Things They Never Tell You: 12 Thoughts on Interracial Relationships

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the past few months since I wrote “Things They Never Tell You: 25 Thoughts” I have received a number of requests to write about what it is like to be in a interracial marriage, so I compiled a short list.

One

When you dare to hold hands. Outside. In public. Fingers sweat soaked and tangling, feet stumbling over gum crusted, crackling sidewalk, strangers will stop and stare. Eyes watching you as your hands suddenly find lint-crusted pockets, a corner of a sleeve, a phone, anything but another hand. He won’t say anything when you suddenly walk, just a little slower. Too far away to be together. Too close to be a total stranger. He will just, wait for you at the light. You will just keep your eyes down. Until, you can be alone again.

Two

When the Police come, and he is driving you will wonder if he knows the rules.
Wonder if he can hear your heart beating out of its skin. 
Wonder why he tells you “it will be okay.”
Wonder why his hand is already moving to pat your leg.
Wonder why he isn’t stock still.

Wonder why he isn’t heartbeat and sweat and panic.
Wonder why he is reaching for the insurance and his wallet before the police even come to the door. 

The police can see him moving from their vehicle. The police can see him moving – white lion, white body, white skin and blonde hair and blue eyes and innocent over you, black body and black hair and your black,black,black.

And, you wonder if he knows that he will be okay. That he will come out of this alive. That he will come out of this still in one piece. That he will come out of this with just a warning. That he will come out of this okay.

When the police come and they stand on your side and they ask you for your license and they look at him and ask him about you. 

You will wonder if he notices.

You were not the one driving. You are just passenger. But you are still under suspicion. Still investigatable. Still black in car with white man. 

You will wonder if the words, “she’s my wife,” saves you or condemns you.

You will wonder if you should thank White Jesus or Black Jesus that today you are still breathing and alive and one piece.

When the police come and give a warning, and he shifts car back into life and speed and body, you will breathe and he will ask you if you are okay. You will just nod your head. And breathe “okay” like a prayer as you look out the window and cry. Okay.

Three

Cute babies. You will make such cute babies someday, a stranger announces. Cute babies. As if your relational diversity was made solely for procreation. You will wonder who is the stranger with your voice that nods back and says, “thank you.”

Four

Hope for the future was not Obama.

Hope for the future is walking together.

Hope for the future is walking and holding hands together.

Hope for the future is walking and holding hands together to the end of the block.

Some days, there will only be hope for a half a block.

Some days, the block doesn’t even have a chance.

Some days, you march the whole damn block back and forth, hands gripped so tightly your fingers turn American flag –red, white and blue, your body turns soldier, your voice turns freedom.

This block don’t own you, today.  

Five

*When your friends wonder, without always saying it, if you feel like he is colonizing your body, fetishizing your skin, exerting his imperialism in every “let me show to my friends,”
“babe, I love you,” “let me do your hair,” “let me kiss you here,”
you too will start to wonder it.

You will start to ask the questions. You will start to ask if white people and black people can really be just people, together, only to have him rub cocoa butter on your feet and ask for nothing in return.

When he says, “damn, you are so beautiful,” you will hear the word enough slipped in like a song, you will feel enough when he tells you to wear your hair natural, you will feel enough, enough, enough.

***Loosely quoted from, “The Troubles of Interracial Dating” by Taylor Seaburg***

Six

Every family has a Becky. If you haven’t met her yet…you will.

Seven

“Are you two together?”

Eight

When it’s time to have the conversation. Again. For the onetwothreefourfivesixseventh time.

Breathe.

While he is sitting there, wondering what is wrong while wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, remind yourself of your truth.

Remind yourself of your commitment to intentional, sustainable, relationship.

Remind yourself that your voice matters.

Remind yourself that choosing to ignore it will just lead to resentment.

Remind yourself that you will survive.

Remind yourself.

And breathe.

Nine

It is not always your job to educate.

It is not always your job to educate.

It is not always your job to educate.

Ten

Sometimes, after that family dinner, after that ‘is this little racial experience over yet,’ after that ‘I love Trump’ tirade, after that, ‘please-excuse-them’ eyes, after that white silence/white silence/white silence, you will wonder if this is what you signed up for.

