Tag Archives: racial reconciliation

Am I Creating A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy?

White friends often ask if parents of Black children (like me) create a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching our children about racism. Do they have a point? What if I replace “racism” with other words?

  • Are we creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching kids about bullying? Maybe we shouldn’t color their judgement by talking about communication skills so much.
  • Are we creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching kids about cavities? Maybe we shouldn’t color their judgement by talking about oral hygiene so much.
  • Are we creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching kids about looking both ways before they cross the street? Maybe we shouldn’t color their judgement by talking about road safety so much.

To me, it sounds like blaming the victim. Nobody invites bullying, cavities, car accidents, or racism. And, the more all of us understand those realities, the more empowered everyone is to protect them self.

#theonlystupidquestion #istheonenotasked #openminds

Everything Bagel Life

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

I want an Everything bagel life. When onions, sesame seeds, salt, poppy seeds, and garlic each add their unique contributions, the result is an extraordinary bagel. The world is a richer place because of that collaboration.

But sometimes I feel like the raisins. Raisins aren’t invited to the Everything bagel party. Everybody knows that raisins would ruin the Everything bagel.

I found an interesting group created for inclusiveness in literature. It was thrilling to read their mission statement. “We recognize all diverse experiences…” They understood that having more books with a rainbow of characters would benefit everyone! This was the Everything bagel I’d been hoping for! But as I read about various grants and contests, I kept bumping into a familiar exclusion:

“Please note: … Being … a parent of … a diverse person will not qualify an otherwise ineligible applicant.”

It made me feel like a foolish raisin for once again trying to find acceptance in an Everything bagel.

My situation is tricky. I’m white, and so I have all the privilege that goes with being white. Is it because of white privilege that people judge me negatively for adopting a black child? We are routinely stared at, yelled at, scolded, mocked, threatened, harassed, bullied, dismissed, and excluded (see above).

What do I want? I’m not sure. My bio says: “An adoptive mom and former comic strip creator, I want to add to the diversity on the bookshelves by telling silly stories through a family that looks like mine: transracial and full of love.” I want to be a part of desensitizing people from the curiosity of uniqueness, and sensitizing them to a life of collaboration.

But, I keep getting scolded and told to go back to my Raisin bagel. On top of that, the Raisin bagel isn’t too sure about me anymore either. The raisin bagel thinks I wish I’d been born a poppy seed.

It always leaves me wondering, “Am I doing this right?”

Life Questioned: Did You Buy Luc?

When a conversation seems headed toward "orphanage," Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

When a conversation seems headed toward “orphanage,” Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

The other day, Luc and I were hanging out with a 7 year old family friend. Kind of out of the blue, she asked a blunt question. For the rest of the conversation, my only thought was, “Am I doing this right?”

Julie: “Did you have Luc in your tummy, or did you buy him?”

Me: “God brought our family together through adoption. Luc was not in my tummy.”

Luc: “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Me: “Fair enough, Luc. Is it okay if Julie asks me questions with her Mom when you are not around?”

Luc: “Not if she’s gonna come to me afterward with even more questions.”

Me: “OK. Julie, can we promise that I’ll answer your questions, and that you won’t try to talk to Luc about this unless he says it’s okay?”

(Silence.)

Luc: “She’s not promising.”

Me: “Julie, have you ever been through something in your life that was really hard, and you don’t want to talk about it?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “That’s how Luc feels about this subject. Does that make sense?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “So, can you two agree that you won’t ask each other about the hard stuff you’ve been through that you don’t want to talk about?”

Both: “Yes.”

Me: “Thanks, y’all. And by the way, Julie, I want to be clear about one thing that is absolutely true. I love Luc exactly as much as your Mom loves you.”

Julie: “I don’t know about that. My Mom loves me the biggest number.”

Me: “I know! And that’s how much I love Luc, too!”

Then Julie and Luc argued over which amount of love was bigger: infinity or googleplex. But how many zeroes does googleplex have? We would need to google it. “We need to Google googleplex.” Giggles. And we closed the conversation giggling about Googling googleplex.

Frye’s Higher Geography (a textbook from 1895) – Page 33

Since I am a cartoonist, I understand my mental processing this way: Hammy (the abusive alcoholic hamster on the wheel that is my brain) is a cynic to say the least. He allows me to believe horrific truths only to a point. Even if I want to believe. Hammy forcibly blocks my access to emotional reality by throwing whiskey bottles at my “Medulla Incredulla.”

