Sometimes, I Wish I Were White

Sometimesblog

Today we’re going to jump to the last Reknew Manfesto point, “Rethink Humanity”.  I love this line from the manifesto:

Racial reconciliation is thus not something a church can choose to engage in or not. We believe it is one of the reasons for which Jesus died and that it must therefore be proclaimed and practiced by all followers of Jesus. – See more at: http://reknew.org/2012/07/a-reknew-manifesto/#sthash.l0hod00F.dpuf

I want to jump to this because I just got back from a wonderful talk given by John Perkins, one of my heroes in racial reconciliation. Here is a bit from his about page:

Today, Dr. Perkins is president of John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development of Jackson, Mississippi. He is one of the leading evangelical voices to come out of the American civil rights movement. He is also an internationally known author, speaker, and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation and Christian community development.

This is a journal entry I wrote yesterday for my writer’s group. Our prompt was: Write Your Hard Thing.  If you’ve read, “For the Days I Don’t Feel Black Enough”, this would be probably be part two.  The ending is bleak, but stay with me, on Monday, I’ll share some next steps that I hope leads to healing and reconciliation.

And Now:

Sometimes, I Wish I Were White

When I was a little girl and could not fall asleep at bedtime, I would play an imaginary game where I’d get one wish, any wish granted. I’d lay in my bed at night, feeling invisible under the cloak of darkness and whisper under my breath, “I wish were white.”

When most girls say, “I wish I was a princess” or “I wish I was a mermaid”, or even, “I wish I was cowgirl” (I did live in Texas, y’all),  I would say, “I want to be it all—the princess, the mermaid, the cowgirl—as long as I was a white princess, white mermaid, and of course, a white cowgirl.

With my dark brown skin with darker brown eyes, I was the “dark” daughter.  Much darker than my own mama whose fair skin, “good” long red hair and sparking green eyes would have let her pass as white , if it were not for her wide, flat distinctly African-American nose.   I on the other-hand was like my daddy—cocoa complexion, ruddy cheeks, a little too much junk in the trunk.

Because daddy made me feel normal—not beautiful, but normal-everything he said was gold!  Perfection.  Truth.

So when he told me that I needed to be whiter than my white friends, I took that to mean my dark skin, no, our dark skin was bad.  A hindrance. A liability.  I knew my brown would never be as good as most of my friends’ peach, apricot or white.

And so I would play my game, “I wish I were white” and lose myself in this imaginary world. Little girls want to feel beautiful—even if it’s only in the world they create. In my world, a little elf with a sad smile, would come find me even though my brown skin hid me in the dark—with magic anyone can be seen.  He’d sprinkle magic dust over my relaxed hair and like Cinderella’s transformation from common cinder girl to a lovely princess, my hair slowly changed.  It grew finer and blonder. Longer and luscious. Then my skin would lighten, bit, by bit, by miraculous bit, until my skin was no longer bad brown, but creamy peachy perfection.

I’d look into my mirror and giggle!  I’d twirl, squeal, and kiss my elf on his pointy ears! “Thank you!” I exclaimed.

I was finally white.

And oh the adventures, the joys, the privileges, the acceptance from all the “cool” kids  would  White Osheta enjoy.

I was still me.  I still loved Jo March, and New Kids on the Block, and Steve Urkel—but better.

Prettier.  Acceptable.  Ubiquitous.

But now, twenty-two years later mostly healed from bullying because I wasn’t “black enough” and  somewhat accepting of this brown skin I walk in, I still catch myself playing, “I wish I were white”.

And oh the adventures, the joys, the privileges, the acceptance I imagine I would have as Adult White Osheta.

Sometimes, I imagine White Osheta will open the website of the latest, biggest, most exciting event for Christian women and automatically feel welcomed.  She’d say “This is a place for me to meet my Jesus tribe!  Look she has my blonde hair and she has my blue eyes! Look that girl has the same statement necklace I bought at Charming Charlie’s. I’m totally going to register!”

