Day 14: The Culture of Whiteness {31 Days of #WOKE}

“The colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people will ever know and understand themselves.”
–James Weldon Johnson, poet and anthologist (1912)

 

The one African American on my all-white team in China had this little book in her apartment called Stuff White People Like. Flipping through, it was hard to disagree with some of the stereotypes. Amazon describes it like this:

“They love nothing better than sipping free-trade gourmet coffee … Apple products, indie music, food co-ops, and vintage T-shirts make them weak in the knees.

They believe they’re unique, yet somehow they’re all exactly the same … They’re also down with diversity and up on all the best microbrews, breakfast spots, foreign cinema, and authentic sushi. They’re organic, ironic, and do not own TVs.

You know who they are: They’re white people. And they’re here, and you’re gonna have to deal. Fortunately, here’s a book that investigates, explains, and offers advice for finding social success with the Caucasian persuasion. So kick back on your IKEA couch and lose yourself in the ultimate guide to the unbearable whiteness of being.”

White people don’t usually think about the culture of whiteness. We think the way we operate is the way everyone operates–or at least the way everyone should operate.

But can “whiteness” really be defined?

Our families are our first introduction to culture, yet it only takes one sleepover or meal at another person’s house to discover our differences—the way we fold laundry, put the dishes in the dishwasher, take shoes off at the door (or not), have the T.V. front and center in the living room or not visible at all, toys scattered around the house or relegated to the toy room in the basement. “Whiteness” is not the same across the board.

College may be our next crash-course in understanding our personal white culture. I traveled from Florida to attend college in the Midwest and my roommates laughed at my strange way of talking (mainly thanks to my mother from Georgia). I quickly changed “neck-ed” to “NAKE-ed” and altered the way I said “ruin” and “poem” as I realized I was at high risk of mockery. I can’t tell you how many dorm room conversations we had that went something like this:

“How do you say that [pointing at the bottle on the desk]?”

“Pop. What do YOU say?”

“I say soda. YOU?”

“That’s a Coke—but even if it were a Dr. Pepper, I’d still call it a ‘Coke.’”

The nuances of the English language provided hours of hilarity.

Marriage is also an on-going experiment in realizing how different we are from another human being. I was appalled to discover my husband hung his clothes in the closet facing right, while I have always hung mine the “right” way—facing left.

I squeeze every ounce out of the toothpaste tube, while he wastes at least a week’s worth of toothpaste in favor of a fresh tube. He likes to arrive to parties fifteen minutes early, I like to arrive five minutes late. (“People hate it when you get there early!” I always tell him.) I’m fine going to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes, while he would rather stay up late to fall in bed knowing a clean kitchen awaits him in the morning. The backdrop of life with another person highlights the myriad ways we are different.

White in Chicago differed from white in Georgia, Florida, New Jersey or Washington State (all places my relatives lived). Now that we live in Colorado, whiteness looks like moms in wild leggings, crowded hiking trails, craft beer and bicycles with trailers to haul babies around. But liberal Boulder is drastically different from the ranching cities dotting the plains on the east end of the state.

My sleepy Colorado city—the last stoplight before ascending the canyon to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park– looks like drive-through liquor stores, shops called “One Love” and “Hazy Hippo” selling pot paraphernalia and loud pickup trucks. And yet, as a hub for over 200 artists, it is also characterized by hundreds of sculptures scattered throughout the city. “Whiteness” cannot be so easily defined.

Until you become a minority.

Then you discover a few things about what it means to be “white” …

Over the next couple days, I’ll reflect on some lessons I learned about whiteness through the times I have been a minority, so be sure you come back tomorrow!

What does “whiteness” look like where you live?

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 13: Words (A Poem) {31 Days of #WOKE}

My students
found interest
in the difference
between “oppressed” and “repressed.”

Like the time I explained
the word “minority”
to Jaquisha,
who has lived
as a black girl
in a black world
her whole life.

“Pressed down,”
I said.
“Oppressed
means ‘pressed down.’”

Me
not grasping
the meaning.

Them
not knowing they already
understand the meaning
without knowing
the word.

–Leslie Verner (written 2002 while teaching middle school in North Lawndale, Chicago)

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 12: Just Mercy {31 Days of #WOKE}

This book changed my life. I tell everyone who will listen to read Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.

“You won’t enjoy it,” I say. “In fact you may even hate it. But to be a responsible human being, you should read it–in a ‘everyone should watch Schindler’s List‘ kind of way.”

As of today, Just Mercy has five out of five stars on Amazon, a composite of 2,292 reviews.