For example: When my uncle’s body was discovered two weeks after he died, I found myself compulsively Googling body decomposition. It took me months of research to fully wrap my head around what had happened.

Now that I have explained the inner workings of my brain, let’s move on…

My brother-in-law and his wife cleaned out the family storage unit. They found boxes upon boxes of very old family photos, books, letters, death certificates, and more. While visiting them this past week, I got to dig in, and I found “Frye’s Higher Geography: Georgia Edition” by Ginn & Company. It was written in 1895.

Finding a textbook that my husband’s family has been holding onto for over a century was a gift to me, and a blow to Hammy. I have been able to touch the pages and see with my own eyes a book that actually taught human beings to oppress our own kind: human beings. The method seems to have been based on grouping humans based first on global location, then flesh color, and then on similarity or dissimilarity to European culture.

A "negro" baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

A “negro” baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

“Illustrations: Nearly all the pictures in this book were engraved directly from photographs. To the selection and grouping of subjects for the photographs, the author has given fully as much time and care as to the text itself. The aim has been to present characteristic or typical forms that are educative.” — Alexis Everett Frye, Former Superintendent of Schools of Cuba

A "Negro." It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the "Negro" spitting up a white man's nose?

A “Negro.” It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the “Negro” spitting up a white man’s nose?

"If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor savages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food," etc.

“If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor svages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food,” etc.

"The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair..."

“The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair…”

“Such natives are very ignorant. They know nothing of books; in fact, they know little, except how to catch and cook their food, build their rude huts, travel on foot through the forests, or in canoes or on the rafts on the rivers, and make scanty clothing out of the skins of animals or fibers of grasses or bark.”

“Millions of black people have been taken from their homes in Africa and sold as slaves in other lands. The climate of their native land fitted the Negroes to work in the warm regions of the earth, and there they have been most useful, chiefly to the white people. In most places the slaves have been set free and have generally settled where they worked.”

One of the crimes of abuse tends to be the denial by the abuser of wrongdoing, or even of any injury at all. I hope that relief and vindication will accompany the deep sadness these excerpts cause. With that hope, I will continue to put posts together based on this textbook.

Still “Processing”

I am still trying to download my notes in an orderly manner into neatly compartmentalized blog posts. It’s going way more slowly than I’d hoped.

Last week, during a phone conversation, my mother said, “I think you are still processing this trip. You need to be careful who you talk to … and how you talk to them.” Maybe it comes across as a little harsh, but I totally agree with her. It was so much to take in. If I say yes to God for trips like the Civil Rights Tour, I can expect fundamental truths in my world to be obliterated and replaced with actual truth. It has left me questioning EVERYthing.

Helping Vs. “Helping”

The more I learn, the more I want to be helpful. “Helpful.” To me, that means I am busy physically helping things get better. At this point, I don’t think I’m supposed to dive in. I don’t know enough. Right now, I need to learn. Maybe apprentice. Watch, read, ask.

Civil Rights Tour – Day 1: Little Rock, AR

“You can’t fight the revolution in stilettos.”
— Phyllis Brown (sister of Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock 9)

Each evening, the team came together to discuss the day’s events and their effect on each of us. We were asked to share the “roses and thorns” of the first day.

Double painting (#2) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

Double painting (#1) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

The rose for me was a pair of drawings at the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center. When I first walked in, the painting struck me as being packed with an urgent message. But I couldn’t figure out how to decode it. The head of the museum gave us a tour. Her first stop was this pair of drawings. She gently and expertly helped us to pull the meaning out of our own minds! I’ve been chewing on the wisdom in that artwork all day.

Double painting (#1) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

Double painting (#2) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

She had us study the paintings for a little while and look for the differences. The meaning is mostly in the differences. What’s missing in the first painting? Is it missing in the second? How does the missing content line up with the situation we know we are looking at. Are we sure we know what we are looking at?

Due to my passion for the Gye Nyame Adinkra symbol, I noticed that the backgrounds are composed of other Adinkra symbols. With a little research here and here, I figured out that #1 shows the Dwennimmen symbol, or “ram’s horns,” as the background. This symbol represents humility and strength. The background is more faded and washed out in the painting where her identity is that of a slave (painting on the left). Also, the pattern on her dress is prominent when her identity is slave. It displays the Adinkra symbol Bese Saka or “sack of cola nuts.” It symbolizes affluence, abundance, unity. But that pattern is draped over her baby when she is inhumanly prevented from being a mother to her child. Perhaps this lets us know that the baby’s father is the slave master.

