Growing up I had the privilege of being surrounded by those that look like me. I did not question my race much or think about the concept of privilege. I knew racism was wrong and we should love everyone, but that is where my challenge ended.
I was raised in a family for whom appearances were everything, and the truth of the darkness stayed in the privacy of our own home. I learned how to pretend to be the pastor’s daughter in a nuclear two-parent home with three kids and a dog. I learned to pretend so well that I lost any truth of my own identity so when the facade was exposed I wasn’t sure where I belonged. I no longer fit into what I thought was “White Christian America.” Therefore, when I went to my primarily white Christian college I just did what I did best and pretended to be something I wasn’t.
When I moved to Chicago I was tired. I knew I wanted to be different. A friend of mine had recommended a mixed race, primarily Black church in Austin. I remember sitting there all by myself the first Sunday and being approached by the pastor. He looked at me and said, “You are going to have to speak up here if you want to be recognized.” I left excited and terrified. I told my fiancé that I had found our home church. That is what that church became to me. Home. The members taught me acceptance, love, and belonging. People stepped out of their comfort zone constantly to show me love. They taught me that my hard past didn't make me less than, but rather brought me strength and taught me empathy. I was mentored by beautiful-spirited Black women who showed me how to bake fresh bread, cook using whole chicken, and heal by accepting all the hard with the good. In Austin, I felt more acceptance than I had ever felt in my life before.
This experience also woke me up. I couldn't continue to accept a world that treated the people I loved as less than me. I learned I couldn’t just not be racist. I now lived in a community where I saw the effects of systemic racism around me. This didn’t mean that I needed to save or rescue those with less systemic privilege. Instead, as patient and kind Black friends taught me, my job is to participate when invited, learn from others, become part of the community I live in and then to take all of this knowledge and understanding and speak up. Speak up for those whose voices are hoarse from shouting while the world around them continues to choose not to hear. My job is to be the patient voice taking the time to explain things over and over again so my Black friends and family don’t have to. My job is to speak out when I see and hear injustice even when it makes me uncomfortable. My job is also to continue to be aware of my own racist thoughts and actions when they occur. When I am honest with myself those thoughts and actions occur more than I would like because I, like other Americans, have grown up in a system that not only allows, but enforces injustice and racism. It’s impossible to grow up in a culture where some lives are given more worth than others and not be impacted by it. I can, however, be honest with myself. When I have a racist thought or action I can confront it with the truth, and make repairs when they are needed.
I am now a mom of four incredible bi-racial children, three of which have beautiful brown skin that represents their Black identity. My hope for them is that they grow up in a world where systemic racism is confronted and changed. My prayer for my kids is that my white brothers and sisters will step up with me and say, “no more.” Rather, they will take the time to listen, to hear, and to allow themselves to be uncomfortable. They will confront the systems that have always and continue to oppress others, and create a different truth for the generations to come.