Sot it’s not just me.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.” (p. 15 emphasis mine)

“Some states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults; we’ve sent a quarter million kids to adult jails and prisons to serve long prison terms, some under the age of twelve.” (p. 15 emphasis mine)

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” (p. 17-18)

“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” (p. 18)

“Most incarcerated women–nearly two-thirds–are in prison for nonviolent, low-level drug crimes or property crimes. Drug laws in particular have had a huge impact on the number of women sent to prison … one of the first incarcerated women I ever met was a young mother who was serving a long prison sentence for writing checks to buy her three young children Christmas gifts without sufficient funds in her account.” (p. 236)

“In 1996, Congress passed welfare reform legislation that gratuitously included a provision that authorized states to ban people with drug convictions from public benefits and welfare. The population most affected by this misguided law is formerly incarcerated women with children, most of whom were imprisoned for drug crimes. These women and their children can no longer live in public housing, receive food stamps, or access basic services. In the last twenty years, we’ve created a new class of ‘untouchables’ in American society, made up of our most vulnerable mothers and their children.” (p. 237 emphasis mine)

***

Bryan Stevenson couched the above statistics within the narrative of one larger story–that of a man condemned to death row. But each chapter supports his story arc with many different personal stories of his clients. So don’t expect a dry read as you pick up this book, but do expect to have an emotional connection to the people you meet in its pages.

Expect to be changed.

I wrote out some questions for group discussion for my book club that you are welcome to use. You can find them here.

I also went to hear Bryan Stevenson speak in the fall. You can read my notes on his talk here.

A great companion to reading this book is the documentary currently showing on Netflix called 13th. It features Bryan Stevenson as well as many other justice warriors.

What other books on the issue of racial justice have been transformational for you?

If you read Just Mercy, I’d love to hear how you liked it in the comments section!

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

**includes Amazon affiliate links

Day 11: Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race {31 Days of #WOKE}

Resources for Talking to Kids about Race, plus 10 Picture Books Featuring People of Color

My four-year-old son recently noticed that people are different colors. We visited an African American church and I decided not to mention anything about skin color beforehand. I didn’t think he noticed. But just a few days later he brought up the fact that he has “white skin” and another boy has “black skin.”

“Who told you that?” I asked. “Did you learn that in preschool?” When I was little, the term “black” confused me. I didn’t know anyone with black skin, just different shades of brown.

“He probably got that from your podcasts,” my mom suggested as I shared how his innocence had somehow been shattered.

I’m a bit obsessed with podcasts (if you haven’t noticed). I listen while I’m doing laundry, getting ready in the mornings and even in the shower (if the host has a loud enough voice–thank you, Megan Tietz of Sorta Awesome). And most of the ones I listen to these days are about race.

But in all my own self-education, I clearly haven’t done a good enough job of educating my four-year-old on this issue.

In addition to this and this list on race resources to educate yourself on race issues, The Global Mom Show Podcast recently broadcasted a few episodes on educating our children on this topic. I would highly recommend listening to these for ideas on talking to your kids about race:

Talking to Your Kids about Race, with Lucretia Berry

Talking to Your Mixed-Race Kids about Race, with Sonia Smith-Kang

 

Here are some other resources I’ve found, as well as ten picture books featuring people of color that are sitting in my Amazon shopping cart as I type this:

Websites:

Barefoot Books believes that “children need diverse, inclusive and inspiring books. This is what we’re all about. From the very beginning, our books have opened windows to other cultures and perspectives, while also providing children of all backgrounds and abilities with a much-needed mirror of their own experiences.”

Colours of Us is a website with tons of lists of multicultural book ideas as well as multicultural toys, games, puzzles and crafts.

Here Wee Read Blog 55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, by Mrs. G at Here Wee Read Blog (and another great list from the same site). Follow her on Instagram for more great book ideas.

Like Me, Like You Kids  is a place to buy toys and decorative items for kids that reflect diversity. From the site: “Our hope is to curate beautiful products that allow children of color to see themselves in the art, books and toys they interact with daily. We also hope that children of all shades would grow up appreciating the gift of diversity – like me, like you.”

Raising Race Conscious Children is “a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. The goals of these conversations are to dismantle the color-blind framework and prepare young people to work toward racial justice. If we commit to collectively trying to talk about race with young children, we can lean on one another for support as we, together, envision a world where we actively challenge racism each and every day. Many of the blog’s posts are geared toward White people but a community of guest bloggers represent diverse backgrounds and the strategies discussed may be helpful for all.” This post was especially helpful to me.

