Celebrating Color

 

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Sage the Blog in April 2017. 

celebrating color & creating safe spaces

I didn’t grow up thinking white people were better than any other race, but I never grew up around anyone who wasn’t white. When I was in middle school, I discovered the Fresh Prince of Bel air and crushed hard on Will Smith. In high school I befriended the two black guys in my high school. One of whom reminded me of Will Smith. I knew they were black, but I didn’t think anything else of it. I’m sure the words, “I don’t see color” fell out of my mouth a few times.

It wasn’t until I was in college and started dating my now-husband that I realized how many things I had done in ignorance could be perceived as racist. When  Mr. M and I started dating, I had that safe place to ask the ignorant questions. I learned about systematic racism, I learned about the white savior complex. I learned that saying “I don’t see color” whitewashes the incredible experience and story each person of color carries.

My parent weren’t the least surprised when I called home one early spring day to tell them I was going on a date, and the guy I met was from a country in Africa. In fact, my dad once said, “Christina, I would be surprised if you marry a Caucasian.”

I had one of those moments on my first date with Mr. M- I knew we were going to get married. (He did not have that moment until several months later.)

Mr. M and I live in East Tennessee. We have more than one stoplight, so we aren’t pure rural Appalachia, and we are lucky enough to live in a college town that does have quite a bit of diversity. I never knew how large the African community was in our area until he and I started dating. I guess I just never noticed.

Nonetheless, I could still feel the eyes. A couple of times I noticed (mostly from the older generation) people staring at us as we walked, hand in hand. And in my lack of graciousness, I would look them dead in the eye as I held on tighter to my handsome chocolate man. Once, when we went home to see my family, I noticed someone staring at us as we were stopped next to each other at the stoplight. I turned to Mr. M and said, “Kiss me” and then made sure I kissed him passionately. He thought I was being sweet. I was being rebellious against the ill-conceived notions that races shouldn’t mix.

I don’t necessarily recommend that route. It’s rooted in pride, and while I am proud to stand next to, and be affiliated with my husband and his family, it is definitely not the most Christ-like approach. Mr. M is much more gracious in his responses.

In the spring, on our way back from a friend’s wedding in Savannah, Georgia, we stopped at a McDonald’s in South Carolina to use the restroom and grab a cup of iced coffee to fuel us on a road trip. I was leaned against Mr. M while waiting in line. There was a man in the back of the restaurant who stared at us until Mr. M looked his way, to which Mr. M smiled and waved and the man slowly shook his head in disgust. I promptly turned around and shot fire darts from my eye. I imagined what I would say if I worked up the nerve to confront him. I never did. I’m more talk than game.

But Mr. M is compassionate. He speaks the truth in love and he is gracious towards those who don’t understand or disagree. It’s something he has had to accept and learn growing up in America. He told me that when they first moved from Zimbabwe to the United States, as he and his brothers became pre-teens and teenagers, their dad sat them down, making them aware that in the United States, they were more likely to receive prejudice, so they needed to make sure they carried themselves well, dressed well, were respectful at all times to authority figures, etc.

As parents, of course, we would tell our children this anyway: “Be respectful, and carry yourself well. Don’t tarnish the family name!” But for the minority groups in America, it’s more than tarnishing the family name, it’s survival. Over the past several years, through conversation with Mr. M, reading and listening to accounts from other moms of African-American, Latino, or biracial children, I find this is something that is stressed more so to children who do not look predominately white.

So what can we change? I’ve written from my hopeful millennial perspective about why it is important that we support our friends trying to use their voice.

But how else do we support our minority brothers and sisters?

celebrating color & creating safe spaces

 

We see color. We celebrate color.

When I am home alone with Mr. M, I sometimes forget that we don’t look like each other. It’s in those moments where I’m getting ready and he comes up behind me and wraps his arms around me that I see our colors contrast. When we are lying down, and my arm lays against his and he says, “Oh my gosh your arm is translucent!” I remember that he is black and I am white. I see and bask in the color of his dark skin. It is, after all, one of the things I am most attracted to in him- aside from his compassion, and the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles, and the way his heart seeks to right social injustices. I celebrate his dark brown skin because it carries his heritage. He is a Zimbabwean who still speaks in his native tongue when he is with family. His Shona name is a badge of his culture. The way he thinks and sees the world has been shaped by growing up in two different worlds – a third culture kid.

I want to say that our relationship is more than the colors we reflect, but in a sense, our relationship is the colors we reflect. When you see a married couple who are both white, you don’t automatically think, “Oh, I bet they have a lot of compromising they have to do.” (Which, by the way, is still totally untrue, as you married people know.) But when you see my husband, me, and read our incredibly long (but phonetic) last name, you probably wonder how it works.

And here is how it works: We love hard. We listen well. We learn from each other. We celebrate our differences, and embrace the cultures and traditions we each grew up with.

For instance, in my mind, I had a perfect American wedding planned out. In reality, our families threw the biggest Zimbabwean-American wedding anyone has ever seen. Our dance floor was packed the entire time, whether Zimbabwean, South African, or American music was playing. Our guests had their choice of Zimbabwean food: sadza (a cornmeal patty), collard greens, and beef stew, or my favorite American food: chili and potato soup. Our friend surprised us with a communion meditation that was given in both English and Shona.

