I married a black man(2)

 

I married a black man.

As his aunts would say, I have caramel kids.

 

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I don’t have to go further than my kitchen table to experience diversity, and yet

I still have racial biases.

Sometimes I don’t notice skin color.  During my ten years in South Africa, I could sit for over forty minutes in a room full of people before suddenly realizing I was the only pale face there.

I often don’t realize the color of my own kids’ skin until we’re at the beach and I’m nearly blinded by the paleness of other children running around in their diapers, and I think, “Wow, those kids are really white.”

Other times, I see it.  Like now, when we’re living in a predominantly white suburb of West Michigan, and a black person rides past on a bicycle, and I think, “Oh look!” because it’s such a rarity here.

 

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My kids often get invited to play dates with adopted children, so the mocha kids in otherwise all-pale families will see faces that look more like their own.  And I wonder about that sometimes, like, “Does it really matter?”

But maybe it does.  Maybe it matters a whole lot more than I will ever know.  Because while skin color really doesn’t matter to me, it does matter to many, and they matter to me. And most importantly, they matter to Him.

But also, maybe if we all just checked the tags in our shirts, we’d realize we were all made in the same Place.  Different shades of the same fabric, a rainbow of material woven by the same Person.

 

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And while this might come as a shock to most of the children’s Bible illustrators out there,

Jesus wasn’t white.

And you know something else?  Neither were Adam and Eve.

So why don’t our books reflect that?  Why don’t our churches mirror that?  Why don’t the faces gathered around our tables, both online and in real life, look more like the table we’re anticipating at the wedding feast of the Lamb?

 

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In South Africa, cashiers at the grocery store would recognize the surname on my debit card as a Tswana name, and their perplexed eyes would move from the card to my face and back again before they’d venture to ask, “Is this your card?” and then sometimes, “Why does it say ‘Motaung’?”

“Yes, it’s my card, and that’s my surname,” I’d reply, and they’d furrow their brow and ask, “Why?”  As if it would be easier to believe that I were using someone else’s debit card than to believe I would actually marry a black man.

And when I’m in the grocery store with my kids, I wonder if the people looking at us assume that my kids are adopted.  Because don’t I presume the same, when I see a white woman with children of darker shades?

And maybe they are adopted, and maybe they’re not, and does it even matter?  Because aren’t we all made in the image of our Creator, all just lost souls that desperately need to be adopted into the only family that really matters, the body of Christ?

As the white mom of a beautiful caramel girlie, I’ve had to learn what it means to relax hair, and how to braid.  And I believe with all my heart that my life is richer and fuller because I have a mother-in-law who makes koeksisters and teaches me to cook dombi and samp, who speaks multiple languages in one conversation and who might not understand why I like to wash my hair every day.

But there were also times when I’d sit with a group of friends in Cape Town who happen to be black, and the guys would joke with each other about how they would walk past cars stopped at traffic lights, and they’d hear the “click” of the doors being locked, and I’d let out a half-laugh of understanding while my face would flush with shame, because haven’t I done the same?

But wouldn’t I scoff or maybe just chuckle at the white woman who locks her doors when my black husband walks past, because doesn’t she know he’s a pastor?

Of course she doesn’t, and maybe that’s the point.

If she knew him, she wouldn’t be afraid.

Maybe our fear stems from the unknown, because we don’t know enough people who look different from us, like, really know them.  Not just follow them on Twitter, or ask them to speak at our conferences, or smile at them once a month as we serve ladles into bowls at the soup kitchen, and think we’ve paid our dues.

 

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I have friends online who are #GoingThereDeidra Riggs is a woman you should get to know online, and she’s been #GoingThere for a good long while now.  But she’s getting tired.  So others are coming alongside her and throwing wide their fears and slips of the heart and extending the conversation.  Others like Lisa-Jo, a white girl from South Africa, and Jennifer, a white girl from rural Iowa, and Alia, an Asian American now living on the west coast.  And they’re inviting you to go there, too.

To get uncomfortable with yourself, and with your monochromatic table.

And as both Lisa-Jo and Alia so eloquently challenged, just because we have a multicultural family doesn’t mean we get a pass from the race conversation.

So what does that look like for you?  How might the Lord be prodding your heart with regard to racial diversity, both online and in real life?

Heaven, my friends, is going to be one glorious concoction of every tribe, tongue, and nation, every shade of skin … How can we do a better job of reflecting that now, in joyful anticipation of things to come?