Articles:

How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism  by Kristen Howerton at her blog

What White Children Need to Know about Race, by Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli for the Independent School Magazine

5 Ways Parents Pass Down Prejudice and Racism, by Danielle Slaughter for Huffington Post

Raising Race Conscious Children by Joanna Goddard on A Cup of Jo Blog

Podcast:

How to Not (Accidentally) Raise a Racist

Book Lists:

12 Books Featuring Black Fathers (for all ages)

28 Black Picture books that Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball


50+ Picture Books about Mixed Race Families 

 Children’s Books to Help Talk about Race with Kids  from an Alabama Public Library

18 Children’s Books with Characters of Color, by Joanna Goddard for her blog, A Cup of Jo 

10 Picture Books with Characters of Color (currently sitting in my Amazon shopping cart):

A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown

Beautiful, by Stacy McAnulty

The Bot that Scott Built, by Kim Norman

The Colors of Us, by Karen Katz

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson

The Lord’s Prayer, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

Happy in Our Skin, by Fran Manushkin

Psalm Twenty-Three, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

When God Made You, by Matthew Paul Turner

 

Now that my kids can talk (often more than I’d like them to), it’s time to start discussing race. My brothers and sisters of color have already had numerous conversations about this, so it’s time for me to begin planting seeds of love and tolerance before the weeds of prejudice can take root.

Join me?

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

**Contains Amazon Affiliate links

Day 10: Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2) {31 Days of #WOKE}

I used to bond with other women by talking about men. Many a friendship was forged over confessing a crush or finding we despised the same type of man. But the deepest friendships came out of the times when I dared to remove my mask and admit my greatest fears: that I was unattractive, too independent or ultimately unlovable. It was then that I could hear the words upon which every friendship must be built, “Me, too.”

In the places I’ve lived and cultures I’ve worked among (including my own), I’ve discovered that connection happens at the level of our deepest fears and greatest longings.

When we connect at the  point of our tender wounds–like two little girls willingly piercing their palms and co-mingling their blood in a pact of friendship–we can form friendships even in the most unlikely places.

***

The churches in my area have a fantastic program for the homeless. A large church and a smaller church partner together to house and feed homeless families for a two week period four times a year. Last night was the first time I volunteered to help others from my church cook a meal for these families. The plan was to eat together afterward. Stirring the German Potato Salad beforehand, I wondered what we would talk about.

What if I say the wrong thing? Will we find anything in common?

Scanning the room, I sat down next to a twenty-something Hispanic woman and her children. “How old are your children?” I asked as we picked up our forks to begin eating. “One and two, she said … eleven months apart.”

Exhaling and thinking of my six month old at home, not even fathoming being pregnant right now, I blurted out, “Did you cry when you found out?”

She laughed, “OOOH, yes.”

In an instant, over the horror of having a two month old and finding you are pregnant, we clicked.

She is a single mom, while I have a husband at home to help with our three children. She transports her kids around by bicycle and trailer while I drive a minivan. She is homeless, while just yesterday my husband and I looked at a four bedroom home as we continued our search for a home to buy.

And yet I understood her fierce love for her children. I inherently knew the determination she has to protect them. I respected her for doing what it takes to feed and clothe them. In that moment, we connected not because I know what it is like to be homeless, but because I know what it is like to be a mother.

***

A few years ago, when I was eight months pregnant with my first child, our church in Chicago did an all day outreach offering various social services on site at church for disadvantaged people in the neighborhood. One of the African American women I helped walk around to the different rooms had recently had a baby. I was surprised to find she had given birth in the same hospital I planned to go to and she mentioned she didn’t have an epidural. “That’s what I’m hoping to do, too.” I said. “So how was it?” I asked.

“It hurt like hell,” she laughed, “but you can do it.” I asked her more questions as I helped her and her mother gather their bags for the bus. I sent them on their way and reflected on that conversation. Though I was technically on the helping end and she was on the receiving end, she was the one who had gifted me.

But in that interaction, I also confronted an inner demon—something I’m ashamed to even admit in a public space. I found that part of me was shocked that deep down we were the same. Same hospital, same hope for a natural birth, same anxieties and fears about childbirth and same dreams for our future children. This feeling of surprise served as evidence of a latent belief that we weren’t the same. It cast light on prejudice crouching in the dark corner of my subconscious. And I want to drag that prejudice into the open where it can shrivel and die.