If I didn’t embrace who Mr. M is and where he is from, I would miss out on the blessing of finding a new piece of the world. If I didn’t ask questions and learn, I wouldn’t fully be able to say I know my husband. It is important to me that our relationship’s foundation is first of all on the word of God, and secondly on celebrating who we are.

celebrating color & creating safe spaces

Mr. M and I were humbled and amazed by the responses I received on my most recent post, When You Call My Husband the N-Word. One thing my husband and I are careful to acknowledge is that we do not want to play the victim card. Playing the victim doesn’t offer any options for victory. We are victors in our circumstance. We want to find ways to embrace each other’s cultural identities and differences. But in order to do that, we do have to acknowledge the hurt and pain that comes with racism.

Our culture makes it clear that we cannot just be silent. Desmond Tutu said that “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

White people are not the saviors in defeating racism. White people have the responsibility to reverse the curse we brought into this country 400 years ago. I asked a friend how white people can be an ally to the minority community, and she said “Listen.”

There is a desperate need for raw and vulnerable conversations between the white community and the minority community. In order to align ourselves with our brothers and sisters who suffer under the institutionalized racism in our country, we have to listen. We have to hear their stories, and we have to be willing to acknowledge the generational pain our ancestors brought upon minorities in our country. Then we must create space. We move off the stage to allow room for the minorities in our country to speak.

For the next several weeks, I will be hosting conversations with some friends that I have been privileged to make within the blogging community on identity, racism, and how the white community can continue to create space and take action racism in a healthy way alongside our brothers and sisters. Check back each Wednesday in the month of November for a new installment of “Creating Space.”

never
trust anyone
who says
they do not see color.
this means
to them
you are invisible.
-is

Nayyirah Waheed

When You Call my Husband the N-Word

When You Call My Husband the N-Word

You could say that I invited ourselves into this situation. There was a festival a few counties down the road that I wanted to go to for the last several years, and this was the year.

It was a rural county where the KKK is rumored to meet on occasion.

But my husband is the type who doesn’t allow fear to dictate his choices. So he sweetly obliged to his wife and set out to go to the festival with me, knowing he may very well be the only black person around.

The moment we got out of our car and started to walk towards the festival, we received a few stares. Hand in hand, we walked with the confidence and love a newlywed has. We fell in step behind a lesbian couple and their kid.

The streets were crowded with white people and hispanics; I kept my eyes peeled for anyone else who may look like my husband, keeping a running tally in my head.

We stopped at a vendor to say hello to a friend when a white man approaching, muttered the n word under his breath.

My head snapped around, heat rising to my face, my heart pounding furiously. I bore a hole in the back of his head, wishing he would turn around. If looks could kill. . .

I calculated the risk in my head. He was 8 inches taller than me and looked like he worked a manual labor job. If I punched him in the face I could either get pummeled, arrested,or worse. We were in rural, open carry East TN.

If I yelled at him to turn around, what could I say? I rehearsed my vehement monologue in my head.

Sir, when you call my husband the n word, you reduce him from a human to a one dimensional victim of prejudice.

You negate his humanity with your racism.

You disregard his soul, his thoughts, his being.

When You Call My Husband the N-Word

If your family were too poor to have a Thanksgiving dinner this year, my husband would be the one to set you up through a food drive. He is a respected man in the community, both secular and within the church.

He is the type of man who sees an old lady with a cane in the grocery parking lot, and loads her cart full of groceries in the car for her.

He stops in the street when he feels Holy Spirit to compel him to pray for a stranger.

He has been known to send money to a friend he met years ago at a conference, who is still struggling to make ends meet.

He contributes to his family’s ministry – a ministry that provides education, food, and wells for the impoverished, widows, and orphans in his father’s village in Zimbabwe.

He loves furiously and graciously. If he heard you, he would turn the other cheek.

When You Call My Husband the N-Word

But I can’t. I can’t allow myself to turn the other cheek. Because you and I have something he doesn’t have – white privilege.

You say what you want without worrying about the consequences. The freedom of speech only applies to the privileged.

I can be outraged and heard. I have the privilege to react. Should my husband react in the slightest, the rest of the white community would respond with their own political protest.

Respect the flag. Look at what this country has given you. 

This country has given him opportunities, but made it exceedingly difficult as a Zimbabwean immigrant to do so.

This country has given him freedom, but only freedom to move within the parameters we as a white community has set for him.

This country has given him privilege, but only the privilege he has carved for himself by standing up straight, being respectful in his tone at all times, dressing near-business casual, even if he is just going to the grocery store.

When You Call My Husband the N-Word

He carries himself in a way that makes the white people say, “He’s not like the others. He wears a belt.”

He speaks in a way that makes the ignorant say, “Wow, for growing up in Africa, your English is impeccable!” (English is an official language of Zimbabwe.)

But when you call my husband the n word, you take away the blank space of knowing and opportunity and instead fill it with the graffiti of your hate.

When you call my husband the n word, you reduce yourself.

You become one dimensional.

Maybe you’re a family man. Perhaps you love fiercely and work hard, just like my husband. I’m sure you laugh in moments of joy, and you’ve cried when you’ve lost something dear.

Your heart beats like the rest of us.

But all is lost within the label you’ve created for yourself.

Racist.

When you take away the humanity of someone else, you lose a piece of your humanity as well.