Brown & White - the shock of current racism

I spent the first 18 years of my life unaware of the lasting racism in our country.

Oh sure, I knew it existed, but it was in the past.  Slavery, segregation, bigotry.  Separate water fountains and schools and sections of buses.  All a shameful part of American history.  Not something still hovering.

When Andrew and I got married, I was shocked at the amount of times people would ask if we planned to have kids.  The question was usually asked by elderly, well meaning people.  I always answered that we would of course have kids and wrote it off as part of their generation.  After all, it's the South and it hasn't been all that long since segregation was very real here.

People were just uneducated, naive.  It was just the way they were raised.

And I wouldn't be raising my kids that way.

Skin color wouldn't matter in my house.  We would value all people and teach tolerance and acceptance.

And all of those things hold true.

Race comes up often around here lately.  Josie notices that my skin is so different then hers.  She strokes my arm and says she wishes she could match me.  And I acknowledge that.  How many of us want to trade hair, trade body size, trade places with other people.

I use it as a conversation starter.  We talk about how no matter what color we are, we belong to each other.  We discuss other families that look different, how Nana and Daddy don't match either, how our insides, the parts that matter, match just right.  Isn't she so thankful that we can be friends and family with all races of people and isn't it great how different God made us all?

And I thought we were in the clear.  Years away from the tough stuff, light years past the racist history of our town.

But recently, I had my very first encounter with how backwards our world still is.  How hateful words can sting.

We were out for a walk and a man riding a bike past us said something along the lines of, "You should be ashamed.  Going against your own people.  Disgusting."

I say, "something along those lines," because while I could hear the hate in his voice, it took me a few minutes to spiral back and comprehend what he meant.  To dust off the shock and confusion and piece his words back together.

Is he talking about my babies?  Is he throwing hate at them?  Does he mean because I'm white and they aren't?  Here, in 2013?

It's taken me months to share this with anyone because, y'all, it's awful.

It's come back to me daily as I've tried so hard to understand it.  It's the worst feeling I've ever felt, a pit in my stomach that twists and tugs.  I hate that I wasn't able to respond to him.  I hate that people like that exist.  I hate that, while my babies did not hear what he said, I won't be able to protect them from that ignorance forever.

Who says that?

And about children?

I've been carrying this around with me.  

Tossing it over and trying to understand it.  Trying to think of how people can believe such lies about things that are so untrue.  My babies are the most beautiful creatures I've ever laid eyes on.  They are kind and generous and full of funny stories.  They are smart and they love everyone.

Just now am I grasping that there is no understanding it.  There is no making sense of it.  There is no excusing it.

As a middle class white woman, I was fairly certain I would never feel racism.  And while I knew it before, words can be used as weapons.  That whole, words can never hurt me, just isn't true.  Words do hurt.  Even when we are fully aware that they are untrue and don't matter.  They still cut and bruise and, my God, how do I protect my babies from that?

That man, who has no clue who I am, has left a mark on me.  

It's not a bad thing.  I've decided that I'm glad I heard him.  That I felt that pain and confusion.  I want it to bring more awareness to me.  I want it to remind me of how cruel this world was, is, to so many people.

And I want to stand on the hills and let me kids hear me call out how wonderful all people are.  Race, religion, wealth, whether you live like we do are totally different, it doesn't matter.  I want acceptance to be written on their hearts.  I want their generation to feel the sting a little less then the generation before.  I want the change to grow with them and their friends.

I want them to look in the mirror and be proud of what they see.

I've come to accept that I can't keep them from ever hearing ignorant comments about our family or their skin or a combination of the two.  But I can teach them to see that the problem doesn't lay with them but with the person holding that hatred.

Our country has come a long way, but we still have so far to go.

* do pictures of adorable ballerinas soften the hardness of this topic?  they make me feel better.


Anonymous said...

So sorry you had to go through that :( But the very best part,as you said, was learning from it! Learning allows you to grow and allows you to teach those sweet babies about true love. The love of our Father that is not racist in any form. Love you guys ♥
Amy K.

