Racism and Mirrors

* Please note, if you are sensitive to language or word triggers, you will find several in this piece. Only posted with the intention to have the reader understand the severity & hurt that can be caused by carelessly using words that have been destructive in the racial divide for so many years.

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I was born & raised in a tiny area of NW AL. 17 years ago, when I was 26, I packed up & headed to the SW FL coast.

I was always meant to leave there, knew it from the time I was a teenager. I assumed relocating to a larger, more diverse city would be a challenge, but what I wasn’t prepared for was a cultural melting pot that didn’t exist in my hometown’s safe bubble.

My small town was primarily segregated, as far as, housing & hanging out on the weekend with friends. There’s always been what locals coined the ‘black part of town.’ That’s where the former black school was located when my dad grew up, before they merged blacks & whites during his high school years. Most integrated housing when I lived there was in housing projects or rental assisted apartments.

I think about the integration when my dad was in high school. This was only a handful of years before I was born. Generally speaking, we aren’t talking about division & hatred that had happened in the 1700’s. Those experiences of his youth are still very fresh on the minds & the hearts of those who actually lived them out.

Men & women of color who are my parents ages aren’t living in fear & caution to what they see today because they’re recycling stories from ancestral slavery. It’s the re-living & identification of events they’ve seen fester up & ooze with poison in their own past. They live through the lens of racist reality. A reality where hate, judgment, torment, death, shame, ridicule, imprisonment, & more was alive & active. The whites of that period, many known as being strong Christians of the 60’s backed up these atrocities through the church. Stating that blacks were an abomination of God, solely because of skin color.

When I was a child, I can remember roughly around the age of 5 or 6 being the starting point of hearing the word niggar & continuing throughout my life. I heard the word more times than I can tell you. Oh, it was no big deal, it’s just “a word” that people say. “But, they say it about themselves in rap songs & when they talk to each other all the time,” they’d say. However, the word was never spoken as just a word in conversation. There was always such force & sharpness when I heard it. It never came out from a place of casualness or general conversation with no offensive tone: “Oh hey Susie, I just had lunch with my new friend the other day, she is such a nice niggar. I love spending time with her.” This was not just “a word” with a soft tone of voice or flowery insertion into a conversation. There was always a reduction of worth or a teeth grinding that held hands alongside this word.

Many have claimed non-racial or even joking intentions when confronted with using N word, usually to comb over ignorance & embarrassment, I guess. Please be warned, but being white, I would hear things like, “Stupid niggar, thug niggar, can’t trust a niggar or he/she is really decent to be a niggar.” And there’s even more that I can’t type out because it’s too uncomfortable to read or speak about. This is not a word in my vocabulary & it turns my stomach when anyone uses it.

In most white circles this is what you would hear, especially when people were fired up or argumentative about something that hadn’t gone their way or they may have been offended over, regarding people of color. It was worse & peaked more during my middle & high school years. I have been able to avoid in my adult years what my youth didn’t allow me. I bring these things to the surface now because I can. Also, many still trapped in this world of their racism, don’t even recognize or call it that. I tell you that & much more because most white people won’t.

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When I moved to SW FL 17 years ago, I was floored with the stereotype that moved with me. My 1st job here was at a prominent Ophthalmologist & Lasik Surgery Office. The owner was Jewish. There were 3 Jewish, 1 Asian, & 1 Indian specialist on board. The 1st thing each of them asked me when I was introduced & came on staff, especially after hearing my thick accent & where I was from, “Do you have a problem working with diverse backgrounds or people of color? Are the people from your state really as hate filled & racist as we’ve always heard them to be?” I was absolutely floored.

Over time I realized what a melting pot this city is & how much at 1st it scared me; ignorance & circumstances of learned fear that had started in my zip code when I was young had planted that seed in my mind.

Growing up we only had 1 Jewish family in my entire school. Maybe 2 Asian kids. Rarely any Hispanic families. And the black kids were fine by everyone as long as they a) excelled at sports & brought us titles b) brought the dance hype at pep rallies c) didn’t try to date the white girls d) stayed on their side of town. *I even remember a black teen wasn’t allowed to enter the door of the prom his Senior Year, my Freshman Year, because he had a white date on his arm. Flat out refused entry to his Senior Prom & threatened.*

Many may disagree with me, but during those years that’s exactly how it was & precisely how many of the parents, educators, & leaders viewed those of color, mainly black, in our school system & town. I don’t live there now, so I speak on behalf of the time period when I did reside there, which totaled 26 years.

