Saturday, July 20, 2013

Reflections of a White Woman

I'm a white woman.  I have medium brown hair with red highlights...that I dye blond..  I have green eyes and barely tan, but I always give it a shot every summer.  I'm freckled and too much sun makes them stand out like tiny little copper pennies.. My hair is so straight that there are days I think I can hear it scream for mercy as I demand it have body and waves by using a curling iron that's turned up to volcano like temperatures.  I admit that I have no idea what it's like to be anything other than a white woman in America.  I have zero experience or true knowledge of what it means to be anything other than a white woman.  Period.

I admit that most of my friends are white.  I have some black friends and I have some mixed friends.  I even have some Polynesian friends and some Asian friends, but most of my friends are white.  I didn't pick my friends of other races because I feel guilty for being white.  I don't call them my African American friends, or Asian American friends or Polynesian American friends.  I call them my friends.  I like them for who they are and nothing else.

But, I think it's important that we all begin to have discussions about the truth of institutional racism.  I think it's important to remember that Black Americans are the only race that didn't immigrate to the United States as free people with the God given right to choose life, liberty and to pursue their own happiness. Being white doesn't give me the right to pretend like that doesn't have some kind of lasting effect on black people. I think it's important to talk about race, even if we're uncomfortable and it's awkward.  Can I admit that it does feel awkward to me?  I don't really even know where to start the discussion and I freely admit that I'm clueless about how to start an open dialogue that doesn't feel stilted and awkward. 

I'm using the term black because I don't know a better term to use and because it's the best word I can come up with to write this post.  I'm not "white". Snow is white, and I'm not that color.  I know that not all black people identify with being black in the African American sense.  I know there are Haitians, Cubans and other countries of origin that are often lumped in with being black. I know that some Africans are offended that anyone from this diaspora use the word African in their identity, at all.  So, I'm clarifying that black is simply the only word I know to make a definitive counterpoint to being white for the purposes of this post.

As a white woman, I will no longer pretend like I don't know anyone who uses the term "nigger" on a regular basis, because I do.  I would probably go so far as to say that every single white person who lives in American has heard, used or made reference to that word.  Lying doesn't help us become who we should be and I refuse to pander to anyone who continues to pretend that that term isn't used, and especially to anyone that continues to use it in hate and ignorance.  I also refuse to pretend like it's OK for a black person to call me a "cracker" or a "honky".  It's not and you can't do that without me speaking up and saying you're part of the problem.  However, we must keep talking, no matter how uncomfortable we've become with race in our country.  We have a history of racism and judging others for no other reason than the color of their skin.  It's not OK regardless of what color you see reflected back at you in the mirror.

I do not subscribe to the sentiment that being articulate, educated, intelligent and acting with dignity is "acting white".  I do not subscribe to the opinion that the starting line is equal for everyone.  It isn't.  I don't believe that God intended for any race to be less, or greater, than another.  I do not believe that racism is dead or that people are "color blind".  I don't believe a kid raised in the ghetto gets the same shot as the kid raised on Park Avenue...or middle class suburbia, for that matter.  I don't believe that cultural differences should create a line that can't be crossed.  I didn't choose to be white anymore than a black person chooses to be black.  It's simply how we were created.  I do not believe that God is pleased with "white pride" nor "black pride".  Pride, by definition, should be something you were, at the very least, actively involved in accomplishing.  Color doesn't qualify.  Being proud of your culture is much different than being proud of your color.  I wish we could talk more about that and dialogue with kindness and understanding. 

I don't know where the conversation needs to start, but it needs to start.  I don't know the words, or the phrases that would make it less offensive on all sides.  What I do know is this:

1.  I hate for someone to say to me:  You do _______ really well, for a girl.  It's the closest I can come to understanding what being judged based solely on something I had nothing to do with must feel like to another person.

2.  The words "nigger" and "cracker" make me angry.  They are not OK, in my opinion.  Ever.

3.  Pretending racism doesn't exist isn't OK.

4.  I don't know how to be anything other than a white girl.

5.  I don't know how to talk about this, but I want to talk about it.  Maybe that's the beginning of hearing one another.

6.  I think integrity happens when no one else is looking, or when we think no one is listening.

7.  I know this is hard if it's done in honesty.  

Recently, I was having a discussion about race with an acquaintance who adamantly refuses to admit that racism still exists, although she just as adamantly says that she doesn't want her white kids marrying anyone who isn't white.  Her view is this:  "Making that choice just makes your life too hard".  (I absolutely refuse to type what I think about that statement here, so don't ask)   Here's the thing:  I don't think she means to be offensive.  I genuinely do not believe that her heart is set upon hate, or to intentionally degrade an entire race of people.  That doesn't take away from the fact that it absolutely does just that, whether intentionally or not.

This same acquaintance attends a church that my family once attended.  The congregation is filled with every race under the sun.  Hanging in a hallway just off the main walkway in the church is a depiction of Jesus.  In this painting a smiling, laughing Christ is having a sweet moment with his followers.  It's one of the few depictions that I've ever seen where joy seems to radiate from Christ, instead of the somber pictures that are usually out there. This picture depicts the joy of Christ, not the suffering.  I appreciate that difference in this picture.  Maybe that's why it caught my eye...I don't know.

What I do know is that that isn't what kept me coming back to this depiction over and over and over.  Something just pulled at me about this picture.  And then it hit me.  Christ is depicted as a blue eyed, brown haired white man.  To suggest that the starting point for America isn't "white" is clearly inaccurate based on this picture alone.  Here's a clue:  Christ wasn't white.  He was brown.  Very, very brown.  He had black hair...the Bible says it was woolly.  He had dark brown eyes and He was fully Jewish.  He wasn't white. The dichotomy in that picture is what kept me coming back to it.  The beauty and joy of that smile is how I see Christ in my mind's eye, but the sparkling blue eyes weren't accurate and something bugged me that anyone thought it was OK to take a fully Jewish Christ and make Him white. That this isn't relevant to most white people bugs me, too.  The starting point for truth shouldn't be a color; it should be our hearts. 

I'm called to be more like Christ and to emulate Him.  I have a directive to love my neighbor, as myself.  I have a directive that love is the lens that my entire life should be colored by and I want to fulfill that directive.  I'm called to be honest and seek His favor and His glory.  There is no glory in dishonest discourse and there is nothing godly about racism.  I don't know where to start the conversation, but I'm willing to have one with humility and love guiding my hearing, my heart and my life.  I'm willing to try.

 I do not want my children to grow up believing that the flesh colored crayon in the crayon box is reflective of truth.  I do not want my children to grow up in a world that the color of someones skin directs anyone's choices in how to treat another human being created in the image of God Himself. This works both ways, by the way.  I do not "owe" anyone because I am white.  But, I will not pretend that racism does not exist or that we have quelled the tide of oppression.  I will not pretend that even when we don't mean to offend, we can still do so and it matters. I refuse to allow the overuse of the term "offended" to make me numb to the fact that some things are still offensive. I want to be able to talk honestly and listen with a heart that pleases God.  Racism does not please God and lying about it doesn't either. 

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