Why our reactions to tragedy matter.

When a mass tragedy occurs, we react. We exhibit compassion, fear, anger, revulsion, confusion, or some unidentifiable emotional cocktail. Strong feelings can move us to act and this is a good thing. Intense emotions can be harnessed for positive actions and God, we need so much positivity right now.

We react most effectively when we feel a connection to trauma and we’re naturally wired to care about the issues which directly affect us. It is how we function best in a community because it fosters the understanding that what impacts one of us impacts all of us.

Take, for example, that I am a straight, cis-gendered woman. Despite this, Orlando broke my heart thinking of my LGBTQ friends and how it could have been one of them at Pulse.

Or how I am a Christian, but when I hear fear-mongering Islamaphobic comments, my heart hurts considering how those words fall on the ears of my Muslim friends.

Or that I am white, but when I hear the skepticism regarding the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement, I am horrified when contrasting this sentiment with the individual stories of fear and systemic racism experienced by my black friends.

And when I read about Nice, France last night, I felt a visceral fear over the safety of my Maman Français, with whom I lived just outside of Nice on a college study abroad- a city and country which has shaped so much of my adulthood.

Each of these mass tragedies moved me to speak up and speak out because I felt connected to them despite all of the ways which, at first glance, would place me separate from those immediately impacted. I have to constantly push myself to seek to understand those around me even though my natural reaction is often to retract inside of the safety of that which I am comfortable. It is hard, emotional work to overcome the apathy which threatens to mute my words and silence my actions.

Friends, we can no longer tolerate apathy in ourselves.

Apathy is at risk of creating more dangerous outcomes than fear and hatred. When we see tragedy replayed and repeated, our inclination is to shrug with the sense of futility in it all and then tune out completely. It is a defense mechanism which we must actively fight to reject.

Danielle, my Maman Français, in Nice upon a return visit to introduce her to Ryan, my husband.

Danielle, my Maman Français, in Nice upon a return visit to introduce her to my husband.

Ideally, individual relationships bring about the most change but they take time and, because of this, the power of first steps cannot be underestimated. We can start by looking up open community events, visiting a museum we may not have otherwise considered visiting on a vacation, reading literature written by authors outside of our race, religion, lifestyle, gender identification, or native country, and considering joining a Facebook group open to those willing to learn. Relationships stem from a genuine desire to listen and understand. First steps, even small ones, matter.

Our hope in the midst of such brokenness is our connection to faces, names, and stories. They move us forward. They bring the macro back to the micro. They refocus our perceived futility. This we can do, WE CAN DO THIS. We must take the small steps, friends, so we may be well equipped to bring light in the midst of darkness.

Listen well.

Read widely.

Extend a hand.

Lend an ear.

Love well.

Reject the apathy.

 

 

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Santa and the New Year 2.0

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Last year, my son told me he thought the real Santa had to be white because he’d never seen a black Santa. My heart was broken by my inability to have seen this coming as an issue. I am, after all, his mama and it was painful for me to admit I’d missed this because I’m white. But with any experience challenging what we hold as truth, we must move past the hurt, the grief, the anger, the disgust, or whatever emotion we initially feel when coming up against a viewpoint which challenges ours. We’ve got to remember that our beliefs are a result of our experiences, of which everyone has their own. The Santa oversight didn’t make me a failure as a mom, but it allowed for me to rethink the world through my son’s eyes. It is possible to reframe our beliefs when we listen well to others and, in the event you still disagree,  it is possible to continue to hold your opinion while maintaining civility and humility in sharing it- to extend humanity toward those with whom you disagree.

 

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May we, in the coming of the new year, be mindful when sharing our opinions. May they be based upon open and honest discussions, on personal connections, on voices or sources we hadn’t before considered. May we remember that opinions are fluid. May we choose our words of dissension carefully and with intention. May we learn, as I am trying, that the world is not always as it seems and only changes through a conscious effort to make it so.


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In this New Year, may you find ways to right wrongs, to stretch your comfort boundaries, and to speak with a boldness tempered with grace. May you as a result, have your own awakening experience of

watching a child

sit at the foot of a Santa

who looks

like

him.

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Thank-you to the local Jack and Jill of America chapter for setting up this event, which blessed both of us immensely this Christmas.

