Nooks & Crannies: A Reflection on Systemic Racism While Cleaning Out the Toy Bin

It is the first week of summer, my kids are done with school and I cannot have them spending their entire summer in front of their screens while I’m at work. They have done that all spring, and I won’t let it happen this summer. 

So this Monday morning, I gave my youngest child a bucket of soapy water and a rag. I have instructed him to take out all of his toys and have begun to show him how to deep clean all of them. I asked him not to simply wipe stuff down, but to also pay attention to all the nooks and crannies and REALLY deep clean them.

“Why?” he asked me. “Honey, because it is in the cracks that the real mess builds up. You need to get in there and make sure it is super clean because this gunk will attract more gunk and then they will be even more difficult to clean.” 

These toys have gathered dust, been forgotten about, have been played around and not with, and/or are in need of repairing. Now, as I write this, he has been out there for two hours cleaning his toys. It is a mixture of cleaning, discovering old favorites, playing, singing, and cleaning again. Actually, there’s some questionable hammering that’s going on and some loud sounds too, but he is busy. He is discovering and appreciating toys he has not looked at in quite some time. I’m sitting here doing my work. 

The past few months have been brutal for me. As a person of color and a pastor, working and living among a privileged society has been hard and often overwhelming. As a nation, we have undergone trauma. We are dealing with a global pandemic. For many of us, this brings up issues with mental health. For some, it brings up grief. We are dealing with acts of violence and systemic issues in our society. We are being asked to navigate through these issues as we shelter in place and are away from family and friends, our support networks. 

We are looking at stuff that we haven’t looked at for some time. They have been put away, allowed to gather dust, we have had to work around difficult issues, and many of us have had to put up with this mess for generations and have had to teach our children how to navigate through the mess. We are in desperate need of a deep cleaning. Many of us have chosen to not look at our stuff ever again, and some have chosen not to look at it for a while, but we are regardless all sitting with it, with a mess of broken, gummy, full of gunk, and dirty systems. We have a messy system of racism and we need to do a deep cleaning.

This deep cleaning should have happened decades- no, CENTURIES ago, but it hasn’t. It has only somewhat been dealt with but, it hasn’t really been deep cleaned. It’s been just barely wiped with a wet rag and put back on the shelf, but there is still dust around it. There is still dirt and all of the crevices, all the nooks and crannies are now so caked with gunk that we need to start anew. 

This morning I showed my son how to dip the rag into the soapy water and wring it out. I showed him how to take his nail and really get into the crevices of the toy to get in between all open spaces. I explained that these toys probably had old crusty boogers and crumbs of goldfish crackers stuck in between all the cracks.

I told him that getting into those nooks and crannies might make his fingers sore, his hands will get tired from all the work, it will be uncomfortable and gross and it takes a long time. It takes longer than just wiping it down on the surface- it takes DELIBERATENESS. It takes intentionality, and it takes a deep amount of care, because if you do it wrong you might break the toy. If you don’t do it well enough then there will still be gunk in there, and that gunk will affect everyone in the household. It will not just affect the toy. The dust will get in the air we breathe, it will get on surfaces, and it will just make his room gross. So deep cleaning is worth it, and he has been at it all morning. 

Our world is in a season of deep cleaning right now. It is uncomfortable and it will get more uncomfortable. It will make us feel gross as we face this mess, and IT SHOULD. We should feel gross and uncomfortable whenever people are being oppressed. 

Systemic racism has infiltrated every nook and cranny of our world. It is so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we don’t even notice that it is around anymore. Why? Because it is the norm. Jesus was not a teacher of the norm. Jesus taught us to be uncomfortable, to come up against systems that hurt and oppress people. He found that he had to turn tables, have debates, and show up on mountain sides to tell folks they needed to change, to see beyond themselves and see the community that God had blessed them with. 

It’s time. Sometimes toys, and systems, are so broken and encrusted, old, and damaged that we find it is time to get rid of them. And we replace them with something newer, better, and more equitable for everyone. 

How can this be done? IN COMMUNITY. In an unprejudiced community, where all have a voice. Because It helps to have other people look at what we’re cleaning, to name when things are broken, and help us see what nooks and crannies we might have missed. 

It helps to do the deep clean together. 


5 thoughts on “Nooks & Crannies: A Reflection on Systemic Racism While Cleaning Out the Toy Bin

  1. Thank you for this beautiful perspective. In community with deliberateness is the real deal. Now that will be added to my prayers.


  2. Your message holds so many truisms. Thank you fro sharing as a person of color who has and continues to live a life in our messy world.


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