Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Heart check

I've tried to post about this before but I often get worried about offending or being misunderstood and struggle for the words that are emblazoned on this momma's heart.  This week I had a conversation with some dear friends though about race and a beautiful blog post I read this morning prompted me to sit down and spew out the contents of my heart. 


My children are 13 and under so when you ask many of them what color they are you might hear "dark chocolate" or "caramel" and lately one of the seven year olds has decided she looks like peanut butter which she is exactly right on.  But last week my turning 13 year old walked in to our home and asked me if she was "colored."  Uh, well, um....yes kinda.  We had a discussion about what that term historically has meant and that if she would like to refer to herself as a woman of color absolutely.  That conjures up ideas of strong and beautiful to me but colored was reserved for this-is-your-place-here-at-this-water-fountain or in the-back-of-this-bus and your place is beneath me and I will fight with all that I am that my children, everyone's children, never feel beneath anyone else.  It was a great talk and as my children grow and learn about the slave trade and African history and civil rights it has brought beautiful God moment discussions.   But I wonder if those talks are happening within the homes where the children are "vanilla."  That is where change takes place. 

I have always studied black history, long before I knew who my husband would be or that my children would be the beautiful shades of brown that they are but I would be arrogant to not admit that it has made me look at it all differently.  Last week my son came home and told me how strange it is to be the only brown boy in his class when they are talking about civil rights and how to know that he wouldn't have been in that class just a few short decades ago....how he knows his friends aren't like that and to be thankful that it isn't like that anymore but to know it was and in some hearts, still is....that history weighed heavily on the heart of my handsome, inquisitive and sensitive boy and it weighed heavily on this momma's heart.  My 13 year old had to answer a question on how the civil rights movement affected her now and how it's changed the world and there on her paper lay the words, "I wouldn't be here."  She explained her interracial parents and how we wouldn't have been allowed to marry then.  When your kids are making observations like that, it just makes you take notice in a different way. 

I sat with some dear women friends this week laughing and carrying on and the conversation turned to the race of my children and some of our experiences as a family and I know these women love my family.   They love my children.  They love my husband and me.  Some said they don't think their kids see color.  Some said it isn't an issue anymore.  Some said they never hear about race stuff around here.  And they don't.  Not because it doesn't exist, but because it's not on their radar.  I'm not saying that is bad.  It was just in that same moment, I've realized how far we've come and how far we've yet to go.  Is race WAY less of an issue than it used to be?  Absolutely.  Just in the time since Trevor and I first started dating to now 20 years later, it amazes me at the difference in attitudes.  I am just saying there is an aspect of being white that brings a privilege to it that is hard to understand.  And by privilege I mean you don't have to concern yourself of the things of race.  You may not, for instance, notice the truck ahead of you in the carpool line with a white power sticker on it.  You may not have ever had a child come home and say so and so said they can't play with me because I'm brown.  You may not have had to think about what people think when your sons walk through the neighborhood someday. You may have never had your child in the 2000's referred to as a 'Negro.'

For the most part, our life is protected.  We are surrounded by people that know our family, love our story and cheer my children on.  BUT, it is my job to prepare my children for the world at large.
While I love that my small children refer to themselves as flavors, I am fully aware I am raising black children and equipping them to know there may be times, unjustified or not, that they are perceived a certain way because of it.  One of my dear friends pointed out that my children are just as much white as they are black and while that is genetically true, unless you know me as their mom, people might guess that but society as a whole will label them as black and they are.  I'm okay with that.  It's a beautiful thing.  It should be celebrated and something I am raising them to be proud of.  My rambling point is that not everyone celebrates that.  There have been times in my children's life already when I've heard that they are great at their sport because of their height or their color, not because they work their tail off everyday at it.  There will be times when my boys will be walking through the mall acting silly when they are older and it will intimidate the living daylights of the white lady walking by.  I know this.  I am a white lady.  I get it.  I really do.  There will be that moment that a son will bring my gorgeous brown daughter home and his parents will stop and think what does her color mean to them.  I know that the life experiences, things we see on the news, historical past are engraved on our hearts and that not believing or paying into the stereotypes of our day and time is hard to fight.   But I also know that it is worth that time to take an introspective look at our own hearts and to see what might not be so pretty about it.  To change it.  To teach our children differently.  See color.  It's impossible not to.  Don't teach your children to not see color or differences of any kind.  Teach them to celebrate them.  When my children notice a child with special needs, I don't shush their questions.  I answer them fully and honestly and we talk about how beautiful our differences can be or how cool it is that this child is just like us in so many ways. 