 

Unprepared: Walking into Adoption (Day 28 of 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days series)

“I was unprepared. I was unprepared for fostering, for the adoption following it, for the open adoption which unexpectedly blossomed, for raising an African American son as a white woman. I was unprepared for all of it. I didn’t know what we were getting into despite my prolific reading on the subject. Adoption caught me by surprise.”

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You can read the rest of my piece for Portrait of an Adoption‘s 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days series here. In their words, “In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.”

I’m honored to be a part of the narrative.

 

Dear White Christians:

When I was little, my sister and I used to love playing ‘Guess Who?’ Do you remember the game? You had to flip all of these little face panels up and ask your opponent a series of yes or no questions to narrow down the one person whose card your partner drew. There were primarily male faces and I remember thinking it was unfair how there were only a few women. It made it especially disheartening when you had drawn a woman and your partner inevitably asked you the damning question requiring you to give them the right-away to flip aaaaaaaaaall of those men’s faces down. Drawing a female’s card was bad and even as a little girl I saw the injustice in that.

Think fast! What do you notice first about this picture?

Think fast! What do you notice first about this picture?

I still own the travel version of ‘Guess Who?’ and this summer before a vacation I threw it in my bag to play with my 5 year old. When I later dug it out and flipped all of the faces up, I was appalled. Totally sickened. The game I was about to play with my black son had two, TWO, people of color. Did I remember that from my childhood? No, I did not. I was about to play a game with my son that sent the message that whites are more important and, oh by the way, if you’re a person of color you must also look like you’re going to: a) hurt someone or b) bawl. (Both of which, honestly, were probably completely accurate expressions for those characters considering the injustice they were forced to live out on those tiny cards.)

The game was promptly put away and I spent a solid chunk of the rest of my vacation wondering what else I’ve been missing. When I was little, I just wanted to see more female faces because I was a girl. We make sense of our world by what we see around us and I didn’t see myself represented well in the game. I had tunnel vision because I was seeking faces like mine (white, female) which blinded me from noticing how there were even fewer faces of color than female faces. I hadn’t yet had an experience to teach me to look closer. My initial inability to see the lack of color didn’t mean it wasn’t a problem. This is the core issue when people of color say, “Something is wrong with this picture,” and we reply with, “I’m looking at the same picture I and don’t see anything wrong.” We aren’t viewing the image with the same life experiences. We’re looking, but we’re seeing different cards. We need POC to point out to us what we are missing. 

This issue played out over the weekend on a grander scale. I just returned from a storywriting/storytelling conference which was as good for my soul as it was for my writing. I spent time learning from some powerful speakers… but I noticed on the first day how the lineup (including the breakout speakers) was starkly devoid of any people of color. When I got back to my hotel room later that evening, I saw there was an entire discussion being held on Twitter about the same issue. The initial tweets were primarily from people of color and the replies were primarily from whites. I’ve got to tell you: It was uncomfortable for me to read them. The white comments were nearly all pushback because they took the POC’s comments to mean their experience was invalid; these POC were personally attacking them and the things they loved which, in this case, was a conference full of speakers they looked up to. (One commenter tried the angle that the conference was diverse because one speaker was in a wheelchair.)  Full disclosure: I had to battle through how I should be feeling about those tweets, too.  I had to reflect on whether their comments invalidated the powerful experience I was having.

Let me tell you: It doesn’t.

Let me tell you something else: We should be wresting through what people of color have to say. Even when it makes us uncomfortable. ESPECIALLY when it makes us uncomfortable.

Listen, from one white to another, we need to stop discrediting the voices of people of color on the basis that we haven’t experienced what they’re sharing. As whites, we’ve been so wrapped up in a culture holding whiteness as the standard it has made it impossible to see clearly even when we’re staring directly at that which we’re missing. (Remember my ‘Guess Who?’ game?) For generations, we have marginalized minorities and their voices so we don’t even realize when we’re still doing it. I hate how it took having a child of color for me to start seriously seeking out the voices of POC; until it was a concern in my own family I was mostly oblivious. Even after digging in much deeper over the last few years, it was still hard for me to read those tweets about the conference. I admit this with despair but honesty in order to show you how much we are missing the boat by dismissing the grievances voiced by POC. We are continuing to attempt to keep them in the box we have created without realizing we’ve done so because our instinct is to immediately take personal what is being said. We’d prefer not to have to deal with the discomfort of discerning what we should truly be hearing in their message.