I was put in my place many times in the 1st year I lived here in SW FL. Some of the phrases I had adopted growing up were just sayings to me. I repeated them because I was used to the words being recycled in a “harmless” way- I was an accidental racist, I guess. I knew better than to use the N word, but I was literally clueless some of the other things I had repeated my entire life were crafted phrases meant to degrade other races. They always were spoken with a joking tone within a circle of people I trusted, so who knew? I do not lack intelligence, but what I did lack growing up was exposure & communication to anything outside the dynamic I was being raised to know.

Phrases used back then, “Trying to Jew someone down, calling a spade a spade, people piled in a car like a bunch of Mexicans,” and many more. I am thankful I had people of many racial ethnicities who cared about me & my lack of know, to point out my then stupidity. I was flabbergasted & I was extremely embarrassed, but I was thankful to have honest people surrounding me, so I started to listen.

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When we arrived here in FL my son, 19 now, was a then 2 year old. He, like my current 6 year old daughter, was never raised to see color. They are/were raised to see people. It’s amazing how they genuinely love when the home is kept free of divisive language & their worlds are immersed in multi-cultural experiences.

His school, now hers, always holds cultural festivals, where they introduce one another to everyone’s heritage. Always equality. He started playing football in the 4th grade. He was too tall & big for the mostly white & very expensive, Pop Warner Leagues. The only people that would take him in were the Redskins Football League, located right in the middle of what local white people call, The Hood. 

He played from 4th-8th grade & we were absolutely the minority being white. I learned really quickly that 1st year what being in the minority felt like, not from fear, but discomfort. I had never been the one completely on the outside. Many embraced me & many didn’t. I also learned quickly from my time there, that the divide between races still existed/exists because hurt & profiling hasn’t been resolved or healed. Only passed off from one generation to the next.

I had many people, white of course, always ask me, “Are you not afraid to be out there? Those people are thugs. I hear they’ve pulled guns at football games & they fight a lot. The police are always there.” My answer was, “No, I am not afraid,” because I wasn’t. And with that lack of fear, I put my white kid on that practice field 5 days a week & every Saturday for 4 years.

Several times a month I served inside the hot concession stand with the black moms & grandmom’s. I got to know them, they knew me & we cared about each other. They respected me because I listened & they knew I craved the changes they do. More than anything my son & I got to hear stories, see struggles & witness truth from a community that we otherwise would’ve gained our knowledge from by watching the news or listening to assumptions from other people- which are both wrong continuously.

Those years not only toughened my son, but it caused him to see that not everyone had it like he did in life. Now look, I was a young single mom once. When he was born I sought assistance from the government: food stamps, WIC, rental assistance & Medicaid. I worked hard to give him & us the life we have now, but I’ve seen many people of color who work just as hard & the doors of opportunity not fly open as easily for them, as some did for me in my climb up the ladder.

If you don’t think being young, white, blonde, attractive & asserting leadership doesn’t help you get a foot in the door, many times over women of color who are actually qualified where you are NOT, then you my friend are sadly mistaken. I even watched my assistance applications get pushed to the front many times, merely based on the fact I knew people. Waiting lists back then were long & it broke my heart knowing we jumped people who’d been waiting much longer for the help we were all entitled to receive.

I can only imagine what that system looks like today, 20 years later.

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My son saw the love that so many of those boys from his youth league had for the sport of football. I overheard them say for many years, “It was their way out of their lives; out of this town.” Many gave it their all. Some had it better at home than others & some had it bad. I had never seen kids that poor or looked over, not in the US.

I bought gear & donated it with what extra monies I had when I could. As Team Mom I always trying to raise funds for the program & I found out how hard it was to get white, successful businesses to support & sponsor this primarily black, youth league. I couldn’t understand why there was such a withhold of investment & mentorship from those that could lift up a community of importance & help raise up the next generation. There were so many smart & talented young men.

Through that league & rolling into JV & Varsity, 8 years I served as a football Team Mom. I learned in high school many of the boys were regularly hungry & the pre-game meals were usually their dinner, as school lunch their only meal of the day.

My son was on an accelerated college tract in high school, know as the I.B. (International Baccalaureate) Program. It’s the saving grace for that particular high school. It’s strategically located right in the center of the white people’s Hood. Ironically, my husband has been teaching there for almost 20 years. If it were not for this accelerated program not only would the school crumble, but many kids in that low income area would not be exposed to that type of advanced public education & college scholarship potential. Teachers like my husband have given their all to supporting & mentoring so many of the youth that have been forgotten about, will have a chance upward. And I say forgotten until a news stories of negativity arises, then comes the spotlight.

