Marching To The Beat Of A Different Reality

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Confessions of a White Woman



I'm uncertain as to why, but I've never had a prejudicial bone in my body. I never felt more comfortable around white people than black people - or anyone of a different nationality. Chalk it up to proper rearing I suppose - but prejudice was simply never a part of my life. In fact, I lived through the whole "bussing" era in the 1970's and never knew what the fuss was about. None of the white kids I hung out with ever talked prejudicially about people of color, or made mention of black kids in any other way than by their name in regard to some school or class happening.

Most of the black kids I knew were just kids – no different from me at school other than they had a better tan. Yes, there were some black students who acted specifically unfriendly toward white kids and that was confusing to me, but I avoided them and hung out with those who weren’t. To be fair, I’m sure that went the other way as well, but I didn’t hang out with those kinds of kids either so it wasn’t part of my lexicon of memories.

During middle school, there was a small group of black girls bussed over who seemed to hate us white girls. No matter what we did, they just seemed intent upon making us miserable. I had a couple of them in my vocal music class and one of them was forever bullying me in one way or another. One day she sat behind me in class and began flicking me hard in the back of the head with her middle finger. I turned around and asked her to stop three different times, but she wouldn’t quit. The fourth time, I’d had enough; I turned around and decked her. We both got swats...from the Principal...in the office...with a big wooden paddle...and it sucked...but she never bothered me again. I didn’t hate all black people because of her, I just couldn't stand her. She was mean and I didn’t want to have another thing to do with her.

During my senior year in high school, our drama teacher had a nervous breakdown and quit. Though, as seniors, we’d waited THREE years to get the juiciest parts in that year’s plays, we had no production at the end of the year for which to look forward. In the absence of any adult willing to direct, I asked the office if we as a class could stage our own play. Several of us put our heads together, but so many of the drama students quit with the teacher, there weren’t a lot of things we could do. The black drama students finally decided they wanted to perform A Raisin In the Sun on their own. Three of us white girls found a play called “Sisters”, so we decided to do that.

It was a bummer we all couldn’t work together, but there was no animosity over the deal – they did their play one night and we did ours on another – those of us that wanted to participate in drama, did, so who cared? Again, I was disappointed with the situation, but that was the extent of it. I didn’t develop some chip on my shoulder because some black kids didn’t want to do a play with me in high school.

As an adult, I never had any interactions proving different than those that made up the majority of my childhood until my first year teaching high school science in 1997.

That first year, I had a black kid in my Environmental Science class who played basketball. He thought my class was going to be a ‘blow off’ because it was an elective and he did next to nothing assigned. Consequently, he ended up ineligible for basketball one week due to grades.

His mother, mad that I would keep her son from playing ball, made appointments with me at school (25 minutes from my home) every other morning at 7am for an update on his performance. After the first week of this routine, the kid went right back to doing nothing and his grades began to fall again. I gave him opportunity after opportunity to make up grades, but all were met with sincere disinterest.

Our last meeting she demanded to know why her son was again failing my class. I pulled out my gradebook and copies of a few of the papers he’d actually turned in and showed them to her.

She looked at them cursorily, tossed them down on the desk with disdain, looked straight at me and said, “I’ve heard some things about you.”

“Like what?” I asked, completely unaware of what such ‘things’ might be.

Her eyes narrowed. “I’ve heard you don’t treat everyone the same”, she said.

“How is that?”

“I heard you don’t like black people”, she accused.

“What? Are you kidding me?” I answered, getting rightfully defensive.

“Yes. I’ve heard you’re a bigot and I think you’re prejudiced against my son.”

I got up from my chair so fast it went backward to the floor with a crash.

“That’s it. I’ve had enough. You’ll need to talk to the principal about your son from now on. I refuse to speak to you one more minute,” I pronounced and strode from the room with my heart beating so hard I thought I’d pass out. All I could think of was, “how dare she?”