Once I could get past my inclination to take their grievances about the conference as a dismissal of my experience, I heard something completely different. I didn’t hear them telling me my experiences at the conference were invalid. I didn’t hear them saying I was a bad person for attending. I heard how it could have been so much richer with the voices of POC. I heard how I should be making an even more concerted effort to seek out voices from walks of life different from my own, from people who look different from me. I heard how I needed to be sensitive of the POC attending the conference and how they were unable to see their own faces reflected in the line up of speakers and I needed to consider the message this sent them.

I am a lover of Jesus, thus, I am a lover of people.

Loving people means looking past ourselves. Consider, would you, how our experiences may not be the best or only way to learn and grow. Consider that the cries of POC may not be spoken in order to personally wound us, but to call out an injustice long held in white Christian circles. Consider how our point of views and our faith may be blessed by broadening our horizons. Consider how our history may have blinded us to the plights of others merely because of our skin tone. Consider looking at the world through a different lens before reacting and responding. And, most importantly, consider seeking out faces different from our own to listen to, learn from, and support.

We were not meant to be divided.

We can learn from each other.

And not everything is about us.

Sometimes, adoption sounds like this:

Example 1:

We took Isaac to meet a new before/after school, in-homedaycare provider. Isaac played with her son while I filled out paperwork. I let her know that we have an open adoption so she wouldn’t be caught unaware if Isaac brought up his sisters or his other mom. Since Isaac has shared with me that it makes him sad when people talk about adoption around him because it makes him think of his first mom, I made sure he was downstairs when I shared this information. Still, as we were heading out the door, he whipped back around and called out, “Just so you know, I’m adopted!” It was seemingly out of the blue, so I asked him where it came from. “Well, I don’t want her wondering how come that black kid is with these white people!” He said it with a crooked smile that said, “Don’t be CRAZY. I’m just setting things straight,” but it was a perfect example of how often adoption, particularly his transracial adoption, is on his brain. This wasn’t out of the blue for him. It is something he talks about periodically but thinks about frequently. Adoption can be a struggle for him.

Example 2:

A friend was visiting and playing a game with Isaac. She knows his back story and about his first family. They were in the middle of the game when Isaac said, “You know S. (his first mom) died.” She replied that, yes, she did know that. “It just makes me sad that God made S. die right in the middle of her fun,” he said. We shot eyes at each other. How do you reply to that? That didn’t just slip out- it was a comment that has been picked and pulled apart by my 5 year old and is a piece of how he is viewing God. Adoption can cause him pain.

Example 3:

I had asked Isaac to come back upstairs to shut off his bedroom lights and close the door, something he frequently forgets to do which is an irritation when you have as many animals as we do and I’d prefer my child to sleep on fur free sheets. “Aren’t you up there?” he called. I raised an eyebrow to our empty bedroom because I’m a mom and a teacher and when a child is disrespectful that eyebrow goes up no matter who’s around to see it. “You can help around the house, sir,” I called back. Complying, he stated as a matter of fact, “I don’t think I should have to,” and then went back downstairs. Ryan, having heard the exchange, asked Isaac if he’d just told me that he didn’t have to help around the house. “Well this isn’t really my house. I live in an apartment.” Ryan asked for clarification and in my upstairs eavesdropping I braced myself because I’m a mother, regardless of how that came to be true, and I could sense it before the words appeared. “Well, S. lived in an apartment before I got taken away and that’s where I was supposed to live and she’s my real mom.”

I cried. I let myself cry for about 30 seconds upstairs and then I sucked it up and went downstairs as Ryan was trying to find some appropriate way to respond. “Listen,” I said gently to our son whom I love, “I’m glad you feel comfortable talking about how adoption is sometimes hard for you and how you wish we all looked alike or how you miss your first family. You should talk about it and I’m happy to talk about it with you. But you have two moms who are real in different ways and don’t you think for a second that if S. was standing here that she would be okay with you saying that you don’t have to help out in this family. So you keep on talking about the hard stuff with us, but you will not use adoption as an excuse to not help in our family again, do you understand me?” He nodded, because he did, and he’d seen S. and I together and knew I was right, that she wouldn’t have stood for it. He needs to see me calm and willing to talk and that means crying for him as well as my own human woundedness later, when he isn’t around. Adoption is confusing to him; he needs to evaluate and push and question to see where he actually fits into his families. My personal baggage shouldn’t be his problem.

