Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Race Card

Well hi there! I realize I've only been missing for two months. I wasn't abducted by aliens, unless you would say that my kids are aliens. I've been busy being a mama, and a homeschool teacher, and trying to let the dust settle. And breathe. And savor. And breathe some more. It feels so good to breathe.

Jesus has been so near and is doing so many things. He is wooing my heart back to Him. He is showing me all the ways the enemy lied to me and tried to get me to "curse God and die" last year. There's been so much work in my heart and I'm trying just to rest and let Him speak. He is so good to do that.

There are so many things I can say and want to say, but I guess my heart is inclined to talk about a big something first. Before I dig deep into the heart stuff, or show you the cool house projects, I want to talk about something that's been weighing heavily on me recently.

The fact that I'm a white mama to black kids.

I know this is no shock to you guys and not something I haven't touched before, but I guess now that I've finally legally become these guys' mama, something has changed in me. The permanency is here. I can dream and hope and think into the future and I would never let myself do that before, because fear. And it's funny that now as the permanency settles, there are aspects of the living in the moment that are appealing. Like how now I suddenly realize that I will have to have hard discussions with my black kids about the history of their people. I will have to explain the atrocities that my ancestors committed to their ancestors. I will have to look my babies in the eyes and grasp for words to explain that some people felt, (gulp) feel, that black people are less important, less smart, more criminal, more dangerous than white people. That there are words they use to describe them. That they get grouped into some terrible stereotypes despite the fact that they don't know or associate with people who do certain things.

I know about Ferguson and all the stories that have came about since then. Stories that I've been numbed to, living in my sheltered white existence. I've never feared being pulled over by an officer because of my skin color. I've never worried about wearing a hoodie in public because of public perception. Or keeping my hands in my pocket. I've never felt like meat just because I'm a female. I've never felt like I was someone'e property and that they were entitled to do to me, speak to me, treat me as they wish. This is white privilege. And I knew that that happened to people. Kind of. And it grieved me. But I didn't know like I know now. I didn't feel like my heart might stop to know that that might happen to my kids one day.

And I don't know, I have felt more than once that the word over my life is that I'm an emancipator. I was born on Abraham Lincoln's birthday and for some reason his story has always resounded with me. And my birthday is in February which always coincided with Black History month in school and I paid attention. It meant something to me, despite the fact that I grew up in a significant white majority elementary school. I remember at 4 my best friend in preschool was a black girl. I loved her. I didn't know she was black, I just knew she was my friend. And I remember one day my grandma picked me up from preschool and she said something about a n****r, I don't remember if it was about my friend or not, but I remember it made me SO MAD. I remember telling her that she should not ever use that word again. So this thing in me has been there, just like God was preparing me all along.

The other thing that has been hard as I have journeyed forward into adulthood is this awkwardness I have experienced with black people. In junior high and high school I felt like I was with them and they with me. I didn't feel like there was awkwardness between us. We were friends. That's it. No drama or confusion or racism (although admittedly maybe I missed my white privilege there too.) But in recent years I have felt hated by black people on more than one occasion. I have felt stereotyped, judged harshly, in ways and at times that I didn't understand. Random places: ordering food, dealing with customer service, while teaching college students. Individuals with an obvious chip on their shoulder that I know nothing about and didn't cause. And I guess some people call this racism too, and maybe it is, but they probably should treat me like that because maybe "my kind" has treated them that way. How's it feel Shana? Horrible. It feels horrible to be lumped into a group of people who you don't know and made to feel like you are one of them.

Sadly, I thought the only white people who still treated black people poorly were people from my grandparents' generation and people loosely associated with the Klan. I know. Naive. I'm sorry. Truly I am.

But relating to the black culture presents its challenges to me. I am melanin impoverished and yet raising children who aren't. I love them. They are mine. Their skin color doesn't affect how I treat them or feel about them. I want them to know the truth, when they are ready for it. I want them to know all parts of the culture and feel part of it. But mostly I just want them to feel like people. Like smart, strong, human beings--because they are. I want them to reach their fullest potential, like any parent does for their children.

And yet somehow, maybe because I live in the south, I feel shut out by black adults. Judged. Condemned for taking in black babies. Which just seems so strange to me. And I get that there is a collective mentality in the black community because for hundreds of years they had to be for each other. I actually admire that so much. Truthfully I long for that myself. White people don't have that thing. White people came from all over the flippin world. We are some hodge podge people. My lineage is Native American and Irish, that I know of. What is white anyway? Race is jacked up. But I love this idea of a collective community of people. And I can't invite myself in, and that's okay, but could you give me the benefit of the doubt? Could you not assume I'm the bad guy? That we aren't all the bad guys? Could you maybe not say something about how I do hair since I am trying SO HARD to do it well, to honor your culture. I've taught myself some things that your moms and friends and sisters teach you  how to do. I have so much respect and love in my heart for black people. For all people. Truly I do.

