Black in White Spaces: Racial Disparities in Foster Care

As much as I love to write, my day job is in a completely different lane. As a social worker, I serve CASA Nashville as a volunteer advocate team leader. Simply put, I manage and supervise a team of 30+ volunteers that advocate for youth in foster care. [Shameless plug: CASA Nashville is currently hiring and we’re always looking for great volunteers to join our team!]

This work lands me in Metro Nashville Juvenile Court weekly, speaking up for the best interest of children and teens in state custody. (Shout out to Judge Sheila Calloway!) In addition to advocating for youth, I also serve as the Family Preservation Specialist at CASA, as we aspire to assist youth return home to their “first families.”

A few things have become obvious to me as I’ve done this work since January 2021, and worked with foster families for over a decade now. I’ve learned:

  1. Once a child is in the foster care system, it can be very challenging for him/her to return home.
  2. It often takes 6 months or more for a child to return home, even when parents are working the plans that the state has mandated they complete.
  3. Being removed from home and being placed in foster care creates additional trauma to already traumatized youth.
  4. It is typically easier to keep a child home and help parents improve the safety and stability of their home, than removing the child and placing him/her in a foster home or residential facility. (Unless there is severe abuse or neglect involved, of course.)
  5. Teens land in residential facilities more often than they should, due to the lack of foster homes willing to take in teens or equipped to handle the trauma and special needs of teens.
  6. And the topic I want to discuss today — youth of color, and especially Black youth, are grossly overrepresented in the foster care system in every state in the US.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation:

“Black children are still overrepresented among youth in foster care relative to the general child population. In 2018, black children represented 14% of the total child population but 23% of all kids in foster care.”

These statistics hold up in every state in the US.

These statistics are atrocious. They illuminate the disparities in the child welfare system that we see daily.

One brilliant woman taking on these statistics is my newest she-ro — Dr. Dorothy Roberts. I could quote her 2 million times, but I’ll try to control myself.

According to Dr. Roberts in Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, it is no coincident that Black children and families are overrepresented in the US foster care system. This book has become so important in our work at CASA Nashville, my staff team has christened it the “good book” of child welfare.

“The overrepresentation of Black children in foster care is not simply an accident. All those displaced children do not ‘just happen to be Black,’ as adherents to a color-blind approach would say. The disproportionate number of Black children under state supervision results from discriminatory decision making within the system as well as racist institutions in the broader society. High rates of poverty among Black families, bolstered by stereotypes about Black parental unfitness, create the system’s racial disparity.”

Dr. Dorothy Roberts

As an adoptive mother, you might expect me to push for children in foster care to be adopted by more seemingly-stable families. This is not the case, however. As much as I adore my adopted children, and can’t imagine my life or our family without them, I have mourned the fact that they weren’t able to be raised by their first parents. As an adoptive parent, I am actually more committed to children returning to their first families, as long as their families can provide a healthy and safe environment for them.

My she-ro Dr. Roberts has dedicated decades to sounding the alarm on these racial disparities in our nation’s child welfare system, and addressing our country’s adoption dilemma in Shattered Bonds as well.

“Major shifts in federal and state policy on child protection, welfare reform, and criminal justice are converging to proclaim a dangerous message: the solution to the problems of poor Black children is either to dissolved their family ties so that they can be adopted by more privileged parents or to lock them up in the nation’s expanding prison system.”

Dr. Dorothy Roberts

In her newest book, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families — And How Abolition Can Build a Safer World, Dr. Roberts renames the child welfare system, the family-policing system. Her bottom line: states spend astronomically more monies on policing and punishing families, than providing aid and assistance to the very families that need it the most.

As citizens, we need to push our elected officials for a more just child welfare system. Individuals working within the system, those working for Child Protective Services for example, need racial bias training to aid them in making fairer judgements when deciding to remove children from their families. And those in power positions need to spend more time and energy providing services to strengthen families, instead of tearing them apart.

The bottom line: racial disproportionality exists in nearly every system: foster care, education, the penal system, law enforcement and even healthcare. I’ll spend the next few weeks examining some of these other systems, but I wanted to start with the system that I work in and witness on a daily basis.

I hope to raise awareness and challenge us all to open our eyes to the disparity that exist right below the surface, and often hide in plain sight. Let’s do what we can to make these systems more just and balanced, if not for our generation, for our children and our children’s children.

