The timing of a post like this is always difficult to discern, but I think it’s important that I publicly state that black lives matter and confess some aspects of my whiteness.
I live and was raised in the deep south, and growing up, I never really understood the extent of racism that still permeates life in America. I was in college when Obama was elected as the first black president, and I distinctly remember becoming suddenly aware of the rampant racism on campus. Racism had always been right in front of me; I just did not know to see or recognize it. I was not raised in a racist household, and I had always been close friends with people of many races. I had many close friends that were black growing up, but I was still white and was raised in predominantly white environments. My college years were eye-opening for me when it comes to racial injustice because I finally began to see the extent and effects of racism. I have since been on a continual journey of learning and understanding more of the reality of race in America.
Some of my closest friends in college were black, and I am so fortunate that we developed relationships that were open and honest. It takes some work on both ends to be vulnerable and have difficult and sometimes awkward yet honest conversations. My friends helped me to begin to learn more about how life is experienced differently in America depending on the color of your skin. I mainly had to learn that as a white person, my life was automatically different and easier. I spent a good deal of time exposing myself to black culture and being willing to learn and accept everything that I could. At times, I simply enjoyed it, but on some occasions I had to learn about truth the hard way. For the first time in my life, I experienced looks and gestures from opinionated racists for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with a person of the wrong color skin. As hard as it was for me to experience, I knew that my friends had grown up with those experiences. Those years were just the very beginning of my journey in understanding my whiteness.
Fast forward ten years or so, and I am still learning new things about my whiteness on a daily basis. I’m currently pursuing a PhD in English with a concentration in African American literature. Needless to say, I spend the majority of my time reading black authors and thinkers and discovering the reality of American history. In case you only know the history you were taught in school, let me just say that you are missing much of the story. America’s history is often painted as a fairy tale of the victors. In reality, America’s history is disgusting. The most difficult part of my studies is that I regularly read white Christian voices and leaders of the antebellum era that interpreted the Bible completely in their favor to support an unjust, unloving, and horrific institution. The American church was perhaps the loudest voice in support of American slavery, and sadly, it now seems to be content to sit back and let the injustice continue.
Lately, information that I am learning has been difficult for me to swallow. As much as I want to think of myself as not racist and as an ally to my black brothers and sisters, I keep learning new ways that my whiteness still influences and determines much of my life. I may not always see it, but whiteness is on my side. The more I read and study about the history of race and Christianity, specifically in America, the harder it gets for me to be content in my all-to-easy white life. With the recent events of violence on black lives and the riots and protests happening throughout the country, my thoughts have been constantly consumed with my own whiteness and how blind I often am to it.
When I began seeing the posts about Ahmaud Arbery, my heart ached. I’ve learned enough about race relations in America to know that violence against people of color has been a constant theme in American history and present. I have learned enough to be impacted by the tragedy of a death such as Ahmaud’s, and I wasn’t ok with what was happening. I read up on every news post and consumed the bombardment of tweets about Ahmaud’s violent and unjust murder. I was angry and hurting and aware of white people instantly beginning to throw up their defences. My poor husband had to sit through my rants every day when he got home from work. I thought I was on the side of my black brothers and sisters and was wanting to grieve and hurt with them, but one day it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Last year, I married a black man. I never really sought out to date or marry any specific race, though admittedly I had been known to joke about intentionally marrying a black man to spite the racist people around me. In the end, though, I married my husband because of the content of his character and not the color of his skin. It just so happens that I fell in love with a black man, so I married him. I can’t say that I was surprised by that in any way, but I can say that race was never a factor in my pursuit of a husband. The Lord simply saw fit to place an amazingly wonderful black man in my life. In January, we found out that we were expecting our first child. While I did spend quite a good deal of time in the beginning wondering about and looking forward to a beautiful head of curly hair, I don’t know that I spent a good deal of time contemplating the race of my child. History in this country would tell us that my child is black. If you don’t know anything about the one-drop rule, I challenge you to look it up, especially if you are white. You may not have been taught about how race was determined in this country, but it will do you some good to investigate for yourself.
