Context is important. Sometimes, you get dropped into a person’s story, and you’re not exactly sure how you got there. Or, for that matter, how they got there. So, let me tell you first that I was born in 1964, the same year the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. My first memories are of life in New Jersey, where I lived with my family until, when I was ten years old, we moved to a town in Michigan that bordered Detroit.
My parents both grew up in Virginia, “Below the Mason-Dixon line,” as my mother used to say. Every summer and every Christmas, our family of four made the trip from wherever we were living, to visit my grandparents in Virginia. In second grade, my New Jersey elementary school was closed down and I and my classmates were bussed to a school on the other side of town. There is a newspaper article with a picture of second-grade me, along with a bunch of adults and a few other children, taking part in (what I remember to be) a peaceful protest against busing; a protest which, apparently, was unsuccessful.
In Michigan, for the first year and a half of my high school career, I attended the public high school, where my (mostly) black and (a few) white classmates and I cranked up the volume on the boom box and sang “Le Freak” at the tops of our voices as the big yellow bus we were riding careened around the corner before dropping us off at the school’s front door. Then, in the middle of tenth grade, my parents transferred me to a small, private, Christian school and my first, real introduction to racism. I was probably lucky (or naive) to have made it that long without realizing I was being treated differently because of the color of my skin. There was one other black person in my class in that small, private Christian school. He was a boy so, naturally, everyone tried to fix us up with one another. Because, as our classmates never failed to explain to us, now there was finally someone at the school this poor guy could date.
He and I became friends, but that was more a function of solidarity than romance. There was no romance. We went to the senior banquet together (no prom because, you know, Christian school and all, and a prom would mean dancing), simply because there was no other option. And, we were each voted Best Dressed in our class.
I made it through that school experience, a firm believer in public education and relieved to once again have an educational experience that included black people. At Michigan State, I navigated toward the black students and joined black clubs and found deep kinship and friendships of significance and meaning. There wasn’t much talk about inter-racial dating and the Greek system on campus was clearly divided along racial lines (that’s still true, yes?). Many of my friends were pledging one of the historically black sororities and fraternities on campus, and many of the black organizations hosted dances on the weekends to raise money for their community outreach projects and to keep their chapters running. In college, I was immersed in black culture and community, and I was thriving in many ways.
At the same time, my church, and stories about my family history, and H’s family were all serving to instill in me a deep pride in my heritage and a love for the color of my skin and the kink in my hair and the curve of my hips and the beat of my soul. It was a slow and growing passion, just sort of simmering beneath the surface at first, quietly questioning the images of beauty sold to me in magazines and on television screens and in the movie theater. But, there was more. My family history told me I come from a long line of strong and wise and thoughtful and faith-filled people. Not perfect. No one is trying to infuse this with anything more than what it is and was. I looked around me, and there could be no doubt: We were (and are) survivors and entrepreneurs and faith leaders and educators and nurses and doctors and more.
I read Jet and Ebony and Essence, from cover-to-cover, whenever a new issue made its way within my grasp. And, if a movie with black people in it was released, I forked over my hard-earned cash to see it. It was solidarity. It was support. Back then, in a movie with mostly white actors, if there happened to be a black person with speaking lines, everyone knew that black character was not going to make it to the end of the movie. Some how, some way, that character would get killed off before the movie was halfway done. But, in a movie or television show with black people as the main characters, we stood a better chance. Not stellar. Not redemptive, necessarily. But a better chance of making it all the way through the thing.
Now, you and I? Here in this space? We have had some deeply meaningful, honest and true, hard and tender conversations about race. And I have talked with you about race mostly as it relates to the church. And the Church. My primary calling, as I understand it, is to the North American church, and primarily to the white people in those churches—locally, and nationally. Most of the people, for whatever reason, who engage the conversation here are white, and I am embracing the calling God’s given me and the people he sends. There have been a few times I thought I was done, here. I thought I’d said my last word on the matter. At least, I hoped I had. But yesterday, H and I went to see Selma, and I could not find my way through all the emotions that surfaced. Even this morning, as he and I rode together in the car, and sitting here, typing this out, my heart is doing a little fluttery thing and I keep being reminded of someone in the bible who says their heart had turned to wax. I don’t know if they meant that as a good thing or a bad thing.
This morning, when I was still feeling shaky and lit on fire from somewhere behind my ribcage, H told me I’m not going to escape it. I can’t set it down, as hard as I try. As much as I might want to go quietly into the night, I just can’t. You’ve heard me wrestle with this before. You’ve seen me try to lay it down and just be quiet. But, last night, I went to see Selma, and it shook something awake in me. Or maybe it fanned a flame, or turned on a switch or something. And I want to tell you about it. But, as I sat down to tell you, I realized I needed to try to explain why the movie had such an impact on me. And I can’t do that, without first giving you context.
So, stick with me. I hope you do. I hope you hear my heart. I will try to tell it to you plainly. I will try to get to the point. And, eventually, I hope to make my way to telling you my thoughts about the movie, Selma. I hope you go to see it. I hope you let it get inside your head and in your heart. I hope it shakes something loose for you, too. I pray it does. And I hope you’ll share some of your story here in the comments. We are in this together. Love hopes the best. Sit with me, here at this table, and let’s see what God’s got in store for us. It is better days and warmer nights, of that I’m sure. But that doesn’t mean we’ll bypass the tough stuff. Let’s believe the best about one another, shall we? Let’s keep asking our difficult, embarrassing, potentially offensive questions and let’s end up in a better place than we are now. Because we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. Not as the body of Christ. We cannot keep doing what we’ve been doing and think God is pleased with us.
Some questions for you: What movies have you seen where black people were the main character/s? What impression did those movies give you of black people? In what year or decade were you born? How do you think your birth year impacts your view of the experience of being black in North America? If you attend church, do your church leaders ever talk about race? What do they say? Would you rather not talk about these things?
H is one smart man. Which you knew. But still. H is one smart man.
Thanks for this, D. Grateful for you.
I’ve got my listening ears on, Deidra.
Patricia W Hunter
I’ve enjoyed several movies with Denzel Washington as the main character (The Book of Eli is the most recent one) and The Preacher’s Wife with Whitney Houston is one of my favorites. I was born in 1950, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Sidney Poitier was a big deal when I was in high school – just about the time public schools became integrated. I’ve got deep southern roots, but if anyone in my immediate or extended family was racist, I never knew it. Interesting to note, however, is the fact that Cornelia Wallace (wife of Alabama Gov. Wallace) was one of my parents’ friends. BEFORE she was married to Wallace, she was married to my daddy’s boss and was entertained (and entertaining – she was also a country music singer) in our home. I’m almost embarrassed to tell people that now, but I was never exposed to racist language from my parents or their friends. I do, however, think that my birth year is significant because I experienced segregation. I shopped at stores with separate water fountains and restrooms and I worked in a hospital where black patients were segregated into rooms in the basement with black nurses, and I never understood why. Race has been mentioned in my church, but in passing. It hasn’t been the message topic. Our church is predominately white, but we do have black elders who can preach, and others who are in different positions of leadership. No. I’d rather we DO talk about these things, even if it’s uncomfortable. I’ve been quietly listening. I’m so grateful for you, Deidra. Just wish we could talk face-to-face.
