Confronting my inner racist {Laura Droege}

Laura Droege is one of my favorite online commenters: when she writes something on my blog (or on her own), I always read it. Usually twice. I’d been hoping to entice Laura to write a guest post for the Words That Changed My World series, and when I read this post on her blog a few weeks ago – knew that this was it. Enjoy 🙂

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Where: Chaucer class.

When: Spring 2002

Who: Me, my buddy Richard, and the middle-aged classmate whose name escapes my memory.

What: Richard, always a wild card, had decided to share with us about the time he was thrown in the slammer for DUI. Not the typical intro into a graduate-level discussion of The Canterbury Tales. But somehow, between bipolar disorder and PTSD from Vietnam, his social filter had disappeared, and so we got the unfiltered version of him, somewhat like the unfiltered cigarettes he rolled during Elizabethan Poetry and Prose class.

The tale was in full swing, complete with Richard’s descriptions of being drunk and his jail cell. I sharpened my elbows, prepared to jab Richard’s ribs if he got too out of control. (This happened frequently.)

Our classmate was a serious man. He dressed in suits, behaved properly, and was as completely unlike a criminal as I could imagine. He shook his head slowly. “I hope I am never jailed,” he said soberly. “I pray I never have to go through that.”

He said it as if jailtime was a distinct possibility. Why, I wondered, would he worry about that?

A series of realizations tumbled through my mind:

He’s black.

He’s afraid he’ll go to jail, even if he’s innocent.

I know nothing about being non-white in America. Nothing.

——————————————————————

My own ignorance hadn’t gone unnoticed. Two years before, I had had a similar revelation while reading The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I read Douglass’s description of a whipping and had a physical reaction: my body hurt.

I flinched, paused to take in my surroundings—blue sky outside, glass window beside me, cold to the touch—before I forced myself to continue reading.

A second awakening happened at Walmart. As I walked in, I looked around and noticed the skin color of almost everyone else here wasn’t the same as mine. I’m the only white person here, I thought, and felt apprehension fill me. Then I was shocked. Why would I be apprehensive about being the only white at the entrance of Walmart?

A second question: Was this how many African-Americans felt when they were the only black in a room of white people?

Then a third question: Was I racist if I felt uncomfortable around people of a different race?

The answer made me ache.

Racism had torn apart my extended family when I was young. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor, crying, because I knew that it was wrong for anyone to hate another person for their skin color, wrong for family to be split in this way, wrong because God loves all people.

“Jesus loves the little children,” my little girl self sang in Sunday school, “all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight . . .”

Was it possible that a deep-rooted prejudice against minorities was planted in my own heart?

—————————————————————

All of us are capable of prejudice.

When this ugly beast raises its head in my heart, it’s shocking and repulsive because it tells me how hateful I am capable of being. It is tempting to look away from this uncomfortable truth (like looking in a mirror and then forgetting my appearance when the reflection disappears from view.)

But it’s also an opportunity.

  1. First, it’s a chance to admit the depth of my sin and my need for Christ.
  2. Second, it’s a chance to struggle against this sin. Learning more about the people I am prejudiced against is a good start. (It’s not a guaranteed way of dispelling racism; it’s possible to hate someone even when we know them well.)

I signed up for African-American literature that fall. Maybe this wasn’t the most effective method, but I respond to literature, and this class seemed as good a start as any.

For the first time, I saw my own behavior as a white American reflected back at me from a non-white perspective. Some of my thought patters were racist, even when I didn’t intend them to be. It would be hard not to see that while I read books like Native Son or Their Eyes Were Watching God. It would be hard not to be uncomfortable in my white skin while I read the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Imanu Amiri Baraka, or Countee Cullen.

Even when I meant well, I still might be doing something wrong. I might be trying to “speak” for the black community. (As if I understood the experience of being non-white—which I didn’t—and as if no one else could speak for him/herself—which wasn’t true.)

For example, during this time I went to a church (predominately white) where I knew several people who were racist. Some made remarks that blatantly misunderstood the African-American community. The remarks made me cringe; the appropriation of Bible verses to defend their stances against interracial marriage made me angry.

I wanted to say something because I didn’t want silence to be seen as agreement. But how could I correct the racist statements without trying to speak “for” other people who weren’t present? Also, these church people were my only “friends”; I desperately wanted them to accept me, and I was afraid that if I disagreed, they would reject me.

Sadly, I let my fear of rejection stop up my mouth. I let my fear of saying the wrong thing keep me from saying anything. I was afraid. I was silent.