Instead of how Black Osheta feels when the only representation of her brown skin is at the bottom of the sidebar, or at the end of a row of Caucasian beauties, or maybe even worse, buried a few pages in on the “Our vision” page to make sure everyone knows this group cares about diversity.  Black Osheta’s heart drops to her gut and she thinks, “ If I go, would they welcome me there for me or my skin…does having a sprinkling of black faces in their crowd assuage their homogeny? I just won’t go—I don’t want to be the only black person at this event‑it’s hard enough connecting with the white friends I have, why go and be their token?”

This is a shame since all Black Osheta wants is to know and be known.

Sometimes, I wish I were white.

As White Osheta, I’d imagine going to the museum with my three kiddos and no one would ask if I’m the nanny. In fact, not a single person would notice my three and me.  We belonged in the halls of intelligence and education. We were white.

As Black Osheta I’m amazed when someone asks if I’m the nanny of these three children who bear my features but not my coloring. Why would they think that? I thought we moved past the assumption that black women are “The Help”.  Then again…maybe not.

Sometimes, I wish I were white.

As White Osheta, I can shop in upscale boutiques without a discreet employee tail.  Gushing at the soft cashmere sweaters, the shop owner will say, “feel the quality, isn’t it like butter?”  I’ll rub my perfectly white hand over the fabric while balancing a pumpkin spice latte in the other—not problem at all.

Black Osheta has to smile and strike up a conversation when she first walks in, so they know she’s trust worthy, well-spoken, and not prone to steal.  She’ll guzzle down her latte just steps outside the store-it’s less embarrassing than being asked to throw it away in front of the other shoppers.

Sometimes, I wish I were white.

As White Osheta, I’d turn on a romantic film and instantly feel connected with the main characters. I can see myself in them as I easily slip into their story.  Escapism success!

Black Osheta has to re-imagine the heroine as African-American.  She spends half the movie wondering if that hot lead guy would ever date a black woman, and the other half forcing herself to forget that if in fact she was transported to Regency England, as a black woman, she’d be lucky if she landed a place below stairs.

Of course as Black Osheta, I’d never hear  “Mrs. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy” whispered over candles with Pemberly sprawling before us.

Black Osheta watches “Scandal” because Olivia’s gorgeous and she wants to be too.  Olivia, with her brown skin, and white man, and over-bearing father who said, “You have to be twice as good to have half of what they have”.

When she was a little girl, did Olivia wish she were white too?’

Sometimes, I wish I were white. 

When my sweet, dear white friends call me up and want to hang out or “like” my Facebook statuses or want to talk “Scandal” with me— I don’t want to question if they love me for me, or if they just want a black friend to ease the subtle, yet real discomfort that years of oppression have woven into the fabric of black/white relationships.  ‘Do they just want a black friend to create a smoke screen narrative?’, I wonder. Do I make it ok for them to say, “I’m progressive/liberal/accepting”, and “we’re past race issues” and “I’m not a racist—I have a black friend”?

Affection is not necessarily reconciliation.

Black Osheta is always filtering her interactions with white women through the “Token” lens.

“Do you love me or do you want me to ease your discomfort? ” that is the question.

Honestly, I just want to be confident that they see me as I see them, beautiful, funny, ridiculously intelligent—God’s best and bravest gift to me.

This is a privilege that White Osheta blissfully enjoys. Racial lens free living.

When the fantasy ends, it’s time to go back to being Black Osheta.  And to be honest, sometimes I don’t want to.

But I am black so I live my life filtering everything through race. I don’t have the privilege of blithely smiling and ignoring elephants in the room.  At times, I resent this burden that comes with my skin.  Which is why I occasionally catch myself wishing I were white.

I don’t want to resent my skin though, she’s been faithful to me.  She’s endured frantic scrubbing to make the color go away and irrational hiding from the sun because “I don’t want to get too dark”.

