Not long ago my children and I went out to have dinner with some friends. We were in Missouri competing in our National Homeschooling Tournament. Anyway, we decided to go to Cracker Barrel for dinner. My children and I were the only people of color in the building. I was very aware of this, but it wasn’t a big deal. This is very normal for us, so I didn’t give it a second thought at all. In fact, when we were ordering, I told the waitress that the chocolate folks would be on the same ticket. I was very matter of fact about it, and a bit playful about it. I’m very comfortable with who I am.
Later, my friend and I talked about our experience in the restaurant. By the way, my friend and her daughter are white. She was very aware of the fact that people were staring at us when we walked in the restaurant. In fact, she felt quite uncomfortable with the staring. She thought something was wrong with her. Eventually, she realized it was us. The brown people in a sea of white that were out of place. The weird thing is that I didn’t notice the stares. Now in all fairness, I did walk in after the rest of our group, but I never noticed all the stares. My children noticed it, but I was oblivious to it.
I’ve been wondering how I could miss something so blatantly obvious. Why am I so desensitized to these types of situations?
I think it’s because I’ve been in these types of situations so often that I’ve had to learn not to let it affect me. Honestly, what can I do about a bunch of folks looking at me because I’m black? Not a thing. For me, focusing on this type of thing can cause unnecessary paranoia, or even anger. Plus it’s exhausting–especially since I’m usually the only black or one of a couple of blacks pretty much every where I go. I think it’s been some what of a survival skill that I’ve developed from being in these spaces. Yet, I’m realizing that I need to be aware of the people I’m around in order to protect my children and myself from people who may seek to harm us in some way. Foolishly, I forget that not everyone is accepting of us. There are still many who may be afraid of us because of the mere fact that they have no exposure to black people. As a result, they believe the stereo types about us. Whatever the reason for the stares, I just need to be aware–not paranoid, but aware.
I’ve lived in the Austin, TX area for over 21 years. All of our children were born here. This is the only life they know. They’ve grown up in an environment where they have been surrounded by people who are very different from us. Don’t get me wrong. We are surrounded by the nicest, sweetest people. They treat us wonderfully, which is why I’ve become so disconnected with the reality that not everyone will treat us this way. Over the last 20 years I’ve also become used to dealing with certain inconveniences and struggles with living in this place. I’ll share a few with you.
I’ve lived here over 21 years and I couldn’t tell another African-American where to go to get their hair cut or styled. In fact, I’ve been wanting to get my hair cut and dyed for quite some time, but I haven’t known where to go. I have to drive to a different part of Austin in order to have my hair done. Whenever I see another African-American woman with a cute hair style, I have to stop her to ask who does her hair. Usually, it’s someone in Pflugerville, Round Rock or Austin. Think about that. How far do you have to go to have your hair cut or styled? How many options do you have? It would be so wonderful to be able to walk into any beauty shop and know that the hairstylists know how to care for my hair.
Another thing that has gotten somewhat better is buying products for my hair. At one time, the selection in the stores was almost nothing. Now, we have a very small selection of products geared towards our hair. It’s not much, but at least stores are acknowledging our existence. It can be frustrating at times, but that’s life in my brown skin. I’ve learned to make the best of it and to move on.
The music on christian radio and the church
The lack of acknowledgement of black history in feb or in history curriculum
The lack of inclusion of black writers when acknowledging good writers
Living in my brown skin as a mother is a challenge. I’ve walked along side of my children as they’ve questioned their beauty because they don’t look like their friends. As they felt fat because their bodies are athletic and curvy. As they’ve wanted to know their heritage when we know very little about our ancesters because of slavery and the hostile environment which caused blacks to often flee their homes for safety. As we’ve struggled to provide for them, being two generations away from poverty. We do not build our lives on a foundation of financial prosperity, but we do build our lives on a foundation of deep faith in a God who is able to take care of us.
I have personally struggled to live among people who are so gifted in organization, productivity and planning. Daily I’m faced with how inadequate I am. It’s a constant struggle to keep up.
Politics–the assumption that all good christians think the same politically. I cannot tell you the number of times friends and acquaintances have made offensive comments to me, assuming that because I am a deeply committed follower of jesus that I have the same political perspective that they have. I have, in fact, been deeply wounded from many of the comments dear friends made during this past election. I’m still processing through this hurt and feeling quite hesitant about being so trusting of white evangelical christians. There is so much hypocrisy, and such a lack of humility to hear from anyone else’s perspective but there own. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit continues to spur me to press into this Holy tension. I will not run away. I will not alienate. I will not hate.
The general sense that most things from my culture are either subpar, or evil or simply ignored altogether. My voice and perspective have been ignored over and over again. I’ve found myself assimilating into the majority culture because it’s easier. Because I haven’t wanted to make my friends feel uncomfortable.
One thing has become very clear to me over this past year: I have been called to live in my brown skin boldly. I’ve been called to make my white brothers and sisters aware of what they are so blind to. As I’ve learned from them, I hope and pray that they are willing to assume a posture of humility as they learn from us–the marginalized. Those who have been silenced and ignored. Those who have been oppressed and even ostracized for expressing a view different from theirs.