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Frankly, adoption is confusing to me too. That entire dialogue took place in the span of a few minutes but my feeling unprepared can’t be used as an excuse for a lack of response. It is a precarious balance between acknowledging his need to feel comfortable talking while also corralling my own fragility. Being a parent (through any means) requires learning to be selfless even when it hurts and I know he wasn’t trying to hurt me. He was being honest in what he’s feeling. He trusts us to share his fears and woes and I feel immensely thankful that he does. Adoption is how I became a mom, but it isn’t how he became a son; I hold in my responses the ability to make his story more or less complicated.

This is why I don’t know how to respond to adoption questions: because I’ve become so passionate about the need for us to push aside the rainbows society has fed us about adoption and start admitting that rainbows must occur along side of storms, of rain. That being said, there is also so much sunshine and every child deserves a family in which to feel safe and well loved. It is the single most difficult, beautiful, confusing path I have ever taken, and that is something I have trouble articulating because I fear it sounds as though I am discouraging adoption. On the contrary, I have felt the weight of being an adoptive parent and I see the immense responsibility it offers up and if you are ready to take up that challenge… GO! Going into adoption with open eyes will better prepare you, can only help you both in the long run. The privilege of holding the hand of a child who could use a safe place to process, to feel, to question- it is enormous. It is miraculous. It is worthy of weighing out, it is worthy of looking past the hype. Be prepared, be honest, be sincere: it is worth wading through the storms.

Why white Christians are looking at the black church in America all wrong.

It is probably best to just throw it right out: White Christians need to evaluate the ways in which we view African American Christians.

Now, with that out there in the open, allow me to break things down a bit. Bear in mind, my writings are those of a white, American Christian. If you want to understand more of the experience of being an African American in our country (and you should), I implore you to read words from their voices. Me? I’m talking to you, White America, because from there I can speak with experience.

That being said, permit me to share some truths which have been left out of our nonexistent dialogue about our views of the black church in America. Set aside the stereotypical qualifications you may have already used to tag it in your mind: the worship style, the length, the preaching. Set all of that aside for a moment and try viewing history through a different lens.

Chances are that every February, for Black History Month, you learned in school about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Rosa Parks? You could recite facts about them from memory. As a teacher, I need to admit that we have also been numbed into regurgitating the same facts every year. In the bland retellings, the textbook readings, they lose their power to disturb, to move to action, to cause a rethink of the status quo if we are not diligent about making history fresh each time we teach it. However, one year as I retold the story of the bus boycott, what blindsided me was the unbelievable level of FAITH it took to actually accomplish that boycott. I don’t like waiting for things and despite often going through the motions of praying, I quickly lose faith when I don’t see results. SO quickly. What they knew about that boycott was that it was good, it was right, and that God wanted the same outcome. And so they waited. They waited for 381 days- over a YEAR- for God to answer a prayer they trusted Him to answer. I am humbled to think about how likely I would have been to just say, “Screw it. This isn’t working.” And it would have happened in about 370-ish less days than the 381 they devoted. Such great faith. Why are we not learning about the Montgomery Bus Boycott in our churches?

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Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain image

Now I need to ask you again to set aside what you’ve learned about our nation’s history of slavery in school. For a minute, think about it in relation to Christianity. For generation after generation, plantation owners horribly misconstrued the Bible to condone slavery. By these same plantation owners, African Americans would have been told lies of the God they also worshiped. And yet, their faith had the strength to see through the blasphemes. They knew God’s character. The God they were taught did not line up with the God they followed and believed in so they rejected the lies. My faith is rocked by the smallest of bumps and I too often swallow what others tell me about God as opposed to deeply knowing Him in a way that substantiates my beliefs. This realization reminds me of how often we are all going through the motions- missing out on a faith that conquers the lies that society feeds us. I want a faith that is that real, too.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain image

