Race and identity – Going a little deeper

In my 20’s, I wrote a poem about what animal I would be, I chose a bird. I went on to describe all the reasons why, which included the ability to see things from above and how that view would look different. Forty-two years into my life, in so many ways, I see two worlds that seem so far apart, but like a bird’s view, I am sure although different still look amazing from above.

Race and people groups have always been a topic I was curious about since I can remember. Recently, in my writing endeavors I searched Google for books to encourage our teens on how to struggle through the variety of disparities they see, including race and particularly bi-racial life. I think “his-story” is an excellent way to see and understand life’s issues. To my surprise, but then not really, there are very few books on the experiences of “mixed kids.” It’s these things that remind me of the disconnect in the two worlds I speak of.

How skin color has that much power to change the path of one’s life, if even for good, is still crazy to me.

James McBride, shares his story of two worlds in his book, The Color of Water, he says, “I thought it would be easier if we were just one color, black or white. I didn’t want to be white…I would have preferred that Mommy were black. Now as a grown man, I feel privileged to have come from two worlds. My view of the world is not merely that of a black man but that of a black man with something of a Jewish soul.”

I relate to him, though I was “white,” among mostly “white” family members I frequently questioned why I seemed so different. Now as a grown woman, over 40, and comfortable in my skin (please allow me) I appreciate all the view points I have experienced.

I spent so many years in the “black” world, from my ex-husbands family who took me in at 15 YO to my husband’s family who is like my own, these are two of the many experiences that shade-in all the empty places I questioned growing up. I only see color when I am asked to identify myself, my children or my husband in terms of color… and unfortunately, that is asked a lot in our society. We have still deemed it important to stick people in color categories for many reasons but one that comes clear to my mind is money and that is a shame!

race pic

Online discussions on blogs and social media about our society’s racial divide impact me… they cause me to think deeper. Suggested solutions by a few were on point for sure: racial and cultural training in police departments, politicians actually doing something, the need for racially equal people of influence to have a voice and engage with young people on solutions.

All good and for sure a place to start, I just don’t think it will truly fix the reoccurring tragedies we hear about. I don’t intend to make this post about solutions, or even police shooting young black men, nor do I say that to diminish those evils, rather, I just want to tell my story, but of course, I will add my two-cents of suggestions. But truly, I believe there is only one answer ultimately that will bring about true reconciliation and restoration and that is salvation through Jesus Christ which changes our hearts, from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.

Growing up, my Grandpa, from Italy, brought to the U.S. when he was young, abandoned by his parents, raised in an orphanage, and extremely prejudice against any people group except Italians, encouraged hate, exclusion, division and fear. He encouraged me through his words and actions towards me to not like people because of where they were born or the color of their skin or the language they spoke. I am not exactly sure how I ended up where I am today, but one thing I am certain of – I decided that his beliefs were not something I was taking with me in my adult life.

Herein is my point, we each get to decide what we will take with us into our adult lives. The police officer who is fearful (different than afraid) and full of pride (yes for the most part, I think racism is rooted in fear and pride) of “black” people chooses to think that way. And even after being “trained” to not be prejudice/racist, he could still choose to not like black people. Knowledge alone, is like a Band-Aid, we don’t heal from the Band-Aid!

I am not giving a blanket, pat answer to racism, and surely this isn’t a simple matter; and my jacked up thinking can’t be only designated to racism, obviously this applies to all the issues of life! I tell my children quite often when they do something out of character, “they have lost their minds!” I completely relate to McBride’s mother when she made remarks regarding “the white devil” and “white people” as though she were not white herself.

Surely, like most, I dream of a society where all colors are equal and seen as the Creator designed it to be in the first place – ethnically different for sure because that makes it all so fun and creative, like God. And since as children we internalize what we hear, just as I did from my Grandpa, that means to not be “racist” is an individual decision that each person makes whether through omission or commission.

In my journey to share my story, and to one day write a book that my grandchildren and others can use as a compass to guide their thinking about their racial identity, I will also continue to pray for change in the hearts of not just the “white people” but black and brown and cream and caramel colored people, too!

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