White Soul Exposed

I’ve wanted so much to reach out every day this past week to tell all of my friends of color that, sure all lives matter…but for me…YOU matter.  You are my friends and I hope you know that I hate how this all feels for you.

I know that despite my cultural openness I am still guilty of assuming and pre-judgement.  I am openly admitting that so that, hopefully, you will forgive me.  I am another victim of the books, movies, music and even cartoon portrayals of black men and women everywhere. In my heart I don’t see you that way but my mind is forever recording garbage.  It is the shaping of misconception; like movies that make you not trust old bridges.

In every movie, that involves an old bridge, something bad happens when you cross it.  Maybe if they filmed happier scenes on the bridge, more often, I wouldn’t be so sure something bad was going to happen when someone went across it.  Nothing bad has ever happened to me on a bridge before and other than seeing some beautiful ones in pictures I’ve never actually seen anyone plummet through one.  I have nothing to base my bridge anxiety on, except those movies; but I’m still unnerved by them.  I think media influence can do that to you; make you feel emotions that you might not otherwise feel.

People of color, who know me, come to know quickly that I don’t judge others by their skin color but how do I express that to those who do not know me? I am always kind to everyone, I meet them with a handshake, a hug when appropriate, and look them in the eyes.  I laugh with them in elevators and ask how their vacations are going when we’re out of the state.  But truthfully, sometimes I am still afraid; afraid of offending you!  So, I say nothing because I’m afraid to say the wrong thing.

I do see your color, I acknowledge it because it’s beautiful and it’s an important part of your life and culture, but I treat you with respect like every person I meet.  Still, I trip on myself not refer to your skin color because I’m not sure if I should use the term African American or Black American or just black.  I don’t tell you how beautiful your weave is or how jealous I am that you can wear the brilliant colors you’re wearing because I wonder if that feels like I am “trying too hard” even though I sincerely mean it.  I want to say something in the summer time about my fear of blinding you with my neon white legs and how I wish I was that beautiful golden brown you are, but I stay silent because I am worried that you will think I’m being fake about it.   I look in envy every time I see a large black woman wearing tight clothing because she is so much more secure in her body than I am in mine, but I wouldn’t say that out loud for fear that she might think that I was actually being condescending and not flattering.

Yes, I am aware of the differences in our skin colors but not in the way you think.  More like in the way someone admires all the shades of blue in the sky at sunset. Yes, I’m sometimes afraid of you when we meet but not for the reason you believe.  It’s usually because I’m wondering if I can smile at you and you will honestly believe I’m not “one of those” white people (insert whatever unkind thing you’ve heard about us).  Yes, my eyes follow your children.  But because I love children and find your children fun to watch or beautiful as teens growing into adulthood.  You are not all the same.  We are not all the same.  We are not all thinking the same things.

Please don’t be frustrated with me for not knowing what to say.  So much has happened in our family’s pasts to make it hard to know for sure how you will respond to me.   I am not my ancestor but just like a new husband I am paying for your ex-husband’s sins until you get to know me better.

So why haven’t I said anything before this?  Because I don’t know what to say.  And I desperately want to say something.  Each time I read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “In the end we remember…the silence of our friends,” I feel the responsibility of saying something I don’t have the right words to say.

What can I say to the people I love and care about (and to others I don’t even know as well) that coming from my white mouth, would not feel like phoniness to your black ears? How can I make you feel my heart when I say, “You matter to me!”, and that I die a little inside as I empathize with the injustices that you feel?

A couple of days ago I talked with a couple on the phone for almost an hour about helping them adopt a baby.  I didn’t know until the end of the call that they were an African American couple.  Yesterday we met with a single, black woman about adopting.  We spent over an hour visiting because we had so much fun and so much in common.  For some of us life goes on the same in both worlds.  We meet, we laugh, we visit, we are touched by one another.  The world does not define us or our relationships.  This cloud exists only to darken what could have been an even more enjoyable relationship.  And yet we each feel the impact as if the world is shaken in two.

And we, straddling the divide, look at that bridge and dare to cross it.

 

© 2016 Dee Shihady, The Quiet Christian
(photos by internet research, not by author)

Perfect Parenting

I am often reminded, in my stupor of personal wallowing, that the fact that I have plans for my future is of no consequence to God.  It’s not that He doesn’t let us choose our future, it’s that He is, after all, a Father.

When my college-age daughter comes to me with a plan that I believe will ultimately not be good for her I have two choices; I can support her decision-making process (even while telling her how I feel) or I can tell her I know better than she does and that she will do it my way or not at all.  I’m sure you can imagine that I would like to do the latter most of the time!

And yet our relationship has been steadily built on the premise that she is an individual and, as such, may want to do things differently than I would do it.  Truth be told she has made some very good decisions and I’ve been proud of her.  However, for the most part, I know her potential, her weaknesses and her strengths and I know what she should probably be doing so I could save her a lot of time and effort by just insisting on my course.

Here’s the glitch though.  She may end up in the same place I would’ve sent her but if she doesn’t make it there on her own she will have missed the opportunity to grow in that area.  What could be the most important thing she does can quickly turn into the thing she resents because it wasn’t her idea in the first place.

I think God is that parent when we try to make our own plans.  He listens, He nods, He celebrates our willingness to think for ourselves and try new things, He laughs with us and cries with us when it doesn’t go as planned and He could say, “I told you so” but He never does.  He actually knows us better than we can ever imagine, what we’re here for and what is best for us and yet He allows us to come to that conclusion all by ourselves.

Dee Shihady © 05/09/16

Father / Heavenly Father

http://crystaladoptions.comA little girl visited my daughter a few nights ago.  They’re best friends. She claims to be an atheist but I’m confused about how anyone younger than sixteen knows if there is a God or not for sure.  I remember when I was that age and thought I knew though.  It must be possible to have that strong of a feeling to the contrary.

We spent the evening together having a rare teen-adult connection during conversation where she blurted out that her parents were not very kind to her.  She recounted some stories that made me hurt for her and, even if only remembered wrongly, I still recognized as life-shaping.  This is a girl, I kept thinking, that will turn into a woman who questions everything about the relationships she is in.  She will wonder if, when he says he loves her, if he really does.  She will second-guess her best friends (as she already does) and she will wonder if there is anyone who finds worth in her, even as she painstakingly dresses for another date or business meeting.

And this is a girl who can’t believe in God.  She could never believe in a Father in Heaven who loves her because she doesn’t even believe that her parents do.

I have thought about this for days.  I mull it over as one of the strangest but truest thoughts I’ve had in a while.  The question seems so obvious to me and yet so vague: Does our relationship and belief in a Heavenly Father have anything to do with our dysfunctional or trusting relationships with our own earthly parents?  And, regardless of whether or not those perceptions of our relationships are actually true or not, did it shape the way we formed our bond with God?

Does the man who spends his childhood with a father who is never home believe there is a God but that He doesn’t really participate in the daily lives of his children?  Does the woman who spent her childhood lost in the sea of children of a large family grow up to think that God loves her but never notices the things she does?  Does the child who is criticized often believe that they will never be good enough to go to heaven?

I’m starting to think a lot about my own parents these days and my perception of them.

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