Having said all of that, it still seems as though we whites assume, without ever uttering it to ourselves let alone aloud, that we don’t all really worship the same Jesus. We put churches into boxes labeled ‘US’ and ‘THEM’ and continue to segregate not only our Sunday mornings, but the images in our minds as to what it actually looks like to live as the body of Christ. We forget (Can you forget something you never realize you chose?) overlook Jesus’s teachings that we are all brothers and sisters under the SAME CHRIST, residing under the SAME GRACE AND GODLY AFFECTION. God did not tell us, the white people, to go help ‘the suffering African American people’. He told us, all of us, of every race, to love above all else. We are equal heirs. We should not be moving to stand with our African American brothers and sisters (Christians or not) as a result of having somehow been led to believe that we hold the monopoly on following Christ’s teachings of caring for those in need. (We are not, as it turns out, God’s gift to the suffering peoples of the world.) We should be reacting to their unequal, unjust, and un-Christlike treatment out of the overflow of our hearts because our hearts should break for the things that break His and RIGHT NOW, our hearts ought to be overflowing with despair over the treatment of members of OUR FAMILY, who are all equally loved by a God who did not design us to worship, support, and live divided.

If we truly believe that we, as Christ followers, are to be the hands and feet of God, then for the literal love of God, we should be doing a better job of functioning as one body. There is much that is broken. There is much to restructure. There is much to rethink. God is the best place to start the process and, as it turns out, we both reach out to the same one. IMG_0207

Dear teacher of my ((adopted)) son.

Dear teacher of my son,

My name is Sara, and I should tell you first that I’m a teacher too. I want to tell you that so I’ve got some credibility for what I’m about to say. I know how hard you work and I know how much it exhausts you. I know how there are at least a couple of kids in your class who make you turn your back and make a “Dear Jesus, come quickly” face to the wall. I also know how there are some kids who just get right into your heart and literally make you cry over their stories. I have these kids, too. I’m worried that my child is going to be one of these two for you.

If my son drives you up the wall because we are honing his bossiness into leadership, please be patient. If my son makes you do a lot of those deep, dramatic sighs because he feels everything really BIG (like his mama), please help him to temper his emotions into words. If my son acts impulsively out of frustration, YOU CALL ME. But seriously, help me to raise my son in the way he should go and dig deeply before you make a judgement call. See, because I’m his mama I worry about the studies on boys, (particularly black boys), in school. I know what people mean when they hear that I teach in a high poverty, urban school and ask, “Do you have mostly black students?” My son is not naughty because he is black. He may be naughty sometimes, but that’s because he is a stinker-child and not because of his skin color.

On the other hand, if my son’s history in foster care makes you pity him, please stop. If my son’s early life experiences make you go easy on him, please don’t. If my son’s having been adopted makes your heart leap, please remember that there are some truly painful aspects of adoption and it isn’t a perfect solution. I’m telling you this because I don’t want my son to get special treatment. If he is struggling in something, I am begging you, push him as hard as you would push a child who still lives with his biological family. Please don’t go easy on him because you’ve read the research about how early trauma affects children. Please don’t knowingly nod your head if he is having a difficult time grasping something and write it off as a side effect of his history. I have the same expectations as any other mother. I left much of your back to school questionnaire blank because I’ll wait to tell you pertinent information if the need arises, but I don’t want you starting a full year with my son and your mind already made up. Trust me when I say that I never forget what my son has experienced, but that hasn’t stopped us from setting the same high expectations we’d set for him if he hadn’t.

I know how hard you work, I do. I know that you get families in there all the time asking you to watch over their child in one form or another and I know how honestly impossible it is to meet all of the requests made of you. I would just really, really, from the bottom of my heart, like to ask you to see my son as a teachable, beautiful, original child. I want the same things as all of those mamas who carried their children and it would be an immense relief and blessing if you could see those things for him too.

Sincerely,

Isaac’s mom

PS:

If you could please talk to your administration about getting this form changed, I’d greatly appreciate not having to mark myself as “other”.

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The worthy mom debacle.

Today I had some cordial, yet biting reactions to a comment I wrote in response to a blog entry directed at adoptive parents on a site I respect and follow. There were misunderstandings on both sides and, frankly, online discussions among strangers will only go so far. It hurt. I hurt about it for most of the morning.

Later in the afternoon, a friend called to ask if Isaac and I wanted to go rollerskating with her and her girls. It is difficult to be upset when your brain is simultaneously attempting to recall movements your body hasn’t performed since middle school while watching your 5 year old clomp around in an attempt to learn these movements for the first time. It was cathartic. At one point during the pop music and the dizzying lights, I realized:  I HAVE TO STOP WORRYING WHAT EVERYONE ELSE THINKS ABOUT MY PARENTING.

I’m forever trying to prove myself worthy to be an adoptive parent.