You will wonder if this is what it means to be accepted, to be integrated, to be happily colorblind in order to sacrifice your actual safety for white comfort.

You will wonder if this is what it means to love a white person – Jesus prayers and potluck with a sprinkle of racism.

Eleven

When you toss around baby names. Be sure to toss around ‘strong’ names. Something like John or Charles or Steven. Something like Matthew or Mark or Jason. Something like Elizabeth or Annie. Something white. Something innocent and culturally ambiguous. Something easy to pronounce. Something alive.

Twelve

When he catches you reading the news. Your face betraying your grief, your lips committing new names to your memory: Trayvon; Sandra; Walter; Erica; you will wait for his touch.

You will wait for his words.

You will wait for his white, white, white, to clean the black.

Instead, he will surprise you.: let yourself be surprised!

When he sits down next to you, hands folded in his lap, eyes, shimmering, lips moving as he whispers: “I love you.” “You are enough.” You will hold onto him, feeling your breaths together as you breathe in silence – together, and enough.

On the Subject of When You Lose Your Power & Baited Arguments

Reading Time: 7 minutes

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression

Growing up, I never particularly enjoyed fishing. And, every other year my extended family would vacation at a friend’s cabin. There, fishing was a social event. My dad and uncles would loan out fishing rods to eager cousins waiting to rush into the marsh, battling waist-high cattails while they awaited a bite. And, while occasionally someone would catch something, more often than not empty lines would reel back in with a bit of algae and other aquatic greenery.

Disappointed, a cousin would walk back to the forest with a shovel, confident that the right worm would bait the fish. Confident that the desired input would create the desired output.

Right?

But fishing doesn’t always work like that.

Sometimes, we fish and we get a bite. Sometimes, we fish and we catch something. Sometimes, we fish and all we get is a bit of algae. And, sometimes we fish and we catch something completely unexpected. Like…who knew there was a tractor at the bottom of our lake?

I think that this analogy is often similar to how people approach conversations about race. Sometimes with a bit of trepidation, sometimes with a particularly juicy worm and sometimes confident that the desired input will create the desired output.

This past weekend, I went on a backpacking trip with my family, and I couldn’t help but notice my own rising anxiety as I prepared for the trip. In general, family dynamics are hard. And, intentional multicultural awareness and sensitivity can be particularly nuanced when these characteristics are also inherently bound to a familial framework and, perhaps, uninvestigated traditional worldviews.

As the youngest child in my family, my experience has often involved being discounted as a source of authority solely on the merit of my familial position.

And, perhaps you have experienced your own familial arguments riddled with the latent understanding that: you can have an opinion but other people are older and wiser.

This familial framework combined with the overwhelming temptation to revert back to old childhood frameworks and understandings can often hold deep political implications as well as intense emotional ones.

And, in order to function semi-sanely, I have found that part of my own multicultural double consciousness within my own familial system inherently relies on separation tactics.

When a sibling discounts my opinion on something regarding to my own experience with racism, I often find myself reasoning myself down with something like the following: in most situations with this particular sibling, my voice is often discounted because of my familial position compounded by our own complicated relationship; therefore, the over reactionary statements I’m hearing can’t be racist, because no matter the context I wouldn’t be right. Instead, this conversation is perhaps more of a direct output of pent-up rage, frustration and perhaps intentional meanness.

This is not to claim that my opinion about racism is infallible. Nor, is it to suggest that cross-racial dialogue regarding racism isn’t valuable. However, the mental somersaults, I was creating in order to explain away the ________was more than ridiculous. It was unhealthy.  

See, while I used to be disgusted but committed towards creating alternative explanations, I have found that as I focus on my own mental and emotional health, I can no longer create defenses for siblings, family members or community members whom spew intentionally untrue and racist ideologies.
Creating defenses isn’t helpful or healthy. 

And, while I used to think about how this decision would cost me, I realized that it was already costing me.

It has already cost me.

It has cost me my own ability to stand up for myself.

And, it has cost me my voice in exchange for white, although family, comfort.