The background Adinkra symbols in #2 are Adinkrahene (the 3 circles) and Nyame Biribi Wo Soro. Adinkrahene is the chief of all Adinkra symbols and represents greatness, charisma, and leadership. Nyame Biribi Wo Soro means “God is in the heavens.” It represents hope and is a reminder that “God’s dwelling place is in heaven, where he can listen to all prayers.” Notice that these symbols are not bold and prominent in both pictures, or at the same time. Also, they are not erased in either painting. They are still present, just seemingly farther from reach.

Mr. Brown was volunteering at the Mosaic Templars Community Center.

Mr. Brown was volunteering at the Mosaic Templars Community Center.

One thorn was learning the story of John Carter. It was a horrible, gruesome event. The details are below the warning at the bottom of this post. White perpetrators of crime against black victims are too seldom punished today. What’s worse is that they were never punished for centuries.

Minnijean Brown integrating Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957.

Minnijean Brown integrating Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957.

The other thorn was one that was unique to me. And, in hindsight, I see it more as a rose. After the museum, we had the opportunity to interview, Phyllis Brown, the younger sister of Minnijean Brown. Minnijean was one of the Little Rock 9 (the group of 9 students who met with extreme hatred when they were first to integrate Central High School in 1957). I clumsily asked Ms. Brown what her parents did to help protect the self esteem of their daughters during such a hard time.

IMG_0154

Phyllis Brown, sister of Minnijean Brown (one of the Little Rock 9).

Phyllis Brown, sister of Minnijean Brown (one of the Little Rock 9).

IMG_0156I don’t think I phrased my question well. And Ms. Brown seemed to think I was criticizing her parents handling of event, maybe even that I was blaming them partly for the atrocious violence that ensued in Little Rock. That was definitely not my intention or thought. So, I explained that my son is African American and attends a mostly white school. I think of his situation as a far less severe 2015 version of initial school integration in the 50’s and 60’s. My hope was that she could teach me how to help my son, and other kids in similar circumstances. In hindsight, I get that it was a naive question. And, with the help of one of the leaders, I can see that I was lost in a desperate, unrealistic search for the magical method for protecting my son, and other young boys, from something inevitable: how hard and painful it is to be a black man in America.

Ms. Brown asked why I have an African American child. At first, I assumed that she was scolding me for adopting a black child. Or maybe scolding the black community for allowing the crisis to escalate to a point where something so dire could occur as a black child being adopted into a white family.

Looking at the exchange with racial reconciliation lenses, I can now see that both Ms. Brown and I were re-experiencing the sea of previous personal attacks we had both endured over the years. Though our circumstances were worlds apart, both varieties of criticism resulted in our constructing solid, thick, protective, defensive walls around our hearts. These walls prevented us from really hearing each other. I felt hurt, mad, embarrassed, and basically like I wanted to crawl under a rock. Perhaps Ms. Brown felt hurt as well.

After the event, I made it my business to shake her hand and thank her for her time and honesty. She turned to me, sighed, and said, “You have a big job ahead of you.” I blurted out, “Don’t I know it.” But then I pulled my Gye Nyame Adinkra charm out of my pocket (it means “except God” as in nothing is possible except with God). And I said, “Except God is with us. So, I know that God will see all of us through this.” Then Ms. Brown’s face softened noticeably. It was as if she had discovered that I had my head straight enough to hand my life to God. She seemed comforted to know that the situation was in good hands, God’s hands.

Then she thanked me for adopting and saving a child. It breaks my heart every time somebody tells me that. I still struggle with putting it into words. All I know is that I don’t want anyone to think of my son as a charity project. If people aren’t going to thank a birth mother, I don’t want them to thank me. (I’ll never forget how thrilled I was when one lady told me how lucky I was to get to be Luc’s mom. And even better, she said it right in front of him!)

I summoned all of my courage, and told Ms. Brown with enormous respect that it hurt my heart when people thanked me for being my son’s mom. She listened, and she really heard me, and then she apologized. I told her I didn’t think there was anything to be sorry for, but I wanted to try to communicate with her, even though it’s not a logic that I’ve ever figured out how to verbalize well. And then we hugged. We had connected.

Ms. Brown and I didn’t fully understand each other at first. But I listened intently to what she had to say during our interview with her. Then, she listened to what I had to say as we said good-bye. In the end, we were able to see each other’s perspective a little better. It was a taste of racial reconciliation. It was a taste of the goal.