Oh, Denzel. And Sidney, too! Mercy, Patricia!
Do you remember Mrs. Wallace? That is such a fascinating story! Do you think you’ll see the movie? I’m sure you’re aware of Gov. Wallace’s legacy, and the actor who portrayed him did a fabulous job. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about the movie.
Patricia W Hunter
I vaguely remember Cornelia Wallace. She was Cornelia Snively at the time. I do have one photo of her sitting on steps inside my parents’ house during a party. She’s wearing a mink stole and playing the guitar. I’m sure that I will see Selma, but not until it comes out on DVD. The last movie I saw in the theatre was ‘The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe.” =)
I was talking to a friend the other day about when I was coming of age there were so many shows with Black characters on tv that showed the diversity of the Black experience (Martin, Living Single, Cosby Show, In Living Color, Different World, Girlfriends, to name a few). I can’t say the same now and even with films. I was listening to NPR this morning and someone commented that Black actors only get recognition in films when they play a character that it would’ve been impossible for a White actor to play. Had to sit with that for a bit.
I was born in the 80s and I am sure that has had an impact on how I see/experience the world. I’ve always had a diverse group of friends (and family members), but I went to a predominately White college and am currently the only Black person in my division at work. So I think and talk about race a lot.
I attend a racially diverse church and I made a choice to seek that out. I needed my son to see that diversity in our faith community and see that as normal. I’m a new Christian and that’s something that I’ve been very intentional about. My pastor (White male) talked about Ferguson one Sunday and we prayed, but that’s about it. I’d love to see more conversation about how race impacts our community. Thanks for this post!
So many good shows, Laila! I loved Girlfriends, and now I really like Traci Ellis Ross on Black-ish. Do you watch that one? What do you think of it?
Are you having conversations about race with your co-workers, or with other people in your life? I’d love to know more about that. And, I’m also curious about what motivated you to seek out a diverse congregation? So many questions…
I saw on fb last night that you were going to see this and I have been waiting to hear your thoughts! (And apparently, I will wait a bit longer… but that’s ok because it means you have something powerful to say and you are allowing it to works its’ way through you. I know it will be worth the wait, my friend!)
As far as your questions… I was born in 1970. I remember watching Roots on tv at 6 or 7 and thinking, This should mean more to me, but it was so far removed. The movies I remember with black people are probably closer to the 80s era… Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, tv shows like The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince, A Different World, etc… It was Purple Rain that shifted things in me and I can’t even explain why or what – I just know I felt different after seeing it. I wrote about it last year in a #GoingThere post that for a season I had some ‘suitors’ shall we say and my parents’ were less than happy about it. I wrote that now as an adult, I can see that they should have been more concerned that these men (who were, at the time, actual MEN and not boys!) were too old, not too black. But it was the color of their skin that concerned them most. And yet still, to this day – they would argue that they are not racist. They fight for equal rights and civil rights and affirmative action… and yet, down deep… there is still a divide.
I think being born in the decade and area that I grew up in has impacted the way I think greatly… but not necessarily in a great way. I was (/am still) niave and ignorant about the big picture of things and so while I never want to stick my foot in my mouth, or be offensive… I am thankful for these conversations. I need them. We all need them.
Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know!
I grew up in a predominantly white area… our small town is multicultural but still very much segregated. Race, in all of the churches we have regularly attended, has rarely (as in, almost never) been a topic of discussion. Even when we sought out a multi-cultural church… which is hard to come by around here, it’s not brought up.
I am looking forward to seeing Selma… and hearing your thoughts on it!
Love you bunches, my friend!
A Prince fan, huh? Isn’t that something? Well, Prince can be pretty convincing. 😉
What about your friends, and people outside of your family? What was their reaction to your suitors? It is so tough to face our prejudices, no matter who we are. And, especially when we work and advocate and speak up, I think it’s even harder. It’s a journey for everyone.
I do hope I get around to talking about Selma, but if you go, please drop by and let us know what you think.
Oh yes… a Prince fan. I believe you could have ended that sentence with pretty. 😉
From what I remember, it was not an issue with friends or siblings at all… and my parents tried to be laid back and cool about it but when it came down to it, they couldn’t handle it. (For better or worse, they were always concerned about what others’ thought and I think that was a big issue!) To be fair, they were both SO much ‘better’ (for lack of a better word!) than their folks… I think it is like Parenting… each generation – as long as they try – can do better than the last… I think we purpose to do things differently in certain areas than our parents but it has to be more than just hoping and wanting to be different… we have to be equipped to actually DO different things to get different results!
And that is why I love that you take us into these conversations because if we are going to be the change that is needed… if we are going to truly do things differently, we have to do more than just hope and pray… we have to be equipped. And I think a huge issue has been that so many (myself included) didn’t even know that change was still not coming!
I hope you get around to talking about your thoughts on Selma too… I will be sure to Comment or Vox ya after I get to see it!
I loved The Color Purple, The Butler, Remember the Titans, The Help, Roots, etc. I remember reading and then watching Beloved to prep for a literature class in college… and the mother murdering her own babies to keep them safe was/is haunting even today. I was born in 1979… raised in predominantly white churches and schools. As a young child we did attend a church that was a beautiful mix. There was one black man who sang like Larnell Harris. I loved to listen to him.
Most of my schooling was also a bunch of white kids with the exception of the black boys bused in from the local juvenile detention center. Even in college I only had one black friend…. and so many of those sheltered evangelical republican white kids told her she was the first black person they had ever met.
I am drawn to black literature and movies, history. I loved the books by Taylor Branch on the civil rights movement. There were people, stories, and heroes in those pages I had never heard of in my lilly white schooling and life.
AND race was never discussed in the churches of my growing up and grownup years. My dad is a pastor and I have witnessed his struggles to get the white folk to wake up to their racial complacency and neglect and denial.
We moved to inner city Baltimore in October and I am feeling very white. I watch my kids playing with the neighborhood kids and feel hope.
Such great movies, Jessica. Wow. The Color Purple. I could watch that over and over and over again, and see something new in it every time. But, when Nettie comes back to Celie? Even now, typing this, I’m getting tears in my eyes. But, this will always be my favorite line, ever: “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the colour purple in a field and don’t notice it.” I think of that line, every time I’m having a conversation with someone about being colorblind. 🙂
Tell me what you’re doing in Baltimore. Who are the people in your life there? What is your dream for yourself there?
Other than Finding Forrester, I can’t think of a full length movie involving blacks. I use clips from that movie to illustrate how scenes work. But I can tell you about videos that have influenced me. Kai Davis’ F*** I look like has spoken to me about how the bar can be set too low, how a person shouldn’t be afraid of reading a book. It challenges me to challenge my students. Adiche’s TED talk about the Single Story is pretty wise too.
I have been working with young people who come from some of the most difficult neighborhoods of Chiraq, er, Chicago for twenty years. I was born in the fifties and was a child during the Civil Rights era. In eighth grade I took a short class based on the book Black Rage. I kept wondering how can I help? But I am a white, farm girl. Then I was called to to be a poet. But the two came together in this work, which hasn’t always been easy. Many of my students are people of faith, have been shot, or held their friends while they bled out. They like sports and singing and business and helping others. Like most kids they don’t like to read but they do like their phones. Sometimes I’m struck silent by their wisdom or the sorrows they’ve lived through already. No child…well don’t get me started.