It is not my job to make white people comfortable. And, I cannot limit this to only certain white people. It is not my job to make ANY white person comfortable. Whiteness is generally an institutional default. To name a few, in terms of objective opinion, idealized “truth tellers,” media narratives, the NFL, white supremacy, immigration policies…whiteness remains centralized. Whiteness remains protected. Whiteness remains a leg up despite my own interracial upbringing.   

Noticing and naming these dynamics are important steps towards regaining emotional health. I have often discounted confronting the politics of whiteness, racism and supremacy within my own family system because I have often been too scared of feeling abandoned again.

But noticing and naming my own fear of abandonment equips and empowers me to name and confront my fear when fear is holding me back.

I have often used this space to reflect and create dialogue on various racialized experiences I have had, or to write about pieces which I believe are contemporary and newsworthy. And, I strive to present personal, well thought-out, well-researched information in the hopes to create sustainable, intentional, committed, cross-racial relationships.

While, I think it is usually futile to argue with internet trolls or take the baited argument, I wanted to provide some reflections on something that happened to me this weekend because I have often been asked how to respond to racism or racially charged commentary within family systems. And, while I often caveat that I am not a counselor or a social worker, I believe that vulnerability is a critical tenant of relationship building and, vis-à-vis, dismantling racism.

As mentioned earlier, this past weekend I went backpacking (for the first time!), with my family. And, if my family is anything like yours, perhaps you know that intentional family time can be kinda like a kudzo vine that, if left unsupervised, can grow into all sorts of unknown and terrifying shit.

I want to caveat the included vignette, by admitting that I’m still hurt, frustrated, disappointed and disturbed by this particular incident. And, for better or for worse, I usually try to take an intentional break before writing in order to combat my own propensity of instantaneous reaction. However, the reason I wanted to share this in, perhaps, a timelier fashion, was because I believe that these stories are not specifically unique. More and more often, I have heard friends and community members dreading the holidays because, undoubtedly, someone will bring up politics.

And, I used to empathize, nod my head, and give a few suggestions like: lean in. In a nod (yet again to Dr. Amanda Kemp) notice if you are acting from your own specific vision of racial justice or from fear. Ask clarifying questions. Notice if you are in the right head space to be able to lean in or if you need to walk away. Notice and validate the way in which your body is reacting. Your body will give you clues regarding your true emotional state! If you can, stay committed to listening to your body throughout the conversation as well.

But, sometimes, a conversation will come up where no matter the strategies I have in my toolkit, I still hit that one conversation where you know you’re just gonna have a moment.  

And, I hit that conversation this weekend.

Perhaps, it was because we were backpacking and rolling out of bed to a conversation of steaming hot, scrambled Donald Trump breakfast before 9 isn’t the way I want to start off my day. EVER. Or, maybe it was because my relationship with this particular person hasn’t ever been what I would consider good. Or, maybe it was because after sleeping on roots, and getting rained on I was not even close to being in the headspace to talk about race. But, whatever it was, I found myself having the conversation.

I remember, at one point near the beginning, caveating the conversation with something like: I’m not sure if our relationship can handle this conversation, but I want to at least try. This is a good strategy because it is intentionally honest and allows room for the other person to be honest about the relationship.

While, the conversation remained civil, I found myself reeling from these particular soundbites:

Me: Why don’t you believe me about racism? This question, while I felt like was a good question at the time – and was really kind of a desperate grab for visibility like, hey! Remember that I’m a credible person -, isn’t actually a strategy I would recommend because it inherently relies on a sum-zero game of truth-teller vs. liar. Additionally, it sets up the conversation to re-center on personal grievances rather than one which relies on shared empathy and relational commitment.

 It maybe goes without saying that, in multicultural families, this framework is particularly nuanced in black (POC)/white frameworks and additionally nuanced when buoyed by familial contexts.

Sibling: “You really want to know?! Because you sensationalize EVERYTHING. I know I’ve skimmed some of your posts, and you go looking for racism in everything and you perceive racism everywhere and everything you say is related to race…” “…god just wants us to live positively, and I don’t read the news much…but here you are pissed off all the time at the world because you look for racism, and I hope the world isn’t as racist as you perceive that it is”

And, I didn’t know what to say.

I mean, I did.

But…it wasn’t worth it.

I could tell you that I managed to end the conversation without—

Punching. Throwing up. Screaming. Swearing or yelling.