Black in White Spaces: The Overturning of Roe v. Wade

The Dividing Lines of Roe v. Wade

Just yesterday, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping away a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time arguing pro-life vs. pro-choice, although I will say that I am a fierce defender of human life from the womb to the tomb. Unfortunately, many of those holding signs outside abortion clinics and shouting for joy after yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling do very little to defend the lives of children once they are born, especially those born poor and/or black and brown.

I have chosen to spend my energy and resources fighting for children once they are born, especially those born in challenging situations. I wish lawmakers and politicians would do the same.

I won’t share too many words or thoughts here, since I usually shy away from political issues on my blog. However I do feel a need to provide some clarity. If you are not a person of color, you might be puzzled by the vast amount of Black folks, even those of strong faith, that are discouraged, and some even enraged, by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Well, you didn’t ask me, but I’d love to speak to this issue.

The SPOTUS’s ruling on Roe v. Wade is troubling for many people of color for the following reasons:

  • This Supreme Court decision has brought increasing division and divisiveness to our already polarized nation.
  • Federal laws being overturned sets an unsettling precedence. As a Black woman, my mind immediately considered the implications. Will other constitutional rights be overturned? Will the civil rights that my ancestors marched and fought for be overturned?
  • Moving huge issues like abortion from the control of the federal government to the discretion of individual states is frightening for a Black woman like me, particularly those living in Southern states. After all, they say the Civil War was fought over states’ rights — the right for states (especially Southern ones) to own slaves.
  • This overturning will affect health outcomes for women. Will women, and especially women from impoverished communities, be at risk medically when they seek abortion procedures in other states or even countries? Black women in the US already suffer immeasurable health disparities in the healthcare system.

I’m sure there are multiple other reasons that folks are crying out after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, but these are just a few that you should consider. As Black Americans we see the world through a different lens, our heritage and culture literally color the things we see, hear and feel.

As a Mocha Writer-Mama I hope to open your eyes to our lens and to our view of the world.

Working It Out: It’s Juneteenth Y’all!

It’s Juneteenth Y’all! A day to celebrate FREEDOM and PROGRESSION.

I’m sure by now most people know what Juneteenth represents, but just in case, I’ll give a brief synopsis.

Juneteenth, also called Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Black Independence Day, is a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, celebrated on June 19th each year. On tomorrow, June 20th, federal offices and other workplaces like mine (yayyy CASA Nashville!) will close their doors in honor of this federal holiday.

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared more than 3 million slaves in the Confederate states to be free. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, however, that Union troops reached Galvaston, Texas to proclaim the news of freedom — two whole years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. On that day, the former slaves broke out in celebration of their freedom with prayer, song, dance and huge feasts.

This is why we celebrate Juneteenth.

My family has celebrated this entire weekend. (See pics below!) So much celebrating, that we have opted for an at-home, low-keyed Father’s Day today.

Yesterday (Saturday) we spent nearly the entire day at the “Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom”** festivities in our city’s downtown square. We had lots of fun with our 14-year-old daughter and one of her besties.

A portion of the Fam (and a friend) @ yesterday’s Juneteenth Celebration in Franklin TN

Wanting to do my part, I signed up to volunteer for the celebration’s “Kid Zone”, picturing myself helping adorable little ones on and off rides or explaining one of the games. I signed up online, declaring, “As long as they don’t ask me to make the cotton candy, I’ll be good.”

And what do you think they asked me to do?

Make the dang cotton candy!!! (Gotta admit, I loved it!)

Check me out Y’all!!

Also on Friday, my husband and I attended our community’s 2nd Annual Juneteenth Formal Gala.** The venue was beautifully decorated, the meal was delicious, and we had so much fun connecting with friends and line-dancing, of course.

Anthony & me (Exhausted at the end of the evening!)
My friend Revida & me – She won an award for her org OneWillco’s justice work!

Anyway, as you can see, my community and my family celebrate with vigor during Juneteenth weekend. If you and your family want to do the same, find out what’s happening in your community to celebrate. And luckily, you have a whole year to research!

Also encourage your employers to consider adding Juneteenth to the list of annual federal holidays that they recognize. At the least, encourage them to commemorate the day with a special reading, article, company-wide post, etc. This past Friday I shared a link to this USA Today article with my coworkers that highlights various programs, concerts, documentaries and movies to watch on Juneteenth weekend.