My silence hurt me as much as anyone else. I lost the chance to confront the ugliness in my own heart—of racism and fear—and lost the chance to be honest with my fellow believers about the sin in their lives, too. I don’t have contact with any of them now.

If I did and if that conversation occurred again, I hope I would say:

You’re wrong. Look at the Bible. Look at how Jesus treats others. Do your attitudes reflect Jesus? Do mine?

I can’t speak for other people. I can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to have a different skin color.

But I can tell you this: Jesus loves us. He loves people of every race. He loves us when we’re racist and prejudiced and hateful.

But he loves us too much to let us to remain comfortable in that prejudice. He gives us the power to change so we learn to love others the way he does.

That’s what he’s teaching me. I hope that’s what he’s teaching you, too.  

71ac72bc4dce29e471f15efe1c931e1eLaura Droege is a wife of a rocket scientist, a mama of two daughters, and a novelist with three manuscripts in search of a good publishing home. She holds a graduate degree in literature and taught English as a second language for four years. Now she stays home with her kids and writes. Actually, scratch that: she drives the SUV to various kid activities and writes at bagel shops and in the carpool line at school and in her study, which is close enough to the laundry room to induce guilt, but far enough from the kitchen to (almost) ignore the siren-call of the M&M’s she shouldn’t have bought last week. She blogs at lauradroege.wordpress.com.

Photo Credit: morguefile.com

 

The Sad Tale of the Jetlagged Tooth Fairy

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My firstborn’s first tooth started to get wiggly a few months back. Even though she is one of the older kids in her class, she was one of the last to achieve Wiggly Tooth Status – and so her excitement at having a tooth starting to loosen its grip can hardly be described. She is, however, not one for risk or discomfort, and after her first bite of an apple with the said wiggly tooth, she declared that it felt too weird and that she would foreswear apples until the tooth made its graceful exit in its own sweet time.

The tooth chose a rainy summer’s day in the Netherlands to break free. After a thrilling day at a kids’ wonderland, losing her first tooth at dinner was the most magical way to end a perfectly magical day. I was exhausted and had no more mommy-energy left: so I chickened out of dealing with the liberated tooth and, after singing and dancing the required celebratory dances with her, also told her that we would keep her tooth for the American tooth fairy, since she doesn’t work in Europe (who knows what the Europeans do with felled teeth? After all, they have enigmatic characters like Zwart Piet at Christmas time!?) She bought it, and went to sleep with a sweet, gap-toothed smile on her face.

The next week saw us in Belgium, when a second tooth decided to wiggle free. We danced and celebrated, and put the tooth away carefully to take home for the American Tooth Fairy.

The next week we were in France for a day, and I helpfully volunteered to knock one of her teeth out myself so that she could lose one in every country. This would make her someone quite unique, I explained: to be the kid who lost her first four teeth in four different countries. She glared at me reproachfully. Clearly, I was not Respecting The Process.

Fastforward to this past week, when my three little ones and I hopped on a plane in Europe shortly after breakfast, and traveled for 22 hours continuously, chasing the sunset. We arrived just after sunset on the same day. It was literally the longest day ever. I collapsed, exhausted, into my husband’s arms at the airport, and handed over the motley crue of screaming, exhausted children. We fell into bed, and slept like the dead…

…until 4am, when that evil travel companion Jetlag crowed louder than the most obnoxious rooster and woke all my exhausted children one by bleary-eyed one.

We ploughed through the day. I fell asleep on the couch by 6pm, and my hubby put the kids to bed. Some time around 2am, Jetlag crowed again, and thus began another night of Musical Beds. The baby in with us. The baby back in his bed. The preschooler in with us. Me in the guest room. The oldest in the guest room. The preschooler back in his own bed. The oldest back to her bed. Me back to bed. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Somewhere around 3:30am, I took my son – who was whining on repeat IcantsleepisitdayyetcanIwatchashow? – down to the kitchen and set a glass of warm milk before him. “My mom gave me this when I was a kid,” I coaxed. “It always helped me sleep.” In hindsight, I should have laced it with Benadryl.

Twenty minutes later, my eldest stirred while I was tucking the boy back into bed. “Go to sleep,” I whispered. “It’s a long time til morning still.”

As I closed their door behind me, I met my husband’s groggy face on the landing. He mumbled at me, and it took two or three repeats before I decoded his whisper: “The tooth fairy. The tooth fairy. We need to do something about the tooth fairy. She put her teeth in the fairy tooth pot, and we haven’t done anything about it yet.”

Let me confess that I thought very ugly thoughts in that moment. “But she’s awake!” I protested, pushing my way past him towards the bed. “I can’t do anything about it now. We can deal with it before she wakes up.”