I think it’s through churches we can start talking to each other. If predominately Caucasian churches and predominately African American churches could hold potlucks that are structured to get people talking, knowing each other as people, we might be able to counter the forces that are dividing us. Oh you are so right that we have to meet each other with forgiveness and keep talking. Blessings…
Oh, Katie! Yes! Kai and Adiche! My goodness! Both so powerful. How did you find them? I’m curious. 🙂
I want to know more about what you do. Tell me, please, what you’re seeing, what you’ve learned, what you’re thinking. Yes. Please. Get started. Here. I’ll help you:
No child should hold their best friend in their arms while they are dying from a gunshot wound. No child should suffer from a gunshot would. My students have told this story way too often. It’s a national shame.
I found Kai when a student shared that video at the end of the semester. I invited kids to share something that means something with the rest of the class. I didn’t know how to respond when I first heard it. But I listened again. That setting the bar low is a real thing and insulting to students’ intelligence. In fact kids like to be challenged and respected. ( I use Kai Davis now now to illustrate voice. “What are you afraid of? To read a book?” (She says something like that. It’s an important message.)
A colleague told me about Adiche. The single story. That applies to all of us–how we think of people simplistically instead of how they are complex. I will probably use her again this semester. (I’m teaching the Dalai Lama’s How to Be Happy in a Troubled World, which is really an amazing book. Now if I can get them to read him!)
I teach developmental composition at Northern Illinois University. The Chance program tries to help students whose education has been less than stellar get ready for a university education. I’ve worked with some amazing people through the years. The last few years the kids have been better students but finances are a terrible issue because financial aid doesn’t cover the cost like it used to. And that 700 – 800 gap is like a million dollars to our students’ parents.
I use a singing bowl to quiet them and to get them writing.
Amen. Today, I watched the extended video of the shooting death of Tamir Rice. The extended footage shows his sister running into the scene, and being stopped, then she’s on the ground, handcuffed, and put in a police car. She never got to her brother’s side. She watched him die from a distance. So gut-wrenching.
Have you read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexandre?
Awful. Tamir Rice’s shooting. I saw his sister not being able to reach him, and being handcuffed. Awful.
No I haven’t read The New Jim Crow. A friend recommended Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy.” I started The Warmth of Other Suns and need to finish it. But it was too painful to read, so I put it down. I get a lot of reality editing my students’ papers…
“Lets keep asking our difficult, embarrassing, potentially offensive questions and let’s end up in a better place than we are now.” from your words.
WOW that is so incredibly challenging… what if we asked and kept asking till someone truly listened. It’s important to talk about it together.
Powerful… thank you… God is using you… to be a voice.
Talking about it is so important, Sharon. The first few conversations are challenging, and sometimes scary. But it’s worth it. And grace is a gift. And love hopes the best.
I love hearing your heart, Deidra, and am already better for it. And this . . “Let’s believe the best about one another, shall we? Let’s keep asking our difficult, embarrassing, potentially offensive questions and let’s end up in a better place than we are now.” This facilitates grace, courage, and hope. Rules of engagement maybe?
I hope so. Something like that. I hope it’s a reflection of Matthew 18, you know? I am confident God’s got something for us, just on the other side of the offense and the awkwardness. If we can find a way to buck up and be there for each other and trust God to walk through with us and get us to the other side, I am convinced we will all be better for it.
Laura Lynn Brown
You and I were born in the same decade. I remember TV shows more than movies — Cosby, of course; Sanford and Son; The Jeffersons; Good Times; Julia (with Diahann Carroll as a single mother). I don’t know that I got my impressions of black people from TV or films, because I always had black classmates, and grew up with black neighbors.
My church leaders seldom if ever talk about race from the pulpit, but for a while one of our white ministers had regular buddy meetings and dialogues about race with a black member, and they blogged about it. We don’t talk about it as much as we could, or should, especially since we are an integrated congregation.
I don’t see a lot of movies, but I’m going to go see this one.
The Cosby Show keeps popping up here, and I want to talk about that one day. I want to talk about Dr. Huxtable and about the Bill Cosby we’re (unfortunately) getting know more about these days, and what that feels like to everyone. But that’s a conversation for a different day. 😉
Mmmm. So much about your comment intrigues me. In good ways. I wonder about your school and your neighborhood. I want to hear more of those stories. Do they seem interesting to you, or is it more like, they were what they were—the life you were living? And that white minister and the black member. Is their blog still out there somewhere? And (I know. So many questions.) your church. What’s it like? What cultures and/or races and languages and ethnicities are represented there?
Laura Lynn Brown
I have to say, I didn’t really know ANY families like the Huxtables, of any color. Some large families, yeah, and some where Mom was smart and levelheaded and Dad could be a buffoon, yeah. But not any that I knew of where both parents had well-paying professional jobs.
They do seem interesting, more now in light of this discussion. And they are, of course, also what they were — the life I was living. I’ll see if I can find that blog for you. And I do want to answer those questions. But not tonight, and maybe not here.
Born: 1975 Lincoln NE. In my world all of the black people were cool: Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, Sidney Portier, LL Cool J, Ice T (I may have been secretly in love), The Cosby Show, A Different World, The Fresh Prince. The list could go on and on. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I had no idea racism existed. I had heard stories of my grandparent, immigrants from Germany in the 50’s, being treated poorly but that was about it. No one spoke negatively about black people in my home. My parents never used slang terms to reference black people. I remember shock and near panic the first time I heard the N word uttered. There were (a few, okay a couple) black kids at school. No big deal. I remember an episode of Fresh Prince that addressed racism and was taken aback at the time. With that said, somewhere along the way adulthood arrived, the school of life happened, reality set in and here I sit. As my husband has often said, “Wow, you were really naive growing up.”
Oh my gosh! That’s perfect, Andrea! I want to know which Fresh Prince episode that was. I’m gonna have to YouTube it. Ha!
As I recall, Carlton was pulled over without cause.
What Kim said, word for word. Thank you, Dee.
I was born just a few years after you. The movie i first remember having a profound effect on me was the one where Denzel W. played Mandela. Can’t remember the name of the movie. I was young and in missions college with many nationalities as my classmates and suddenly a new reality about the world seemed to open up. My church is multi-racial, cultural, -lingual, so it is talked about a lot, but still it seems like we always need to keep pushing the boundaries until we’re all truly on the same page.
Devi Abraham Duerrmeier
Deidra, I rarely comment on your side, even though I regularly read. But it’s these posts on race that always draw me out of the commenting shadows :). I want to participate, so thanks for asking the questions. There is much unresolved tension in my life regarding race though not as it relates to black and white people per se, but as it relates to my own family history in Sri Lanka (we are a minority there). But sometimes thinking through a different set of race relations questions and issues can help the mind and emotions deal with another race issue.. I hope, anyway.
All that to say, your questions! I was born in 1982, to a home with no TV and very few movie opportunities, so I didn’t hardly grow up watching, and if I did, the genres I watched were mostly rom coms, dramas and the occasional film outside of those bubbles, and really only mainstream ones.. The main movies that come to my mind that I watched are Denzel Washington movies (my dad was a huge fan)- The Pelican Brief and Remember the Titans. We connected deeply with stories regarding race and oppression being part of an oppressed minority ourselves, but ironically I wouldn’t say we really identified with black people in real life AT ALL. Honestly though I remember black characters more as the funny sidekick, it seemed like they were there to prop someone else up.. I remember as a teenager actively thinking something along the lines of, “It seems like a black person is there almost just to have a black person there not because they are bringing something unique to it.”
