Tuesday, June 4, 2013

race-ing thoughts...

I love this boy.

It's like he came into our world like a whirlwind, just 24 hours after we acknowledged the Lord's call for us to adopt transracially, turning our life (and our house) upside down in the nine days we had to prepare.

It all happened so fast.

And it was the best disruption of our lives.

But just because Marc and I have been falling in love with the warmth, the richness, and the community of the african-american culture for the past several years, it didn't mean I was prepared to have a half haitian/half african-american SON.

No, I'm still very much in process.

How does a lily white gal like me raise a beautifully chocolate-skinned boy like him?

I've realized it was one thing to have appreciation and admiration for his culture from afar.

It's a totally different thing to bring it into my household and my heart.

Here's what I mean.

Marc and I have been to Charleston, South Carolina, many times together, and one of my favorite things to do there is shop at the market downtown.  Tourists, including me, often mistake this for the old slave market, but with some quick research, I found out the original Slave Mart was actually on another street downtown.

Nevertheless, it was one thing to walk these historic streets filled with a shameful past before Jameson entered our world.

And now, it feels alot more personal.

If it's uncomfortable to read my words about race, you better believe it's painfully uncomfortable to write about such things.

Like any other white person, I wish we could just leave the shameful past behind us and declare today as a new day.  While I know race relations are sloooowly, progressively getting better than they were say, 50 years ago, I still selfishly want to put my fingers in my ears and just pretend it's all better now.

But just because I personally don't feel the strong, racist sentiments against Jameson's culture, doesn't mean they don't exist.

The more I learn, the more I see it's not okay.  It's upsetting.  I hear it, and I want to justify it.  My mind goes first toward defending my own race.  Just today I read that while drug use and trafficking is FAR more common among whites, (7x higher than blacks) the racial composition of our jails would suggest otherwise.  In 2006, for example, 1 in every 14 black males had been incarcerated, verses 1 in 106 white men.  That's 13x higher incarceration rates for black males than whites. (!!)

There was a study done in 1995 where hundreds of people were asked to picture a drug user.  Can you guess what 95% pictured in their heads?  A black male.  Does that surprise you?  In actuality, whites make up the vast majority of drug use and trafficking, while in reality only about 15% of black males use drugs.  Yet that is the image we have been given and internalized, even down to a subconscious level.

I can't even wrap my head around how much brokenness lies in our history, in our hearts, and in our systems.  Lord Jesus, we plead for justice.

How can I enter into these things, as a mother of a black son, and not feel protective and a little outraged?

White culture tells me that I should raise my son the same way I raise my daughter, without regard to his color.  We should all be colorblind, the rhetoric goes.  Color is only skin-deep, so my culture thinks.  While there is much truth in that, it also seems to subtly carry the message that we should ignore color.

Easy for us to say.

Marc and I continue to read about racial history in America, and how it has shaped our attitudes and our society's practices.  Adopting Jameson has opened us up to amazingly insightful conversations with our black RUF students, too.  I'm almost 36 years old, and through their perspective, I'm sadly just now coming to see what a person of color has known since they were born.

I really can't even formulate coherent thoughts and arguments to give to you about these issues right now.  I just feel as though I've gotten the wind knocked out of me.  How was I so blind, ignorant and honestly uncaring to their experience?  Why did I innocently believe that they had just as much opportunity as I do?

Well, I know the answer to that question, but it is unfortunately a sad and shameful one.

I didn't have to care.  In my world of white privilege, race has never been a source of judgment against me.  Like alot of white suburbanites, I lived in a mostly white world, untouched by the realities of minorities.  And when our neighborhoods were perceived as having too much color, we could move to another one.  (aka "white flight") Out of sight, out of mind, baby.

So they, the families of color, were left to their own, and our racial prejudices were left untouched as well.  Both sides lost out on the richness that a multi-ethnic community offers.

While I've been learning about my culture's (and my own) racial understandings quietly for several years, adopting Jameson has now brought things into the spotlight.

Yes, I'm changing diapers and waking to feed him at-all-hours-of-the-night, fighting with reflux and chronic ear infections, you name it.  There is SO much the same, across the board, no matter your color or culture.  (It's a balance, right?  Not to emphasize race too much, nor to ignore it, either.)

But through this adoption, I've been given an opportunity to continue growing and learning.  I want to know more.

And for my son's sake, I need to know more.  

I feel COMPLETELY inadequate to raise him, can I just say that?!   If I'm being honest with you, I have days where I look at black families and wonder if I am the best mama for Jameson.  Wouldn't a black family be better for him?  I'm not naive to think that everyone is gung-ho for transracial adoption.  So when I receive an approving smile or compliment at the store from someone of another race, for a glorious moment it relieves all of my insecurities I carry about being white.  If only I could live in light of the fact that I have my heavenly Father's complete approval and ordination to raise Jameson David in my home!  Oh, the human heart.

Just like I want Caroline to be proud of her differences,
I want Jameson to walk through life proud of his color.  Proud of his culture.
And I know I've got to be ready to hold his hand through the injustices that will surely come our way, too.  (deep breath.)

One day at a time.  All by God's grace.

I feel as though a huge pair of blinders has been ripped off of my eyes and I'm trying to grapple with another world I've never seen before.

I'm in process, and that's okay.

This mama bear's got time to sharpen her claws.  :)

This trip through the City Market was so interesting to see through these new lenses.  I couldn't help but snap this quick picture (making it look like I was taking it of Marc) as I saw what was behind him.  Black and white culture, side-by-side.

On the right...the crisp, stylish smocked dresses for little white girls, who will surely adorn themselves with huge bows in their hair to match.

And on the left... the beautiful, hand-woven african baskets passed down through generations of slaves, and is left as one of the oldest artforms of african origin in the U.S.

I couldn't afford the beautiful, african baskets at the market, but when a young black boy sitting on the steps outside the restaurant asked if I would like to buy a flower, (made from a reed, pictured above) I nervously said, "no thank you" and walked past him quickly.  It was my first instinct, before I even had time to consider what he was saying to me.  Then I turned around to speak to the boy, and gladly bought this flower to give to my sweet Caroline.

Even in the purchasing of this flower, my old self vs. my new self were still at odds.

But we're all in process, aren't we?

God is teaching each of us new things and new ways in His timing.  We're not all on the same page.  It's okay.  I wish more of white culture could see and acknowledge their own sin and prejudices.  But race issues go back for hundreds of years, so I certainly can't expect them to resolve overnight.

But I pray we can learn to be honest about our sins, both personal and cultural.  And I pray we can be patient and gracious with one another in the meantime, even if we never see eye to eye.

And I pray for wisdom and grace to be the best mama to him.
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  1. oh amy you are rocking my world! i am so rich and white and dumb that i read your title and unconsciously thought "oh race-ing amy is running a marathon"
    please will you keep up this great fleshing out of your thoughts and what the lord is teaching you?!? even when you feel inadequate:) it is encouraging and inspiring and it is teaching me dear friend
    love you four
    betsy & family

    1. Sweet Betsy, Thank you so, so much for your encouragement. Love you guys!

    2. And I can pretty much guarantee I will never be running a marathon...ha! :)

  2. Nanny & PapaJune 5, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    Just remember, God gave him to our family. There is a reason and a purpose. He teaches us all every day. Love our little family of four.

  3. Don't forget Love covers a multitude of sins! You've got alot of it...and Jesus gives him more than enough.

    The good news is that you won't be a perfect parent.... But the One who is, is molding you into a beautiful one :) be encouraged!