But Mommy Guilt is a cruel insomniac, and a few minutes later I was awake and at her bedside. “Would you also like some warm milk?” I asked, stroking her head with one hand while my other surreptitiously scooted the tooth box into the fold of my pajamas. Amazingly, she agreed. Downstairs, I warmed her milk while I found somewhere to stash the teeth and groped around my purse, trying to weed out American money amidst the European notes.

“Here you go, sweetheart,” I whispered – helping her sit up to drink her milk and sliding the tooth jar and the cash stash into place. She drank her milk and curled up dreamily on her pillow. I allowed myself a victorious mommy fist-pump as I left the room.

Not so fast, Gloating Mama.

Moments later, she was shouting. “My teeth are gone! My teeth are gone! Where are they?” We ran into her room to find her distraught. The tooth jar was empty, and there was no money to be found. I smirked in the darkness: “well, honey – sometimes the tooth fairy doesn’t leave the money in the jar. Sometimes its under the bed or the pillow. Why don’t you try looking there?” Seconds later, she was beaming as she retrieved her greenbacks and counted out her good fortune. Kisses were kissed, goodnights re-said, and heads re-settled on pillows.

Not so fast, Relieved Mama.

A few minutes later, a heartbroken wail arose from the room. I dragged myself into their room, and found my daughter keening at her bedside. The wailing had roused my husband and the littlest, who had trotted through and was trying to soothe his sad sister with gentle pats on the had, which she found neither soothing nor gentle. “I want my teeth back!” she cried. “I wasn’t ready for them to go: I was excited to have them for just a few more days! I want them back! Can you get them back? I just wasn’t ready.”

She turned to her Daddy and asked if he could get them back: “I don’t know where they’ve gone,” she wailed, “because fairies aren’t real anyway and there isn’t any magic – so I don’t understand where they’ve gone and I just want them back!”

I breathed in deep. What should we say? We have chosen to tell our children the stories of Santa and the Easter Bunny rather than sell them as fact – and somehow the Tooth Fairy myth had launched her presence into our lives without much forethought. And yet: it was 3am and we were jetlagged and this was our first experience with kids losing teeth – but all three of them were awake and listening for an answer. So what to do? Kill the Tooth Fairy on her maiden voyage? At 3am?

I searched for my husband’s eyes for a cue on how to answer, but his face was buried in her hair, whispering Daddy words of comfort. I sighed and whispered my answer over his shoulder: “you’re right. Fairies aren’t real, but we really do love stories about them. We love the story of the tooth fairy, but Mommy has your teeth.”

The wailing stopped. She blinked at me. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

She climbed into my lap, whispering thankyou and youcankeepthemoney and thankyou again and again. We laid her down, settled the boys, and said our goodnights.

Goodnight room

Goodnight moon

Goodnight cow jumping over the moon

Goodnight light and the red balloon

Goodnight bears, goodnight chairs

Goodnight kittens, and goodnight mittens

Goodnight clocks and goodnight socks

Goodnight stars

Goodnight air

Goodnight noises everywhere

Good night children.

And goodbye Tooth Fairy.

 

Truth in the details

P1010065“Mom, can I have a quesadilla?”

Instead of my usual retorts (“No, it’s 4:30pm and I’m serving dinner soon”, “Sorry, quesadillas aren’t on the menu tonight”, “It’s may I have a quesadilla, not can I” – Yes, I am a grammar nazi), this time I LEAPT out of my chair and started rummaging in the fridge for tortillas and cheese.

Why? Because it’s the first time in four days she has wanted to eat. It’s the first sign that she’s starting to feel better. And so quesadillas it is, my precious girl.

You know sick kids are better when they want a snack.

It’s little details like this that bring the gospels to life for me and remind me that they are eye-witness accounts of things that really happened: After Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter, the first thing she did was have something to eat (Mark 5:43). Yup. That’s exactly what a recovering child does. And after Peter’s mother-in-law was healed, the first thing she does is get up and work in the kitchen (Matthew 8:14). Yup, that’s exactly what I do.

It’s little details like being told that when Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples had to wake him up; since he was sleeping in the stern of the boat, on pillow (Mark 4:38). Two little details, included in the story because that’s just how they remember finding him.

Like John the fisherman telling of that amazing day when they came across the resurrected Jesus and he told them to throw their nets to the other side so they’d pull in a large haul of fish. The fisherman-narrator tells us that that they pulled in not just a large number of fish, but 153 of them. I wouldn’t have counted the number of fish (John 21:11). John did, and the detail smacks of truth.

They say the “devil’s in the details”. But for me, I see the ring of truth there.