We watched the NBA playoffs though because we were nuts about basketball, so that was the most “black” thing we watched regularly, for about six years – the Michael Jordan years :). So I guess you could say my impression of black people had something to do with – funny, musical, athletic.. but truth be told, was I exposed to black thinkers or black people in deeply feeling roles (outside of the slavery/oppression narrative)? No. I can see how this is damaging in so many ways – the first one being that the only serious thing a black person can talk about is race-related topics. I write that down and think now, that is ridiculous, but there it is. If we don’t consume anything outside of our standard “diet,” we will always think the same way.. Clearly, I need to start reading outside of my bubble.
This is the longest comment I’ve ever left on a site – oh dear – but very quickly, no I haven’t been in churches that actively talked about race-related topics. For what it’s worth, I live in a part of the world with very different race issues (Sweden, now, but before that, Switzerland and Australia). When I lived in Arkansas for eight years, our churches were very very white and rarely talked about race related things. Again, a source of sadness for me now.
Thanks for the opportunity to think and talk, Deidra.
Do they portray the singing?
Holly Solomon Barrett
I went to see Selma on Thursday night, Deidra. The beginning nearly rocked me out of my chair. And the end with that black and white news footage was hard to see through my tears. I was born in 1961 in NC. My dad was a preacher, who often preached gospel meetings in black churches in the eastern part of our state. He also baptized the first interracial couple in a church where he served in Arlington VA in the late 60’s. I never felt threatened or unsafe in these situations with my parents, so the fear and intimidation moved me greatly. In Selma, the mother who held her dying son and then his father at the morgue broke my heart.
This month, I’ve also enjoyed some shows on OWN where survivors of the bus rides and school integration were interviewed. As for movies, I’ve enjoyed Tyler Perry’s movies and would love to hear your take on these films.
Lynn D. Morrissey
Wow, those are a LOT of questions. But I’m glad you asked, and I am glad that you *are* writing about this. Deidra, your comments remind me of those of the prophet Jeremiah when he said (in chapter 20), “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” You cannot either. And you should not. You also remind me of a Black woman at our church who tells me that she believes she is a missionary to our practically all-White church. I’m eager to watch her win our souls to understand those things that we have avoided or simply do not understand or accept about our Black brothers and sisters in Christ…..about anyone with a skin tone that is not white. I have tried to be as honest with you as I know how. I have met you personally. I have read your posts. I have appreciated beyond words your generosity in printing right here on this blog my essay about my beloved elderly Black mentor-in-the-faith, Myrtle Austin. I have lauded your many and true talents, and I have admired you as a person and as a Christian. I really do believe with all my heart that the Lord has called you as an ambassador in Christ for racial reconciliation in the Church. I have tried to engage here at JT from time to time, as honestly as I know how your questions and wrestlings about race. So, in light of all that, this question I pose to you now, at best might seem incongruous, and at worst, insulting. Please know that I mean it as neither; but rather, I ask it, because I fear my own heart–the deep, dark crevices of it that, truthfully, only God knows. Because He also said in the book of Jeremiah that the heart is deceptive. So how can I even know my own heart–I mean really know it in all its ugly intricacies? Ferguson (the event, as it now has become known internationally, rather than the sleepy, little community that I had always known), has shaken up something for *me.* I am trying to explore it and understand it, and even to ask God what I personally can do. And in my USUALLY circuitous way, I bring up Ferguson to say that maybe I am prejudiced, way deep-down lurking somewhere in the folds and crevices of my deceptive heart. I didn’t *think* I was. And rather than repeating all that here, I have already told you and others why I didn’t think I was in other blogposts. But after Ferguson, besides those questions to God about what He wants me to do, I am asking questions about race, which sound suspiciously prejudice to me. SO…… I FINALLY GET TO MY QUESTION!!! I ask you this with as much transparency, fear, and vulnerability as I can possibly muster: Are you really, truly sincere about NOT bypassing the tough stuff? Do you really, truly mean it when you say you will think the best of me (or STILL think the best of me) if I dare to KEEP asking you my difficult, embarrassing, potentially offensive (even if I honestly tell you this is NOT my intent!!!) questions?? Will you help me, you, to land in a better place, Black-and-White, sisters in the Lord? Do you really mean this??? And please hear my heart now. This is not about my trying to offend you. But rather, I am being transparent and saying that I may be harboring prejudice of which I was truly not aware, and I honestly do not know what to do about that. I don’t want to be prejudiced. I want to see all people as one in Chris. I thnk God has abolished racial barriers through Christ, and yet no one feels this or experiences it practically. And I want to understand why. Will you help me, Deidra?
As for the other questions, I was born in the 50s and yes, I think that did make a difference, especially when members of my family were influenced by even more prejudice that surfaced in our nation prior to that time. But a good number of my family were also loving to those of different races and lived with them in community. So I learned both. Movies? I recall Gone with the Wind, and thought Mammy was a dear part of the family, rather than understanding the cruel horror of slavery from that Hollywood portrayal. I have seen Poitier films and Washington films and think that they are stellar actors. But They Call Me Mr. Tibbs and Patch of Blue and A Raisin in the Sun, were specifically about race, and opened my eyes and my heart. And the best movie I have ever seen about race which melted my heart was To Kill a Mockingbird. I know there are more, but I’m a bit brain dead. I do recall seeing The Liberation of LB Jones (I think was the title) as part of the only white couple in the entire theatre, and I felt very afraid. I don’t really even recall what it was about, but I still remember the unsettling feeling and the uproarious cheering of the audience when whites were killed.
Ok, Deidra, this is far more than you needed to hear, but I do thank you beyond words for reading and listening, and I am very much looking fwd to your Selma series. Please don’t be a Jonah. Don’t ever run from your calling. We need you.
i am a full fledged baby boomer! born in 1946. i graduated from high school the year b/f you were born:) i remember the times of MLK well. the marches, the sit-ins, etc. i didn’t get it all. i lived in new jersey and was very close to my grandparents from the new york city side of my family. my mother was from virginia (the shenandoah mountains…born in charlottesville). her father cried at her wedding b/c she was marrying a yankee!
Oh so much to say. I went to bed last night after reading these comments and a few movies I haven’t thought about for a long time (really long time) came to mind: I saw a comment about Sidney Poitier reminded me of Lilies of the Field. I saw it when I was very young and then in high school Jungle Fever (how’s that for some racial commentary?) and I had a biracial boyfriend when it came out.
I was born in 1974 and my biggest influence in my understanding of race was my cousin. My mother has one sibling, her sister. My cousin, my mother’s sister’s daughter is biracial (white and black). She and I are both only children on our moms’ sides, raised by our single mothers. Our ENTIRE extended family was the four of us. She is the closest I had to a sibling growing up. We lived on an island outside of Seattle for a number of years, a white community and watching her navigate that and then moving into the city as a teenager and later attending a huge university where she didn’t know quite where she fit, was all an education for me. Because I have always lived in the majority.