– – – – – – – – – –
Other notes from the day…

Notes from Ms. Brown:
The Little Rock 9 were NOT chosen, they had volunteered, and they were not from middle class families.
Some were self-employed, some were business owners. Their names were known and they began to lose customers and business. Minnijean’s and Collatta Walls’ fathers stopped getting work.
Newspaper published the names and the addresses of the Little Rock 9 in order to intimidate them into withdrawing.
Phyllis and Minnijean’s parents fully supported them. They thought their girls “could fly.” And they never said no to them. They supported Minnijean when she decided to be a part of integration, and they supported Phyllis when she decided to protect herself from the violence.
Ms. Brown was the first person we heard use the word “terrorism” to describe the treatment of African Americans, especially in the 50’s and 60’s. She mentioned the treatment of victims in Hurricane Katrina as “terrorism at it’s best.”
The kids never came home and told their parents about their experiences, parents could only learn of what happened if they saw it firsthand
IMPORTANT! Toward the end of our interview, the white owner of the restaurant asked our white leader (we had two leaders, one white, one black) what we were talking about. All the white people were excited that he was interested. All the black people were terrified that he was going to call some friends to follow us and punish us. The trauma of the terrorism is so alive today. Ms. Brown was visibly shaken. It took her into a flashback state.
Books:
Dog Whistle Politics (politicians use language to demean and identify: “thugs,” “riots,” “violence,” “looters”
Without Sanctuary (pictorial of lynchings)
The Untold Story of Minnijean Brown (documentary)
The New Jim Crow (speaks of the 3 Strikes law as punitive and aligned with slave owner mentality)
The Half That’s Never Been Told
Complicity
Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson (he also did an 18 min. TED talk) (represents minors around the country who are being tried as adults; recalculating actual lynching numbers and exposing that lynching happened outside of the South as well
Devil in a Grove (book about Thurgood Marshall)

WARNING: This story is very graphic and may not be appropriate for children or even some adults. But, unfortunately, it is completely true.
A man who was volunteering at the museum told us “the real story” behind John Carter, a black man who was falsely accused of a crime in 1927. Earlier in the day, a different black man who had been falsely accused of murdering two white women, had been taken into police custody before the gathered crowd could lynch him. As the mob made its way back from the jail, a white woman and her child parked their horse and cart on 9th Street. Just as they stepped off the cart, their horse got spooked, and sprinted down the street with the cart. John Carter jumped into the cart and was able to stop the horse. Unfortunately, the crowd arrived on the scene and decided that he had tried to steal the cart. As Mr. Carter’s “victim” tried to explain that he was helping her and begged the mob to stop, he was beaten severely. Next, the mob gathered wood and built a bonfire. After he was burned, John Carter’s body was tied to the back of the cart and dragged up and down 9th Street repeatedly. Finally, his body was hung from a light pole where some in the crowd riddled it with bullets. No one was arrested. Mr. Carter was 38.

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015 in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015 in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.

My church, Fellowship Monrovia, has decided to create a center for racial reconciliation. Amazing! But wait, what does that mean? What does that look like? How is that done? What are the steps?

We have no idea. But step 1 was to assemble a team of 12 and send us to the Southeast to experience the culture and ask questions of the people. We had the life-changing opportunity to learn from the very people who were the change in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s.

FAQs:
Q: How was the trip?
A: Indescribable. Powerful.
Q: Was it fun?
A: Um. No.
Q: Where did you go?
A: Little Rock, AR; Memphis, TN; Jackson, MS; Selma and Birmingham, AL; and Washington D.C.
Q: What did you learn?
A: I’m glad you asked! I’m going to post some notes and thoughts over the next few days. Or maybe weeks. It’s hard to process everything we experienced. But I’m going to try.

Define Neighbor Please

Background: Our church Life Group meets at our house on Friday evenings. Right now, we are reading a book about racial reconciliation called “More Than Equals” by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. We are on Chapter 4, which focuses on knowing who your “neighbor” is as Jesus intended. It seems like an easier concept to grasp than it is. First of all, Jesus did not intend for us to show kindness only to people who are lovable. He noted that anyone can do that. Really allowing God to change our hearts enables us to love the unlovable.

A helicopter arrived and hovered over the house. Then sirens. More helicopters. I joked that I was having flashbacks to our days of living in Inglewood. We all laughed, and then spoke a little louder so that we could hear over the distracting noise. Our book paraphrased the biblical parable about the good Samaritan, and then suggested we read the actual story in the Bible. We did, and we began to debate who was and was not our neighbor. More helicopters arrived and hovered over the house. What about the the person I thought was my friend who stabbed me in the back? More sirens. What about the next door neighbor’s son who used really offensive terminology to inform us that a gay couple lives down the street? Helicopters still hovering loudly. What about Republicans? (Kidding.) My husband noticed a news truck parked at the entrance to our street. So anyway, was Jesus suggesting that we have to be kind and generous to someone after they hurt us or just that we be open minded to a group of people who tend to oppress?

