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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

I didn't know

I didn't know what I didn't know.

Yesterday as I drove, I cried with lament for our country, but also tears of gratitude for finally being awake. This white girl who knew she  didn't want to be a racist her whole life, from the first time I heard my mother use the N word, but I didn't  know what I didn't know.

I thanked God for waking me up to what lamenting and listening means.  I repented for the wake of slavery that I didn't cause, but do benefit from. I then asked for God to show me more of my unconscious biases. Repeat.

 I am a white girl who grew up in a white town, a small town in  central Indiana. The county I lived in is literally named White County, and more than once I heard adult and teens around me say, "White County needs to stay white."

The only POC I knew were Mexican and Latin  americans immigrants and their children, and the 2 half-black adopted kids in our school corporatation.

My best friend was a 2nd generation Latina, who was born in Indiana, with parents from El Salvador. She was sometimes bullied by the Mexican kids for hanging out with white kids. I loved her, but I see now never understood her experiences as a person of color, because she was accepted by me and our friends, so I didn't get how others wouldn't accept her.  To be honest, I never asked. 

I saw how racist my classmates and adults surrounding me saw the Mexican kids, ones who spoke Spanish and wore dark lipstick, they were differen, they were other. I will admit, I did too. I didn't think of myself as racist by any means, but they were different to me, and that made me uncomfortable.  

 I saw my best friend as different from the Mexican immigrants, and I didn't equate her experience with theirs. I loved being part of her culture when we were at her house, and listening to her parents speak Spanish, but she was like me.  I never asked about what it felt like to be a latina in a white world. We were from the same town, wore the same clothes, liked the same music. When others saw her inny company, and with all our white friends, they acted differently to her than the Mexican kids in our town. If anyone gave her any crap, I saw it as isolated racists from a small town. I didn't realize until VERY recently that my white privilege protected her when she was with me. 

 As a teen, I heard on the news about profiling, and I remember not knowing why it was wrong. 

Why wouldn't you pull over someone that fits the description of the suspect? 

Why would you be scared of the police if you did nothing wrong?

 I didn't know how times the only "description" they fit was "black". 

 I didn't know how times there is no suspect at all, just suspicion because of the color their skin.

 I didn't know how many times just the color of dark skin meant quicker escalation, due to fear on booths sides, that turned to violence.

 I didn't know how many times that "suspicious feeling" that led to white people calling the cops many times just meant "they are black in a white area".

 I didn't know.

I am grateful that when I married young I moved away from that tiny town.

 It took way too long for me to fully wake up, but I was trying. I knew I didn't want to be racist. I wanted to be awake to injustice, but I felt like in a dream where I was trying to wake up, but my you can't can't open your eyes. I started to meet POC, and I saw their anger, but still I just didn't get it.

 My husband and I starting working with Young Life in South Bend. I got to serve with amazing African American teens and adult leaders. I must admit it was really really uncomfortable at first. 
Remember, white girl from a white town in White County? I was so nervous any time I was around a black person, not due to fears but the unknown. I was always hyper aware when I was with a black teen versus a white teen. It was new, and it was hard.  I  needed to live in the discomfort of being in someone's space, in their culture, and OUT of my own. It was so good for me because it started to wake me up. 

To me, being awake means you can't sleep though it just because it doesn't effect you.  You can sleep through a train when it is 10 miles away, but you can't when it's in your living room, or in your neighbor's yard.  As a white girl, I can easily live as if the train of racism is 10 to 20 miles away.  I could stay in my bubble and know that my sons or husband don't have to live the consequences.   That is wrong, as a human and a Christian.  The train of racism is crashing through the bedrooms of human beings, of image-bearers of God. Who am I to go to sleep again, just because it doesn't touch my life personally?

One of best thing that ever happened to me as a naive little white girl was going to Windy Gap Summer Camp as a Young Life leader, I was 21 years old. My husband and I were two of only a dozen white people, at a camp of 500 Black and Hispanic leaders and students. I experienced for the first time even a tiny fraction of what it felt like to be a minority. 

