Post Author: Amy Wiegert
My shoulders are tired this afternoon. Most of that is soreness from doing hair yesterday. All of yesterday: 10 hours of washing, conditioning, putting in product, brushing, combing, parting, twisting. 10 hours from which my daughter emerged with a beautiful head full of dark brown twists. Gorgeous. She is funny. She is smart. She is beautiful and I love her.
She is my daughter. It’s me or my husband who comfort her after bad dreams, dose out the ibuprofen in the midst of a horrible cold, or drive to dance lessons. We are the ones who remind her to pick up her room, to put the dishes into the dishwasher, to finish packing up her back pack. At first glance, we may not look like her parents, but we are. I am not a person of color. I am, in my colleague Rev. Michael Russell’s words, “a person of white.” We are a multi-racial family. We are not alone: 15% of the United States today are part of multi-racial families. That’s about 21 million folks.
I have sat at a kitchen table with a good friend, laughing, telling stories, and watching and listening as my friend reminds her teenage son about how to interact with the police should he be stopped for “DWB” (driving while black). “I know, Mom, ” he says, “I know: you’ve told me.” She reminds him that she loves him. I have sat there, hearing this conversation, and for the first time realizing this could be my conversation with my children in a few years.
I do not claim my daughter’s color, race, heritage or African culture. I do not know what it feels like to live in her skin. We try to walk in two worlds and some days, neither works very well. I need to make an effort to put myself in rooms with folks who look like my daughter. Our neighborhood is mostly white folks. Summer camp and dance classes are mostly African American folks. We go for swim lessons in the town where there is a mix of folks, instead of at the all white pool down the block. When we go out for breakfast, we choose the pancake place that’s a little further away and a little bit more expensive because we know most of the folks who have chosen that place are African American. We are intentional about movies, books, art, play dates, and friends who are white, African American and biracial. We choose not to patronize businesses where there are only white folks serving and being served. I read theroot.com, blackpressusa.com, and the Black Voices page on Huffington Post more than I read the local news websites. We forge real friendships with folks who look like us and with folks who look nothing like us. It means difficult conversations are part of each week. It means race is the topic at dinner. It takes effort and energy and focus. And some days I don’t do it because I’m tired. And that is part of my white privilege: to choose to be tired. My daughter never has that choice.
When I walk into a room as a pastor, I have the option of telling or not telling that I am part of a multi-racial family. I almost always tell. Sometimes I know it may not be safe for me or my family if I tell. Sometimes I find myself more comfortable in a room full of brown skinned folks than in a room of peachy skinned folks (our family phrase), especially if the topic is schools or gun control. My daughter reminds me, “Mom you don’t have to talk to all the brown skinned folks you know.” I can count on one hand the times brown skinned folks have been rude to us. I have stopped counting the number of times peachy skinned folks have given us the look of disapproval or said hurtful things about how our family looks and what they assume to be true of us.
I’ve experienced real racism directed at my family, racism that generates my own anger and hurt and fear. I will not ignore racism or brush it off. I have real problems with people describing a room as “dark” when what they reallly mean is “a lot of black folks in there.” I will not laugh when someone apologizes for a racist comment. Instead, I say “thanks for your apology.” I am done with white folks being hurt, sad, or appalled at racism.
I don’t know all the facts of Michael Brown’s killing earlier this month in Ferguson, Missouri. I do know enough to be frightened for my children. I know enough accounts of corrupt police behavior that I am not surprised, but I also know enough Chicago police officers to know that not all police do bad things in the name of the law.
My shoulders will be sore from doing my daughter’s hair for a few days. Jesus must have known sore shoulders too, weighed down by people mistreating each other because they saw difference. Maybe that’s why he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I know I am not alone on this journey. I know my shoulders will often be tired, but my prayer is that it’s from spending all day doing hair making my daughter feel beautiful, and not because I’m weighed down, wondering if someone didn’t play with my daughter at the park because of the beautiful cocoa brown of her skin.
I don’t have all the answers but I know one thing: we’re meant to take our regular, everyday lives and put them in God’s hands.
As Jesus followers, we’re not meant to get so used to the ways things are that we believe that’s the way they will always be. Go to places you’ve never been, where you might be uncomfortable. Introduce yourself to people you’ve not met. God created these differences, and they are good. God can bring out the best in us, and sometimes we have to remind each other of that.
(Image from here.)