My Own Little White World – A Final Letter

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Dear White American Christian friends,

Now that you know my story, I need to be honest with you. We have major work to do. Some of us are entering the conversation way too late in the game. Sure, we might have lived through the police brutality against Rodney King and the racial tension associated with the OJ trial. But, maybe we didn’t feel the weight of it. Maybe we didn’t understand the whole story or see the big picture. As a detail-focused gal, I get it.

But, if you haven’t started looking deeper into the state of racial division and injustice in our country and church, do it now. You can’t ignore it. It’s all over your Facebook feed and all over the news (if you know me personally and haven’t unfollowed me on Facebook, you’ve seen plenty about this from me).

This is not a left-wing or right-wing issue. This is a kingdom issue. This is a family issue. Our brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color are hurting because of racism, both from individuals and from our broken system. It’s time to start listening.

Here is a great place to go for resources.

Start listening to our Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American brothers and sisters. White voices are important too, but, as a whole, we have been heard. We can’t get our entire education on race from Freedom Writers and The Help.

Spend time getting to know our nation’s history from a perspective other than those of White males. Don’t worry if you slept through history class. A lot of us are on an even playing field because this history hasn’t been taught well. We need historical context to truly understand what’s happening.

While you’re at it, learn about our God under the teaching of people who look different from you. Just to start you off, look into Soong-Chan Rah and Thabiti Anyabwile. Please don’t make the mistake of just learning about race and culture from them. Dig deeper and listen longer, and you will see the glory of God from a new perspective.

The racial divisions in the church go deep, but there are pockets of believers who are fighting hard for awareness, for justice, and for unity. As much as we need to listen, it’s also time for us to speak. Stand up for our fellow Christians and fellow humans who were made in God’s image.

Speaking up against racism can be exhausting, and we need to do whatever we can to help bear these burdens. I’ve seen God working in some of you on this issue. As you learn and listen with compassion and empathy, I pray God will use you to start softening hearts.

Sadly, there are some white Christians who may listen to you, but not listen to our brothers and sisters of other races. Please use your voice.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Becky

 

 

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My Own Little White World – Part 4

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My husband and I at the bean in Chicago (a giant metallic bean-shaped structure).

A group from my church goes to a conference every summer in Chicago every summer called Legacy Conference. It’s a conference that focuses on making disciples and being a disciple (follower) of Jesus in an urban setting. One reason I love this conference is that I get to sit under the teaching of church leaders who are from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. While I’ll focus more on that next time, I want to show how a college class taught by someone from a different background helped me sort through my own identity.

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Dr. Rhonda White

When I was in college, I took a required class called Diverse Populations taught by Dr. Rhonda White. Being the nerd I am, I used to keep every piece of paper from every class. When I put an end to the paper hoarding, I still held onto everything from this class because of the impact it had on me. My goal at the time was to teach PE in a low income neighborhood in Phoenix. Since I grew up in a lower middle class, mostly white suburb, I knew that I needed help to figure out how to teach students in that setting. What I didn’t realize is that I had to learn more about myself first.

I already loved learning about other cultures and wanted to spend my life among people who were different from me. However, sorting through my own cultural and racial identity was messy. Doing the work of the process has kept me grounded as I have spent time among other cultures and races (Google Rachel Dolezal and you’ll see what I mean). When I worked through journal entries, I struggled through my negative feelings about white American culture and worked through concepts like white privilege and dominance (if you’re struggling through terms like this, check out this list of resources). Here are some examples from a journal entry:

  • “Whenever I think about my own ‘Whiteness,’ I want to be someone else.”
  • “I feel like my culture doesn’t really matter. The only things I’ve ever heard about middle class White culture have been negative.”
  • “[God] decided that I should be the descendant of a man who owned a slave. He decided that I should be the descendant of a couple from Prussia. He decided that I should be the descendant of a Cajun family. While my identity ultimately lies in Jesus Christ, I was placed in this particular lineage for a reason…because He is the One that placed me here, I think wishing I was someone else is like saying that God made a mistake.”

When Dr. White had us create a cultural family tree, I thankfully started to see things about my cultures of origin to celebrate. As a whole, I don’t think white people in the United States take enough time to recognize this. Often, they just think that what their family does is normal and not connected to any culture or history. It’s like when people who speak English in the United States don’t think they have an accent (if this is you, please let me know and we’ll talk more).

During the process, I realized that not everyone’s family makes fry bread or sings together at Thanksgiving. I started appreciating things like my Scottish ancestry and the story of the Huguenots from France moving to the country to escape religious persecution. I started telling the story of my great uncle picking weeds called poke salat and bringing them to a family potluck with a little more fondness. On the health side of things, seeing my family’s view of food as love and how deep that goes gave me a good place to start understanding my relationship with food.