And then last night I thought of something else I hadn’t for a LONG time. When I was in college I studied in Mexico for a semester (where though not the majority I fit in pretty well because of my dark hair and strong Spanish). My roommate was also an exchange student, an African immigrant to the U.S. Watching how she navigated blatant racism was heartbreaking. People were unapologetic about their racism. The bitterness she left with was understandable and so difficult to watch. Like I said, I haven’t thought about that for a long time.
The context we each bring to the conversation is as unique as we are as people. Thank you for asking Deidra.
Selma is the first movie I’ve wanted to see in a theater in more than a year. I heard an interview on NPR this week with the director and was so impressed with her minimization of her work and her emphasis on wanting to highlight the stories of the people who were there (not the typical Hollywood, “my work is so important” kind of banter.) I found her humble and thoughtful in a refreshing way. And the story on Christianity Today’s site about David Oyewolo hearing from God that he would play King gives me goosebumps of the timing of it all. To have it release now in the context of our nation’s experience and dialogue feels holy. I am grateful for it.
Movies – Guess Who is Coming to Dinner?, To Sir with Love, Soul Food, The Best Man, 42, Little Senegal (it is a French movie), and many others (these are just the ones that come immediately to mind). I was born in 1976.
I think my parents have had more of an effect on my view of the experience of being black in North America than anything else. I am white (as are my parents). My parents worked for John Perkins in Mississippi in the early 1970s. Then my father agreed to pastor a church in inner city Baltimore (which is where I was born). My older sister was the only white child in her kindergarten class. At one point the church could no longer afford two pastors, and even though my father had been there longer he stepped down to part time work so that the other pastor, who was older and African American, would be the full time pastor.
When I was about 5, our family moved to Idaho, where my father was from. It was very white to us children, but soon we realized there were minorities there too, Latino and Laotian. My mother was very active in political issues around Central America. My parents never allowed people to say racist things without challenging them. We talked about stereotypes in movies, tv, print, commercials, books – you name it.
I guess this also answers your next question because yeah, my dad was my pastor so we always grew up in a church were race was talked about. I remember in highschool asking my parents what they would say if I married someone who wasn’t white, and without a moment hesitation they responded that as long as he was Christian they would not care. And they have lived up to that.
I don’t mind talking about race. However, I have found that I don’t like initiating the conversations. I do it though, because it is important.
My husband (who is Chadian) and I and our children attend a multiracial, multicultural, multilingual (english/spanish/french) church in the Northern Virignia suburbs. It is a small church. And as you know, it is not easy to have people from all those groups. Oh, but the worship is so much richer because of the diversity.
I believe this is the first time I have commented on your blog, but I am a long time reader. I so appreicate your writing and honesty. Blessings to you.
Just remembered when we were watching Blood Diamonds we kept commenting how it was about one of the only movies we had seen where the Hollywood star (Leonardo DiCapro) died and the black character was alive at the end of the movie. Also loved the movies Pretty Dirty Things and Hotel Rwanda. (loved in the sense that they were really good movies, not that they were easy to watch)
Deal. <3 Movies: Gosh, I can't name them all but tonight I watched "The Good Lie" based on the stories of the Sudanese refugees and Kakuma. I was born in 1968. No doubt about it, I can't get a solid sense of the issue based on the year I was born. I'm frustrated with my current church for a number of reasons and this is only one of them. Waiting for God to move us out of here to a more multicultural setting. Frustrated. But yes. I've been very willing to listen and to talk about all of this. Can't wait to see the movie because I know it's going to move me too.
I was born in the late 70’s and grew up in a town that had just a few non-white families. I remember one moment when I was probably three and I asked my mom about the skin color of someone else; my recollection is that she referred to the person as “black” and I responded that she was “brown”. Mostly, I didn’t notice color, or at least I tried not to. I lived naively for so many years, thinking that color didn’t matter and that we all are people worthy of love and can’t we just look past the color thing. That was until my husband and I were houseparents to a local “A Better Chance” chapter (of a national program) and I began to discover that color does matter and that people’s perspective and experiences are uniquely their own and aren’t to be criticized. I learned a little about white police officers and about interrogation and the wrongfully accused. I learned about just how sheltered I really am and was. Given that I hardly noticed race when I was growing up, I couldn’t remember or think of specifically black television shows or movies until I perused the comments here. The Cosby Show was definitely my every day favorite before dinner and it was mostly just because the Huxtable’s were such a loving, fun, and real-seeing family. They didn’t talk about race much (at least from my perspective) and so they affirmed to me my belief that we all are the same. I remember watching The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and NBA basketball (that had so many noticeably black men). I remember watching black and white movies in school about segregation and thinking it was just so awful back then, and being so glad that I didn’t live in a time in which people were treated differently; I really think that for a long, long time I thought we were past all that and I’ve only recently noticed that we aren’t and we have such a long way to go in this world and that it’s been from nearly the beginning of time.
I’ll also say, friend, that I have thought several times about how recently you said that you were done with “Going There” and that I had a sense that you aren’t done. You’re needed in this space. And I can’t wait until you get through “The New Jim Crow” and talk about it; I need to pick it up again and finish it and bypass all my anger about the white people I know being so naive about the whole thing.
Thanks Deidra…and no bypassing here!!! I was born in the 50’s… My high school had a horrendous race riot…( for the first time a black girl did not make cheerleader…tensions were all ready boiling and this was the tipping point) I did not have any healthy way to process all that was happening… It was us against them… Nothing was solved… Nothing talked about… This happened at the end of the year….so summer was a natural cooling off period… No talks… No trying to bring solutions… The only thing they did was add a black girl to the squad… Nothing was discussed we us… Just deal with it… Now I wish I would have talked to her more…asked her how all this made her feel… I look back and think how poorly the administration ….the community dealt with all of this…and left our generation floundering in the sea of racial tension!!!
Movies… The actor that stands out is Sidney Portier… Lilies of the field and Guess who is coming to dinner… What a gutsy movie for the times!!!
I am so glad you have H in your corner… What a blessing and a grace to you… And you have many of us standing there praying and supporting you as you follow where God calls!!!!
I was born in 1956. Movies, Roots,
The Color Purple, Remember the Titans, other Denzel Washington movies, some
movie on tv about a black family living in an all white town where the one
white woman neighbor finally reaches out to the black woman. John Grisham book
movie about defending a black man who kills his daughter’s rapists. TV; The
Cosby Show, Julia, The Mod Squad (One White, One Black, One Blonde). Good Times
and Sanford and Son were also on, but I did not like the characters on them.
I grew up in a family where my mother was more racist than
my father in that I was taught to be afraid of black people and that all other
races were not the same as whites. I remember the bombing in the church
basement in Alabama, various race protests and their horrible outcomes, the
Black Panthers, MLK being shot after JFK and Bobby Kennedy (I thought America
was done at that time). I also remember Wallace being shot and wondering why he
was allowed to live instead the others who were killed. I also remember the
Watts riots and being more afraid of my grandfather (dad’s father) because of
what he threatened to do to any black people that came around his house than of
the black people who were rioting.
We went to a church where there was a mix of Whites and
Hispanics. I was told by my mother that I could only date whites. We had guest
Black ministers and even entertained them in our home. We also went and visited
black churches at times. It was all very confusing to me. We loved our brothers
and sisters of other races, but they were not the same as us?
