my black experience: part one
that's me when i was about 7. i look at this photo and want to just cry. first of all, i'm old enough to be somebody's mama (halp. how is this possible??) and sometimes seeing a picture of yourself as a child makes you feel a lot of unexpected, existential feelings. i remember how this little girl viewed herself--as a human being and as a person of color. this was just a couple of years before another student called me the n word, in class.
i grew up in predominantly white schools and cities, but instead of feeling like i didn't belong, i felt equal to everyone around me, no matter their skin color. it was a blessing and a curse, because i'm just now understanding what microaggressions are, and other subtleties of racism i didn't recognize, but definitely experienced. growing up, people would tell me, "omg, kim i don't even think of you as black!" or "you sound so white!" at the time i didn't have the self-awareness or self-respect to correct them. i agreed with them. i didn't see another black person like me who liked the same "white" things i liked, so it must be true. i've heard countless stories from people of mixed race, (in this case, caucasian and african american) who've talked about growing up, not being "white enough" for white people or "black enough" for black people. i actually know what that feels like, and it is so weird and isolating.
for years i wasted time being friends with ignorant people, who'd apparently spent very little time around people of color. one person in particular mostly communicated with me through feable attempts at racist jokes. yeah. i don't understand that thought process, either. i was friends with this person for 5 years. i was always too embarrassed to make the situation awkward for them, (even though they'd disrespected me and made me uncomfortable) so i just fake laughed along.
being more aware of the subtleties of racial tension has also opened my eyes to how the church responds to racism, and our current political climate. i was a member at one predominantly white church for nearly 5 years. the sermon series was over difficult questions and the pastor answered questions from the audience, live from stage on sunday morning. one question was about his thoughts on black lives matter, and he simply answered, "i don't know enough about black lives matter to answer this", and moved on to the next question. i'm sorry? you don't know anything that you could say? how about "if we believed black lives really mattered, black people wouldn't have to keep saying it"? (which a black person LITERALLY said in the intro video to the sermon series) how about asking yourself and your mostly white congregation how they would feel if their children were being pulled over and killed by police, without reason? and that people were even videotaping it so the world could see it, but the police got off, EVERY TIME? at the very least, how about inviting an african american community leader or church member on stage to help you start that conversation? the graphic for the series even had a little black boy, in front of a line of armed police officers. just no attempt to answer an inevitable question this person had to know would come up.
white pastors and leaders in the church: this is what white privilege looks like. it's not ok to be dismissive just because you've neglected to educate yourself, or you're uncomfortable. when you skirt this issue, you isolate your poc members and give your fellow white members permission to do the same. since college, i've attended predominantly white churches, and i've only heard one pastor confront or denounce racism from the pulpit. one. and it was about 3 months ago. that's not ok.
i've had so many of my white friends say, "i'm just so overwhelmed. i don't know what to do. i want to say something but i don't want to say the wrong thing." my dear friends, say something. i don't care if you're scared. DO IT SCARED. educate yourself. it's not a person of color's job to completely educate you. you have a brain. you have eyes. you have access to the internet. do it yourself. it's not enough for you to repost an article from huffpo and type out "guys we just all need to love each other. i don't understand how this is america in 2017." if you say something wrong, guess what? you'll learn something new. and if you are earnestly speaking out, and use your privilege to speak up for your friends and family, who don't have the advantage of smoothly passing through everyday the way you do, you're on the right track. and for my fellow christians out there, it is not ok to simply type "lord, come quickly..." or to immediately suggest we should exhibit mercy to murderers, after yet another racial massacre. (if i see one more of these posts...) mercy is not the only way God responds to things. stop silencing the oppressed by telling them to "just be merciful". how about you resist your own apathy? don't wait until another incident like charlottesville happens again (because it will happen again) to simply post another article. love your neighbor whose skin is darker than yours. love your neighbor whose sexual orientation is different than yours. love your neighbor who worships differently than you. love is not just becoming friends and inviting them over for dinner. love requires you to speak up and to keep speaking up.
now that i'm older (enough to be someone's mom. again, whoa) i understand some things. i understand why my mom searched so diligently to find me black dolls and black barbies when i was little, (#representationmatters) and why she read me amazing grace every night, (and every afternoon). she wanted that snaggle-toothed girl to know she could be anything, in a world that would inevitably hurt her. even herself.
i am so thankful to be surrounded by woke, non-poc friends i can turn to, and who check on me to make sure i'm feeling safe and doing ok. #reclaimingmytime with friends who respect me is the best remedy. and it's thanks to podcasts like 2 dope queens, still processing, sooo many white guys, and hey, girl that i feel confident inhabiting my space as a black woman in this world. i still have a lot of growing and learning and searching to do, but i'm thankful for the experiences i've had. they've taught me, for lack of better words, who i really am. i'm not the 2-dimensional, stereotypical portrait of black women you see on tv, or even that one black friend you had in middle school. i am myself. and it's taken me a long time to get comfortable with her.