 

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56 thoughts on “i’m a white girl from michigan, and i’m #goingthere

  1. I honestly believed that the world had moved on.That people will be judged on their hearts not the colour of their skin. Then I fostered a mixed race child, I have been shocked at the comments, the discremination and so much more. I don’t look at my son and see his colour i see his big beautiful eyes, his mischevious smile. I see a gift that God has given me to care for.

    • Of course you see his color….but you see his whole being, personality, spirit, too. When people says, “I don’t see color,” I wonder, why not? You see if someone is female or male, or short or tall, or stocky or thin. There is nothing “wrong” with seeing color; it’s what people do with that information that matters.

  2. I’ve had many of these same thoughts. My husband is black and we hope to one day have kids. Moving to New Jersey has been a great experience because if the diversity. But visiting MI, where I grew up, is a little strange. I realize how sheltered I was. I wish there was more diversity here and that I’d made friends with people whose ethnicity is different from mine. I feel comfortable being in a room full of people where I’m the only pale face and don’t tend to notice right away either. I notice more when I visit MI and my husband is the only black person on the beach. I too hope for a change that I thought had already occurred. And I too wish for Jesus to be depicted as the dark skinned man that he was. Thank you Kate for sharing.

    • Thank you for your comment, Marie! I enjoyed hearing your experience. I agree that it often depends on where you live. Thanks for reading, and for your input! Blessings to you.

  3. I wish I COULD “go there”. But we live in a very small town, and probably 95% of the people who live in this community are white. I am also white. There isn’t a whole lot of racial diversity here. We have a few black families and a few Chinese families, and a group of families that I’m fairly sure are from Pakistan. But would it not be just as racist for me to pursue friendships with them specifically because of their race, to prove to myself that I have no racial prejudice, as it would be for me to ignore them because of their race? I don’t treat them differently because of their ethnicity, and if I had the chance to get to know them, I would. But how to pursue that…? I have no idea. Diversity is awesome but not all of us are in diverse communities. Everyone in my neighbourhood is white like me.

    • I’ve had some of the exact same thoughts, Val. Thank you for adding to the conversation. I struggle with the same questions. I suppose other ways we can at least stimulate our minds and show open hearts could be through reading authors from different perspectives, following a variety of blogs, attending conferences that promote the discussion, etc. I think when Deidra wrote her post, she was address the dominance of white faces online as much as she was promoting integration in real life.

      Glad to have you here as part of this dialogue.

    • you can do more than you think….it only takes the determination of one…the perseverance of one…and the dedication of one to make a change. You can pursue that by having a barbecue or planning a block party. Print some invitations and go to the park. Let those family know that you are happy to meet them and see where it goes. Our biggest ignorance is …us believing we cannot make a difference. Do it for your community and for you. Be the first to initiate the change you want to see in your community.

  4. Thanks for sharing Kate. As the biological mother of a mixed race child I to find myself wondering if others think she is adopted. My daughter’s father is Cuban so he is half black and half Spanish. His father’s family is from Spain and his mother was black (he knew nothing of where her family came from). My darling daughter is now 5 and sadly recognizes that she looks different from most of her friends here in West Michigan. I’m not sure I do her any favors when I tell her she is only darker than mommy because she is outside a the time, unlike mommy. In the winter she is barely darker than me so it is less obvious other than her wild curly hair that I love and she hates. I have had to figure it out on my own since her father left before her hair turned curly and I sadly don’t know to many black women, but have found when you are standing in the hair care section with your wild haired child looking lost they are always willing to offer advice which I always happily take. I always thought I was pretty cool about diversity until I started dating my daughter’s father and found myself having to defend my decision to date outside my own race, and then (gasp) I got pregnant, oh man did some people go crazy about that idea. I might be crazy, but I think our caramel colored kids are the cutest, and I actually always wanted a dark skinned child because they are all so beautiful.

  5. I might just have to #GoThere too. You probably know how much I identify with what you’ve written here. No, I didn’t marry a Tswana man, but I moved to a very rural Tswana village. Where many assumptions about my culture, language, and background were made. Where “lekgoa” became my first name. Yet through many “Dumelang’s” and introductions of “Keamogetswe”, my African name, things stated to shift. Those stares from the cashier? I’d get them for greeting in Setswana, but they were often followed by laughs of joy.

    But beyond that, I learned about my own ethnicity. One which I never fully understood before moving to the Kalahari. One which I thought was absent of cultural and ethnic traditions. But now, I see my own vibrant culture just at clearly as the Tswana girls dancing or the Tswana boys singing traditional songs. Somehow, moving to rural Africa made me both more and less colorblind.