In the past have gone to multi-racial churches. One with a
white pastor married to a black wife. I enjoyed these churches and race was
often talked about. Since we have moved am going to a church where there are
mostly whites, elderly whites. Race is not talked about at all except for a
joke that was in very poor taste about Ferguson. I am only going to this church
because my daughters are so involved in the children’s ministry there (it is so
much different than the church itself) and we only have the one car. I have
been saddened to see so many of my friends that I grew up in church with not seeing
how racism has played a part in the recent killings of unarmed black men.
Movies: Roots, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Help, The Butler, The Great Debaters, Glory, Unstoppable, Crimson Tide, Remember the Titans, Finding Forrester, Sounder, The Pursuit of Happyness, Hitch, The Legend of Baggar Vance, & others. My husband, son, and I are going to see Selma tonight.
Born in 1948. During Civil Rights Era I was attending a Christian high school and Bible college, both of them mostly white, conservative, and not aware of race issues at all. In 1970, I started studying at the University of Nebraska, where I became more aware of the civil rights struggle. My conservative parents were fairly open to people of all races and told me something similar to what Rosita’s parents told her about her Chadian husband. When I was dating the African American man who would become my husband, they said that if he was a Christian that was much more important than his race. We have been married nearly 40 years; I am very thankful to God for my wonderful husband. Together we serve the Lord in the church pastored by H, Deidra’s husband, where they lead us in seeking to discern how Jesus would have us love and minister to a variety of people in several races in our multi-cultural church. Deidra, I am glad you are answering God’s call to keep writing and talking about race and the church. H was right!
Carol Longenecker Hiestand
I was a northern born child of northern parents who God called to south Alabama in 1952 (I was 4 years old) to be what was then called “home missionaries.” They ministered to mostly the rural very poor and /or sharecroppers. (John Grisham’s book, the Painted House reminded me of that kind of life). We lived in one of those unpainted sharecroppers houses for awhile. I even “helped” pick cotton one day with our sharecropper friends. ( I was mortified at how little i picked!)
I remember the first time I saw black/white drinking fountains in the dime store. I was upset about that. My parents were respectful, gracious to all people they met, but our little teeny churches were white. I certainly didn’t go to school with anyone but whites…life was segregated in all aspects. we moved when i was 11 to central Illinois and I grew up in a gracious home and and we would have never disrespected other races, but the problem of race was “out there.” I didn’t understand it all and I was afraid of it.
In nurse’s training our hospital was in North Omaha and in the summer of 1969 (I think) I was afraid. I was out of town during the riots, but my friends stood on the dorm roof and watched the fires. For awhile we didn’t take the bus downtown.
I was pretty well protected otherwise in my world. I had stereotype ideas, I know. And then I read Phillip Yancey’s book Soul Surviver and his essay on Martin Luther King and I realized right then that what I heard and “knew” about Martin Luther King wasn’t a full picture. My upbringing/heritage was in the Bible Church/independent churches -( there was legalism, however not to the extent that it could have been and my dad was a man of grace.)
all that to say, I read reading your blog and Lisha Epperson’s blog and it has helped me to learn more about what it’s like. the church we go to talks about race and actually had a couple gatherings to discuss the church’s response to Ferguson. We were not able to be a part of that.
I am learning i dont’ even know the questions to ask. I have listened and read enough that I will confess I am afraid to even ask questions because I am afraid I will be misunderstood and will be see as “racist.” Coming here has helped me see that maybe there is a safe place to learn/ask/ and for this I thank you.
First time I’ve been here. Followed a link from Martha Grimm Brady.
I was born, in 1959, in Maine. I don’t remember ever seeing people of color (anyone but white people) anywhere but the TV screen, in my entire childhood. I also remember the race riots, too much violence, and far too much death, on the black and white screen of the evening news. Somehow I felt the injustice, deep in my soul, of judging any person by the color of their skin, and I became as much of a black activist as a quiet white girl, in a small Yankee town, could be. I was a voracious reader and I devoured everything I could find in my school library, on the subject of racial equality, from Black Like Me to Malcom X. And Heaven help the person who voiced racial slurs in my presence … For a quiet girl I had a fiery temper!
My siblings and I all left Maine after high school. My sister and I both dated black guys. Not because they were black. Not to make a political or social statement. Simply because we liked them and they liked us. To me … People were simply people and I tried not to judge any of them until they proved themselves untrustworthy. My parents told us that they would support us whatever we chose but marriage was hard enough without throwing in the complications of an interracial relationship. (Eventually we both married white guys.)
Got cut off for some reason. Probably length limit … I’ve gotten over that quiet thing!
I’m not sure that it’s relevant here, aside from my life’s context, but, as an exchange student, in Mexico, when I was 17, I was date raped by my current boyfriend. It never occurred to me that it had anything to do with race though he was black! And while I have struggled ever since to trust men … I have no issue with black people!
The next year 1977/1978 was the year that Roots ran on the TV. I was horrified by history and found it difficult to believe, never mind understand, such incredible cruelties, inhumanities, indignities, etc. I sat, glued to the TV, with tears streaming, night after night, wishing history could be rewritten and grateful that I lived in a different time and place.
I guess for me, and I’ve now lived in the Southwest for 35+ years, the hardest thing to understand is the continued racial division! I admit that people of my color treated people of your color HORRIBLY! I’m sorry it happened and if I could fix it … I would! I can’t! So why does it STILL feel like us vs. them? Why do black people still, in 2015, tell me that there are things I will never understand simply because I was born white?
Why do too many, especially in the media, still focus on the color of a person’s skin rather than the content of his character?
Please know that I did read your back story and I feel deep compassion for the girl who had to face racism in a “Christian” environment. I wish it hadn’t been so! And I wish it hadn’t taken us so long to embrace people of color in TV and movies! Or politics for that matter!
I just wish we could leave a world, to our children and grandchildren where race was no longer an issue at all! But I don’t think we’re even close!
P.S. I have an uncomfortable habit of not fully conveying my heart. Especially when my words are limited by these small spaces. If I came across, at all, as intolerant or unkind … Please forgive my inept words and believe that my heart meant well!
After I submitted that last section I thought about the reality that there are things that I don’t believe are understandable by anyone who has never battled obesity and I stand convicted that indeed there are things I cannot understand because of the color of my skin! I just wish it weren’t so!
I don’t remember the actor’s name but one of my favorite TV shows, many years ago, was In the Heat of the Night. A smart black detective in a Southern good oil’ boy police department!
And I have vague memories of watching a comedian named Flip Wilson. Probably in the 70s. Ernestine and “the devil made me do it!”
Other entertainers I loved/respected include Bill Cosby (though I’m not so sure now), Sydney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman (personal favorite), Halle Berry, The Jackson 5, and many many more!
Hey, Deidra. I have been dropped into your story, and I’m so grateful for this post.
I’ve been lurking for awhile now, but after crying through this post, I made my husband read it (I’ve made him read others here, too) and he said, “You need to become a part of this community for real.” He asked why I was crying, and I said that it was mostly out of gratefulness to you for being willing to speak out, to help us along, to minister to us, to teach us how to relate, how to love. Grateful that you listened to that burning inside–it’s so powerful to hear someone respond to the Holy Spirit in that way.