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After graduation & when my son chose a college, he also had to choose his dorm roommate; a fellow high school friend who is Sri Lankan. On appearance his friend’s skin is very dark. I will tell you in honesty I worried about my son’s choice. Not because of who he was personally, but because I feared what I saw on the news at that time. What if they were out one night & they encountered the type of police who profile? Encountered a group of belligerent racists? How would that turn out for my white son & his dark friend?

When I was pre-teen my mother married a man who was younger than her. He was also mixed & generally darker skinned, with ethnic hair, so he was always assumed more black than white. I had people pass me in the hallways in middle school & tell me my mother was a niggar lover. In 7th grade, I had a Guidance Counselor call me into her office & tell me my mother was going to burn in hell because she was married to a black man. My stepdad was beat up & robbed as he walked home from work one night because he was in a relationship with my mom & her white daughters. I may not personally face racism due to my own skin, but I’ve had to endure its repercussions by love & association- that’s why I worried for my son.

He came home for summer from his 1st year of college, 2016, & several of his high school friends did also. They hadn’t seen one another in a long time & devoted the 1st few months home to reconnecting. One random week night they were in the neighborhood of one of his best friends. It’s a wealthy area. Around 9 pm they were bored & decided to take a walk through the neighborhood. It wasn’t too long afterwards a police officer saw them walking down the sidewalk & decided to stop. 4 males, all tall & buff (My son alone is 6 ft 4).

This likely wouldn’t have been as interesting of a scenario had it merely been 4 white 18 year old males walking along in a wealthy, mostly white neighborhood. I imagine the cop would’ve kept going. Actually, I know he would have. My son has been in those communities & our own, many times & has received a hand wave or a side eye glance, but this was different. Different because his company was 2 black & 1 Hispanic friend.

They were all stopped, warned, silenced, & all 4 made to sit on the sidewalk, hands visible on the head, for what? WALKING. The cop would only allow my son to be the spokesperson for the group. He immediately dispatched other cops AND a helicopter which hovered overhead beaming a flashlight down on the 4 of them for ….. WALKING. No calls had been made complaining, they were not drinking or smoking, not being loud & intrusive, they were ….. WALKING. Walking in an area where 3 of them looked out of place.

My son kept pressing & asking why they had been stopped & why they were all forced on the ground? Why were they being held? Only to be brushed off & silenced by this officer. They were asked a string of questions & then interrogated: Where did they live? All 4 from nice neighborhoods. Why were they together & WALKING at 9 pm? Because they were home from college & bored- wanted to get some air. Where did they go to college & what was their major? My son, Engineering Major at a major university. Friend 1, Division 1 football player, Biomedical Engineer Major at a major university. Friend 2, Mechanical Engineering Major at a major university & Friend 3, Psychology Major at a major university.

My son recalls the officer being severely agitated after this ridiculous line of questioning. He apparently thought he’d caught a bunch of hoodlums in the nice part of town, when in fact he realized he’d just dug himself into a profiling ditch with no probable cause & was violating their rights. These weren’t hoodlums, they were 4 educated young men with great backgrounds home for the summer.

You’d think that would’ve ended it, but no. They were questioned on their awards & accolades in high school, their interests, where they held summer jobs, you name it. This drill went on for over an hour. For WALKING. None of this was logged or recorded by the officer. No report filed, no reasons given for said inquiring, except a string of excuses & a warning to go home for …. WALKING. They were unable to talk, move, stand, or take their hands from view this entire time.

Let’s just say for the heck of it, even though they were doing nothing wrong, upon seeing the cop & knowing the fear that resonates with people of color these past few years, that one of these boys would have ran, simply from fear. Or refused to sit down, because in all legal honesty, they didn’t have to sit down. There was no probable cause, there was no right to seat them & treat them that way, so what if my son & his friends would have actually exercised their LEGAL RIGHTS & not been bossed around like children? To have plead the 5th, asked for a lawyer or pulled out a cell phone to record? How do you think this situation might have ended? I absolutely shudder to think. I honestly before God shudder & I fear they all would’ve been a news headline.

And how would locals have reacted? “They should’ve known better than to run. They should’ve just been quiet. He shouldn’t have reached for his wallet suspiciously after being asked. Why not just do what the officer said? Being out at 9 pm, they MUST have all been up to no good. Nobody runs unless they are guilty of something.”

That’s what we hear every single time a mistake is made out of fear or a life that didn’t have to be taken is taken. There are wonderful officers on the beat, I acknowledge those, but I am not talking about them right now. I am talking about a broken system & a broken view from the eyes of those who still do not get what I am saying.

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I think the most racist thing a person of no color can do is to assume they have no racist tendencies. Whether the thoughts, words, or opinions are learned, inherited, or again, even accidental because of ignorance, we all need to stop & realize why certain things re: people of color agitate us or “get under our skin.”