And as a family, there’s so much you can do. Find a local Black-owned restaurant or coffeeshop to support. Go online or to Target to purchase some Black art, jewelry or clothing. Purchase Juneteenth-themed books to read to your little ones, like this board book written by my friend Dorena Williamson. There are plenty of documentaries and movies to watch together. My family and I plan to watch a CNN Juneteenth Concert tonight after we cook out together.

The ideas are almost endless, but whatever you do, don’t let this important holiday pass you by. And if you’re a parent, don’t miss this teachable moment for your children.

Celebrating Juneteenth helps us remember how far we come.

Celebrating Juneteenth helps us realize how much further we need to go.

Celebrating Juneteenth helps us, and the next generation, find our place in our country’s movement towards unity, justice and equity.

So once again, Happy Juneteenth Y’all!!!

**Note: Both the Saturday Juneteenth Celebration and the Juneteenth Gala were spearheaded by the Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition with the support of several corporate and community partners.

Black {Mama} in White Spaces: Other Mamas’ Stories

Apparently my last post Black {Mama} in White Spaces struck a nerve. Afterwards my own teens continued to share more stories they hadn’t thought of before. I heard a lot of “Oh yeah, there was that other time a boy called me the n-word in middle school” and “Oh and so-and-so told this racist joke a few weeks ago.”

And walking out of a nearby Walgreens, one of my daughters said, “Mom did you see that guy that just walked into the store? That was the one that called me his ‘baby-mama’.”

I promise I did not commit assault of a minor that day.

Another result from my post… I heard from several mamas about their children’s racist experiences in schools in my county. Another mama even shared her own personal story with race in high school decades ago.

I’ll share some of those stories in a bit, but for now, I want to list some thoughts that rise to the top for me when I think of being a parent with Black kids in White spaces.

  1. My children are not unusual or alone in their experiences of racial statements and jokes being directed at them or spoken with them in earshot. Many children and teens are experiencing the same kinds of racist offenses.
  2. Sometimes teachers and school administrators can be the source of racial trauma for our kids.
  3. Students of color are traumatized by these incidences, and can often share the details of them for several years — and even decades — later.
  4. Teachers, coaches and school administrators are ill-equipped and untrained to handle these issues when they arise. Parents like my husband and I are often either ignored or coddled when we approach school staff with issues like I shared last week.

To introduce some of my mama-friend’s stories, I’ll share a story from a few years back about an interesting homework assignment given to students at Sunset Middle School in Brentwood, Tennessee. The story was covered in The Tennessean and one of my friend’s sons was a student in the class given this assignment.

Her son and his classmates were learning about slavery, and their teachers gave the students the following writing prompt, “Your family owns slaves. Create a list of expectations for your family’s slaves.” (See pic below)

“When we discuss slavery, it always seems to center on the slave masters. Any discussion of slavery needs to begin and end arguably with those that were enslaved. “

Learotha Williams, Professor of Civil Rights History and African American Studies (as quoted in the Tennessean article)

Professor William’s other quote speaks volumes.

“It demonstrated to me that we are not really training our teachers on how to teach this subject.”

Amen. To this I would add — it’s also been demonstrated that we are not really training our teachers (and other school staff) how to handle racial slurs, jokes and verbal offenses that our children experience in school ALL THE TIME.

Something must be done.

Now a few other stories from other mamas. I have permission to share these stories, but will not name any individuals or schools. I’ll only share the race of the parent and the student(s).

“My youngest son had an incident at his middle school. He found the n-word scratched on the concessions stand. I met with the principal about the incident.” Black mama, black sons

“I paid for a private Christian school to racially traumatize my children, when we could have done that for free in public school.” Black mama, black daughters (paraphrase)

“Thanks for your article and keep writing. This is so helpful for me. I too at times have been lost on what to do regarding things said to my child and how they were handled.” White mama, biracial (Hispanic and white) daughter

And one mama’s story of her own high school experience while sharing my last blog post on her social media page:

“I remember being voted Homecoming Queen my senior year in high school (I will not share the name), and the teachers had the ballots redone, stating there was not enough representation. It’s laughable because the new ballots didn’t include my or my friend’s name.