The next day, the kid was transferred out of my class and I never had to see him or his mother again. Unfortunately, following that incident, I was left with the distinct impression that there were black people in the world like this mother who, when they didn’t get what they wanted, would scream racism or bigotry. After all, how can one see into another person’s heart? What’s the magic PROOF you don’t harbor racist thoughts after someone has the temerity to accuse you of such a thing? It’s the perfect blackmail device really, accusing someone of being a bigot.

Unfortunately, I ran into a number more of these throughout my teaching career. To be fair, I also ran into a number of white parents who felt the same way about their children. None of them ever got any further with me than did the one mother, it’s just that in the end, they had to accuse me of something other than racism to try and reach their goal of keeping their children from having to suffer the consequences of their own actions.

Fast forward to 2005. Though my husband and I now had two little boys at home, I began to get a very strong feeling adoption would be in the cards for our family.  I chalked this up to a God calling, and began researching adoption - Russian adoptions, adoptions through DHS, Chinese adoptions - I explored several options. Then, while visiting my family in Ohio that summer, I met my cousin's new bride.

My cousin Brad had been working as an international teacher for some time and his last assignment had taken him to Zambia, Africa.  There he met an absolutely STUNNING woman named Justina and they fell in love and married.  

While standing in my grandparent’s kitchen talking with them one afternoon, I found that her sister had died recently from complications of diabetes leaving five children to be cared for by her oldest nephew. The children ranged in age from 2 to 20-something, with the oldest a full time bank employee unable to oversee the younger kids during the day.  

I can't explain what came over me, but I felt compelled to ask if it would help her family stay afloat if we adopted the two youngest (then 2 and 9) girls.  Long story (and I mean a VERY LONG STORY) short, two very black little girls from Zambia Africa came to live with the very white, White family in 2007.

Our church welcomed them, our family welcomed them – the kids at school welcomed them – everyone we knew seemed fascinated with the girls and the adoption. Friends and strangers alike were supportive and positive and showered them with clothes and goodies with which to start their new lives in Oklahoma.

It wasn’t until several years after the girls had come to live with us that I was made aware of other thoughts about our adoption.

We had attended a local Methodist church for several years before the girls came to live with us. I had been very active in the church - participating in Bible studies, helping start Bible studies and a ministry for moms - and I interacted with the staff frequently. One of the associate ministers was black. She was always very sweet and I enjoyed talking with her when we met up.

One day, after a function, this minister pulled me aside and asked to talk to me. I did, and what proceeded was a conversation that not only offended me deeply, but became one of the reasons why we left the church in which I’d been so active.

This woman told me that in order for me to be the kind of mother I needed to be to my daughters, I should find a black mentor for them. No offense meant, she assured me, but how else would these girls learn about the ‘black experience’? The girls would need to be educated about the plight of blacks in America today in order to ‘fit in’ with their peers. They would be ostracized from the black community, in effect, if we raised them as ‘white people’ because white people just couldn’t possibly understand the perspective of the black race.

I was aghast. I mean, seriously, that’s about the only way I can put it.

I let her words sink in. I thought about them for a bit even though I had an immediate reaction of revulsion to them. Then, probably unfortunately – and though I’d tried to think about my words first – I said something to the effect of, “Thank you for your input, however, I will not hamstring my daughters for life by raising them with a chip on their shoulder. Kids tend to become what you speak to them and I want my children to have tolerant, loving souls that don’t look for offenses in the shadows.”

After that encounter, I tried to be as civil and polite as I could to this woman, but I avoided her from that moment on. Why in the world would I teach my girls anything of the sort? They had family back in Africa they could talk to DIRECTLY for familial connection and information about their pasts. They had no need to be inculcated into an ‘American black’ experience that taught them to separate themselves from white people because of experienced or perceived ills from the present and/or past.

It was probably right then and there I disavowed the idea of allowing any of my children to be ‘classed’.  In fact, we never referred to the girls as African-American and have always taught all our children that no matter your country of origin, once you become an American citizen, you are simply American, not a hyphenated American. When ‘race’ appears on a questionnaire, not a single member of our family will answer. It’s the business of no one.