  6. For any of you who live in West Michigan, especially around the Holland/Zeeland area, check out a local organization called the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony (ACEH); website http://www.harmonyalliance.org We were founded as a grass-roots group in 1999 to work for justice, equal opportunity, cross-cultural understanding, and appreciation for diversity. Sunday we had our 16th annual Potluck in the Park…you can see photos at our Facebook page: ACEH – Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony. Come join us!

  7. I think we all need to “go there” with you! Two articles I read recently have been on my mind in this vein: The Atlantic cover story on reparations–I was blown away not only by the details of cruelty and devastation of Jim Crow, but less-well-known (to most white people, at least) discrimination in U.S. housing and lending practices as well. Then, the Washington Post article by a (black) mother whose child had been overly disciplined at preschool. I was amazed to read, for example, that teachers were shown in studies to believe that black children were more culpable for their misbehavior. I like that you acknowledged that even you have racial biases, because we all do. But by accepting them, we can consciously work to overcome them–and how much better if we work together to overcome them!

    Article links:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/07/24/my-son-has-been-suspended-five-times-hes-3/

  8. I’m glad you wrote this and I’m thankful God put me after you on Jennifer’s site today. I’ve been considering my own post or posts for this topic. We live in a very diverse church and it often gets forgotten by me that the diversity I see daily isn’t always appreciated elsewhere. Although, when my white nanny, with our black youth pastor took my hispanic foster daughter around an old Texas town…it did give me pause. To laugh. Oh how beautiful God is. He displays His majesty in our differences of all kinds.

  9. Thank you for being brave and #goingthere, Kate. To be honest, I’d never thought about the fact that Adam, Eve, and Jesus weren’t white but that is so relevant and now I, too, am wondering why books depict them that way. We were grafted in, we who were not his chosen people, so that no one would perish, and we need to be spreading the love that God has for ALL, not just those who look the same as we do.

  10. I really enjoyed this one – a unique perspective. I’m biracial – white father and black mother – and I have one of those white kids! It was my first experience with skin that burns in the sun. I found it fascinating and scary at the same time. So I am the opposite of you in that I have had to learn how to deal with white skin and hair. ie. hair needs washing more often and with different shampoo and skin needs excessive applications of sunscreen. She took all the recessive genes and my other daughter looks like a Latina. They don’t even look like they are from the same family.

    There are huge identity issues with being biracial but there is also amazing privilege in perspective. It’s almost impossible to be racist and you can fit in with both black and white people. The one thing that disturbs me is when white people can’t tell I’m mixed and they say racist things around me. Or when they discover my mother is black and look stricken like they are trying to remember what they might have said. There is even a song about that exact thing by Amanda Marshall called Double Agent https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmpTLV4vRIQ

    • Loved here your perspective here, Laura! I’ve often wondered how my kids will process their identity in the world, and yet my hope remains that their identity will be so firmly rooted in Christ that skin color will take a backseat as a peripheral issue.

      I appreciate your input here!

  11. This is beautiful, Kate. I missed this earlier in the week, so I’m glad you linked it up today. And this speaks volumes, “maybe if we all just checked the tags in our shirts, we’d realize we were all made in the same Place.” That is truth. I’m proud of you and all of you for #goingthere. I have a good friend at church (who is white) married to a black man and they have beautiful “caramel” girls, as you say. 😉 We had this discussion last week. The hurt and the hard and how they moved away after they got married just to “get away” from it all. But they are back, and I’m glad and I’m learning from them and from you and from all of these words. I am a white southern girl, with very few black friends. Not from choice, just from life on this farm and in this place. I know I have a lot to learn before I have a lot to say. So I’m listening. I’m listening and watching and cheering you on for going there and I want to go with you…when I know how.

  12. Kate, I’m a white girl from Michigan, living in Missouri. I have a beautiful blonde daughter, brunette son, and dark haired almond-eyed daughter. I have a caramel skinned miracle grandson who was a 1 lb. 9 oz. preemie, and today is a healthy active 6 year old. I loved your sentence . . . “Because while skin color really doesn’t matter to me, it does matter to many, and they matter to me. And most importantly, they matter to Him.” Thank you for sharing His love and offering His beautiful hope for the future. Blessings!

  13. Hi Kate,

    Saw your hello wave to me via Twitter… dropped by to say hello. I’m out here in CA, so I think I’m spoiled – lots of diversity here… and no one looks twice at bi-racial couples or bi-racial children. I married a white guy 😉 and I tell my kids they are like a frappincino. A yummy delicious blend.