She continued…

“Then God had a bigger plan. My senior year in college, I was voted Homecoming Queen. As an adult, I often look back to my senior year in high school and wonder what could’ve been so bad about the school having its first black Homecoming Queen in its first year of existence? We will never know.” Black woman & mama of black children

I’m sure if I took more time to interview other parents, I’d have so many examples I wouldn’t be able to fit them into a post of reasonable length here. And if I interviewed children and teens of color, I could literally fill a book. And you know why? Because for every racist incident our children share with us, there are several others they choose not to share.

Is it because of shame? Embarrassment? Or because telling Mom or Dad will make life at school even harder for them?

Maybe it’s all of the above.

If you’re raising children of color please encourage them to share their stories. Make sure they know their story is theirs to hold and heal from. Make sure they also know they are not alone.

If you are a school professional, please listen to your students of color and advocate for them. Please don’t write our children off as being overly-sensitive or mistaken over what they heard, meanwhile writing white children off as being “just silly kids” or “repeating what they heard at home”. That might be true, but children abusing other children racially will grow up and become adults who marginalize and insult people of color.

This racial traumatization must stop.

What will we do about it?

Working it Out: Book Review!

When I began blogging again after a multi-year break, I did so while making no promises. I had no agenda, no plans, no schedule. I needed to ease back into this form of writing because I was feeling some heavy stuff and knew I would want to share the heavy stuff with y’all.

And when you write heavy stuff you have to give yourself permission to take a break when you need one.

That being said, I am finding that I’ve moved into a rhythm here. A theme has formed seemingly out of nowhere, “Black in White Spaces”. I’ve even settled into a schedule, blogging on the weekends — usually on Saturdays.

So I guess that’s what I’m doing y’all. At least for now. But every now and then I need to give myself freedom… Freedom to skip a weekend post or freedom to post in the middle of the week.

Like today.

One thing I love to do is read. And I LOVE to tell other people about the amazing books I’m reading. So I’ll use this platform to do that as well, from time to time. Today is one of those times.

Sometimes an interview in Essence or People might include this question, “So tell us, what’s the last book you read?” I love this question. It tells me so much more about a person. More than where they live, their favorite food or their pet’s name. And not that any of you asked, but I would love to share my latest literary conquest here at Mocha Writer-Mama!

So here we go…

Faithful Anti-Racism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change by Christina Harland Edmondson & Chad Brennan is a great book for Christians and Christian organizations in pursuit of racial diversity and unity. The majority of the book discusses our country’s sordid history, while examining present-day attitudes and beliefs surrounding race and equity.

A common belief amongst Christians and Christian organizations today is “If we just preach the Gospel, Jesus will change hearts and prejudice and injustice will cease.” I have heard this sentiment, or versions of it, stated more times than I can count.

To this authors Edmondson and Brennan respond, “Unfortunately, unbiblical and incomplete views of the gospel hinder the ability of many Christians to effectively apply all of the Bible’s teachings in regard to racial injustice in our society. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not teach that our relational dynamics with one another are separate from the gospel, a distraction from the gospel, or a much lower priority than the gospel.”

Another misperception, especially in the evangelical church, is that unity and justice can be achieved by increasing the numbers of people of color. Once the organization becomes more racially and culturally diverse, they believe, unity and justice will increase amongst its members.

Again, the authors dispel this widely-held belief, stating, “Our research has shown that racial dynamics in Christian organizations get worse as the racial diversity increases. Bringing together people of different races creates additional opportunities for relationships, empathy, and understanding, but it also creates additional opportunities for acts of racial prejudice, conflict, unhealthy power dynamics, and more. We must use more effective methods for measuring progress.”

Many books are written to reveal the issues that exist in the area of racial dynamics. What I love about Faithful Anti-racism are the solutions the authors share in the final chapters. The authors conclude with proven ways for individuals and organizations to increase their anti-racism progress and resources to employ concrete measurements of that progress.

If you (or your organization) desire to grow in the practice of anti-racism, this book is one you need to read. If your heart’s been pricked by some of my “Black in White Spaces” thoughts, read this book. If you want to be an effective ally to marginalized people in your particular space, read this book.

And let me know what you think!

Black {Mama} in White Spaces

It could be that my heart is tender after 19 fourth graders were massacred in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas a couple weeks ago.

It could be that my baby girl just graduated from middle school, and is on her way to high school. A reminder that while she is my baby, she actually is not a baby anymore.

It could be that I have attended several events in my community, some school-related, where I was literally the only Black woman in the room.

