Thinking About Racism #2

Back in March I wrote a post about how I am a recovering racist. Since that time, several folks have written in support, or suggesting that I’m being too hard on myself.

What I was trying to say (and unfortunately was not always heard) is that most of us have those lingering places of sin in our lives; things that we think we have gotten under control only to have them appear again when we least expect them. One of those places for me are the voices in my head about safety and African American young men.

With that set up, I want to share some highlights from an e-mail on this issue from my friend Sue. Sue is an old friend (well, she’s not really THAT old!!!) who has seen me through many stages of my life. Sue is also a saint, someone who has taken Christ’s call in her life seriously and lives out Jesus command of love. Several years ago, Sue and her husband took a couple of African American kids from her neighborhood into their home. They have three kids now in a two bedroom townhome. Sue and her husband give sacrifically to their kids, even in the midst of confronting cultural differences.

Sue writes:

Here I am, mom to three black kids, and I too struggle with some odd little twists of racism. Like, I struggle about what I will and won’t let them listen to, wear, say, how they posture themselves when sitting in the car. And I constantly worry that I am denying them their heritage. On the other hand, I also always feel like a white supremacist. The world out there is still ugly toward black folk, and I want them to hear that at home before they find out the hard way. I have black women friends who tell their kids every day that they have to work harder than white kids in order to excel and they can get away with that. But when I , their big white mother, tell them that I feel really really white.

We have had a struggle of late with hair issues. The girls want hairdos like their black friends. One of the things I fought constantly while doing social work at the housing complex was the budgeting issue and hair and nails and cell phones and pagers. Folks were not paying their rent, and yet could not be persuaded to do without any of those things. It was a matter of cultural priority. Now here these kids come to live with two old hippies who are trying to live this simple life and I totally resent that they want hairdos that cost me a full days pay and then turn around and cost me another day out of my life sitting in the salon which is the ultimate field trip across a cultural divide for me. The girls were insisting that they were being made fun of for their hair, and I believe them. They do not complain often. So, I have given in. I don’t even care for the look, but they feel beautiful. And they feel black. And that’s important. I really want them to know and love the best of their culture.

I’ve been fighting back and forth with them because I want us to start going to a black church some of the time. _______ Church is well mixed as far as attendance, but it’s still basically white in traditions. They are wailing and begging not to go because they say it lasts too long and they will get hungry and they will have to dress up and on and on. At times I think they are judgemental- they make statements like, “That is SO black”. Since they never hear that here, I asked them where they have heard such a statement and they say from their black friends so I don’t know quite what to make of that. But I’ve realized that they/we use color to define some things when that’s really the wrong terminology. An example is that a couple of weeks ago both Chiayim and Shameka said that they feel like they will most likely partner ultimately with white folks. When I questioned them, what they were really saying was that they don’t anticipate partnering with someone living in the public housing culture that they have come out of. Color really wasn’t the issue, but that’s the only tag they knew to put on it. They want to marry someone smart and progressive and moral, and sadly they have interpreted that to be white……which then makes me worry about their self-perception. Chiayim’s extended family has ever since he moved here started calling him White Boy and they don’t mean it as a compliment and he is never sure what to make of that or how to respond.

So, as if parenting weren’t hard enough anyway, there is this constant anguish about doing the right thing for these three beautiful black children. Thankfully, I have found wise black women friends to anchor me and they often tell me I worry way more than they do about instilling black pride in the kids. And I worry about my own issues…..I frankly do not want my son to drive a ghetto glider, and that’s all he dreams of. I wish my girls wanted to wear their hair natural, but they want to look like their friends. Chiayim says my tombstone is going to say, “Pull your pants up.” I am forever linked to a culture of wedding and funeral traditions that I just don’t get. I don’t really want grandchildren named Lil Tee, but it could happen.

Two good books to recommend: Why Do all the Black Kids Sit Together in the Cafeteria?, and Gate’s book America Behind the Color Line.

Thankful for a God of grace who knows my motives are purer than my thoughts or actions.

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