When you silence a child's questions about differences, it teaches them that it is shameful.  It's not.  I've seen parents turn three shades of red and apologize for questions about the color of my children or how I look the way I do and they the way they do.  Don't be embarrassed.  Don't be ashamed.  Say that is how God put this family together.  Isn't that crazy cool?  Isn't it awesome that we can look different on the outside but have hearts that want the same things.  Isn't it something worth celebrating that this little girls hair is tightly curled and yours lays perfectly straight the color of the sun.  Isn't it beautiful that this little boy smiles at the same things you do too but his skin is the color of the football you're playing with.  It may sound juvenile.  It may sound simple.  But it really is.  We are all God's children.  We are all different.  We are all of value and worth.  

I am the white momma to five black children.  Married to a handsome black man.  Is that something I set out to do like the people on Jerry Springer?  No, God brought me my husband and he happened to be this gorgeous Jamaican.  At many times in our lives we have even more children living in our home and I've gotten the how great you are for doing this and I've heard the comments from others not knowing I am the momma or married to a black man, those comments that say, we are white so we agree on this, or we are white so it's okay for me to share this with you.  The joke that they think is funny and turns the knife in my heart. You would be shocked at the things people think they can say to another just because of that. 

I guess all this rambling is to just make you take a second to look at your heart....to be intentional about talking with your children about race and what it means to them, what they see in their everyday life about it.  My daughter comes home from school talking about her Hispanic friend and how she loves to hear her talk Spanish to her on the phone with her momma or a group of Hispanic friends at school speaking Spanish to one another but I can assure you across town the same experience is a negative for someone...that they don't know why they can't speak English or are they illegal or deserve to be here or or OR.   My two young daughters looked at a boy walking with braces on his legs and crutches this weekend and while I said it isn't polite to stare I also pointed out how we sometimes take for granted how easy it is to walk from one place to the next and how this boy I bet doesn't and how that experience of his life has probably shaped some pretty cool qualities in him.  My dear friend just adopted a son who is missing a hand.  My kids weren't thrown off by it.  One just simply stated look how God made him, momma.  Those differences were celebrated.  My children respond to differences with a beautiful simplicity and acceptance because we are very intentional about it in our home.  Can you imagine how beautiful life would be if everyone were!?  I was raised in an all white home.  Differences were celebrated.  I was taught that.  It made me who I am.  It probably created the family I have.  It has opened up my world to a beauty far too many people don't see.  I guess I just want you to see it too.  To introduce your children to a world where the love of Jesus and unity with others is what matters.  To live fully in the sea of diversity and not to be afraid of it. 

I'm swimming in the sea and it is the most amazing view of what heaven will be like.  For that I am thankful. 




4 comments:

Jenny Wiggins said...

Jen,
My nephews are also black and I can relate to everything you are saying. However much I wish it didn't matter to everyone I meet, I know in my heart, that there are times when people say different things around me than they would if I weren't in the room or part of the conversation.

I know why my sister doesn't move closer to me. I know why she is defensive at times. But I also know that we all have choices and God allows us to freely make those choices. I know that if I would have grown up somewhere else, I too may have black children. The most important thing for me is that my nephews, my sister or her husband, never, ever feel like that because of me or my family. I only have control over me and my house.

I hope my words and most importantly, my actions, are a testimony to others. As an adult I have learned to step back before I open my mouth and spew out words that The Lord tells me I can't take back. Although it is difficult at times, keeping my mouth shut until I can come up with a godly response is far easier than being sorry for what I said, even if I feel like someone deserves it.

You are correct in your views on this topic, but The Lord knows your heart and he is giving you the opportunity to be a light to others. So, 'Shine bright like a diamond' no pun intended ;-)

Kari said...

Thank you for sharing your story and for linking to mine.

Kimberly Swingle said...

Thank you for sharing this piece of your heart. Mind if I share it?

Jen said...

Am I honored you asked. Of course.