It could be that I have been hanging out at my county’s school board meetings that have been so emotionally and verbally charged that they have made national news and are now visibly guarded by officers from our local sheriff’s department.

A photo I shot at a school board meeting last year.
Sign reads “CRITICAL RACE THEORY IS MARXISM.”

Whatever the impetus, today I feel led to share the experiences of my children as they encounter being Black in White spaces.

I’ll share their personal experiences while purposefully protecting my children’s names (see note below) and the names of the schools where they have experienced these traumas. So sit back, grab a snack and a cup of coffee or tea, while I share these stories in the form of short vignettes, each represented as it’s own “take”.

Photo by Martin Lopez on Pexels.com

(Note: I will utilize the pronouns “they/them,” in lieu of the tedious he/she, as I veil each of my children’s identities. Even though I received permission to share their stories, I promised to keep their identities hidden. Also I will denote the “n word” here as nig***.)

Here we go…

Take 1 – For an in-class assignment, my child’s teacher asks each student to place a sticker on the world map to represent the origin of their personal heritage. For instance, a student whose parents were born in China would place a sticker on China. One of my child’s classmates placed a sticker on the African country Niger, telling his friends, “Hey look, I’m from the country nig***!”

Take 2 – This one requires a little backstory… Somehow my husband and I, two full African Americans with dark hair, birthed two children with red hair. Over the years, our redheads have gotten lots of attention over their red locks, and usually it’s positive attention – compliments and queries of “where did they get all that red hair?” But on one particular day, one of my redheads hears this exclamation from one of their classmates, “Wow, I’ve never met a ginger nig*** before.”

Take 3 – A white male student that was neither a romantic interest nor a friend declares to my daughter, “You know you’re my baby-mama, right?”

Take 4 – Another child is in class when a white male student dares another white male student to make monkey sounds directly in my child’s ear. Unfortunately, the second student takes on the dare.

Take 5 – During an all-day “fun day” at one of my children’s schools, students were encouraged to form groups and creative themes for their groups. While student groups choose themes like Disney princesses, rock bands or theater casts, one group chooses the theme of a gang they name “the Black Attack”. These guys embody their theme by wearing white tanks, sagging jeans and “do-rags” and by creating their own hand gang signs.

Take 6 – I could list about ten of these, but all of my kids have witnessed the recitation of racial jokes by their classmates. I’ll only share one here… “Hey, what’s your favorite flavor of chips? I bet it’s salt-n-vi… What’s the rest of the word?” To which, the other kid is cued to respond “nig***”.

Take 7 – This one is perhaps the most disturbing of all. Years ago one of my children’s principal’s attempted to coverup a racial incident within the school. Someone had written “nig***” and “Go back to Africa” around the boy’s bathroom walls and hung a piece of yarn in the shape of a noose from the ceiling. When a brave teacher discovered the truth, she chose to share it with parents, which quickly led to a leak to the community and the media. The good news is this incident led to conversations and a sense of solidarity within our larger community.

And yet so much damage had already been done.

While I’ve experienced my own racial trauma in the communities in which my family has lived, nothing breaks my heart more than hearing my children share the racial offenses they have experienced.

While discussing the racial issue of the week at dinner one evening with my husband and four kids, I noticed one of our children hadn’t shared anything. I turned to them and asked pointedly if they had experienced anything like the incident one of their siblings had just shared. My teen chuckled and said, “Mom, really? I don’t talk about it, because this kind of stuff happens all the time.”

My child’s words left me stunned and teary.

Oh, and what makes this even more complicated? When we as parents call the principal, email the teacher, visit the school’s front office to advise them on these harmful, racist actions by fellow classmates, our children have experienced backlash. They are considered a snitch by their peers, though other a few peers have stood alongside them. The adults involved – teachers, administrators, parents of the offending student – are typically perplexed, not knowing how to handle the incident, the perpetrator or the larger school body.

After all, there’s no targeted policy regarding these offenses.

It pains me to know that any given day at school, my children can be verbally assaulted by a classmate, for no other reason than their race. And though my two boys are out of school now, I still have two girls attending public school. Largely due to this form of bullying, we transferred one of our daughters from the high school our neighborhood is zoned for to another high school with exponentially more racial diversity. This school has provided a haven for her, and last year was her most successful school year yet. Best school decision we ever made.

So we have more years of stories like the ones I’ve shared here. More years of racial jokes and racial bullying. More years of teachers and administrators that remain silent and passive in the midst of the these incidents.