That’s a practice that I started putting into play a few years ago, with ALL people: male, female, colored, non-colored, Christian, non, etc. Especially where the Internet has woven its very deceitful web. It was hard to fathom why certain things or topics, particular events or wording, even behaviors & opinions of others would bother me so much. This evaluation to start with self & work from the inside out, revealed a lot about me personally & still does. Finding out that much of this irritant I was carrying around had way more to do with me than it did with the latest headline or how people were reacting to it. Anger has a root. Until you dig that up you won’t see past the emotions you have excused yourself to live in. You will always see yourself as the offended, rather than an offender. Even in silent rage.

As a church & as human beings, we owe one another this type of self evaluation & exercise, first. I realize blog posts & articles like this aren’t very comfortable for some. Right now someone is reading this with a defense system in play. Ready to respond with a “But they are more racist than we’re accused of being….” or the “I’m not racist, BUT…” & the world famous, “I have __ friends of color, so naturally I am not that way.”

You can’t listen or look at the true issues that exist in our world if your fingers are in your ears & your hands are covering your eyes. If your buts & your excuses have smothered out your potential to examine yourself & have the humility to realize that you may be wrong; you may have been wrong about certain issues or people your entire life, but you never knew because your inner circle or family is just as blind & deaf as you.

Then there’s the reality that you do know. You know to disregard others & spew absurdities about human beings especially in Christ’s name, really is sinful. It ISN’T part of the Great Commission. That’s the moment in time you have to admit to yourself & God that you know what James 4:17 says, that it is to be taken literally & lived out, but you just simply don’t want to do it.

People clap & nod heads in a conference or church service upon hearing that we’re all chosen- holy, seen, loved, included- ALL, but are the same to scoff at communities in crisis.

God examines hearts, ALL hearts. That should be terrifying to many of us, not a comfort. He has firm instructions about the inclusion & care of foreigners, the oppressed, marginalized, poor, widows, orphans, spiritually lacking, slaves, etc. But, we’d rather twist 1 or 2 verses out of context to fit our lifestyle narratives vs the intended application of the letters or writings as a whole; to avoid sacrifice, living outside our comfort zones, & actually becoming Christlike. A selfish nation so petrified that someone is going to come after the little empire they’ve built.

Being a servant like Jesus sounds amazing when it makes us feel good about ourselves- then we can post our deeds online & brag about how giving & humble we are, but the true test of a servant is when someone actually treats you like one. When you really do have something to lose for the sake of someone else. That’s Christ.

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As I wrap up I want to leave you with an article excerpt I read a few mornings ago. It was so timely to this post. I was left so irritated I haven’t been able to shake it for many days now. One brief comment from a 24 year old young, white woman screamed so loud to the tone of what I am trying to drive home here, that it deafened me.

The article comes from Florida where a large, black church & a smaller, struggling white church decided to merge together & cover 2 campuses. It took them work & time. They had to compromise on a lot: music styles, tithes, discomfort, etc. but what emerged from this decision to be the actual integrated church vs the segregated church is beautiful & motivating. Of course, there was opposition & reasons some congregants felt leaving the melting of these 2 dynamics seemed fitting. I obviously couldn’t wait to hear what some of these reasons would be, so I have posted the only comment given, as example.

Before you read it, & this is for my white readers, if her words don’t propel you into the type of discomfort that screams stupidity & embarrassment you may need to take a moment to figure out this Christian journey. To do the research into biblical geography & racial dynamics- to understand Jesus, His disciples, & any other heroes of our OT/NT verses, who were in fact of color. Biblical locations still exist, under different names. Many of the peoples who are protested today in our current state of the nation, come from the same demographic as our biblical mentors.

The white-ish, olive skinned Jesus with his soft perm, blue eyes, & well manicured beard, along with those very white Hebrews we’ve viewed our entire lives in Sunday School, arrived on the scene in artistic depictions during the Middle Ages. Your mind’s eye has been clouded.

This is what happens when a government becomes the lord over a people. The reformation of modern Christianity allowed white Europeans over time, to control what people saw & what they were taught. What’s better than a God, a Christ, & a book full of characters that relate to its followers by clothing them in a dominant skin appearance instead of spirit? And there we have the superiority, entitlement, slavery, & idea that dark skin was lower & less entitled. Over time & even just years ago during the Civil Rights Era, we also know people justified their racist behavior by using God’s Word as grounds for anything but holy; to assume prejudice is acceptable.