I could tell you that I managed to walk back past my tent and sit on a log and cry for about ten minutes.

I could tell you that I tried to avoid conversations with this particular sibling for the rest of the weekend because I knew that if I didn’t, I might revert back to say oh

Punch, screaming, throwing up, swearing or yelling.

But, while these situations happen, what I found myself needing was a time to not only debrief but also a time to re-strategize.

And, I found myself repeating these words over and over to myself:

If I am committed towards building cross-racial, sustainable, committed, relationships than that includes my family.

If I am committed towards building cross-racial, sustainable, committed, relationships than that includes my family.

If I am committed towards building cross-racial, sustainable, committed, relationships than that includes my family.

As someone whom one day hopes to be a diversity and justice consultant, I have found that a version of this conversation, while – generally perhaps not so direct – crops up in my personal life from time to time. And, I wonder, if I had stuck to some of my tools in my toolkit- how the conversation would have turned out.

What if, I had said something like: Wow. It sounds like you have a lot of strong emotions. I wonder what feels scary or particularly hard about this conversation? This is a great question because it invites the other person to get right to the core of their emotions. And, by way of invitation, it validates the other person’s experience and equally allows them space to take a breath and realize that you are committed to seeing them despite the outward reaction.

Ask a clarifying question and lean in. I wonder what would have happened if I had said something like, “wow, it seems like you are really frustrated. Can you tell me more about your frustration?”  

 “Can I share what it is like for me?” This is another great strategy because it allows a chance for dialogue. In this situation, I wish I would have said something like, “wow, when you accuse me of ______, I feel hurt. I wish that I felt like this relationship was a safer place in order to have this conversation. I care about you and I want to know what is hard for you. You’re important to me.”  I often find that in conversations like these, I do one of two things: distance myself by only asking questions or distance myself by deflecting.

While this conversation included dialogue in which I did share examples of my own experience, I realized that I left the conversation feeling powerless. And, I had to rely on some of my own mental health strategies to feel re-stabilized. For example, I talked with a trusted friend. When I got back, I took a long hot shower. I wrote down my feelings and I meditated.

When I allow myself to notice my own feelings and my own body, I allow myself to heal.

To borrow, (again), from Dr. Amanda Kemp, here’s my challenge to you: “Notice when you feel as if your power has been stripped away from you.  What triggered you?  What do you do to protect and strengthen yourself?  Any poisons?

Shalom always,

For Black Women Whom Are Considered Aggressive & Other Ruminations

Reading Time: 11 minutes

“If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.” 
― 
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah

I used to think about losing things a lot. Losing my job. Losing my friends. Losing my community. Losing my family. I convinced myself that if I could just stay quiet enough

 when the men came and…

 when the white people came and….

when the racist person came and…

I could protect myself. I could keep my head down. I could rely on English and a vernacular cultivated and handed down from adoptive ancestors so white you can trace them back pre-1840, pre the line where my black ancestors were just known as numbers, pre-colonialism and massacre and slavery and…me.

But, I kept losing sight of someone else.

Me.

This invisible woman. You can see me, but you can’t really see me. See, here is my face. See, here is my mouth. See, here are my legs. See, here are my hands. Can you see me?

Or, did you blink?

I have tested this theory, you see.

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

My voice said no.

Body tense,

Legs closed,

Arms raised.

My mouth said – I am a human. My body said, I am enough. I am enough. I am…

But.

They just kept on coming.

This black body never looked white flag

Never looked white house,

Never looked anything but

3rd world baby & white woman smile

Never looked anything but

Mud hut in need of aluminum

Never looked anything but

Ground ready for a snowstorm

Never looked anything but

This Cherokee African American

In need of colonialism

 See, I had convinced myself that if I could erase that tight feeling in my gut, if I could erase enough kinks in my hair, if I could erase my skin with bleaching creams, if I could erase my natural instinct to scream when the people touched my hair, touched my skin, touched my body…again and again…I would be able to somehow transform myself back into approval and acceptance and goodness.

The first time I was called the N word was in 3rd Grade. My white classmates and I were playing kickball, and I was dominating…. until I wasn’t. I stepped up to the plate to kick and a classmate yelled the N word.