My children — our children — need allies. Allies in the classroom. Allies in administrative offices. Allies on the school board.

And until those allies cry out on their behalf…

This Mocha Mama will continue to advocate for them, however and wherever she can.

Even if only through this platform.

Black in White Spaces: Privilege

I have begun and paused this post several times. There’s so much to say, that I get overwhelmed. And every time I go down one path, I stop and start over. If I were physically writing on a notepad I’d be scribbling and scribbling, only to tear the page out of the pad, ball it up and toss it in the trash.

So I begin again.

There’s just so much to share about the experience of being Black in White spaces. It’s not all bad either. I have had innumerable experiences that have been beneficial, pleasant, and life-changing even — all while being the only woman of color in the room.

And yet, I’ve also experienced innumerable challenges, discouragements, and heartaches — again, while being the only woman of color in the room.

The times I’ve experienced those heartaches tend to be when I’m surrounded by white people that are unaware of their privilege. And while many of my white friends are doing their work — reading the books, listening to the podcasts, having conversations with Black folks while remaining in a posture of humility and learning — many, many just aren’t there yet.

And that unawareness of privilege can wreak havoc in the lives of us Black folks. I remember having numerous conversations with a friend years ago about white privilege. It amazed me how blind she was to her own privilege as a white woman. Our conversations would literally have us going around in verbal circles and leave me with a migraine.

In Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race author Debby Irving puts it this way:

“Privilege is a strange thing in that you notice it least when you have it most. As a white person, whether or not I know it, whether or not I admit it, I’ve got white privilege, an advantage that both is born of and has fed into white dominance.”

Instead of sharing what white privilege is, which Debby does a great job of in her book, I’d like to enter the discussion through the back door by sharing what privilege is not. The following examples are real-life examples that I have experienced, some in this last year.

  • I enter a women’s clothing store, and notice no one greets me or asks if I need help with anything. No matter since I’m literally window-shopping on this day, and don’t plan to buy anything. A few minutes after I’ve window-shopped, another lady enters, and a salesperson rushes towards her, greeting her cheerfully and asking if she’s looking for anything special.
  • I am shopping in the drugstore across the street from my subdivision, and notice there’s an employee nearby. I look around, pick up an item I plan to buy and move to another aisle to search for something else. Suddenly that same employee is lingering nearby again. It seems I cannot shake him, and I immediately regret entering the store wearing sweatpants and carrying my least expensive handbag.
  • While working out in my neighborhood gym (during the height of COVID) I realize my reserved time slot at the gym must have expired when I see the manager of our community center walking towards me. Expecting him to gently notify me, I tell him I will be done in just a few minutes. He loudly tells me my time is up, while standing intimidatingly within my personal space. He and I exchange words, and I make it clear that he is out of line. Still, I leave the gym feeling humiliated, disrespected and belittled.
  • I’m sitting in a team meeting at a previous job, looking around the circle at my fellow co-workers. I realize that not only am I the only Black person in the circle, but I am also the only person that is working part-time… even after several inquires to my bosses about becoming a full-time member of the team.
  • My child that has maintained honor-roll status, received highest grades in multiple subjects each year, and led several extra-curricular activities is not invited to speak at graduation. She okay with it, since she claims she has stage-fright anyway. But she still wonders out-loud why she wasn’t at least asked to speak. Her mother wonders as well.

As a Black woman, as you can see, I can easily share what the lack of privilege looks like. The lack of privilege is having negative experiences, challenging interactions and discouraging setbacks… all while pondering the sinking feeling of “Did this happen because of the color of my skin?”

You seldom know for sure.

I can also share what white privilege is. Privilege is having negative experiences, challenging interactions and discouraging setbacks… all the while never having to wonder if they happened because of the color of your skin.

White privilege is also enjoying positive experiences, wonderful interactions and exciting advancements… all the while never having to attribute them to the color of your skin. Although, let’s be honest, whiteness is certainly an advantage.

My purpose in this post is not to pour shame or guilt on my white brothers and sisters. It is simply to encourage ADMITTANCE and AWARENESS of privilege and advantage. White privilege is like the toxin carbon monoxide. We can’t work together to shift the balance if we deny its existence.

And when we shift the balance, I’m crazy enough to believe we’ll ALL be better for it.

Today we Mourn

19 children killed.

2 teachers murdered.