The Nyquists said...

Great post. I made me cry. Trying my hardest to raise loving free-thinkers to combat the ignorance and hate.

Danielle said...

So sad that someone thinks that way. What a horrible world he lives in. I love how easily kids except that we are all different. I have red hair, they have blond. It is the same with skin, we are different. Then they go on with their day.

Drawing Near said...

Heavy heart.

Rebecca Stanley said...

I love your heart and your beautiful kiddos. And I totally get it, we've been there too and it's really hard to wade through it all. Praying for y'all! :-)

Tracy said...

Oh, this makes my heart hurt and makes it rejoice at the same time. So much truth.

kimmer said...

How sad for that man and any other ignorant stupid people out there who think this way. It wasn't that long ago when so many people in our own country were treated as if they were 'less' because if the color of their skin. I will never understand. You, Nicole, did the right thing by not even acknowledging those ugly words. Our children, Josie and Gabe, will continue to grow up to be loved and cherished. The world needs more parents like you both!

Bethany B said...

I cried through this. My family is in the process of adoption and the child will be a different race and color then the rest of "us" too. Thanks for sharing this messy part. I really need to hear how others cope. Thank you!

skittles36 said...

My daughter is is 1/4 native american, 1/4 african american and half white. It blows my mind how stupid people are.
Although I've turned it into a great learning tool about how uneducated people are. It's not that they are stupid, but uneducated. It's such a tough subject, my sister called them special needs, they have no clue what they are saying.
My dad's side of the family disowned me because I had a "N" baby (can't bring myself to say that word).
I just tell people like him Thank You.
I'm sorry you are experiencing this, and sorry to say it won't be the last time.
Keep your head up, and remember those words mean NOTHING!!! (sad to say it'll get easier :( )

Robin said...

I hate this. It literally made my stomach clench in anger. I looked tonight at my four-year-old and literally thanked God that I could feed her, love her, and keep her safe unlike many other mothers in the world. I am so thankful that your kids have a mom like you to protect them like a mama tiger. All we can do is shelter them when we can and pray that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of vicious people like that. How sad that he looked at those gorgeous kids and wasn't happy...what a sad life he must lead. You are weaving a beautiful tapestry with your family and the work you do. Keep up the awesomely awesomeness!

Phyllis said...

My father, whom I dearly loved, was also racist, although he kept his feelings to himself most of the time once I was old enough to tell him I felt it was unacceptable. He was raised to be racist. All of my uncles and all of my father's friends were also. It seemed normal to him. Despite all of this, whenever I see racism, I am still shocked. I can't imagine it directed at my own child. {hugs}

Mo said...

So sad.

I have dark brown hair and both my little girls are blond. I'm shocked at how often people will ask me something along the lines of "are they yours?" I can only imagine the awkwardness and hate families that don't "match" are subjected to - shame on those who judge by color.

My prayers for your family to overcome the ugliness of racism with the beauty of forever love.

Michele said...

I am so sorry you had to encounter that! People just are so misled. We have not experienced it yet, but I know it is coming. For now, our Guatemalan prince just points out anyone who is "brown" like him and says they must be from Guatemala too! It is so sweet, though usually wrong, but sometimes I worry he will offend others, even in his innocence. May we all be more accepting of others who are "different" from us. Hugs to you!!

Jami Witherell said...

Thank YOU for being strong enough to share this, Nicole. I was adopted from Chile by two white moms. I can remember being called "brown girl" until 6th grade when a lunch lady heard someone saying it. My principal pulled me in and asked how long that had been going on. I said, "My whole life." I didn't even know I was being made fun of. The point of that story, was the family that raised me, did so in so much love, that words, really didn't hurt me. And I was trained, at a very young age, to know that when people say hurtful things, it's because THEY are going through something. It doesn't make them hurt less, but it did allow ME to keep moving forward.

BumbersBumblings said...

This post made my heart hurt. So sad that there are still people like that in this world. Hate manifests itself in so many ways. Love conquers all!