I was raised in a city that is 65% Hispanic.
Growing up, my family hosted a slew of international students. I heard hushed tones of Japanese whispers sneaking out from the downstairs bedroom and boisterous bursts of Argentinian laughter booming from the corner room upstairs. College students from Taiwan and China, Finland, France, and Spain gathered around our dining room table to share food and culture and conversation.
Later we rented a spare room to an older woman from Sri Lanka. I remember liking her coffee colored skin but having a harder time with the pungent smelling leftovers she left uncovered in the fridge.
In high school I dated a Vietnamese guy whose parents weren’t too keen on the fact that I was white.
There was a black girl on my basketball team and apricot was not the most common colored skin in our school.
Through the years my mom dated several men of color and my dad’s second wife was Korean. I celebrated a half dozen Christmases with my three Asian American step-siblings and never minded my step-mom’s special kimchi refrigerator.
I have one niece and five nephews on two sides of my family who are half Mexican and beautiful.
I adore my boys’ pediatrician who is from somewhere in the Middle East. His thick accent and foreign inflection have become comforting indicators of expertise and care.
I live in Southern California, one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the entire country.
So, I’m kind of good, right?
I’ve rubbed shoulders and shared meals with people who don’t share my pale complexion. I’m used to hearing different languages spoken in Target and the nail salon.
I don’t have a problem with race.
I honestly don’t think much about it.
So, I’m kind of in the clear, yes?
Or maybe not so much.
Maybe some people I care about, some voices I respect, are starting to speak up, speak out to say that the status quo of quasi-diversity isn’t “all good” after all. Maybe there’s a whole lot about how God designed, how God desires the Church and Christian community to look like that people like me are completely missing.
Should I feel badly that I’m a thirty-something white female living in an upper-middle class neighborhood in a predominately white pocket of LA? No.
I am who I am, I am where I am because of God’s design for my life.
But have I ever stopped to consider that the design that looks similar to mine — the same one I primarily sit next to at church and play with at the park and read online and listen to at conferences — is not the only one God made? That white is not the only hue, form, voice God cares about? Not the only story, perspective, experience I can learn from, be blessed by, or call mentor, friend, pastor, or teacher?
Of course not, I say. Surely not all the roles I respect, people I cherish in my life have to be white.
But have I ever purposed to seek out something other?
Have I ever intentioned to pursue someone unlike me for the purpose of discovering the unique value they would bring?
Have I ever considered inviting a person with another color skin into my life for the goal of delighting in who they are and how their perspective might be rich and beautiful, necessary and crucial because of our differences?
Maybe not even once.
And this, I am awakening to, is part of the problem.
My part in the problem.
. . . . .
I scribbled down these mind whirrings, heart stirrings in my journal last week, days before the news of Michael Brown’s tragic death and #Ferguson made its way into my tiny life bubble. I poured out these honest reflections rooted in deep questions after having the privilege of hearing a perspective from someone who feels “other,” from someone who I viewed as “in” but opened my eyes to how horribly skewed “being in” may be.
I feel wildly inadequate to enter into this conversation. I fear that I have nothing noteworthy to share, nothing of value to add. But as I listen to others chiming in to this #GoingThere conversation, I realize that every voice is important.
Every voice has value. That’s kind of the point.
As a white woman who doesn’t have a “problem” with race, I worry that I’ll make things worse or sound stupid or say the wrong thing.
But what if not saying something is wrong?
What if you don’t have to be a race-relations scholar or diversity expert to offer a thoughtful contribution?
What if you don’t have to be an outright racist or full-blown bigot to be a source of contention?
What if not having all the answers or understanding all the facts or being able to own all the wrong aren’t good enough excuses to keep quiet?
What if just saying that I’ve been wrong, that I’ve excluded or discounted the rainbow of God’s people, is a right place to start?
What if better actions need to trump good intentions?
With the heated debates and warring words exploding on social media right now, I feel even further disqualified to add my tiny white-girl-from-Whittier two cents.
But God never said I had to be qualified to be obedient. He didn’t say I have to be qualified to love, to speak up, to bend low, to say I’m sorry, let’s do better.
He didn’t say I have to be qualified to open my hands and reach out.
So here I am.
Hands open and outreaching.
Simple Things by Deidra Riggs
On Coming Together by Alia Joy
I’m a White Girl from Rural Iowa…and I’m ‘Going There’ by Jennifer Dukes Lee
I’m a white girl from the South African suburbs and I’m “going there” by Lisa-Jo Baker