Being black in America
For blacks, life in America can be complicated, but Christ is an anchor for identity and purpose
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Kira Davis, 46, is an editor-at-large for the website RedState and host of the podcast Just Listen to Yourself. She’s also a black conservative Christian who’s outspoken about her faith and history of facing racial discrimination. She lives in Orange County, Calif., with her husband: They have two children, ages 18 and 13. Here are edited excerpts of our July conversation.
You grew up in Canada? On rural Prince Edward Island. Readers might know it from Anne of Green Gables. My mom was a single white Canadian, my dad a black American. They divorced before my mother even knew she was pregnant with me. I was the only black person in town. In school I got beat up on the bus a lot, bullied a lot, called the N-word a lot. Kids rolled ice bricks in snow and threw them at me. My mom complained to the school at first, but it was always, “If we can’t see it, we can’t do anything about it.” It got too hard for me to watch her feel so bad about it, so I didn’t tell her but just endured it, thinking, “When I can, I’m out of here.” That’s what I did. I couldn’t get out fast enough.
When did you meet your dad? When I was a teenager and moved to Washington, D.C., to stay with him. And so that was another culture shock. I went from an all-white community to an almost exclusively black inner city.
First time you were part of a majority-black community. The black community has its own cultural reality that I wasn’t prepared for. Being biracial, I faced almost the same amount of abuse there as I did in Canada. I had to learn how to navigate that. Colorism—the way you look at each other differently based on whether you’re lighter or darker skinned—is a real thing in the black community.
How do you explain colorism? (Sighs) It’s so hard to explain. We keep some things in-house, because otherwise it gives people yet another bludgeon against us. So I hesitate to answer. But we do struggle with what being light- or dark-skinned means. Who is black? Who isn’t? What makes you black? If you’ve never lived in the ’hood, are you black?
Identity was a struggle for you? When I was young. Because I talk like a white Canadian, black people said, “You talk funny. You’re not really black.” But in Canada, people called me the N-word every day. I tried to prove I was a “good black person.” I became very liberal and militant about my racial identity as a black woman. That’s why it’s so important to have an anchor in Christ. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your experiences are, how good or bad you are. You’re valuable as a child of the kingdom. I have an identity, a purpose, a belonging.
Every study shows that having a nuclear family is one of the key components to the success of any child of any race.
What brought you to Gary, Ind., for 10 years? At 24 I married my husband, who’s from Gary. It’s a mini version of Detroit, but straight up ’hood, more dangerous. People who lived on the South Side of Chicago called Gary scary: murder capital of the United States. I wasn’t scared, because I knew it was God’s will for us to be there, but lots of drive-by shootings, pregnant teens, gang wars. Still, while we have a crazy-high single-parent household rate, those young moms love their kids just as much as that suburban mom or the rich dad. Both liberals and conservatives talk about these areas using statistics, forgetting people with pain who are looking for hope and have dreams for their kids, just like we all do.
What do conservatives miss? When we talk about Black Lives Matter, many conservatives immediately ask why no one talks about black-on-black crime. It’s true we have high black-on-black crime rates, but we do talk about it, in in-house conversation. People in these neighborhoods want life to get better, but they feel helpless. What I don’t hear many conservatives say is: “How do we solve that?” They assume people just need to “buckle down and get to it.” Sure, some people in the ’hood need to buckle down, no excuses. But generations have not had the opportunity to amass wealth and education. My husband and I are only two generations into beginning to store any kind of wealth or assets, while many white families are already many generations deep into that process. I now live in Orange County, where parents helped lots of people buy their houses. That’s generational wealth and assets that people in the ’hood don’t have.
Now, what do liberals get wrong? They think people aren’t capable of helping themselves. They treat us like infants, like lowering the bar in academics. George W. Bush called that “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Here’s soft bigotry talk: “These people can’t help it. They’re not like us. They can’t clean up their own communities. They can’t attain higher rates of education. We have to give them things.”
When talking about solving cyclical issues in poor minority communities, conservatives emphasize solutions such as two-parent households, while liberals point to fixing systemic racism. What do you think? The answer is multifaceted. There is no replacement for the nuclear family. Every study shows that having a nuclear family is one of the key components to the success of any child of any race. One reason you see black communities breaking down is fundamental family breakdown. Want to talk about an invisible minority? It’s the black nuclear family. We do not exist to anybody, but we’re there! I’m part of a nuclear family.
And education? About 50 percent of black males drop out of school. Black inner-city people need school choice. I saw with my own eyes the helplessness of parents having to send their kid year after year to a failing public school, knowing a better one is 20 miles away, but they’re not allowed by law to send their kids there. School choice also gives us access to a network that helps us become future builders, CEOs, artists, musicians. When your network is just the inner city, many people you grow up with end up in jail or on welfare. It’s not just as easy as simply pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, when the opportunities aren’t even there.
Let’s talk about an example of helping in Gary. You opened an after-school program there. My father-in-law, a pastor in Gary, found a grant to pay for an after-school program for kids to go to study and be safe. We had mentors and volunteers. A lot of my work was just being with these kids, talking to them. Many didn’t have parental support or were living with grandparents who didn’t know how to navigate the school system, so I’d go to their science fairs, attend parent-teacher meetings, advocate for them in school.
People who say they don’t want to talk about race can say that because they don’t have to, but the rest of us do.
Sounds like you made an impact. I don’t know. After five years, we ran out of money, so the program shut down. We need 10 more of those programs in the city, but we don’t have the money: No tax base, no big-money donors. Everybody’s scraping by, so fundraisers are out of the question. You need people from outside the community who believe in and support your mission. Emotional expenditure is also an issue. It’s hard to stay in that job, because you see so much. You don’t know if you’re affecting these kids’ lives, but you do it because you love it. I asked my father-in-law, the pastor, “How do you love these people when they make the same mistakes and go back to drugs over and over again?” He said: “I do it because I know it’s not my job to save anybody. That’s Christ’s job. It’s my job to love people and show them God loves them.” That was life-changing advice for me.
Discussions about racial disparities have stirred divisions within our nation and churches. I have heard Christians say, “Talking about racial justice creates divisions. Let’s just preach the gospel.” People who say they don’t want to talk about race can say that because they don’t have to, but the rest of us do. That’s not a realistic approach. It doesn’t matter where your politics are, we should always be concerned about justice. If there’s injustice, it’s our responsibility to address that. Justice gets twisted when it becomes man’s justice. Man’s idea of justice changes and justice can’t be based on that. We’re not reliable enough. Justice is God’s justice.
You live in Orange County now: very different lifestyle. Many people think of the black American experience as life in a place like Gary, but that’s not the experience of all blacks in America. Not anymore. My husband and I are raising black children in affluence. The black people here are raising an entire generation of kids who don’t know anything about the ’hood or poverty. My kids started their lives in the ’hood, but they don’t remember much of that life. They’re really suburbanized. My husband and I grew up with certain cultural foods, like fried chicken, and this generation wants sushi, but they’re still black people from a line of black people. We’ve unconsciously passed down some things to them. They’re not done being black.
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