I’m forever trying to prove myself worthy to parent an African American child as a Caucasian woman.

I’m forever trying to prove myself worthy as a MOTHER.

GOD, I’m tired of trying to prove myself to everyone.  I just can’t do it. I’m never going to meet all of those standards set by myself or others. Sometimes my child is going to have ashy skin and his waves are going to be jacked up because he is 5 and forgot to brush his hair and I was running late and didn’t check. Sometimes I’m going to unintentionally send him subliminal messages that talking about his first mom makes me sad and he’ll pick up on this and feel put off. Sometimes I’m going to discipline my kid over something that shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I made it one in front of people I respect or in front of complete strangers. I’m going to SCREW UP.

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I’m not going to stop asking questions, reading viewpoints, looking up the research. If you’re an adoptive parent, I strongly encourage you to do the same, even when it is painful to read. There is so much to learn and work toward. That being said, I’m just going to have to be okay with not passing the tests others set for me. I have to believe that my constant anxiety about f***ing up is going to be more of a detriment to my son than him leaving the house with imperfect hair or me needing to apologize to him for overreacting.

So, more power to you mamas everywhere! Whatever it is that you’ve created in your head as the pinnacle of Mama Success, GET SERIOUS. We’re just going to do the best we can with what we know and pray to the God of the heavens and earth that our deficiencies don’t define us or our children. You are enough, even with your brokenness. I can do this, despite feeling inadequate. I AM doing this, and I would be doing it BETTER if I could cut loose all of those impossible checkpoints I’m forever trying to meet. I’m going to mess up and so are you. OWN IT. Being imperfect can be a blessing because, from experience, I’m telling you that you’re just never going to please the masses. We are works in progress and that is ok. It’s ok.

It’s ok.

 

The REAL Santa is white (?)

Shortly before Christmas, my son and I were talking in his bed at bedtime. Isaac adores Christmas. (We are currently in the midst of a heavy Christmas song detox period. Last year we didn’t implement one and ended up with a child provided, Christmas-themed soundtrack until Easter. *shudder*) At one point in the bedtime conversation, Isaac said (as a statement of fact), “Mom, I know which Santa isn’t the real one. The brown one.”

I know. It WAS as awful as you’re imagining you’d feel.

It scored near the top of my list of “Hardest Things to Hear as a Parent”.  There are many instances in which I’m hyper aware regarding race including: when my son is the only face of color in a room, when books we read have no children of color, when comments are made regarding race that are inappropriate for my child’s ears, and on and on. The primary reason the Santa comment left such a resounding smack was because I hadn’t seen it coming. You know why? BECAUSE I’M WHITE.

When I attempt to make some sense of the current race discussions, it is so hard to wrap my mind around the issue because I just can’t see it the same way as someone who is black. I readily admit that. Despite that I agree there exists a serious issue regarding racial inequalities our country, I think it is important to admit that I cannot possibly know the depth of that issue because I don’t experience it first hand on a continual basis. But for the people who say that they just don’t see a problem, or that it is being blown out of proportion, I present Exhibit A: my child’s Santa remark.

Like a tiny window, I could see that here was a specific instance in which I hadn’t assumed this to be a confusing concept for my child because I had assumed the same conclusion my son had reached: Santa is white because everywhere I see Santa, he’s white. I never questioned an alternative because my brain never classified it as something that needed to be challenged. I didn’t see it as an issue because it was never registered as one; it was just assumed to be fact. Santa is white because I am white because I am surrounded by a world that tells me that white is what is accepted. How must that feel for my son who is black? I suddenly had this awful realization that if I had accepted Santa’s race so readily, how many other things have I unwittingly filed as truth merely because I was never afforded the opportunity to challenge it? Rather, society never offered me an alternate view to consider. (As an interesting side note, the original St. Nicholas was born in Turkey, so he most likely WAS darker skinned. Considering this post is centering around Santa, I will refrain from stepping onto my soapbox about how Jesus’s skin would most likely have looked. *cough* Not white. *cough*)

I sometimes struggle to take seriously the pieces written by other white writers regarding the struggles minorities in America face in which they align themselves with the minority in a way that seems to be speaking FOR that group. I think it is ignorant for me to assume I can ever truly know how that experience feels and I think it is some form of ignorance, or at least indelicacy, to think that I can explain how it must feel to be discriminated against as a black person. On the other hand, I think that we have every right, and duty, to push society’s envelope when our personal experiences challenge the status quo. The brown skinned Santa discussion? It blew what I considered my open mind. What you think you believe isn’t always truth; just because it may not be an obvious disparity to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Can we at least be honest in admitting that?