    Your kids are adorable – may they shine, shine, shine… like their mommy and their daddy.. who shines God’s love into them.

  14. There is a church here in Holland that has a number of mixed race families and is the most integrated church I have ever seen.

  15. I forgot to mention the church name, Maple Avenue Ministries on Maple and 18th St. The pastor is an African Amer woman.

  16. You know what I love best about this wise post? You’re asking the questions, hard questions, we all ask (just usually not out loud), but you’re not getting stuck there! You’re moving past, content to not have an answer, but determined to affirm the truth of what you DO know matters. So full of hope!

  17. Beautifully written Kate, thank you. We have a daughter from China, who we got as an exchange student when she was 15. She is now 22, married and expecting a child that will be our first grandchild. My husbands family thinks we are crazy to consider this girl our daughter because she is Chinese and has no business in this country. They refuse to invite her to family gatherings and treat her like an outcast when they come to our house for family gatherings. How do you handle a situation like this? Mom is 90 yrs old and we are not going to change her attitude at this late stage in her life and we are not going to stop honoring her as our Lord requires. I know there is no easy answer and our daughter is very gracious and understanding but it is still a very difficult situation especially for my husband.

    Thanks,

  18. I’m a white momma to caramel and chocolate kiddos, 4 of them. We adopted our oldest 17 years ago,that very next day we were heading into the department store to get family pictures made, we got told by a black lady “that ain’t your baby!” Oh yes she was! Most people over the years have been nice about it and we educate. (it’s kind of hard to hide that your children aren’t biological when they look nothing like either parent, lol). A few times, we’ve been harassed by black people that don’t think we should have “their” kids, but that’s been the exception. We do however, get asked about it more often by blacks than whites. Us, there are honestly times we forget they aren’t biological…we (or friends) will say “they must get that from you” about things that could only be genetic. So it’s become a big family joke…

  19. This is so powerful. I had to read it twice tonight!
    I think you danced around something I struggle with too. I have various physical challenges. I am married and have 3 kids…yet, so many seem shocked that these 3 kids were all brought into this world by me. They seem overwhelmed that I have a job, that I write and love public speaking.
    Seriously?
    I get the stares and internal questions you believe you are hearing in the grocery there…oh yes, I’m all over that and a bag of chips!
    I LOVE this post! It brought something out of me that I haven’t felt in a long time! Thanks friend!

  20. “Maybe our fear stems from the unknown, because we don’t know enough people who look different from us, like, really know them.” I think this is often at the root of much of our racial misunderstanding and difficulty. we see other races as a group and/or caricature instead of individuals and people we know and love.

    if for no other reason, our 7 years in jamaica in the 1970’s was invaluable for just that reason. we came to know people of different races in different strata of society in ways we never had b/f in the US. a particular friend of ours would argue/discuss frankly with me on many aspects of race that i need to work out in my mind and heart.

    one of the worst impediments to resolving racial problems these days, apart from our own selfish human hearts, is the political correctness that will not allow people to discuss issues but insists they use the correct terms that not everyone is up to date on.

    being able to listen below rhetoric and hearing what is in the heart rather than insisting on one way of expressing ourselves will go a long way in repairing the walls that have been built up.

    yes, there is no question that slavery was awful, but carrying the bitterness of slavery toward generations of people who had nothing to do with it simply b/c they are white is not helping anyone either. there are many walls to tear down on both sides for freedom to roll down.

    may GOD grand those of us who belong to Him to not be the last ones to be part of “reconciling the world to HIM…” which includes reconciliation to each other as well.

    i couldn’t find a comment section on your post today kate but adored what you wrote about your son:) what a sweetie:) our girls were born while we live din JA. our years there were delightful. if not for a change in govt. we would have been there much longer, but they decided not to renew our work permits. it was a sad day:(

  21. I’ve only recently come across your blog and am so glad you are #goingthere. I, with all my heart, hope to see a Latina also grace the lines of ministry and for Latina sister to also #gothere. God bless your ministry, your heart and your amazing grace.

    I’m excited to join for the third Friday in the #FMF party. You’ve given me some things to think about here.