10 people gunned down on a seemingly ordinary day.

Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, New York.

The grocery store chain whose name mocks with paradox.

Not so friendly on May 14, 2022.

When a man with hatred in his heart and death on his mind,

Stole daddies from children, mamas from babies.

Grandparents from grandbabies, children from parents.

We watch and we read and we listen.

We yell and we rant and we curse.

We debate and hypothesize and theorize.

“It’s a mental health crisis,” one says.

“It’s a gun problem,” another replies.

“We need more police officers,” yet another retorts.

Is it all of the above?

I have my thoughts. I have my doubts.

But this one thing I know for sure.

Before we argue and fuss and fight.

Before we pen a letter to the politician.

Before we do whatever we can to regain control.

We must sit still.

We must quiet the voices, even our own.

And sit with the hurt.

Sit with the pain.

Sit with the loss.

Today we must grieve.

Today we must lament.

Today we sing the Negro spiritual.

“Nobody knows da trouble I’ve seen…”

Yes, today we mourn.

We mourn to heal.

So then, only then,

Can we rejoin the fight.

Black in White Spaces: Invisibility

Photo by A Koolshooter on Pexels.com

“The ideology that whiteness is supreme, better, best, permeates the air that we breathe – in our schools, in our offices and in our country’s common life. White supremacy is a tradition that must be named and a religion that must be renounced. When this work has not been renounced, those who live in whiteness become oppressive, whether intentional or not.”

Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

What do you think of when you think of the phrase WHITE SUPREMACY?

For the majority of my life, even as a Black female, the term white supremacy conjured images of white men wearing white sheets and hoods while burning crosses on the lawns of Black families.

I thought of white women screaming insults and curses at nine teenagers aka The Little Rock Nine. Teenagers that were integrating Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I thought of white young men masterminding shooting sprees at church bible studies in Charleston, South Carolina and in grocery stores in Buffalo, New York, all in the name of hatred of Black people and the misguided and bizarre “replacement theory“.

However, as a Black woman living in largely white spaces, meaning I am often the only or one of few people of color in a room, I have come to understand and identify white supremacy on a milder and oftentimes unperceived level.

I might not have space in one post to break this down effectively, but here we go. The following is a list of incidences that I have experienced over and over again…

THE WHITE SUPREMACY OF INVISIBILITY

What does this look like?

Well, I’m at church and someone tells me, “You have a beautiful voice. Thanks for leading us in worship today.” To which I reply with an expression that probably looks like a polite smile attempting to hide a confused brain, because I haven’t sung up front in church since my teen years singing with my childhood church’s youth choir. In the awkward silence that ensues, understanding slowly creeps into my mind, and I realize I’m being mistaken for the young lady that sang on the worship team that morning. Now mind you, this young woman has a similar skin tone, but she is also decades younger than me, and wears her hair in very different hairstyles from mine.

Now some would say, “Wow, what a compliment! You’ve been mistaken for a woman almost twenty years younger than you.”

Hmmm… Let me share a couple more examples.

I work for a wonderful nonprofit that serves and advocates for youth in foster care. This work lands me in juvenile court a few times a week, so I engage with judges/magistrates, attorneys and court employees. Soon after I began this work, another Black woman joined our staff. Once again, she is younger than me, about 10 years my junior. She is also shades browner than me, styles her hair differently and always wears glasses.

And yet, I can’t count the times that I’ve been mistaken for my co-worker. Just yesterday, a new volunteer, who had only met our staff via a Zoom training, asked if I led the program that my co-worker leads. I responded, “No that’s (insert my co-worker’s name). I spoke about cultural competency during training.” To which she nodded slowly and replied, “Oh yeah, I remember you now…”

Meanwhile, I doubt my white co-workers are mistaken for one another as often as we are.

Now some would comment, “Well again, this is such a compliment. You’re being mistaken for younger women. And it’s so hard to really see people on Zoom.”

So yeah… I’ll give one more example.

Years ago when my family relocated to Arkansas, my husband and I met a few people from our new church for lunch in Little Rock. I believe we might have been the only black people in the room that day. Anyway, as we follow the host to our table, a white lady eating lunch practically accosted me stating, “Oh my, you look so much like Michelle Obama!”

I smiled politely as I thought, Wow that’s a first. Now I admire Michelle Obama to the utmost, and think she is a beautiful woman, inside and out. Her book Becoming is one of my favorite memoirs. And yet… I don’t think I favor her at all.

