Day 19: How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble {31 Days of #WOKE}

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

Two years ago, we moved our family from the diverse north side of Chicago to a nearly all-white area of Colorado. And it pains me. Truly.

Not that white people are all the same, but I worry my children’s worldview will be white-centric because that is all they know.

Perhaps you are like me and find yourself living on White Island. What are you doing to build windows to the world in your child’s culture of whiteness? At risk of sounding braggy or like I have it all figured out (I promise, I don’t). Here are some things I’m trying.

International Students

First of all, we’re moving. It’s only about 20 minutes from where we are right now, but we are intentionally moving from a nearly all-white area to a slightly-less-white area. For us, that means we move closer to the university.

Nearly four years ago I volunteered for one month at an ESL class in Chicago. At the end of that time one of the girls from Saudi Arabia asked to live with us. You can read more about that here and here, but four months turned into a year and she became like family.

Looking for houses, we are considering how we can have international students live with us. Could we have our kids share a room? Will our house be near a bus station? Within walking distance of the school?

As a mom to three kids four and under, I don’t have much time or energy to volunteer my time outside of the home. My husband doesn’t feel called overseas, so the best-case scenario is to let the nations come to us. If you’ve never considered it, I recommend looking for an opportunity to host an international student for a short period of time. If you don’t have space for that, consider having them over for dinner. Most international students will never be invited to an American’s home even if they live here for years. It is a mutually beneficial situation.

The university in our area has an outstanding program for international students. They have weekly dinners and an international women’s club. They welcome people from the community, so I bring my three kids to the rec room of the international student apartments every Friday morning for the women’s meeting. All the women take turns teaching skills like cooking, knitting, scrapbooking and sewing.

So far, I have met women from India, Romania, Iraq, Turkey, Korea, China and Indonesia. There are a few other Indian boys there, so my son is learning what it feels like to be the minority. And I, as his mom, am learning what it feels like to have my child excluded because he doesn’t look like the other boys. Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Visit Another Church

My extremely white city has one black church. I visited a few months ago, grabbing my kids’ hands and nervously entering the building after the service had already started. I wondered if I’d feel out of place or unwanted. The day I visited, 40 people were in attendance and about 10 of those were white. I encountered the stereotypes of black churches—dynamic preaching with the congregation talking back, repetitive, up-beat music, a long service, fans on the pews and a fried chicken dinner after church. I loved every minute.

I didn’t mention anything about race to my son before or after and he didn’t say anything either. But it was the week after this that he first told me he couldn’t be friends with a boy because he had black skin—like those people at that church. I wanted to cry. In spite of the hours of personal research I have done on this issue, it wasn’t enough to make my son racially inclusive.

Be Proximate

Another way I’m seeking out diversity for myself and my children is to spend time where people of color hang out. Museums in Denver an hour away are filled with diversity. And some restaurants and playgrounds in town tend to have a higher percentage of non-whites than others. If I have a choice, I go to those places.

Toys, Books and T.V.

Some other small things I’m doing are to buy non-white dolls and have them watch T.V. shows and read books including people who look different from them. I’m also gearing up to have some more intentional conversations with my four-year-old about race. Until now, I haven’t wanted to shatter his innocence, but maybe I’ve resisted because there is so much shame wrapped up in talking about racial differences. Perhaps if I talk about it now with him, he will learn how to have positive conversations about differences instead of absorbing negative stereotypes on the playground. I’m planning on using some books and talking points from the resources I shared last week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Self-educate and Friendship

I’m trying to educate myself on racial issues through books, articles, podcasts and diversifying my social media. But God has also brought some women of color into my life serendipitously. We talk openly about race and I am enjoying getting to know them better.

These are just some of the ways I am trying to seek out diversity in the white bubble I’m living in. It’s not enough. And it’s embarrassing that it should take so much effort. But it’s a step. I’d love to hear some ways you are seeking diversity in your life right now. I’m certainly open to more ideas!