When you think about balls deflating, it always seems as if they deflate just a little at first and then, suddenly, everything goes really fast.

You know, like that balloon that you meant to fill up but suddenly it is whooshing all over the room making those indelicate sounds that you know absolutely sound like a fart, but you never actually say because you are too busy staring at the ground wishing away your sudden interested audience.

I think that sometimes degradation works the same way. At 9, I didn’t know what the N word meant, but I remember thinking that it had to do with me and my skin and the way in which I was different. And, I knew different. As the youngest in a family of 8, different meant that when I wore hand me-downs to school, someone noticed. Different meant holey shoes and beads and braids and a backpack that wasn’t LLBean. I knew different. But, before – different was always monetary. That day, something deflated in me but, unlike balls that are often either trashed completely or found by some benevolent gym teacher and refilled, I didn’t bounce back. I wasn’t found by a benevolent anyone and refilled.

Instead, when I finally got home, I searched all of my parent’s dictionaries (yes this was the early 2000’s and the age of dial-up internet…or at least, the age of dial-up in our house) for the word. I remember climbing into my father’s office chair and spinning in circles, tears streaming down my face as my mother hurried into the living room.

I don’t remember what she said. Maybe it was a conglomeration of reasons why the word wasn’t in there. Maybe it was reassurances that I was enough. Maybe, it was all of the above. To be honest, the only thing that I remember was the beginning prick of my own black consciousness.

And, while I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate the concepts of my own double consciousness, I remember thinking about the imagery of a white woman holding a black child and the enduring continuitiesof racism.

How could I possibly be enough?

Growing up, we avoided those conversations. A mostly conservative farm family in rural, white America, living in the heart of the Lancaster County Bible Belt, we didn’t talk about racism or shootings or systemic oppression or Black History Month. We didn’t talk about police brutality or the invisibility of the black female body or how generational poverty creates a 7-generation inequity between impoverished white and black families.

We didn’t talk about why it was easier for strangers to assume that I was “fresh air” or a “poor African foster care kid” than a black girl from Philly. We didn’t talk about why white people asked me if I was a crack-baby, or if I could describe what living in the ghetto was like or if I was an orphan.   

We didn’t talk about how black women are usually regulated to three stereotypes: Jezebel, Sapphire and Mammy.  (Quick back history. A Jezebel is a fiery, overtly lascivious, sexually insatiable plaything. This stereotype was used as a justification for rape and sexual relations with white masters.,  The Sapphire is a fiesty, unabashed, always rude and loud angry black woman. She is a harsh nagger and displays irrational anger. She is a harsh critique of black women whom are vocal about systemic injustices and is a mechanism employed to punish black women that violate societal norms teaching them to be passive and docile and pleasant. The Mammy is the ideal enslaved person – she is happy to be a slave and she is often pictured as obese and well mannered. She enjoys the domestics and servile lifestyle. She is the caricature used for the Aunt Jemima and is the prominent figure on more the enduring racial caricatures of black women.)
We didn’t talk about the racist family members, the strangers that complimented me on my English and told my adoptive parents they were “saints, just saints,” or that looming, haunting terror that, perhaps, all adoptees experience of wondering when they will be left. Again.

I have made myself a policy not to tell other people’s stories in my space of writing, so I will not elaborate or speculate on the reasoning behind why those strategies and skills were not developed at a young age.

Instead, I hope to share a few examples of my own childhood and adult experiences in hopes to convey alternative suggestions in regard to teaching white fragility, racism and how white tears, particularly white women’s white tears, continue to propagate and perpetuate systemic and institutional racism and oppression.

First, white women are uniquely positioned in society as both oppressed and oppressors. As oppressors, they benefit from white supremacy and institutional and systemic racism. And, as women, they remain
subordinate to men in regard to –to name a few –  gender pay-gap inequities, employment contracts, 
health care benefits, etc., However, this duality remains unequivocally interconnected with white women’s ability to carry a perpetual “get out of jail free” card. 