***

Every new friendship is a risk. This is especially true when we don’t know the rules of relationship with that particular culture or socioeconomic group. But when we offer up our insecurities as a gift and step out onto the universal bridge of fear, pain or longing that is at the essence of being human, we earn just enough trust to begin a friendship.

Friendship happens when we are vulnerable, shed culture’s heavy cloak and stand at the level of our bare humanity.

We are hope, anxiety, desire, talent, fear and doubt. We are blood, flesh, hair, bones, muscles, organs and sinews. We are soul, gender, spirit and mind.

As daughters of God, we are image-bearers, torch carriers, hope seekers and justice lovers. We are human, but more than that, we are children. We are cherished by the same Daddy who knit us together in our mother’s womb. Though we are different, the same blood shoots through our veins.

The challenge to myself and to you as I think about the relationships I want to have with those of different races, social classes, languages, educational levels, ages, political beliefs and cultures is this:

Stop being guarded. Put yourself in the position to be hurt, misunderstood or snubbed. Admit your weakness, fear, pain, doubt and anxiety to another.

Vulnerability is the midwife of trust.

Give away love like it was never yours to keep. And start believing that we are more alike than we are different. There are only gains in adding another gem to your friend collection.

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

In the places I’ve lived and cultures I’ve worked among (including my own), I’ve discovered that connection happens at the level of our deepest fears and greatest longings.

 

Day 9: Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1) {31 Days of #WOKE}

It is easy to be friends with people who are like us. At one time, I realized I could have traded clothes with three of my best friends—we were all runners and had similar body types, ate the same things, went to the same church, believed essentially the same things and shared a common worldview. Friendship on these terms was easy.

But my most transformational friendships have come at the cost of my comfort.

The best and worst part about living in China was visiting my students in their homes in rural areas of northwest China. They had a different way of showing hospitality to guests. Unlike the west, with our “make yourself at home” mentality, their goal was to make their visitors feel like special guests.

“Go have a rest in the living room,” they’d say, leaving me alone in a cold room on a hard couch next to the coffee table (“tea table” in China). I’d pick at oranges, dried dates and sunflower seeds as I waited. I longed to be with them in the kitchen, where laughter and delighted chatter floated from the doorway.

They would eventually emerge with plates of stir-fried spicy cabbage and lamb and steaming potatoes or with at least a hundred hand-made dumplings filled with beef and carrots. I’d eat until I was stuffed and they’d look offended when I stopped.

As a guest, I was expected to eat until I was sick. More than once, as it was nearly time for bed, my student’s mother would enter the living room with even more food and never allowed me the satisfaction of an empty bowl. I wanted to cry.

These experiences visiting small villages in China birthed many stories. But they also transported me out of the zone of my comfort into the reality of my students’ lives away from school.

Those trips obliterated my assumptions and granted me the gift of forced proximity to poverty and another way of life. I ate their food, played their card games, froze by their coal stoves, slept in their beds, met their grannies, held their nieces and nephews and borrowed their clothes.

It may sound adventurous, but I often felt so uncomfortable that I was counting the minutes until we boarded our train or bus home. I longed for my own bed, my heated apartment and the time when I could curl up under my plush throw blanket and binge-watch Alias.

But it wasn’t just physical discomfort that toppled my walls of pride and wrong assumptions. It was the discomfort of cultural confusion. I didn’t belong and constantly questioned whether or not I was acting the right way.

Operating in another culture is like having all the rules of a familiar game suddenly change, then being scolded when you make a wrong move. And yet I sensed God nudging me to choose to look stupid for the sake of relationship.

Each visit to another student’s home shattered another brick in my too-pristine wall of self-preservation and pride. It forced me to be dependent on another human being who looked, spoke, dressed and ate differently than I did.

***

The discipline of discomfort allows us to deeply know and be known by the “other.”

It is only as we are willing to deconstruct our walls and enter into the world of someone else that we will ever find friends who are different from us. And it is only then that we can begin to break down the barriers of racism, prejudice and oppression.

When we have slept in someone’s bed, we cannot accuse them of being a terrorist. When we have eaten someone’s homemade food, held their babies and joked with their grandpas, we cannot assume the worst of them.

It was easy to exercise the discipline of discomfort in China. But here in the U.S.? As we go from home to garage to car to work, grocery store, day care, school or library, then back home again, we flirt with the idea of diversity without ever entering the messy work of relationship.

Why would we choose to be uncomfortable with an unknown (and risk looking like an idiot) when we can be comfortable with someone just like us?