After you went to Ferguson and decided to stay quiet on this blog about these things (or at least that was my impression), I was really sad because I had found your blog so helpful in this area–up until finding your blog I’d felt so lost as to where to start and what to do in terms of racial reconciliation, but I never would have dreamed of begging you to keep writing about it when you had stated you were going quiet. Your blog is wonderful and I would keep reading, and I would continue to learn from you, continue to listen. And then this post. I am hungry for direction and help along the way to reconciliation–I’m so broken in this area and naive and in need of other stories to absorb. So I am humbled–it’s an honor to be taught by you, so to speak. I just wish I could make it up to Nebraska someday for the retreat. We’ll see… Maybe we’ll bump into each other at Laity Lodge some day, seeing as I live in Texas.
As for answers to your questions, the movie that I used to love as a kid (I was born in 1976) was Lean On Me. In recent years, I’ve been pretty disturbed by movies that feature “white saviors”–even Avatar, for example, seemed to have this whole noble savage/white savior thing going on that ruined the movie for me. Most of the movies I’ve seen (besides movies I’ve intentionally watched because they featured mostly or all African-Americans) with African-Americans as major characters are bio-pics. I love these, but I do wish that, say, Captain America would be cast as a black man (or woman!).
I feel like being born in the 70s into a mostly white, super-conservative Christian bubble anesthetized me a bit to the racial divide. That’s not to say that there is not inherent racism in my past or in me in general. It just means that my main feeling was curiosity about a culture that was pretty foreign to me–and at times I felt an intense desire to fit into that culture. I failed miserably, I might add. I joined a gospel choir in college and had so much fun, but I could never seem to make it into the “club”–I was trying waaaaaay to hard to be accepted that I couldn’t see past the end of my nose to really listen and learn.
In terms of church, I struggle with the homogeny of our church, but I recently had a conversation with my pastor’s wife that clued me into the fact that racial reconciliation/being a reflection of God’s global church is important to them as people, and change is coming. Of this I am glad!
Anyway, I have stayed too long. Kids are waking up from naps. Really just wanted to say thanks.
Peace to you.
I was born just a couple of years before you and grew up in a NC town built on tobacco. I only recently to my hometown after being away for 30 years.
I remember there was diversity in elementary school. I do not remember that as being a point of conflict. I remember playing jacks and dodge ball without processing color differences.
In college I was surprised that there was a noticeable separation between black and white students. It was most visible in the cafeteria when black and white students did not mingle or eat together. It was a self selection. I was struck by this because I thought it was “so random”. People had no set time to eat, etc (it was college)…but people always gravitated to “their” side of the cafeteria. This was true for both whites as well as blacks. I did not notice any negative feelings from anyone…but it was striking to me.
I lived in the Seattle area for 7 years where I felt there was more “real” diversity. The area has a truly more diverse population including Asian and Indian as well as black and white. Many of the people I met were from other places, but no one was from the South. Everyone’s attitude about relationships was so much more open. It was natural to have a social circle that included blacks, whites and other nationalities.
Now that I’m back in NC, though improved from my childhood, I still see an almost stark separation of white and black and Hispanic populations. There are very few places where the groups actually appear to mingle and interact. (Just like college). The exception I found to this was when I hosted small group meetups centered around a shared hobby and no one knew each other before we showed up.
Anyway, my church is somewhat diverse. There is another church that I visit sometimes that is really diverse. I go there by myself sometimes. It is a very lively service with singing and clapping…(I LOVE that).
I think it’s because I was in Seattle so long that now I can’t help but “see” the lack of representation of non-white people in so many places in my town. The executives in most of the businesses are white men. There is very little evidence that this is changing. White women have more positions of power than do black men or women. I notice it in marketing as well. I’m always surprised when marketing materials seem to showcase only white people.
Both of those things disturb me.
Good post, Deidra!
I was born in 1963 and raised in Arkansas. I went thru the school integrations and bussing, similar to your experience. However, my family stood outspokenly in support of school integration…at a time when that was a very unpopular stance.
We received death threats. I had kids at school tell me their parents said they couldn’t be friends with me. I had white kids try to bully me. I had black kids try to bully me. Nobody wanted change, and my family had taken an outspoken stance in support of change.
It was hard. We’ve come a long ways, but are still far from where we should be.
I still live in south Arkansas. Our little town is very integrated…a mixture of hispanic, black and caucasian. We live in the same county, eat at the same restaurants, work together.
But come Sunday morning…for the most part…we worship God separately. As a community, we are more racially segregated for Sunday morning worship than at any other time.
I understand it…the desire to worship with the people we are most comfortable with. Yet…it also says something about us…something not good…something less than fully reflective of God’s glory and love…
Thanks for sharing your heart!
I left here last week not sure if I had anything to add to this conversation. But it’s weaving through my thoughts and I’m a little afraid to contribute and the word I’m using to help me make decisions this year is Brave, so here I am.
I was born in 1970 and am so white, I’m almost blue (I don’t know if this is offensive, but it’s true) and have no memories of any discussion of race until around 1979. We were going to drive to Florida for spring break and my younger sister, 6, had asked for and received a dark-skinned baby for Christmas (I would realize much later this certainly would have upset my paternal grandmother, though I never heard anything about her reaction). There was talk that once we got to Georgia she’d need to leave her baby in the car, which I didn’t understand until much, much later.
The church we attended was mostly white, meaning there was one darker skinned lady named Barbara who walked with permanent crutches and I remember her having polio or something as a child. I don’t know that I noticed her skin color as much as I noticed her crutches.
The Cosby Show was a favorite for sure and I don’t remember giving consideration to color, which I honestly don’t know whether is good, or bad, or naive. (one of the reasons I hesitated to comment here)
I also went to a smaller private christian school affiliated with my church and known for being a commune for the children of the church and a refuge for troubled students (usually expelled from public school, which I did not know at the time). It’s occurred to me before there were no children of color, but it only now, as a result of this discussion, occurring that they were likely screened out.
During the first semester of my freshman year at a state university, I opted for a random roommate and initially hit it off with Erica who was bi-racial and drop-dead gorgeous. Her sister was a model in New York and did some acting on some popular shows. Things got ugly pretty quickly. I was as naive as possible about all things lifely. I’m not sure what her experience was at our university, but she took every opportunity to make my life miserable. I ended up sleeping on our neighbors couch because she would come in after midnight and turn on the radio, tv, and all the lights. This went on night after night. Once she held up a dark curly hair, mine was blond, and told me she’d found a pubic hair in my bed. I’m not sure what the purpose of that could have been other than to humiliate and embarrass me, which it did. She took great joy in sharing this story with her friends when they stopped by our room. I can see now, she was an unhappy person. Maybe it was due to ways she’d previously been treated by others due to her skin color, maybe not, I don’t know. I do know that in the beginning, the first week or so, we had a great time painting our room and enjoyed doing all the freshman stuff but after that, she brought me to tears often. There were many other reasons I didn’t do well in that large setting and semester’s end with barely acceptable grades, my parents asked if I wanted to switch to a smaller Christian university and I accepted with relief.