For God sakes, humans are but one single species - we all have the same basic set of genes that code for nothing but ‘human’. The girls were adopted from Africa into our family just as our boys were born into it - just as we humans are adopted into the family of Christ. Christ didn’t adopt us into his family as Jews, or Servants, or women, or yellow, or brown, but as BELIEVERS of one accord. Why do human beings keep buying into the idea that separating people into groups is somehow either relevant or helpful to the cause of humanity?

I’ve thought about many of the situations I’ve described over the years, but never more so than following the flap at Oklahoma University recently where fraternity guys were caught on video singing a song insulting black people.

‘Flap’ doesn’t really cover it, truth be told. How does the word ‘flap’ cover the circumstances a number of STUPID white boys have endured since that time; kicked out of a private house without any kind of due process, morons with too much time on their hands looking up addresses and traveling to protest outside boy’s homes, other idiots issuing death threats to the boys and their families? Over a stupid song with a pejorative that has not only been in use for hundreds of years, but is used by many black people to address other black people – today?

This video was included in a story I saw of late. Here, the guy taking the cell-phone video of other black kids slamming themselves onto the hoods of cars, uses the word, “nigga” (combined with a curse words) so many times I couldn’t count.

Explain this to me: if black people are going to address one another as any variant of the nauseating word “nigger”, sing songs including the word – use the word in any possible combination of ways – and then scream racism when anyone with white skin uses the word, how does that work? It doesn’t. It’s called “hypocrisy”. This practice is duplicitous and insincere. Either the word is bad or it isn’t. It’s not a “when I feel like it, it’s bad” word.

My mom used to have a saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Of course we all know that’s ridiculous. Words hurt – sometimes more than stones. Especially those words said simply to hurt. Here’s a question, though; if that word evokes so many painful emotions, why call one another by that name? Why use it to describe people in songs? Why use it at all?

Let’s be honest. This issue isn’t about words at all. It’s about a philosophy – the philosophy described by the minister, covered in this story. A philosophy that says, “I’m black and because I’m black, white people not only can’t understand me because they’ve repressed me in the past, but because they’ve repressed me in the past they will continue to repress me in the future, therefore I will look at every white person as an oppressor” (“white privilege”). Sorry, but this philosophy is itself bigoted and directly spawns all kinds of bad behaviors the results of which can be dismissed using the circular reasoning described by that philosophy.
                                                                                                 
Here’s a question: how do you cure bigotry by perceiving everyone a bigot? Answer: you don’t. In fact, it’s a bit like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. The more racism is alleged, the more the term loses its effectiveness. If someone is to be termed a “racist”, or a "bigot", there’d better be some specific physical evidence available for inspection to create cause, or use of the word “racist” becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. How many people who never had a care in the world what color a person was are beginning to look at those of color with suspicion due to fear of being labeled a racist?

How stupid have we Americans become? How unintelligent and unlearned are we today that we allow ourselves to see one another through the bloodshot eyes of Political Correctness instead of the Biblical truth that we are ALL created by God in His image equal to one another in His sight?

“And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand”. (Mark 3:25)

That is but one of Jesus’ thoughts on the matter. Mine are a bit more verbose.

If you pit people against each other by playing up their differences, you will create divisiveness. The opposite is also true; if you unite people together by playing up their commonalities, you get harmony. If you want to find something about which to be offended, you can do it, but why? Why LOOK for offenses? Why not look for commonalities – ways to get along with one another and share our humanity?

In fact, we must. Until human beings learn to take personal responsibility for their thoughts, their lives and their actions, however, we’re doomed. We must make that leap. We must learn to think critically, love unconditionally and forgive offenses. After all, if Jesus died to prevent our offenses from being held against us, the least we can do is not look for things about which to be offended and forgive those who have.

If you're not a believer and don't appreciate the words and works of Jesus, maybe Michael Jackson will speak to you. In that case, I’ll leave you with the video of one of my favorite MJ songs to think about: Man In The Mirror