***

Check back tomorrow for part 2 on friendships.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 8: Three of my Favorite Podcasts by Christian Women of Color {31 Days of #WOKE}

For International Women’s Day today, I’d like to share three fabulous podcasts by women of color. Living in a nearly all-white area of the U.S., I am dependent on podcasts and social media to allow me to tune in to diverse voices. These are three of my favorites!

1.  Truth’s Table Podcast

 

I’ve been anticipating this podcast for a while. Though I’ve loved podcasts like Pass the Mic that discuss culture and the church from an African American perspective, it was mainly from the male point of view.

Truth’s Table is a new podcast where three female friends talk about culture, politics and faith in an intelligent, but down-to-earth way. They just started this up recently, but I’m looking forward to more. So far, I love the laughter and feel the need to listen with a pen in hand to jot down their wise words.

2. Faithfully Podcast

Faithfully Podcast is hosted by Nicola Menzie, a religion reporter and Faithfully Magazine Founding Editor. Along with her co-hosts and special guests, she discusses race, culture and Christianity. This podcasts includes a wide variety of topics and I have really enjoyed listening and learning from people very different from those in the white world I currently live in.

3. Shalom in the City

Shalom in the City is hosted by Osheta Moore, an African American woman with a passion to see cities transformed through the practice of “Shalom.” Osheta describes Shalom like this:

Why Shalom:  Shalom is a one way of saying peace, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s the world as it should be. Every woman who looks at her world, notices something that’s not working as it should be and asks, “How can I help” is a “Shalom Sista”.  The podcast exists to harness your earnestness and help you explore the many ways you can practice Shalom right in your context.”

More than just abstract talk, Osheta encourages her listeners to consider practical ways they can be a part of building shalom in their everyday lives.

 

***

I hope you have a chance to check out some of these podcasts. Don’t have the time? If you wash dishes, do laundry, commute to work, brush your teeth or put on make-up, you have time to listen to podcasts! I use the Pocket Casts app for Android, but there a variety of apps you can download to listen to podcasts throughout your day.

Are there any other podcasts by Christian women of color you know about? I’d love for you to share them in the comments section!

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Day 7: Without a Voice {31 Days of #WOKE}

Frustrated by my freedom
and their feigned rights.
Their lynched,
stores burned,
legs weary with marching to an anthem of peace
while rumors of war abound.
Where is Thurgood
and Martin now that
the rhythm of feet fades
to a phantom whisper?
The star rising in the north still illuminates
a page cut from a coloring book,
each line pressed hard with color,
each space filled with the same.
Never a minority,
minorities live in a colorless world
with a colorful culture.
Streets plowed on the northside
never see that sister south
remains buried,
buried.
Like a graveyard without a voice.

 

–Leslie Verner, February 12, 2002 (written while teaching in North Lawndale, Chicago)

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Image: Senor Codo

 

Day 6: “What are you?” {Guest Post for 31 Days of #WOKE}

Day 6: "What are you?" {Guest Post for 31 Days of #WOKE}

By Vannae Savig

I am mixed, multiracial, mixed-race, or whatever the new PC term is now. I didn’t realize this until people throughout my life began to remind me of it.

I always wonder if I wouldn’t even think about being mixed as much as I do, if society didn’t remind me of it all the time. People are often curious, and ask me the dreaded question, “What are you?”

Human. I am human.

I know that’s not the answer they want. I know what they mean. Most of the time I comply, but every once in a while, I play dumb. I pretend for a second that they are looking at me for me, and not my skin or my facial features. I pretend for a moment that race isn’t the most important thing.

***

When I was 4, I was playing with my friend, Chrissy. She and I played a game we called “princesses.” The only problem was Chrissy kept telling me that I wasn’t allowed to be the princess, I had to be the maid. Of course I was upset, and reminded her that every girl is a princess, and that it was my house, my rules. “Well, it’s because you’re black. Everyone knows black people are slaves, or maids.” She replied with so much confidence, I believed her for a moment. I knew then that I was black.

In third grade there was a girl named Natalie. She forever called me names like “oreo” or “white.” She told me I thought I was better than everyone else. She said because I was mixed I couldn’t play with her and her friends, who were black. She threatened to beat me up often. Thank goodness they were empty threats. Finally, I asked her what her problem was with me. She simply replied, “You’re white. Not black.” I was shocked. I looked down at my brown skin, confused. I went home and told my parents. They told me that yes, I had European heritage. I knew then that I was white.