 

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.

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

Barn Dancing, the Inauguration and the International Women’s Club

I usually try not to use the internet to glamorize my life. The internet can be the high school yearbook view of life: perfect pictures, inspiring quotes and exciting events that include the highlights without the low-lights of life. The truth is that life is more often lived in the shadows. But yesterday was full of shadows for some in our country, so today I’d like to cast some light.

My son howled after I popped the balloon he had been beating his sister on the head with yesterday morning while I was trying to get us out the door. I eventually cajoled him and the other two into their car seats, checked directions on my phone, turned on public radio and eased our minivan out of the driveway. Thank God we have a date night planned tonight, I thought.

On the radio, a woman prayed for our country. A man spoke. A chorale sang sweet subversive words.

“Once we were strangers, we were welcomed, now we belong and believe in this land,” seemed a passive-aggressive jab at the new administration. With the final line, I exhaled, feeling tension fall away:

“Keep faith, guard mind, take heart, guard spirit, take courage, keep watch, feed longing, feed love.”

Take courage. Feed love.

My children stared quietly out the window as we drove from our small town to the larger college town, passing golden fields that stretched to low hills, with snowy mountains lurking behind.

“Why are those people clapping?” my two-year-old asked.

“Because we have a new president,” I answered dully. He had begun his first speech as the President of the United States.

Driving in circles, I switched off the radio mid-speech to focus on finding my destination. An Asian woman pointed to an empty parking space as I passed the resale shop we were meeting at. Strapping on the baby and reminding the other two to hold my hand, we found the rest of the group inside. Two Korean women browsed the women’s clothing, a Costa Rican high schooler smiled shyly at us and the leader—a Romanian woman—introduced herself and said we’d go next door for brunch in a few minutes.

At the restaurant, I settled my two kids with French toast and pushed back all the plates so my four-month-old couldn’t grab them. I looked up at the friendly new faces and we introduced ourselves. I told them I had lived in China and miss interacting with people from other countries and they each told me a small part of their story.

We didn’t talk about what was happening at that moment in Washington as we sat in the basement of an old home-turned café. We didn’t talk about marches, protests, inequality or misogyny. Instead, we communicated with the smiles that transcend language barriers, sharing simple facts about ourselves that help others build a picture of who we are in the shortest amount of time.

Afterwards, I beamed as my husband asked me how it was. This sort of thing feeds my soul. Goodbye Friday morning MOPS with your crafts and small talk, hello Friday morning International Women’s Club.

***

We got a babysitter in the evening and skipped like freed foals back to the college town. Looking for parking, cheery light burst through the windows of the music building as people mingled around and shifted into lines. Holding hands, we rushed inside and found a hundred people or more listening to instructions from the caller. Part hipster, part outdoorsman, young and fit with a beard, ironed plaid shirt and camouflage ball cap, the man leading the barn dance seemed to epitomize Colorado. A blue-grass band sat with instruments poised, ready to accompany the room of expectant men, women, and even some children of every age and class.

Soon, people were shedding outer layers and downing tiny plastic cups of water. We do-se-doed, allamanded left and right and promenaded with our partner after weaving hands with three new couples in our square. By the end of the night, my feet ached and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. We laughed at the missteps, bumbles and wrong turns and clapped like children when we all got it right.

It made me wish church were more like this—like strangers from every walk of life forced to dance together–stepping on toes, turning the wrong direction and not taking life so seriously.

Yesterday was a heavy day for some and this day after the inauguration is full of history-making events like women’s marches, speeches and protests. I, too, have big feelings. But at the micro-level, life is still being lived.

Whether government dictates it or not, we continue the work of taking courage, keeping watch, feeding longing and feeding love. We intentionally enter uncomfortable situations as we experiment and escape our hum-drum life for a couple hours to make fools of ourselves and bounce around a room with strangers.  We learn how to belong by welcoming–and being–the stranger.