Spitting image, right? I mean, we could be TWINS!

My theory is this: Black women are often NOT SEEN. People might hear us, experience us, but I don’t know if they actually see us. Unless they have a face-to-face conversation, and really see and hear us. Or… if they have spent some deep, quality time with multiple Black people of different shades, personalities, backgrounds and cultures.

I promise you, we do not all look alike.

It’s always amazed me that while Black people are the most diverse in skin tone and hair types, perhaps more than any other ethnicity, we tend to be the most unseen and identity-mistaken in the world. I mean, how can a blond, blue-eyed woman be easily distinguished from all other blond blue-eyed women in the world, but someone think I look exactly like Michelle Obama?

I believe this is an example of white supremacy. Somewhere in the inherited recesses of the minds of some, there’s an undetected belief that a Black woman is not worthy of individuality, that she is just like all other Black women, that she is not worth truly being seen.

And this reminds me of a Bible story where Hagar, abused and alone in a desert, is found by the living God. In response to His promise and provision for her, Hagar says of God, “You are the God who sees me.”*

May we all be more like God. May we truly see one another, like He sees us.

*Genesis 16:13

Girl, Where You Been?

There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

Toni Morrison

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Girl, where you been?

I ask this question of myself because I think I’ve got some explaining to do.

Oftentimes when my Mom, who passed away several years ago, was asked this question, she would respond with, “Oh, everywhere and nowhere.” It’s funny… the older I get, the more I look like my Mom, use mannerisms like my Mom and even speak like her. I find myself using her expressions ALL THE TIME.

So the short answer to where I’ve been would be, “Oh, everywhere and nowhere.”

The long answer to this question is the theme of this post.

For several years I put away my proverbial “writing pen” and decided to write in only 3 spaces:

  • person writing projects (i.e. a couple of novels that still aren’t completed Lol)
  • contributing to other publications (Daily Guideposts annually and local publications)
  • social media (I mostly share pictures of my kids here, but anyways…)

So why haven’t I been writing a blog and sending it out into the universe?

Hmmm… I used to blog a lot. I used to look forward to sitting down at my kitchen table, pecking on my laptop, sharing random – and sometime deeper – thoughts with friends, family and strangers alike. But I will say our current cultural climate made me want to hide behind a rock.

Our culture has become increasingly divided – divisive even. I’ve divorced (and subsequently reconciled with) Facebook multiple times because of divisive rhetoric. To scroll and read the posts of Trump-adorers was exhausting. Likewise, to scroll and read the posts of Trump-haters was exhausting as well. I don’t mind sitting in a room debating the laurels or mishaps of any given politician with another person, but reading those debates on my social media feeds made me want to move to New Zealand. (I love Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern btw…) Or at least hibernate for a few months like some of our mammal cousins get to do.

Why, oh why don’t humans get to hibernate like bears and squirrels?

But I digress. My apologies.

Anyway, with this intense climate where people draw a line in the sand and force us to declare on which side we choose to stand, I decided I would only weigh in on the issues while sitting in front of another person or group of people. I needed to time to pull away, make a few life changes, and stand firm on what I believe.

And now I think I’m ready.

I added the quote at the beginning of this post for two reasons. One – Toni Morrison is one of my absolute favorite authors, deep-thinkers, world-changers (who just happened to attend my alma mater Howard University). Two – I want to use my voice, in written form, to bring healing.

Healing from what?

It’s been a rough few years. COVID 19. The killing of unarmed Black men, women and children. The polarized political climate.

It’s also been a few years of growth. COVID 19 and all its destruction inspired ingenuity and resilience in individuals and organizations. Racial disparity and violence birthed “Black Lives Matter” and local movements that fight for awareness and reform of the systemic racism being exposed like maggots clinging to the bottom of a stone found deep in the woods. And the political climate has prodded people of color to throw their names in the electoral hats of political races around the U.S.

There’s still much to be done. I believe part of my role is to use my voice here. My unapologetically Black, female, Christ-following, justice-loving voice. I don’t need everyone to agree with me on everything. I don’t need to argue and fight. I don’t even need to be heard.

But I will promise to keep putting it out there. Keep loving. Keep sharing. Keep encouraging. Keep challenging.

And maybe I can contribute just a small bit to the healing we need to experience.

And maybe my soul will heal along with yours.

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