In elementary school we learned about Native Americans. I was so excited about this because I knew my great grandfather was from the Blackfeet tribe, and my grandmother was mixed with the Choctaw tribe. I quickly raised my hand and announced this to the class. For the rest of the day some classmates raised their hands up next to their faces and said, “HOWGH” to me. Then some of the boys even chased me around at recess calling me Pocahontas. I knew then that I was Native American.

In high school, I was a part of my church’s youth group. The kids in youth group often made fun of my Mexican heritage. One boy repeatedly said, “Vannae are you a MexiCAN or a MexiCANT?” I remember some kids asked if my grandfather “jumped the border.” Or asked me if I was a U.S citizen. I knew then that I was Mexican.

***

These stories are my reality. In America, race is important. In America, labels are important. Being able to put labels on people, being able to put people in boxes, is the American way. If a person doesn’t fit into the boxes that are created, then they have no place to fit in.

None of these labels make me who I am; I know that. But they are constant reminders of how people see me. They are a constant reminder that I belong everywhere and nowhere.

If I choose one of the things I’m mixed with, I feel like I’m forgetting the rest of me. Like I’m denying the truth. Like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not.

When I’ve answered the dreaded question of “What are you?” with “I am black,” people respond with, “Yes and what else?” People want the full story.

Or sometimes the opposite happens. Once people hear that I have African American heritage, that’s enough for them. It’s as if the “one drop” rule still exists. They only see my skin color. That’s all they see in me. 

As a multiracial woman, I am slowly but surely becoming more proud of who I am. I am becoming more and more comfortable with not fitting in a box.

I am black and white.

I am mixed and multiracial.

I am Mexican and Native American.

I am human.

I am me.

 

Day 6: "What are you?" {Guest Post for 31 Days of #WOKE}Vannae is pastor and lives with her hubby and daughter in Colorado. She is passionate about justice and loves to help the voiceless find their voice. Vannae enjoys spending her time creating, and can often be found writing, or creating new recipes in her kitchen.

 

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

 

Day 5: Lent and Prophetic Lament {31 Days of #WOKE}

Lent and Lament

Lament: (verb) 1) to mourn or wail.  2) to express sorrow, mourning or regret. syn: deplore, bewail, bemoan

Lent: the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting.

–Merriam Webster

 

We prefer rejoicing to lament.

Singing with arms raised, spirits lifted and mouths full of praise, our chests heave with happiness after our time of praise and worship. Until “worship” is reframed as confession and lament.

Lament is a lost practice in the evangelical church.

I recently read Soong-Chan Rah’s book chronicling the book of Lamentations in the Bible, called Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times. It is an apt read during the season of Lent that is characterized by penitence and fasting.

Lent is intentionally sitting in the dark and doing battle with the demons we find there.

Much like I’m attempting in this series.

Here are a few thought-provoking quotes from the book:

“The depth of pain endemic to racial hostility requires full disclosure for complete healing.” (p. 58)

“Stories of suffering can never be buried when lament is an important and central aspect of the church’s worship life.” (p. 59)

“We do not hear from all of the voices in the North American evangelical context. Instead, we opt for quick and easy answers to complex issues. We want to move to the happier message of success and triumph and cover up the message of those who suffer.” (p. 68)

“There is an underlying belief that American Christians have been the standard-bearers of Christianity for several centuries. There is a sense of being the exceptional church, resulting in the missionary endeavor and vision…But this sense of American exceptionalism and even the sense of exceptionalism for the American church cannot be justified through Scripture.” (p. 94)

“The church has the power to bring healing in a racially fragmented society. That power is not found in an emphasis on strength but in suffering and weakness. The difficult topic of racial reconciliation requires the intersection of celebration and suffering.” (p. 106)

“Lament emerged as an uncomfortable but necessary response to the absence of shalom in the church.” (p. 138)

Have you ever prayed for God to reveal the sin in your life and then sat, waiting? It is terrifying. Because in my experience, God always answers.

I’m embracing this season of Lent as a way of forced exposure.

I’m asking God to illuminate my blind spots and weed out any latent and blatant racism in me. Will you join me in the journey?

Additional Resources:

Join the Facebook group “Prophetic Lament during Lent” that is slowly reading through this book.  The author himself is leading the group, so it looks like a fabulous way to dig deeper into the content of this book.

Listen to this podcast on lament. At the end, many people of color share their personal laments.

SheLoves Magazine recently studied this book. You can read the intro here.

This chart lists out the psalms of lament (at the top).

Listen to Soong Chan Rah on these podcasts:

Seminary Dropout

The Global Church Project

Pass the Mic

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.