while in high school. Having people ask if my full tuition scholarship when I attended the University of Miami was for being on a sports team. Now I like sports, but I’m nowhere near that good sadly! Having a family member tell me, “Just don’t bring home any white trash from college”.
That last one stung. I wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for interracial dating, yet this person who is a family member tells me to not date white girls. This Saturday, I’m getting married to Trenae and Trenae, I love you but you have to know, that I’m marrying you for the person that you are, which doesn’t derive from your race or skin color.
Before I was born, my mom’s parents were murdered. It was a hate crime for a black man dating a white woman. Because of that, my mom, her siblings and even I for a period, grew up in foster homes and moved around a lot. My grandparents; their parents were stolen from them. Things of that nature aren’t prevalent today thankfully, but I know that some of us may still have family members that would disapprove, even If slightly of us dating a different race. To those people I would say, our skin color and our race do not define us as people and being born black, white, Asian, Hispanic, or anything else will not make you a better or worse person. Your actions will.
Now, as much as I haven’t met some people’s expectations due to stereotyping, it has to be said that I can’t really recall those types of experiences from this community. Here I’ve just had so many people love and accept me. In our community I have great friends and mentors that care more about how I’m advancing God’s kingdom than they do about what my race is. This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about struggles that any of us may endure for our race. Our topic tonight is a testament to our staff’s sensitivity in what’s going on in the world today. But that’s the community we’ve fostered: one where everybody is accepted and we all share a common goal as Christians to love others as Christ would. We constantly hear each other talk about how others in FOCUS have loved them and we all have a story of someone caring about us in this community. We’re all family and we’re all united in Christ.
In Colossians 3:11-17, Paul says:
11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is the view we need to have. To see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. With this comes the responsibility to love each other equally, and in doing so, we have to be considerate of how everything we do and say matters. Don’t put anyone in a box based on their race. There’s only one value that we can place on every person which is that we’re all children of God; we’re all made in His image. The bleeding woman Jesus healed was made in the Father’s image, my bully in school was made in the Father’s image, the people that took the life of my grandparents we’re made in the Father’s image, I’m made in the Father’s image, and even the Romans who crucified Jesus were made in His image. The difference, is that some of us have decided to clothe ourselves in Christ, but others haven’t. And then there’s still others who say they have clothed themselves in Christ but don’t act like it. Despite that Jesus still has still called you and I to love one another, as He has loved us. We now have a much larger identity than our race, and that’s Jesus. Our lives should reflect our God and the mission that we’re called to do in spreading his word and love. Let us continue to do that and recognize that someone’s race doesn’t make the person they are.
I want to end with reading First Samuel, chapter 16, verse 7: “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”
I’ve been judged a lot based on my appearance, however I won’t let that keep me from looking beyond that to love and to find value in others. And as for my first-grade bully, I ended up befriending him later that year after offering to go to his house and helping him with math one day. I guess he saw the value in me being smart after all!