While many POC’s can relate with mistreatment at the hands of a white woman, and while (some) white women are, perhaps, learning that not all tears matter, it is important to note the important historical framework of white supremacy and white tears. While, many racial justice advocates will use Emmett Till as a starting point when discussing white, female tears and racial violence, I think it is important to note that while white tears in conjunction with white supremacy can also be used to track multiple genocides and mass murders in the last 3 centuries, the behavior which supports white tears and supremacy is learned.  And, this behavior is learned at a young age.

Indeed, consider the following excerpts from bell hook’s “Ain’t I a Woman” in regard to power structures between white women and black women.

In Once a Slave, a book which contains a condensed body of information gleaned from slave narratives, the author Stanley Feldstein recounts an incident in which a white mistress returned home unexpectedly from an outing, opened the doors of her dressing room, and discovered her husband raping a thirteen year old slave girl. She responded by beating the girl and locking her in a smokehouse. The girl was whipped daily for several weeks. When older slaves pleaded on the child’s behalf and dared to suggest that the white master was to blame, the mistress simply replied, “She’ll know better in future. After I’ve done with her, she’ll never do the like again through ignorance.” White women held black slave women responsible for rape because they had been socialized by 19thcentury sexual morality to regard [black] woman as sexual temptress….” (pg. 37).

Or, considered this additional excerpt from “Ain’t I a Woman:”

…rape was not the only method used to terrorize and de-humanize black women. Sadistic floggings of naked black women were another method employed to strip the female slave of dignity…a Kentucky slave recalled: The women are subjected to thes punishments as rigorously as the men – not even pregnancy exempts them; in that case before binding them to the stake, a hold is made in the ground to accommodate the enlarged form of the victim.

…Yes sir, the most shocking thing that I have seen was on the plantation of Mr. Farrarby, on the line of the railroad. I went up to his house one morning from my work for drinking water, and heard a woman screaming awfully. On going up to the fence and looking over I saw a woman stretched out, face downwards, on the ground her hands and feet being fastened to stakes. Mr Farraryby was standing over her and striking her with a leather trace belonging to his carriage harness. As he struck her the flesh of her back and legs were raised in welts and ridges by the force of blows. Sometimes when the poor thing cried too loud from the pain Farrarby would kick her in the mouth. After he exhausted himself whipping her he sent to his house for sealing wax and a lighted candle and, melting the wax, dropped it upon the woman’s lacerated back. He then got a riding whip and, standing over the woman, picked of the hardened wax by switching at it. Mr. Farrarby’s grown daughters were looking at this from a window of the house through the blinds. This punishment was so terrible that I was induced to ask what offence the woman had committed and was told by her fellow servants that her only crime was in burning the edges of the waffles that she had cooked for breakfast.

It takes little imagination to comprehend the significance of one oppressed black woman being brutally tortured while the more privileged white women look passively at her plight” (pg. 38)

America has been sexualizing, demonizing and degrading black women for decades. And, while I will leave the black women/white women dichotomy for another post, it is critical to understand the historical interconnectivity between America’s contemporary framework and the roots of American racism. (If you want to brush up on this dichotomy, I would suggest here and here as some intermediate level resources).

America has been killing black children and black youth long before Emmett Till and continues to kill black children and youth today. From Ferguson to Flint, black children are killed, exposed to polluted water and disappeared in rapid numbers. 

And, while racism more often than not creates a POC body count, racism relies on latent strategies as much as it does on overt ones.

Do we always recognize them?

As a newly minted college freshman, I began to intentionally lean into my ever-emerging double consciousness. As a black woman, my identities fundamentally position me as a political figure both by nature of being black and woman but also by nature of being alive, black and woman.

And, I began to notice a trend. Something began to happen to me when I switched as an incoming 7thgrader from a private Montessori School to a Private Mennonite School. I knew something was different, but I couldn’t quite articulate it. Instead, I’d stand in line for Picture day, my hair pressed straight from hours of fighting with the hot iron to new classmate’s hands and laughter tugging and pulling and….poof, my curly afro emerged again like magic.

But they were just kidding.

Right?

I was the funny girl. The girl who you were “supposed” to be able to ask about slang. The girl you were “supposed” to ask about dance moves. The girl who was “supposed” to sing the gospel solos. The girl who…

was that weird black girl who wasn’t at good at basketball as they had hoped.

was that weird black girl who wasn’t as funny as they had imagined

was that weird black girl who never laughed at any of the Oreo jokes

In my predominately white high school, when I would manage to muster up enough courage to speak my own truth to power, I was labeled as mean and aggressive and, the ever-blossoming catch phrase: ratchet.

