Day 3: My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves–31 Days of #WOKE}

Last year, at the age of 37, in spite of living and working among other races for my entire life, I finally noticed the racial divide.

As a child of the 80s, I was taught that talking about race was impolite; it meant you noticed differences. We say, “We’re all the same, after all—on the inside. Isn’t it better to be ‘colorblind’?”

But ignoring race is like sidestepping the gigantic crack in the sidewalk of society and history. We try and tiptoe over it, or worse, we pretend it doesn’t even exist.

Of all whites, I should have known better, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have a person of color in my life.

The first boy I ever liked in kindergarten was black. I nearly followed him into the boys’ restroom one day. When I described him to my mom as having dark skin, she asked, “Is he black?”

“Of course not,” I said. “No one has black skin. He’s brown.”

In middle school, I rode the bus for an hour, either way, to attend school in the projects because our county in Tampa, Florida, was one of the last to integrate schools.

My midwest Christian college was majority white. Some black students were browsing in the bookstore once and the cops showed up. Someone assumed they were there to shoplift.

In college, I spent six months in Uganda and lived with an African family in a village. I often confounded their assumptions. “I didn’t think you people did things that way,” they’d say. To them, I was America. More than once, I was asked if I knew President Bush.

After college, my first teaching job was in the inner city of Chicago, in North Lawndale, at a 100% African-American school. I asked my students if any white kids ever attended there. “I think once … maybe,” they replied. I got so used to seeing black faces that I was shocked by my whiteness when I saw myself in the mirror during bathroom breaks.

I lived in China for five years. For the first three, I was one of three white faces in a city of 60,000. Many people wanted to be my friend. I understood it was because I was white. I humored them, telling myself I’d be more accepted if I learned Chinese. So I spent hours studying until I was fluent. But even then I wondered about my friends’ motives in spending time with me. I wished I could look Chinese.

After China, I taught at a small private Christian school in Chinatown in Chicago. Six out of eleven students were boys. Only one of those boys was black, the rest were Asian and white. One day all the other boys showed up at school with their backpacks full of clothes for a sleepover at one of the boy’s houses for his birthday. Guess which boy wasn’t invited …

To not notice race is to not notice the way clouds affect the shifting of light in the sky. It is to pretend you don’t feel the rain pelting the hood of your coat or soaking into the hole in your boots. It is to ignore reality.

And yet somehow I still believed we were living in a post-racial, inclusive, equal society.

Continue reading at SheLoves Magazine.

Introduction: 31 Days of #WOKE

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

I’m white, but barely noticed my whiteness until recently.

I’ve always thought white people were boring, actually. Friends from other cultural backgrounds had interesting food, festivals, cultural dress, customs and languages. Those from non-western countries lived communally, cherished family and celebrated holistic living. They did not divide the sacred and secular. They saw the holy in the ordinary, messy, seasons of life.

Like many from the U.S., I’ve been around people of other cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities my entire life. I attended a Jewish preschool, fell for an African American boy in kindergarten, ate fried tomatoes, onions and eggs with my Colombian friend in sixth grade, obsessed about boys with my Jewish friend in seventh grade, had black teachers, had a few African American, Indian and Latino friends in high school, taught in a 100 percent black school in inner city Chicago after college, another racially diverse school and even at a school in Chinatown.

But I also experienced other cultures abroad: I went on short term mission trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, lived in a village in Uganda for six months in college, spent five weeks in Tajikistan, traveled in Europe and Thailand and taught and studied in China for five years.

You’d think I would have known.

But it wasn’t until I moved to a nearly all white area in the U.S.–the last stretch of plains with tumbleweed cartwheeling up against the mighty Rocky Mountains–that I began to see my whiteness. And it was then that I saw all the shadows it casts.

What Does it Mean to be “Woke”?

According to Urban Dictionary, being “woke” means being aware and knowing what’s going on in the community.

Merriam-Webster “Words We’re Watching” describes it like this:

“Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke.”

I am on a journey. I have not arrived, nor will I ever be fully “woke.” But I am learning. I am growing. And I am slowly beginning to see.

The first time I ever wrote a piece about race, I wondered if I had a right to speak. I wondered if I knew enough or if I was going to say something stupid, offensive or ignorant. But an African American friend of my husband’s responded to my post in a way that gave me courage. “Thank you,” he wrote. “Because I’m tired. It’s refreshing for this message to come from someone who is not a person of color for once.”

Ijeoma Oluo recently wrote an article entitled, “White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves.” The more we understand our whiteness, the more we can understand how our whiteness affects all the people of color around us.

What Can You Expect in the Series?

Have you ever rewatched an entire movie with commentary from the actors and director on? (I have.) That’s what I’m hoping to do in this series. Mostly, you can expect stories from my life. For each post, I’ll ask myself (and possibly answer) the following questions:

What did I learn about whiteness through this experience?

Are there any blind spots that I missed the first time around?

How can I analyze this experience utilizing the concepts I am learning?

But I’ll also include practical information and resources as well as a few posts from some friends of mine who are people of color.

I’m mostly writing for myself, but you are invited along on this journey. I sincerely welcome your input, comments, links, corresponding stories, questions and even criticism.

When my dad taught me to drive, I sat in the driver’s seat of the parked car as he shuffled around on the outside until he disappeared from my view. He wanted me to understand the devastation of a blind spot. Please help me to discover mine.

Table of Contents

Here are some possible posts that will run every day beginning March 1st, 2017 (check back here each day for an updated link). Most definitely subject to change;-)

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2)

23. The People We See and the People We Don’t

24. (Guest Post) A Letter to My 13-year-old Self by Leah Abraham

25. Divided by Faith (book)

26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)

27. A Lesson Plan for Talking to My Preschooler about Race for the First Time

28. Two Poems//Teaching in Inner City Chicago

29. Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids

30. Talking Race with my Southern Mama (an Interview)

31. Conclusion: This I Know

 

Okay. *deep breath*

Let’s do this.

Be sure to sign up for email updates so you don’t miss a post! And please share if you feel this could benefit someone else.

 

Scared, but excited,

Leslie

A series exploring whiteness and racial perspectives.