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My Uncle Royce (of poke salat fame), my grandma (who fed us even if we were stuffed), and my Aunt Linda (who brought the family together for reunions and potlucks)

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My mom as a kid on the right. Her interest in genealogy has given me a window to my past and present.

 

Another thing that I took from the class was how white American culture as a whole compares with other cultures, especially something called value orientations. Ironically, one of the key value orientations of white American culture as a whole is an emphasis on the individual. People who value the individual over a focus on a group perspective may not realize how much their culture affects them.

Understanding the different cultural influences in my family has given me a framework for understanding other cultures without trying to toss out my cultural and racial identity all together. I’m grateful that I had people like Dr. White in my life to guide me through the process.

My Own Little White World – Part 3

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My dear friends Lindsey and Kay-K.

Even though people are divided on a lot these days, I think most will agree that there is something very wrong with our world. I went to a teach-in recently at Calvin College, and one of the speakers put it well by saying that sin is a great equalizer. To be honest, I need a break from it all. Today, I want to talk about what’s right in our world.

To start, let’s go back to around 2006/2007 (I’m so bad at timelines). Around this time, I started volunteering for the new youth group at church. A family needed a ride to youth group and the kid’s program on Wednesday nights, and I volunteered. As I got to know the kids, I found out that their family was originally from Sierra Leone and that they came to the United States as refugees. Spending time in their home – mostly because they were never ready to go when I got there 🙂 – gave me a glimpse into their family. I learned that their mom, my friend Watta, spoke Mende as her first language. I learned that a lot of their family was Muslim or had a Muslim influence on their beliefs. I learned I could often expect to find the rice cooker going and greens cooking on the stove. I learned about the tragic conflict in Sierra Leone that started in 1991. And, it was in this home that God taught me to listen carefully and love deeply.

Gradually, the Kellahs welcomed me into their family. I started hanging out at their house outside of youth group, taking the kids to the school playground to play basketball and volleyball, and helping them with their homework.

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The Kellah family at the college graduation for me and my friends Don and Melissa…not sure why I was looking away from the camera. Lol!

I have so many stories to tell. Like when Watta brought me to a bridal shower for someone I’d never met and had me navigate and wrap the gift in the car on the way (I’m terrible at both directions and gift wrapping). Or, Salia’s graduation party where I first saw a Sierra Leonean dance, ate fish heads, was called an African queen, and danced the night away. Keep in mind that I’m not the most coordinated person, so dancing the night away mostly meant tripping over my feet. 🙂 Kadiatu (Kay-K) and her cousin Mamie trying to teach me how to double dutch and the boys trying to no avail to teach me Soulja Boy. Weima taking the scarf off her neck and putting it around mine when I told her it was pretty.

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Essa and I at a youth group camping trip.

Along with the laughs, there were some serious moments mixed in. There were conversations about our eternal hope when a man was shot just down the road. There was deep mourning when a friend of Essa’s passed away. There were complications and long waits when family members were trying to move to the area from Sierra Leone. There were the texts from Kay-K about her faith when she was at college. Then, there were the baptisms. I sobbed tears of joy for each one.

 

It was right, good, and beautiful for the Kellahs and their extended family to welcome me so fully. They have been there for me ever since. I’m sure I messed up sometimes, but I praise God for this family and their love and patience.

This is just one example of something that’s right in the world. God is at work and has been at work. Here are some other things I’ve seen that are right:

  • White Christians searching all over town and the internet to get Bibles in their friends’ first language.
  • A Filipino bishop inspiring Filipino youth (and me) to share Jesus in other cultural contexts.
  • A white grandpa holding his black grandson without claiming he doesn’t see his skin color, but instead seeing God’s beauty in it.
  • Ate Honey and my dear friends from Dagupan sending me words of encouragement from the other side of the world years after we’ve seen each other.
  • A Christian sister from Malaysia buying me a real dinner at a conference because she’d only seen me eat snacks in the volunteer lounge all week.
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Me, Ate Honey (we stayed with her family when we visited churches in the Philippines), and Beth

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The youth group from Hope Dagupan in the Philippines.

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A class picture from ESL at our church.

I could go on, and I praise God for that. While unity might be rare, it exists by the power of the Holy Spirit and the precious blood of Jesus. To Him alone be the glory.

