**Note..I wrote this blog a few years ago when my friend April Sims asked me to do a guest blog for Black History Month. I recently saw a news article that was giving statistics about what races were more likely to have friends outside of their own race and I felt a little sad that someone actually felt there was a need to research that. It reminded me of this blog I had written and how adopting trans-racially has made me look at my world quite differently than I did before…even with a circle as colorful as mine was before my son came along.
The Yellow Bead
(Alex in his Korean Hanbok *photographer: Thomas Aaron)
I sat with my paper cup in one hand and a pile of multicolored plastic beads in front of me waiting for the next statement. The adoption class teacher said, “Most of the people in my church are…..?”. I struggled with this because my church is very racially mixed. But reluctantly I picked up a white bead and put it in the cup. I had to admit that MOST of the people at my church are white. I looked down in my cup at the white, black, and brown beads all mixed together in fairly equal numbers. I was pretty happy seeing that I had such a colorful cup. The key word of course is “MOST”. I’m white. So “MOST” of my relatives are white. Question after question….”most” of my friends are…, coworkers are…, neighbors are…., etc. But despite how diverse my circle is, there wasn’t one yellow bead in the cup. The yellow bead would soon be my son. He will be the only Korean relative, the only Korean neighbor, maybe the only Korean friend in his class. I won’t see him as anything other than my beautiful child and my love for him transcends the color of our skin. But I know the rest of the world isn’t always so loving.
This exercise opened my eyes to how my son would feel in my world and how I take my skin color for granted. And that no matter how open minded I am, no matter how many brown and black beads I have in my cup, I’m still a part of the majority of the beads. And quite honestly no matter how often I may be the only white person in the room, at the end of the day I can go to my parents’ house, go to my church, flip through a family photo album, and I will be surrounded by people who look like me. I won’t be the only white bead. My son will NEVER know what that feels like.
When April asked me to do a guest blog during Black History Month I thought of so many topics I could blog about but every one of them came back to race and how we view each other. So many conversations I have overheard or unfortunately had to endure simply because the people talking assumed since my skin was the same color as theirs that I also would share or tolerate their ignorance. Or in contrast since I am “down” with African Americans that the derogatory comments about white folks won’t offend me. “You’re not really white Janice”. I’m not? I’ve heard white and black people speak of each other as if we are of a different breed. As if we aren’t all humans. Some of the things I have heard are pretty disturbing. I don’t need to recount them all. It’s disappointing. I recently heard someone say, “Why do THEY need a whole month for Black History?” I always cringe at the “us” and “them” mindset no matter who it’s coming from. Sometimes I will speak up and defend the truth but let’s face it, sometimes you are just wasting your breath. Some folks just got a whole cup full of white beads. These folks probably don’t want to hear that the truth is until “THEY” have more than just a chapter or a mention in “YOUR” history book then there will always be a need for Black History Month. I never really understood why history isn’t just history. I’m not preaching or looking for approval…that’s just the truth. And here’s a good one….since the human species originates from Africa then we are all related, right? It’s OUR history, right? (I’ve learned that some folks with all white beads (and some with all black beads) really hate that little factoid.) But hate it or not that is a fact. I shouldn’t even have to explain that. That should be common knowledge.
I am a child of the 70s. I remember growing up with the very cocky notion that we might be the ones to make a change in the world when it comes to race relations. We might be the ones who will look at each other and see how much we are alike and not just how different we look, yet still be able to celebrate who we are. After all, there we were sitting next to each other learning. There we were going to dances and proms together, playing sports together on the same team, riding the bus together, graduating together. We saw adults dividing themselves and we laughed at how narrow minded they were.
But now I’m an adult and we work together, shop together, worship together, create together, LIVE together. And 30 something years later despite all the black and brown beads in my cup we still have so much to work on. We still aren’t looking at each other and seeing the similarities. I’m disappointed in us. Not “THEM”….”US”. All of us. The bottom line is that even after all this time we still haven’t gotten it right. We are appalled at the idea of the “Whites Only” establishments that wouldn’t allow black people to sit at their lunch counters. It truthfully wasn’t that long ago. And there are a lot of people who still draw a very distinct line between themselves and other races. They are very comfortable in their ignorance. I know this blog isn’t going to solve that. I just know that the missing link is the knowledge and acceptance that we are all one in the same and that somehow folks have forgotten that or just never learned it to begin with. I have to accept that although I was so sure my generation would change things, I really might not live to see that world. But I have faith that there are a lot of people out there with multicolored beads in their cups. And I know the love in our circle is powerful and growing. And I hope that one day it won’t be odd for some people to learn that my son is Korean and his uncle is African America, his auntie is Mexican, and we are all a family. We all belong to each other.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~Mother Teresa
Love and Light,
More about me: http://www.janicebmusic.com