My friend looked at me and whispered, "I've never been the only white girl in a room of black people before," I grinned and patted her lovingly on the back, "Congratulations and welcome to your expansion."
I recently celebrated my birthday in Oakland at a Sacred Retreat of Renewal geared towards those of us whom can burn out easily by doing social, ministerial, counseling, political type jobs.
If you're not familiar, Oakland is one of the most ethnically diverse major U.S. cities, ranking 4th in diversity. The white population has fallen and it has become a center for the African American population of Northern California, although it has lost nearly 25% of its black population since 2000, with many leaving for the Southern U.S. or the Bay Area suburbs.
I was one of three white woman on the grounds of the facility that day. Interestingly enough, the founder and organizer was one of the white women. As the microphone was passed around the very large sacred circle, it was mentioned numerous times to her face, "You're pretty wonderful for a white woman," or "You make me believe that not all white people are horrible."
I kept quiet.
My friends wondered afterwards why I didn't take the mic and provide any thoughts aloud.
CONSCIOUSNESS IN LISTENING
There is great consciousness in knowing when to speak and when to be in a place of listening. I was there to listen - and listen I did. Listening was my way to show respect that day. My heart was filled with love and compassion for my sisters and brothers whom sat in this sanctity of love yet still with hatred and fear in their hearts. And honestly, who could blame anyone for feeling that way with the current state of affairs going on? Race wars and hatred are no fucking joke!
I have actually had nearly the same words spoken to my face so when I heard them that day it triggered something within me. I've often been the "token white girl" or "token fat girl" or what have you...meaning I have people speak to me that hate white people, or fat people, and when I retort or give them a certain look, I get the, "Well I don't mean you! You're the exception." I don't wish to be the exception. I wish us all to just love each other as we are. Black, white, fat, skinny, tall, short, liberal, conservative.
CLOSE TO HOME
One of my close friends was actually pulled over recently while driving her new BMW for speeding, just one week after Stephon Clark in Sacramento was gunned down by police officers. She was terrified, shaking, fearful for her life because she was driving a bit too fast on I-80...and her skin is mocha. That isn't right! And it made me cry when she told me about it as I felt her pain.
In my close knit circle of friends I'm often the token white girl. If you look at my crew...I'm the 1% usually. I attend their parties, celebrations, events for their grandkids and there I am...the only white one. Guess what? It's fantastic!
I recall one friend looking at me and saying when we walked into this cool Soul Food place we love, "Now you know how it feels Marie," EXACTLY!
That's the fucking point here. It is fantastic to be the minority so that I can observe, analyze and be able to empathize on a much deeper level than if I stayed in my nice little neighborhood of whiteness, which all too many white people do!
If I am to stand with my brothers and sisters on planet earth in times of trouble, then I have to make an effort to understand their struggles and where they are coming from in order to adequately help.
On the flip side, the deep discussions I've had with my black friends have revealed their prejudices against me...well, because they "assume" I've been overly privileged because of my skin color. Well, NO! They've shared stories of growing up in the South which makes my heart sink yet things their momma said or did was exactly what I experienced. Their homes were actually nicer than mine! They had more opportunity for higher education even. It wasn't until we sat down together and had honest dialogue that we realized we actually understood each other on numerous levels...as human beings if nothing else.
If we don't communicate, we don't expand. These two ladies and I have shared many joys over the past few years and have learned as much from me, as I have from them. We have created trust so they can ask me dumb questions about being white...and I ask them dumb questions about being black. So, thank God that I started the conversation one day! It's been a huge gift.
HELP OTHERS GROW
So, my friend who had never been in a room of all black people is from the South, and grew up on 200 acres of farm land in the middle of nowhere. she's a very white girl and somewhat naive (she'll admit it!). She has a desire to embrace everyone and I got to "hold her hand" through it while she accompanied me to a party which I was singing at.
If African Americans (and a wealth of others!) can be uncomfortable their entire lives here in the United States then she could get used to it...and she did and has expanded her friend base to include many outside of her "whiteness"! That's how we start healing in my opinion.
We get uncomfortable or help others who have loving intention by assisting them through the process. It's usually fear of the unknown, so instead of letting it lead our lives, let's bust a move and break free!
PLANTS SEEDS EARLY
I don't particularly ever recall feeling uncomfortable around people that looked differently than I. My mother was adamant about being loving and friendly to everyone. I even went to school out of town so that all my friends were extremely diverse. Even my first sexual experience was with a gorgeous younger black boy from Vallejo, which if you're a girl you'll understand the priceless memories of such a thing. Swoon! I encountered numerous forms of prejudice come my way as a white girl; sometimes just for daring to show up in black neighborhoods. Somehow I was never afraid though because mom taught me that we are all equal.
Back to present day where I was reprimanded by a Diversity Leader because it wasn't right for me to not see color. She thought it was a scapegoat. I felt horrible and prayed about it for months then one day a black friend told me how she felt about it... and it was exactly the same way that I did...color blind.
The enlightened spiritual perspective is that we are all just souls made of love. And when we deliberately focus on our differences, even just skin color, it separates us even more in my opinion.
There's no happy way to wrap this up with a bow. Until we literally flat out just love one another, the prognosis doesn't look very good, does it?
I'm going to keep praying, loving and communicating; and I hope you do too!