My Own Little White World – Part 2

As I sift through my next set of memories, I am surprised that the ones that stand out the most involved TV and toys. We shopped at stores with a diverse clientele and occasionally ran into a black home school family, but most of the people I interacted with regularly other than my sister were white. Even though my mom worked hard to teach us a balanced view of history, most of my early education on race that I remember came from shows like Family Matters (sorry, Mom…).

Family Matters

While I spent my youngest years blissfully unaware of racial tension, this came to a crashing halt around age 5. That was the year they aired an episode of Family Matters called Fight the Good Fight written by Sara V. Finney and Vida Spears. It featured Laura leading a campaign to celebrate Black History Month at her school. When all seemed to be going well, she found a horrible note and the N-word spray painted on her locker. I know it made an impact, because I had to take a break after re-watching this scene and explain to our 6 year old why I was crying.

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This word came up again not too much later on a more personal level. I was crazy about sports, specifically the Indiana Pacers. By default, this meant that the New York Knicks were my arch enemy. When I was at my grandparents’ house once day, we were watching a Knicks game when my grandfather used the N-word when referring to Patrick Ewing. I remember feeling sick and confused. I didn’t understand how someone I loved and looked up to could be filled with so much hate.

AddyAnother important year of my life was 1993 when American Girl release the Addy doll. I devoured all of her books and was elated when I got the doll as a birthday gift. Her story was brought home even more when my history club spent a year studying the underground railroad. When I was sharing how much I loved Addy with one of my friends, she said something like, “I wouldn’t want an Addy doll. I like to think of my American Girl dolls as my children, and I can’t imagine having kids who don’t look like me.” I don’t remember if I responded, but in that moment I felt confused and deflated. My little 9 year old brain couldn’t comprehend why my friend couldn’t wrap her mind around owning an Addy doll.

 

I was only beginning to see the realities of the world, but I didn’t like them. Around the same time, Reggie Miller had a local talk show on TV. During every show, he recognized people who were making a difference in their community with an award. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with anyone, but at the time I daydreamed about winning that award for racial reconciliation. I didn’t know how to make a difference, and I still often don’t. I was not, am not, and never will be the answer. I just pray that the dream of that little girl would come true starting in the church so that the rest of the world will see Who is the answer.

My Own Little White World – Part 1

My Story

Hanging with the cousins – I’m the one in the blue dress, my sister is behind me, and my brother is in the bottom left corner.

As I read my Facebook and Twitter, I see many different perspectives on race and how it fits into our lives. In my heart, I know I have a lot to say about this topic, but I wonder what can I add to the conversation. All I can do is share my story. For those expecting to see a weight loss blog entry, please bear with me (my weigh-in this morning was 236.2 pounds in case you’re interested). As a blog writer, I’m convinced it would be a tragedy to say nothing. I have a small platform, but it’s time for me to step up to it.

As a Christian, I believe that every part of me and every part of you was intricately designed by God. Much of a Christian’s life seems to be spent figuring out what it means to live faithfully where He’s placed us, whether it is race, gender, culture, socioeconomic status, country of origin, time in history, family, skills, or personality. We serve a creative, intentional God who shows His glory in His creation. If you love God, please take the time to notice the beauty in the diversity of the people He created in His image. I beg you to spend time getting to know people who are different from you and try to see the world from their perspective. If not, you are missing out on seeing the goodness of God from so many different angles.

This is where I’m coming from, but how did I get here? It’s a long story, so I will only share part of it today. Everyone has an entry point to their development of racial identity. Mine was to working class white parents in a suburb of Indianapolis. They attended a fiercely independent Baptist church,  and they home schooled. In some ways, this set me up to be…let’s say quirky. It also set me up to be okay with standing against widespread beliefs and questioning how society and the church in America works.

My mom grew up in the southwest and had a daughter from a previous marriage to a Navajo man. My dad’s family moved from France to the hill country of Missouri and sang blue grass and Southern gospel together at their family gatherings. My dad adopted my sister when he married my mom, so I was born with an 11 year old sister who was half Navajo and half white and a 2 and a half year old brother who was white.

From birth, I had a role model who had darker skin, hair, and eyes than I did. I am aware that not everyone has this opportunity. When I was old enough to be mobile, I was the annoying little sister who sat outside her big sister’s locked door crying because I wanted to spend every second with her. When I started getting dolls, I wanted the white dolls with blonde hair, but I also wanted the black dolls (I don’t remember seeing any Latina, Asian or Native American dolls at the stores then).

Just having a biracial sister did not mean I was an instant expert on race, but it did mean that my impressions of people of other races started early in my life. Other than the usual sibling drama, these daily impressions were positive. It was through these lenses that I interpreted the things that I saw and heard people say. We’ll get to that next time.