Though I don’t believe I ever attached color to Erica’s horrible behavior, when I was randomly placed with another bi-racial roommate at my new school, I was aware of the opportunity to attribute my humiliating semester with her to someone I’d never met simply on the basis that they shared similar skin color. I found it humorous (and maybe that’s inappropriate?) and felt upon meeting her that God was giving me the opportunity to choose against racism. I remember making a very specific decision to not allow my relationship with Erica to influence my relationship with my new roomate. We were never close and I’m embarrassed to admit that I can’t remember her name. Though we got along just fine, she always kept to herself and I wonder now if that had more to do with race than I had any idea.
Today: We’ve attended a church an hour away from our home for over 18 years but haven’t been much involved due to the distance. We intentionally looked for a church far away because of very deep wounds I received at the hand of folks in two local churches (thus my problems with all things lifely) I needed every bit of 14 years there to begin healing. Our Grace church, which we love, is focused on reaching 6 broken places of the world, one being Injustice with a specific subcategory of Racism and Slavery. Though the church has had partnerships with many inner-city organizations for years, over the past two years, with intent, they have hired several staff african american staff members and begun to expose the 7,000 predominately white, highly suburban, very wealthy congregation to many different types of worship. It’s beautiful and the spirit is doing big work there.
Four years ago we sought out a local congregation. Our children needed people and my husband and I stepped over deep fear to connect with a small local church. This church is very, very white with one long-time member having an integrated family. At the time we began attending, a local african-american church that had recently gone through a horrific split had been using the facility for services on Sunday afternoons. In the end, they were there for five years before saving enough for their own building. Their worship was loud and spirit filled and beautiful, nothing like the white counter-part meeting there on Sunday mornings. I over heard several conversations while they were still meeting at our church building about plans for renovations to the church to wait until they were out of there. There were also several items stolen over a period of time and long-time high, society members of the church implied that it had to have been members of the other church. I do not know the outcome of those situations but remember feeling that I didn’t like the conversations, but didn’t know how to address them. This is true for most areas of controversy in my life.
One last thing, this fall my family and I had the opportunity to worship with a truly diversified congregation in Detroit, I felt home. It could have been because I trust the pastor with my heart and I can’t say that for many people, but I think it’s equally because it was such a beautiful representation of what the church is supposed to be. It’s a body of all brands of brokenness, all colors of skin, and all kinds of people. The spirit leaked down and baptized my cheeks in the realization of the beauty. My children adored it there and we need more of that beauty in our lives.
I’m thankful for this conversation and for your bravery in addressing it Deidre and look forward to returning here. You’ve challenged me – thank you!!!
I have seen all the black movies mentioned and they all gave me a different view of black people just as the movies of other races. Culturally we are so different and that was scary to this small town white girl who only heard the black referred as those “d— n—— growing up. My world view was very small concerning anyone of any other race. One of the best things that happened to me was in my early 20 when my husband and I moved to St. Louis. Wow, talk about culture shock, my first really. Little did I know God someday would widen my world view beyond just a stateside world view. Even in the most remote places in the world, there is hatred toward others of a different class, race, all fuel by a sinful, prideful heart that thinks it is better then someone else. The thing I hated the most was having a person in other countries put me up on a pedestal because my skin was white. There is no place more dangerous then a pedestal. And when we put ourselves up there, well the results is slavery of anyone below us. I love the fact God does not see the color of or skin and when I trust His power to work in me I won’t either. Thanks for this post and the comments, you have taken another level of lid off an issue that will be with us till Jesus comes.
Deidra, I came back to read some more comments and this story came to mind. Our children grew up in Bolivian culture where there is few black people, lots of Asians but few black. Our oldest graduated, brought her back to start college, but first a trip to Disney World. Our two kids could not stop staring at the black people, just like they did at the Bolivians when we first went there. Forward a few years, we brought our second home put him in college in Kentucky. He played soccer and was housed in the floor below the foot ball players , mostly black guys and our son being our son, tried to befriend a few he respected and was not well received. It did not take long to realize why they did not respect him, the color of his skin. He said, he felt like they were holding him accountable for enslaving their ancestors. In fact he told one, I did not go to Africa and bring your great grand parents to the states to be my slave. He for the first time understood how deep some pain goes and can affect for generation that follow. Of course we told him to watch his mouth yet we were proud of him for speaking up. I love a post that forces me to look for my blind spots, but I, like my son do not like having the burden of what my fore father did laid on me either. Don’t hold a grudge against me if I don’t go see Selma and see American Sniper instead, give me the same rights any race wants, the right to pick and chose what I see. There is a commercial about a black dating service, actually using the world black a lot. I thought when I seen it, if there was advertisement for a “white dating service”, it would be called racism. I added this because of Marcy comment below me…she is brave. You are brave also my sister, to throw out those questions…I pray your armor is on so any fiery dart of misunderstanding the enemy would send would not get through. Chuck Swindoll says, being misunderstood is the greatest burden we carry.
Hi Deidra, I was born in 1967. The movies I saw back in my past, where black folk were main characters were: Sounder – earliest I can recall… and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. I watched any movie Cicely Tyson was in and with a fervor and great admiration , as she just pulled me into her strength as a black woman living in a time and era where being black wasn’t popular, And I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Hmmm…I loved her strength and her ability to speak up when it wasn’t popular. Perhaps her strides made me want to teach diversity for seven years and teach in the field of education as a social worker. I also LOVED Roots and watched the series several times. I loved the stories of love and endurance – watching blacks strive to keep their families together, when others puled them apart, and I couldn’t for the life of me as a child or youngster understand why… it happened.) I didn’t breed hate, just total misunderstanding of why people who had done nothing wrong but be a certain ‘color’ were so ostracized and harmed even legacies back… I also loved Richard Roundtree, and when I grew up I was gonna marry a black man JUST like him! (Lol) and I think I may have! Although I wasnt much into the blaxploitation movies, I loved how handsome he looked and smiled. (Lol)..such black pride…I had. I loved him in Roots , Shaft and now… being Mary Jane as a father of a confused black woman, struggling to make it work. His innocence…. it seemed to always shine through.
(How do you think your birth year impacts your view of the experience of being black in North America?) Wow… great question. For the longest I haven’t felt like so upset with ‘White America’ as i knew it,from the 1960’s era and before… UNTIL I visited the Motherland. I didn’t want to called ‘American’. In fact when I went to South Africa, I wasn’t angry, but man… did I grieve. I visited ten years ago, and I grieved more when I got back. My entire life went through a very positive, affirmative, transformation, when I returned. As a black woman, i realized how much I missed in my culture, and indeed myself… Everything I didn’t understand…made sense when I visited. And I didn’t plan that. It was God ordained. All the questions I had ever wondered about myself and my lack of confidence and where it was.. was found. Its deep. I blog about it sometimes… so i wont go into detail here… My church leader at my church is multi-generational. A white man, who pastors a 90% black congregation; whos turning over his congregation to a 25 yr old minister a black pastor on Feb 1st -it’s so interesting, yet honorable… I love my church, been a member four yrs. And yes, we talk about race and I am so glad we do! I have so much more to say.. No, I haven’t seen Selma , yet making it a priority this weekend . Thanks for asking, I love your questions… Jennifer ( Oh I forgot , I also grew up on writers like Alice Walker, J Califirnia Cooper and Toni Morrison.. so my readings were influenced by them as writers! ) 😉