My skin deserves to be loved.  As much as the wide hips that bore my babies deserve grace. As much as my thick thighs deserve wonder for how they keep me upright—my creamy cocoa perfect brown skin deserves love.  She’s protected my inmost parts—those secret places where God said he knew me before I was even born. She was there while Big God breathed onto my little spirit. My skin stretched to contain the mystery of my newly formed Imago Dei .

When God finished leaving his thumbprint on my heart, he noticed my skin.  He saw the dark rich mahogany she’d be, smiled and said with pride and conviction, “ You are good”.

But sometimes, I still wish I were white. 

Sometimesbutton

17 thoughts on “Sometimes, I Wish I Were White

  1. Amen!!

    I had to learn for myself that God made me this color for a reason when clearly my mom and dad made light children (my sister). I always thought she was luckier than I when I compared my skin to hers. Then I realized that color was a constraint created by man out of greed, misunderstanding, sin, and many more things I may not be able to understand. I realized that I am me no matter what color I am. I am human, I am a woman, and most of all I am God’s child. His beautiful creation made whole only when I am living for him and looking through His eyes.

    We are stronger because of what we grew up dealing with, Osheta. Oh, how we are blessed being only accountable to God. Man’s praise and acceptance make living in this temporary world a little easier but thank God it’s not necessary for our salvation or existence!

  2. Great post, I loved reading this! I have many of the same thoughts and experiences, I wasn’t sure if I was the only one. Racial Lens free living. Can’t even imagine that. Looking forward to the next post!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this, Osheta. It’s a humbling reminder of the luxuries and privileges I enjoy as a white woman . .. things I would never have been conscious of without wise and brave souls like you sharing your experience! Love your honesty.

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  5. Osheta, I would LOVE to sit down and talk with you about these issues, deeply and honestly. As a white women, it’s not enough to know that I have white privilege, but also to be actively seeking to bring my brothers and sisters to that same level of privilege, and that begins with these conversations. Do I really like you for you, and not as my “token” black friend? Do you trust me enough to like you for you, instead of just as a my “token” black friend?

    I struggle with these questions as well…only opposite. I am a white female who has chosen to work and worship in an all black setting (hardly fair, because many of my friends have no choice but to work in an all white setting). I am constantly the only white person in the room (in fact, now, when I’m with more white people than black, I feel really comfortable–it’s a strange feeling)….sometimes, I wish I were black. Perhaps deep conversations would be easier. Perhaps I wouldn’t struggle to use my voice. Perhaps I wouldn’t be afraid of how my actions come across, constantly seeking to make sure I am not perpetuating white privilege in my place of worship (and work, for I am an office administrator at my all black church). Perhaps I would no longer wonder if……well, the list goes on.

    After reading your post, and wading through my own struggles and insecurities, perhaps what we both need is the freedom to be honest, with ourselves, with each other, to have the ability to take the plunge and start these hard conversations, remembering that when they turn sour, we have a God who understands our hearts, and how we are seeking truth. We also have a God who understands the relationship, and where the other person is at in the conversation.

    At this point, Osheta, I am speaking more to myself, trying to convince myself of these things…..much love to you!

  6. Thank you for this. The entire time I was stunned into a place of realizing what it is to walk in someone else’s shoes. I feel like anything I try to say will be trite–because I simply cannot “fully” walk in your shoes, but this post has awakened a desire in me to know more, care more, and “be” more. Your honesty about race issues is so refreshing, and I found myself trying to “imagine” what it would be like if I was black–just like you have been imagining all your life the other way around. I feel like anything I say will not do justice to this issue, and I badly wish my first response wasn’t “what can I do about this issue?” but instead a gradual changed understanding. I am at a loss. This was so beautiful and so difficult to read/ the complexity floored me. —Briana (I write at brianameade.com)

    • Oh, Briana! I’m so honored by your comment and honored that you’ve shared some of your struggle with me. It’s a thorny and, like you said, complex. Tomorrow, I’ll be offering a few suggestions on how to create a safe space for this conversation. Hopefully that’ll help you feel empowered. This conversation needs loving and humble people like you. Blessings!

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