I understand that people of all races carry unnecessary racism. I understand as a woman there are still way too many limitations & prejudices for us. But, that’s not the basis of this essay. So if you’re still sitting puffed up in the, “but they…” frame of mind, you’ve missed the mark again. This post is to assist you in identifying that much of the way you feel & believe has been inherited & adopted into you as normal or justified. It’s neither- it’s wrong & it’s sinful.

My prayer is that at least one person will step back & say, “That’s me. I never saw it before. I’ve spent my life being nice on the outside, but if people heard what I said in my thoughts or my secret places, they’d be devastated. I truly can be rotten to the core.” Guess what? God hears it. You aren’t hiding the truth from Him & from the overflow of the heart the fingers type, the mouth speaks, & the lives live what is truth to themselves.

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Above mentioned quote from the Washington Post Article:

At first, many white members of Ridgewood left rather than remain in the new merged church.

Ashlyn Barreira, 24, said she and her family tried attending Shiloh but were angered early on when they found Shiloh members sitting in pew seats they had saved in Orange Park.

“I will be honest, yeah, it was kind of a racial thing. We’re not racist,” she said. “It’s almost like black people are like, ‘Haha, we are taking over something y’all once owned, because white people failed or whatever.’ ”

She quickly quit the integrated church. “It just wasn’t my thing. I didn’t feel God there.”

As I leave you with the comment from the article I’ll give you one piece of advice, “Don’t be an Ashlyn where your character & God’s will are woven together. There is a call & an expectation for each of us. We all bleed, laugh, cry, feel hunger, reproduce, & function internally in the same language, ethnicity, & tone of skin. If my children or my spouse needed an organ there’s a reason black, white, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, & any one else we could list are a possibility of compatibility. The internal isn’t determined by color.

You can refute this post if you’d like, but if you are a believer in a Creator God who chose us & intricately made & designed us into existence for a purpose & a reason, then step back & confess- NO one on this planet looks different standing in their bodies, absent of skin.

We as a sinful, fleshly people have decided who we will accept, who we will allow inside our gates, & who is worthy enough to sit at the table. Mankind has decided the fate of others, where God says, “ALL are worthy through Jesus & to those much is given, much is required & expected. (Luke 12:48).” How will anyone who doesn’t know Him, know Him, if the bulk of our culture denies others?

Jesus says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples,” John 13:35.

I encourage you to pull back from the noise & the masses. To start thinking for yourself instead of following fads of outrage. Find people who don’t think like you & try understanding their side, listen to their stories, & pray for people like our sister Ashlyn.

To feel black people are taking over your church & God isn’t present there because you cannot sit in your regular pew, exposes much of what is broken in our nation & our churches. Maybe it’s not your pew seat, maybe it’s a job position, a scholarship, a sports opportunity, a place in line- maybe you got booted from your entitled expectation & like her you feel like THEY are “taking over & God isn’t present.”

It’s the moment you have to pause & rather than saying, “We’re not racist, I am not racist, I have some black friends, but…” There is no but. There’s always time to own up to the fact that maybe you aren’t racist on purpose, but your behavior speaks differently on your behalf.

The tone of our country right now is full of rage. Many people, especially white, feel as if something has been stolen from them & they’ve felt that way for a long time. When you have someone or many someone’s come along screaming in unison that our personal lives look the way they do because other’s are taking from us or coming after us, is not only shameful & absurd, but it’s fear mongering. It allows the people to become puppets of a government they think has their interest at heart. If we trust each other less, we’ll lean into their care more & pass the baton of power.

Outcry feels good because it takes the spotlight off of self responsibility. Blame & rage aren’t fruits of the spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, & Self Control are- there is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22,23). They will be known by their fruit(s). (Matthew 7:16). THIS is the fruit Jesus means- you are called to it & identified by it, here on earth & by way of the throne room.

Humanity should be our favorite charity, because one day we or our loved ones may be on the receiving end of it. You do not know what lies ahead in this life.

I truly believe in the younger ones climbing up life’s ladder right now. My son’s college aged generation & the one my elementary daughter is blossoming through. You will find your agents of change & peacemakers, your hands & feet, & your unifiers, when you find a generation who looks at the mistakes of the past & does everything in their bones not to repeat them.

I lay my hope there because I see who is at home raising many of them up. Who is trying in their own zip codes to lay that path to healing. And I pray in my lifetime for a front row seat to a revival of people. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty & justice for all. Not as a slogan repeated like robots during a gathering, but a mantra implemented into our character & daily living. A church that will resemble what God’s plan for the new Jerusalem will look like when the roll call is finished.

Let it be, Lord. Let it be.

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You can read the full article of the Florida black & white church merge at this link: https://wpo.st/r_pc2

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