This compounded my own awkward inability to verbalize the lack of support I felt from my mostly white friend group. Friends support friends, right? Friends believed friends, right? Why did I have to articulate that being called ghetto wasn’t a compliment? Why did I have to verbalize that touching my hair required a verbalized agreement.

How could I be enough if I had to explain my “enough-ness?”

Once, when I approached a white male classmate, convinced by others that he seemed like he was interested in me, I was told that he and his other friends preferred “Swedish” girls instead.

And that was that. I never mustered the courage to ask him what that meant. My white girlfriends never questioned him because he was a Missionary Kid. He grew up in South Africa. He was supposed to be woke. He was supposed to be Jesus loving. He was supposed to…not be a racist.

Right?

Recently, I overheard my coworkers standing outside of my office with this adorable little conversation:

Becky1: So, what did you do this weekend?

Becky 2: I went to the Harrisburg Walmart. I love that store. I could spend all day there. I just find so many things there and I could watch the people there all day…so interesting.

Becky 1: *laughing* “You mean, you could watch the people in their pajamas and slippers all day. (another colleagues name) calls Walmart Scarymart. Ya know, because of all the Hispanics and the Blac – (looks in my direction) – I mean, city folks. You practically need a body guard when you go there…

Becky 2: *long pause*

Becky 1: Just kidding. I was just kidding *weak laughter*

Becky 2: Yeah, but it is pretty amazing what you can find, don’t you think?

 See, the way racism works is that it shows up in our conversations. It shows up in social circles. It shows up on our bookshelves and in our television and in our churches and in our politics. Racism is not relegated to cross burners and bedsheet wearers and Nazi lovers. Regular people chose to wear them. Regular people remained complicit

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

And, this still happens all the time. Consider the people you seek as truth tellers. Consider the people you consider as the “fake news” wielders. Consider the people you have on your bookshelf. Consider the people you listen to on the news. Consider whom you call aggressive and whom you call innocent.

Relying on a culmination of adolescent and adult experiences, I quickly learned that my voice and my body were often relegated to the sidelines in regard to racism and sexual harassment and sexism.

When the men came and… attacked me and sexually abused me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

When the white people came and… attacked me and sexually abused me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

When the racist person came and…verbally attacked me and sexually harassed me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

And, while these experiences are not specifically unique, I have found that these experiences have emboldened me to speak up and out regarding the unique positioning of black women and invisibility.

As a black woman, I am used to thinking about losing things. I think about losing my job. I think about losing my family. I think about losing my friends. I think about losing my church and my community.

But, I also know that as a black woman and as a follower of Jesus, I am convinced that I am empowered to use my voice in regard to racial and social justice. And, I am empowered to use my stories and experiences because I believe that truth telling and speaking truth to power are core tenants of what Christ has radically empowered to all whom choose to follow Him.

How often have I been forced to swallow my feelings in the workplace in order to allow room for white fragility?

How often have I been forced to apologize to a white woman utilizing white tears for her benefit?

How often have I been forced to keep silent in order to maintain the status quo?

How often have I lost myself? How often have other black women?

How often have you?

What if speaking up doesn’t mean losing anything? What if speaking up means finding someone?

And what if that person is great?

You probably know that catchphrase: and still she persisted. Maybe you find the phrase irritating. Maybe you have it glued above your bed, I don’t know. But, I have found that simple phrase to have so much power. Still she persisted. When I look back at my story and I notice the timeline and I notice all the details and elements, I notice a story of persistence. And, some days, I even notice a story of enough.

I wonder, when you look at your story, what you see. I wonder when we look at America’s story, what do we see? I wonder, when we look at when the men came and the racist person came and white person came…what do we see. Because, stories matter. The stories we tell, matter. And the stories that are yet to come, matter.

And, I hope that as we write this story of now, together. It will be the story with the happy ending. It will be the story of reconciliation. It will be the story that finally doesn’t end with…

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

But maybe, I’m just naive.

Or, maybe I’m not.

Here’s to hoping.