Our new Santa.

Our new Santa.

PS- Shortly after this discussion, I burned rubber slamming on the brakes in front of an art gallery downtown that had a light up black Santa Claus in its window. I asked them if I could buy it, was told no, told them my story, and suddenly it was mine.

Isaac introducing his animals in the box sleigh to Santa.

 

Also, a beautiful friend made a special Christmas Eve delivery from Santa of a personalized book about Isaac and  Santa (brown skinned) as well as a brown skinned Santa figurine. We packed up all of our Christmas decorations yesterday and that was the one thing Isaac asked if we could keep out all year. It is on his nightstand.

Isaac's new roommate.

Isaac’s new roommate.

My son is black, too.

Here are the things I was worrying over the other day:

1. The amount of time I could wait before I peed myself as Ryan drove us on a 4 hour commute back from vacation because I didn’t want to have to stop and wake up my kid who was napping in the backseat.

2. If the monarch chrysalises in an aquarium in our kitchen had hatched while we were gone and were slowly starving to death.

3. If you could see my panties through the dress I was wearing because, even though I checked in the mirror the prerequisite amount of times prior to walking out in public in a dress that requires such a step, I kept thinking of that girl I saw the day before in a peach, gauzy number whose high-waisted bikini bottoms made me want to pull her aside, but she appeared to be on a first date and what was she supposed to do with the information at that  point anyway?

I flipped through Facebook on my phone in an effort to think of something besides any of the above and my feed was saturated with comments about the shooting of Michael Brown and my brain nearly required a set of neurological jumper cables because I couldn’t shift from my shallow self-absorption to fatal shootings and racial injustice that quickly.

I sat and tried to ignore my bladder for a few miles and watch trees, which was Ryan’s uncertain reply once when I asked him what he was thinking about on a roadtrip. (Like this, “I dunno… Trees?”) I blanked until I could process.

I am white and I live in America so, by unequal and unfair but there-none-the-less rights, I should be the one speaking loudest about inequalities- using these skewed powers for good- but I don’t even know what I should do.

Because I am white, I fear I have blinders on- the kind that make you think that you give everyone a fair shake- but I think the truth is really more along the lines that I am white, I live in a society that continues to lift up white people as the standard from which all other races deviate, and I don’t think it is in any way appropriate to pretend that I have the remotest idea of what it means to be black in that setting.

So when I look at the images of Michael Brown and I see the skin tone of my son, I am horrified. I am not coming from a place from which I can honestly relate to how this has the potential to affect him as he grows. It becomes bigger than who you think did what in Ferguson. As individuals, we have the freedom to make a personal judgement call on who we believe to be guilty or not guilty. What has me worried most for my son is not necessarily specific to the conclusion you drew on this one, traumatic case, but what rationalizations you use to defend it. When we start to use excuses involving petty theft or smoking pot to justify killing someone by shooting them repeatedly, there’s a larger issue at hand.

The overwhelming majority of us will never know all the facts that led to the decisions made by either of the men involved in that shooting. Regardless of who  did (or didn’t) do what, I was shaken to my core to read the commentaries attacking Michael’s character flaws, otherwise unrelated to the shooting. You don’t rationalize a life being taken by stating your distaste that he wasn’t as nice of a person as you were initially led to believe by media interviews of those who knew him. We’re all nastier than we’d like to admit; I’d prefer that my eventual demise not be followed up by a listing of some of my bleaker moments in an attempt to prove that the world is actually a better place now without me in it.

I’m not black. I don’t trust my view of racism in the 21st century. I read black commentaries and I listen to black friends because I don’t trust my eyes and so I need to temper my experiences with those who can see in a way that I never will. I can do those things. I can even understand the rationalization of killing someone in self-defense when all of the facts point to this. But I can’t take any more of the petty justifications without the facts. For my son’s sake, I am begging you: please stop grasping at straws to justify killing another black boy. And please stop trusting that eyes housed in a white body are qualified to make unbiased opinions. I have this little boy who will grow up to be an 18 year old someday and I can’t take any more jumping-to-conclusion, condemning fingers pointing at faces that look like his.

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