Perhaps you have figured out by now that in my story timeline, Ahmaud Arbery’s death happened in the weeks leading up to finding out the gender of our baby. As we were excited and anticipating finally knowing whether or not our child would be a boy or girl, it began to dawn on me that I might be carrying my own brown skin son. A son that would instantly be at a higher risk than if he were white. I had been so excited to learn the gender, but my excitement quickly diminished and a weight settled in. Suddenly, Ahmaud’s death meant so much more to me, and for that, I need to say that I am sorry.
I need to say that I am sorry that it took me being pregnant and the mother of a brown skin baby to fully feel the weight of being black or brown skinned in this country. For all the days and years that I thought I was being a white ally, I realized how short I fell when it came to bearing the burdens of my black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul instructs believers in his letter to the Galatians to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Skin color has been made a burden in this country, and I failed to fulfill the Law of Christ. As much as I have wanted and tried to be on the right side, I still have so many blind spots. My blind spots cannot be ignored though. I need those dark places to be exposed to the light so that I can walk in truth and love; to live out the gospel the way God intended it to be.
Maybe it goes without saying, but I need to say it for the sake of exposure. As a white female, I never once thought twice before setting out for a run. I’ve run miles upon miles in neighborhoods of varying economic statuses, on the side of busy streets, and even on private golf cart paths on private golf courses. Never have I ever considered not doing so or being in any danger. I’ve even run through apartment complexes that might be considered slightly dangerous and still didn’t worry about my skin making any difference. My only concerns were running at my target pace and ensuring I had good music to accompany me. My children will not have that luxury, and this is a heavy burden to carry. It is a new burden for me, but it has been the burden of my black and brown sisters for centuries. I confess that I should have recognized the ease of my whiteness long ago and not as a result of being a mother to a brown baby.
I’ve had my fair share of speeding tickets, sadly, over the years and even got slammed with a massive ticket for my license being expired a few years ago. Never, though, was I concerned for my well-being when those cops pulled me over. Even when cops are sometimes jerks, I still feel safe. I know that I will only get pulled over if I am actually doing something wrong, which apparently tends to be speeding, and I never worry that I might end up arrested or shot before the cop leaves. I know that my children will not experience this ease. George Floyd did not have this ease and neither did Breonna Taylor. As frustrated as I was about the price tag on my expired license ticket, my life was never in danger. I never even considered being thankful that tickets are the only thing I have to worry about if I get pulled over or have an encounter with the police. I am sorry for that.
Just a few days ago, I woke up to my husband going out for an early morning run. Maybe it was a reflex or maybe I was still half asleep, but my first question was, “Do you have a gun?” I would never promote or support violence in this way, but those were the words that came out of my mouth. My husband is too kind and gentle of a man to even consider something like carrying a gun for protection. He simply smiled and pointed to his bicep “guns.” I was fearful for my husband’s life because of the color of his skin, and I confess that I have never truly experienced this burden until now. Was I fearful for the lives of my black and brown friends before this? Maybe not as much as I am now, and I can’t help but see my whiteness in that. All I know to do is to ask for forgiveness for the ways in which I have not been the sister in Christ I am called to be.
Eventually, we found out that we are actually having a girl and not a boy. At least for now, I don’t have to join the world of mothers of black and brown sons that sit under the heavy weight of knowing that their baby boys are subject to violence and danger at any moment because of the color of their skin. I may not have to join them, but I want to join them. I want to bear that burden with them and grieve the racist state that this country has always been in, not because I am the mother of my own brown baby now but because it is exactly what Jesus calls me to do. I’m sorry that it took my current circumstances to truly understand that weight.
My whiteness has provided me with an easy life that I never had to work for. There is little that I can do to change the inherent status that accompanies the color of my skin, but I can be aware of it and use it to make a difference. In these last few months, as I have watched the racial tension rise in our country, my prayer has been that God would move in the hearts of white Christians, as He has been in mine. We may not have played an active role in constructing the racist system that exists, but we can take responsibility for changing it today. Even if you still think systemic racism is not a thing, I challenge you to take a good look at your church body and let the Lord voice His opinion on the segregation of His church. When we one day look out on the great multitude standing before the Lord, it will be “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” and we would do well to ask ourselves why that isn’t the case now. I choose to extend the palm branch.