I took the kids to Chickfila in Little Rock the other day. The irony here is the town because since we've moved to Conway, I have not dealt with a single person (black or white) who has given me a hard time or said anything other than being supremely encouraging about our family. I had had a rough night with the kids running errands. I was exhausted and had broken down crying in the car because there has been a lot of disrespecting and disobeying me this week and I was angry and tired. I got the kids settled and placed our order and then came back to sit down. My brother had texted me and I was in the middle of reading and responding when an older black lady who works there came up to me and said, "Are these all yours?" And she was being friendly but I always brace myself for these conversations. Sometimes I just wish we could fit in. Not in the sense that we were all the same color, because I LOVE OUR COLORS, but that people wouldn't treat us like an anomoly. Why does someone always have to say something? Why do I have to explain my family? Especially because I was exhausted and grumpy and just wanted to eat and they are all sitting there with their young eyes waiting on my response, which is important. Since I was in the middle of a text, I barely looked up and I told her that yes they were. She said, "How do it?" And I laughed and said, "Not very well sometimes." And mentioned something about dad being at work. She moved on and didn't say anything else or try to talk to me but I got the impression that I hurt her feelings.

After everyone had eaten I chatted with two young black mamas at the booth next to me. Then when the employee passed by again I told her I felt like I owed her an apology, that I was not trying to be rude but I was exhausted and had had a rough night. She just kind of nodded at me and I could tell I had hurt her. Because I want to love people well, I bent over backwards explaining myself, but to be honest it annoyed me. Not her necessarily, but the race issue involved in the scenerio. She didn't get upset when the black mamas next to me ignored her. It's like she received my lack of feedback as a diss on a black lady, despite the fact I have black kids. And even if I am being presumptious that it was race related, why would anyone start asking a mama questions when she is on her phone and is trying to get five kids fed? And then get your feelings hurt? But I digress.

There's just so much awkwardness here. I have to walk on eggshells in public just waiting for comments and it's exhausting. And I joined a group on Facebook for parents who have adopted outside their race and to be honest so much of what I'm reading is discouraging. I'm thankful for a place for adopted kids and biological parents to have a voice, but I'm hearing so much about how I'm going to fail at this. How if I don't expose my kids to every kind of cultural aspect there is, and how if I don't tell them the right things, the right way, at the right ages, that I will alienate them and they will hate me when they are adults. Basically these people make me feel like my "white privilege" means I will never do a good job of raising black kids, which is reinforced when I come to Little Rock and have all these little conversations with black people here. The people on the page make it like I signed on for this and toughen up lady and you better do a good job or fire rain down on you.

I'm not good enough. I won't be enough. I'm screwed from the beginning.

The thing is, I don't wake up in the morning and tell my white kids about how they are white and our ancestors were terrible people and we need to act a certain way every day because of that. I just want them to know they are people. Their own people. And nothing but opportunity and Jesus waits in front of them. And maybe this is my white privilege talking again, but I don't feel like my black friends do this either. I don't feel that it's any parent's obligation or requirement to beat their kids over the head with the fact that their skin is a certain color and that horrible things were done by or to their ancestors and continue on today. I don't wake up in the morning and spend my day languishing over the wars and the crime and the horrible atrocities that happen daily. If I did that I would never want to get out of bed. If I spent my days doing that with any of my kids or living in a world of fear, none of us would ever want to get out of bed.

I want to speak life. Speak hope. Speak truth. God's truth.

God doesn't care about race issues in the sense that the drama does not move Him off His throne. He cares about justice and love and for His kids to be treated well. All of His kids. He cares that people know Him. He doesn't care about Facebook or books people write or statistics or opinions. He already knows it all. He knows best how to parent my kids. Each of them. Individually. He knows what they need. He has the answers. He knows how to love them best. He wants to show Dwayne and I how to do that.

He gave us this task.
God did.
God made Kenan, Reuben, and Ellie our kids just as much as He did Cayle and Alaya. And if He did it, that means He has a good plan. A plan for their good and our good.
It means He will show us how to do this. We won't do it perfectly, but we have so much hope and grace because of Him. And His is the only approval we truly need.

So I refuse to capsize to fear. I need to grow a pair and not let people's opinions discourage me. I will always be judged by someone for something, right? I guess I just so look for approval from the black community right now, that I've made my heart vulnerable to them. And I have it from some precious friends, but I guess I look for it from the whole, which is dumb. I don't have it from the whole of white people, for crying out loud.

I'm sure I will have more thoughts about race and entering this new world as a parent. I hope that some of this has been thought provoking for you. Tell me your thoughts and personal experiences. Thanks for catching up with me!


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