This is my story on race. I hesitate to share it because I think that it is normative and not at all unique. But then again, I suppose there are those that will be surprised by the turns in my story and that is exactly why I am telling it. My hope is the illness of what is common place will no longer appear unique, but systemic. And then perhaps with everyone’s participation, miracles will move mountains and the illness of the common place will really disappear….
When I went to an Indian friend’s high school graduation, I was one of two people that were not Indian. I spent 3 hours in a club house filled with curry and sarees. That was my one experience before college of ever being in the minority. Three hours in eighteen years.
In junior high, I had a 3 week “romance” with a black guy. (The quotations seem a necessity being that it was junior high.) It ended abruptly when he spray painted his undying love on the concrete walls of the local school. Perhaps, I could have forgiven his misguided act and the embarrassment over it, but he did not spell my name correctly, and that I could not get over. So it ended with a quick note shoved in his locker, because that is the kind of class I had back then… I am confident that it was actually he that was better off without me.
In high school, there was this trendy t-shirt that I wanted. It claimed in bold colors, “Love sees no color.” That seemed appropriate. My parents lived a life that suggested outward appearances were not the judge of person. So regardless of clothes or car or color, my brother and I could befriend anyone we wanted, assuming their parents’ seemed to have good character.
That is the total extent of my informal education on race.
I mistakenly thought everyone was as my parents were. So I thought that if there were ill-placed outward judgments that appeared to be based on race, there was probably more going on. I am a ‘give people the benefit of the doubt’ kind of person. So what might appear as racism was actually prejudice of a different kind, still mistaken, but not racism. Prejudice was based on age or music preference or location or clothes or mannerisms, etc.
That changed 15 years ago. I lived two summers traveling in American for a Christian ministry. They established week long mission trips for youth all over the country. I would coordinate what volunteer work and activities the teens could do with their church leaders, as well as oversee their housing, meals, etc. We were just weeks away from opening a full summer of service in a poor rural community with several hundred teens set to come, when I got invited to a “quick meeting to go over a few last minute details.”
There were two high schools in the town, one public and one private. Functionally, that became one black high school and one white high school. Now that I write that, it seems incredibly and obviously racist. But what I thought then was that centuries of actual racism had left some in poverty and poverty is a yoke that is not easily thrown off. So I thought this current discrepancy to be completely related to economics, rather than race.
Not surprisingly the public high school had horrible bathrooms without working showers, and the private high school had adequate facilities for our needs for all of our out-of-town volunteers. We were set to spend the summer in the private high school. At the meeting, the “last minute details” were revealed to me over the pleasantries of pastries. “People have been asking and we just want to clarify… If you have a black participant, then they cannot stay at the private school with the other guests. But do not worry, we have nice house that they can stay in.”
I do not remember how the conversation ended but I left in shock; that I know. IF I have a black participant? 400 people are coming this summer… of course, I will have a black participant. How could I ever seclude them without offending them, even if the house was nicer than any school gym? And what do they know about this black participant other than their color? They could be an older leader or a teen? They could be male or female? They could be smart and well-mannered and wearing an oxford polo? In fact, all they did know was that all my participants were coming with their churches to give a week of their time to make this community better. This was prejudice based only on color and nothing else.
Thankfully, my employer acted quickly and chose to spend money (not budgeted) on a significant investment into the long-term improvement of the public high school bathroom facilities. I spent my summer there. Our immediate problem was solved, but it haunted me… How did I not know that racism lived still? And how did I not know that it was so alive that people could be so bold as to say as much as was said to me that day?
Regardless, now I know. And further, now I see that what was bold there is actually subtle and implied almost everywhere, even sadly within me.
Now, I know that color and race and culture weave together and shape and inform who we are and to pretend they have no effect is a lie. At a minimum, they must be honored and often they are to be celebrated. Now, I want a t-shirt that says “Love sees color.” Today that is what seems appropriate.
To be one, to be in unity, to point to God, as Jesus prayed, does not happen without care and intentionality. I’m set that there are many more things for me to do in regards to this, but one thing I have been certain on is that my kids will not be the majority in every classroom, Sunday school or extra activity they are in.
I know my realtor must have thought me a bit crazy, but when we moved into our valley two years ago, I searched on-line to find the demographics of every single elementary school in our radius. Thirty schools I looked at to understand who would shape my kids when they were not with me. Ninety percent white schools would not do. Neither, would the 10 percent white schools. I eliminated a patch-work of half the town, even though that meant we would have even less choice in an already competitive market.
I wanted my kids to live in ways that had them mixed in with others different from themselves. I wanted the difference in color to become normative in a way that allowed not only for judgments to be founded on character, but also for a diversity of cultures to be embraced. I think this will, of course, make my children more successful in our global society, but more importantly, I think this will make them better peace makers and better bearers of the message of reconciliation.
I know my choice is not for everyone or is even possible in every community. This is my puzzle piece in a much larger grand picture God is making. I also know my one choice is not sufficient to have me done with the discussion of color. But I also know that three hours in eighteen years is simply not enough. So for the next generation, I will start there.
Please let me know your own role or desire in building bridges amongst race and culture, and ultimately in being a peace maker.
Confessions of a White Girl is an endeavor to explore what my part is to play in racial unity and ultimately in God’s Kingdom. May it come! It is building upon a previous post, Pixels and Puzzle Pieces, which was an exploration on ‘Love does not boast; it is not proud.’ These posts are part of a larger series in which I explore the practical meaning of the life of love God is calling us to. Directions is the first post that kicks off the series, and Waiting and Wiggle Room (Love is Patient) and Plus One (Love is Kind), follow from there. Us is the story of love’s kindness offered to me. If you want to get notifications about future posts sent to your e-mail so you don’t miss them, then you can subscribe at the side bar or the bottom of the page, depending on the device you are reading on. Cheers!