  22. Kate,
    I just came across this blog today!
    As as a retired teacher who taught writing to middle school students, and
    as a woman who raised four children in Holland, Michigan, and as a proud grandmother of a mixed race baby girl who bears my name, I wish to compliment you on this piece. Well said!
    For 48 years I have been blessed with a Jamaican sister, a woman I met in college many years ago and brought home for a weekend. My family – including eight siblings- embraced her, and during those racially tense times of the late 1960’s, we were privileged to forge pathways to understanding and blending of our cultures. Doreen lived two summers and most holidays with our family and she often went to our home in Saginaw from college on weekends when I did not. Neither she nor her own parents could afford her passage to and from Jamaica, so our family home became her family home. I remember feeling at first that I had to tell folks ahead of visits to their homes that my new sister was black, and I also recall how much I resented having to feel that way. I didn’t like Doing that, and after a while I liberated myself and just stopped doing that. I figured everyone could just start accepting Doreen as the beautiful black woman she was.
    My mom learned where in Saginaw she could find the right hair products and a good black hairdresser. My sister Jane and I shared our small room with Doreen, and the three of us are sisters to this day. We shopped, worked and endlessly laughed together, had outside jobs and had to figure out who was driving where and when. We did the chores, attended Church, and took care of the little ones. When I turned 21, my parents took all three of us out on the town, only to be turned away at the door because black people were not allowed in the establishment. I will never forget the anger all of us felt that night. We still speak about the night we got kicked out of there. My brothers fondly recall the Christmas tree Doreen picked out. It totally looked like the Charlie Brown tree, but she had so much fun standing in the freezing cold in her mini skirt and winter jacket at that tree farm. It was an experience she never was able to have in sunny Jamaica.
    Our family did not have much money, but on one Christmas, Jane, Doreen and I each received among a few other gifts a bathrobe made for us by Mom, for which Mom had used her sewing scraps, and we thought that was pretty special. Years later while she was living in Illinois and working on her PhD, Doreen phoned to say she had just had major surgery and was sitting alone in her living room, thinking of all of us as she wrapped herself up in “Mama’s coat of many colors.”
    Because of my openness to friends of all colors, our family gained a precious daughter and sister. My children were raised to judge people on their character and to respect people of all backgrounds. This has led to our knowing and loving many people, and ultimately to the adoption of my precious granddaughter, Mary. As my son-her daddy- says, “Love does not know color.” Mary is American-born and her birth mother selected my son and his wife to be Mary’s parents. She was three days old when she went home with them. And this family is deeply grateful to the birth mother for having taken good care of her daughter in utero and for having the courage and love to place the baby in a loving home. What a difficult decision it was for her. This birth mother is now an important part of our son’s circle. He and his wife want Mary’s birth family to know and love her, too, and they do a great job of making this happen for everyone. They get together occasionally, and they exchange texts and photographs. Mary has a gallery in her bedroom featuring pictures of her birth family parents, relatives, and grandparents. I love knowing that she will know all her families who love her.
    Thank you again for your candid and sincere writings on race. It is a very important topic. Much progress is needed!

  23. Kate, what you’ve written demands a response beyond words. I feel like I know you and some of your story. Who you are and how you tick. What your world and heart are all about. Thank you! I will go there. Really got there – in my heart, my mindsets and what I make room for in my life. I don’t know how or when or where, but the Lord has moved on my heart with your words. I hate the racial divide, however it looks, whatever shape it takes and whatever fuels it. We truly are all the same. Same creator, same sin, same need of a Savior.

    • Praise God for using these humble words to make an impact, Shauna! Thank you so much for sharing. It spurs me on to continue this writing journey. May the Lord continue to lead and guide you as you “go there,” that you may be a powerful impact for His glory!

  24. I’m glad you wrote this – it’s so hard for white people to see race and then to admit their own privilege. I even had to write an article to counter the obnoxious liberal white nonstop social media of people trying to pretend they don’t have issues and are “allies”. Unfortunately most coloreds are afraid to speak out about how absolutely annoying and draining and noise-making and space-taking-up it still is (clearly not me :P).

    Please pardon the language in this link – it was written before I came to Jesus when I used to still curse in my public writing: http://www.8asians.com/2016/07/20/3-things-enlightened-white-people-can-stop-saying/

    It’s hard for people in the church especially to speak openly about this and I go to an Asian church so I don’t have to deal with the nonsense, and I only live in heavily ethnic cities because I grew up with so much racism I really am done. 17 years is enough time to give to that kind of bullying and oppression (well, it’s still there but at least I can do what little I can to make my environment less horrific :P).

    Very nice to meet you! I surfed here through Vanessa Eccles and the 5 minute Friday!

  25. Great piece Kate. I’m so glad you are ”going there.” I’ve been a part of a Be the Bridge group for the last six months. It’s been so good. We have to keep having conversations and standing to say racism is not acceptable.

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