My sister, visiting from GA, was working on some writing in another room. She came in with a worried look on her face. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but can we pray for whatever is going on out there? It sounds really serious.” “Oh! Yes! Of course!” we all replied as we suddenly realized the noise we were trying to talk over might actually be a call to prayer. It turned out that a drunk driver had been running from police, exited the hwy and while crossing a bridge near our house had smashed into another car. The damage was horrendous and everyone had to be cut out of their cars. Thankfully, nobody died.

We had been doing EXACTLY what Jesus was preaching against in our lesson! We were so focused on our curriculum and getting through the chapter in our book that we didn’t even think to notice the practical application LITERALLY just outside the door. Wow. Duh.

Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is anyone God tells me to embrace. Will I change my focus from my to do lists and agenda so that I can hear the nudge next time?

Book Question: What would the racial climate be like if we lived out unconditional forgiveness for others?

    Notes from group meeting:

  • Things we can learn from putting ourselves in situations and groups outside of our comfort zones: it’s possible, and we are stronger than we thought; we learn more about other perspectives; no group will ever be 100% what we want
  • In loving our “neighbor” as Jesus taught, what does that mean regarding people who are an immediate threat? Types of people who are probably a threat? People with belief systems we want to avoid?

Racial Reconciliation & Racial Fatigue

Our church Life Group is reading “More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel” by Spencer Perkins (black man) and Chris Rice (white man).

I’ve been trying for so long to wrap my head around how racism perpetuates. And who am I to speak on this issue now? The more I read, learn, and experience, the more confused I become.

Before we met last week, I thought my experience living in a black neighborhood, joining a black church, and signing my son up for sports with black teams had educated me about a portion of the black experience. I know how it feels to be surrounded buy people who look alike, but different from me. They were all so beautiful with their rich chocolate skin, magnificent curly/kinky hair, glamorous full lips and high cheekbones. And I was so pasty with my chalky caucasian skin, boring flat hair, skinny fish lips and pointy nose. I thought I understood the worry of trying to “pass” in order to fit in and keep my social standing so that my son could have black friends and grow up within black culture.

But then our group engaged in a mind-blowingly open discussion leaving me with the conclusion that I have absolutely no idea. The basic sentiment was similar to this…

When I was 15, my best friend was killed in a car accident. His mother and I found comfort in spending time together, and we grew close over time. I remember innocently, but horribly naively telling her that I thought I could understand a piece of her pain because my cat had died of cancer a few months before Trey died. She patiently explained that there was really no comparison between those losses. Now that I am a mother, I feel embarrassed that I made such a foolish comment. And, last week I felt equally foolish about thinking I could ever begin to comprehend the challenges of being a black person in a white man’s society.

In Chapter 3, Chris Rice spoke to this type of revelation and to the white person’s situation in the issue of racial reconciliation. He remembers (as I do with a cringe) thinking and saying ignorant things like: “I didn’t cause it, and I shouldn’t have to suffer for it.” And those people who don’t yet understand why that is an wrong way of thinking need to dig until they find the answer. “One of the character traits of a reconciler is a willingness to confront conflict…” and to learn how “vital it is to get everyone’s honest thoughts on the table. If they aren’t brought into the open and dealt with decisively, as (their) experience began to prove, they eventually boil over…”*

“Given the fact that white European culture is dominant in this country; given the legacy of racial discrimination that puts whites at an advantage in our society, even in the church; unless we make an intentional effort to affirm black leadership, culture and style, whiteness will always dominate.”*

“It was hard to accept the fact that if we left things as they were, with no emphasis on color, whites would eventually end up in most leadership positions. Yet we had learned that this was indeed the case.”

“Whites could go anywhere and find no doors closed. Here they needed to step aside, while blacks needed to step forward.”

I think one of the answers was stated really well by Dr. Ivory Phillips: “We will not begin to deemphasize white, we will just begin to value the qualities that blackness brings to the body.”*

“Whites often ask me, ‘How do I know when I’m really dealing with the race issue?’ ‘When you begin to feel uncomfortable.’”*

* These quotes are from “More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel” by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. I can’t give a page number, b/c I have the Kindle version. All I know is that I read them in Chapter 3.