 Guys it was one of the most uncomfortable weeks in my entire life. I didn't understand the music references, hair culture, the movies, even just words used made me feel like I was always just out of the loop. I literally stuck out in every single group, and saw all eyes look at me every time I entered a room.

Guys, it was also one the best weeks in my entire life. It was scary, but oh how wonderful it was for me to walk even a step in the shoes of a minority. I was brave enough to ask my girls about why they wore a scarf at night, and the girls got to ask a while person ask why they watched their hair so much. I saw teen girls fight over stupid and serious stuff, just like every other teen girl in the world.

I learned about the importance of respect in the girls' lives, and how little they got in the world, which led to them fighting so hard for it, even in sometimes what I viewed as trivial little things, like someone stealing their Pepsi. 

God allowed me to witness teen boys of color conquer literal mountains, with their storng Male leader of color right next to them. 

God wanted me to be surrounded by my brothers and sisters of color in a way that there was no way I could ever be the same as I was before. I was surrounded by amazing human beings, with color and culture that shook my heart with its strength. 

I could never not know again what it feel like, even a tiny tiny sliver of a percentage, of what it felt like to be a minority. I hadn't woken up fully, but it had begun. 

Over the next 16 years I would be able to befriend more people of color (honestly  enough and I will admit my circle of friend is still predominantly white, which I don't want to always be that way). 

 I would see men and women of color in local church and government leadership. I began to learn the truth behind profiling, and brothers and sisters colors told their experiences of being pulled over and questioned. 

 I would serve on a jury where an older black man was chased in a car by 3 rich white college students in the middle of the night, yet HE was charged with a charged crime of brandishing a ln unloaded weapon out his car window when they refused to stop tailgating ans following hok for a half hour in the dead of night. It took me and one other man on the jury to advocate for this man to not he found guilty on all charges, and even then he had to be found guilty on brandishing a weapon, because he did. I still remember how angry I felt at the injustice of these white affluent boys testifying as victims in court, with no explanation of their harassment other than they followed him becasue he "looked suspicious". I regret deeply I didn't fight harder to get all charges dropped.

I have been trying to read books that not only centered on civil rights, but intentionally seek out books and movies that have black actors as the leads, not just opposite a white person, and don't just feature people of color as being "sassy" or the sidekick. I sometimes felt odd as a white girl watching Janet Jackson in "Poetic Justice", or singing "Freedom is coming tomorrow" from Sarafina, or the loving the amazing Whitney in "Waiting to Exhale", but I wanted to see more. I did not want to be color blind, because  the color I was beginning to see was beautiful.

I was pretty close to being awake , but Ahmaud, Breonna, and George have fully woken me up. It took too long,  for which I am repentant, but I am awake.

 I am the mother to two almost 13 year old white boys. My sons will never have to be scared to be pulled over by police. They will never have to worry about wearing a hoodie on a walk in their grandparent's neighborhood.  

No, black lives do not matter MORE, they matter TOO. The point of #blacklivesmatter is because unconscious and conscious bias are real. I know they are real, because  I lived with them, in my family and in my own mind. 

I know racist is a scary word that congers up KKK and Nazis,  but the concept that I have learned is there isn't a dichotomy of racists and not racist. We ALL fall on a spectrum of bias, and and we ALL have blind spots of bias (a.k.a unconscious bias).

White Guilt is not what I am advocating. It isn't my FAULT I was born a white girl in an all community, but it is my RESPPNSIBLITY to educate myself about the experiences of others.  

What is your unconscious bias? What are your blind spots? I wasn't "racist" like a KKK member, but I was way too biased for way too long, even though I didn't want to be. I know I still have unconscious biases, but I want to do better.

We may never agree exactly how to fix the problem of racism in America, but I definitely know we can't fix a problem we don't believe is there.

Lord, don't ever let me fall asleep to the pains and wounds of an entire community. 

I want to do better.

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