Commemorating Juneteenth as a White Girl
As a white person growing up in a small community in the valley of Northeast Tennessee, I lived in a very sheltered bubble. Everyone around me looked like me. In 3rd grade, a new family moved to our community. This family actually lived next door to my aunt and uncle. They had a couple of kids and one boy was in my class. His name was Andrew and he had the darkest skin. It was the first time I remember seeing a skin color so drastically different from my own. I thought this was the coolest thing ever and I befriended him immediately.
Some afternoons, my brother, cousins, and I were sent over to my aunt's house after school because our moms were working. Since there was just a wooden picket fence between Andrew and I, we'd spend those afternoons talking back and forth. Sometimes he and his brothers would come over and play basketball with us in my aunt & uncle's driveway. When we got too hot, my aunt would bring us Pop-ices or cold lemonade.
It never dawned on me how hard it was to be different because when we played, it felt like we were all just kids. We were all the same. But Andrew's family didn't feel that way. They were not feeling welcome by others in the community. At the end of that school year, they ended up moving. Andrew told me that he was moving so he could go to a different school where there would be more people like him.
I went through the rest of my school years only having a handful of friends that didn't look like myself. When I moved to Chattanooga for college, it was a totally different world. There were people of all colors, races, and creeds. It was amazing. My freshman dorm room held 4 girls; 2 were black and 1 was a foreign exchange student. It was like I was a fish plucked out of my tiny fishbowl and thrown into the ocean. But it was a beautiful time as I learned more about the history of my country and the world and how people that look different have been treated. I learned about new holidays like Juneteenth, and about countries where people are still enslaved. I realized that even though slavery had been abolished in this country in 1865, we still had quite a ways to go before all people to feel equal.
Today I can't help but feel we have even farther to go in the push for equality than we did when I started college in 1998.
There was the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. As a country, we responded by blaming all people the same color of the bombers.
We elected a black president twice. But since then we've had street fighting in Charlottesville, VA; a church bombing in Charleston, SC's Emmanuel Church; and we've learned the names of people like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. We pause, attention is paid, and then time moves on.
The current age of Black Lives Matter and people protesting in every major city shows us that so many are still striving for reconciliation. So, to commemorate Freedom Day, I would like to state what I believe about race.
I believe God created diversity because there is beauty in it. My 5-year-old daughter’s favorite color is pink, but when she got a pink comforter, pink sheets, pink curtains, pink wall art, pink ottoman, she realized that too much of one color is overwhelming. No more pink things came into her room.
I believe racism is learned behavior. I was reminded of this 2 years ago when my daughter finally had enough vocabulary to start vocalizing the types of toys she wanted. A few months before her 3rd birthday, she told us that she wanted a baby doll that looked like her. So, we started looking for curly blonde headed baby dolls with blue eyes and dimples. A couple of weeks later, we are in a secondhand store that has lots of toys and she’s begging for something to bring home. I tell her that she may choose one toy. She looks for a while and then proudly produces “just what I always wanted – a baby just like me!” I take the doll from her with raised eyebrow to find the price tag, as this baby doll had dark chocolate skin, black hair, and brown eyes. I repeated back to her, “So this is the one baby doll you want? This is the baby that looks like you?” Bonnie very adamantly said, “Yes! I beautiful, she beautiful. Beautiful just like me.”
I believe Black Lives need to matter now, because for so long, they did not matter. So, I stand with you. I hear you. I pray for you every day.
I believe that I don’t know the answers, but God does.
We need to do better. Better for black lives and for all of God’s creation.
We need to do more. Because God calls us to do more. More for ALL His creation.
For history on Juneteenth, please read more here: https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/juneteenth-celebrates-freedom-from-slavery
If you would like to join us in pressing on to Freedom for All Lives, the UMC is beginning a campaign today called Dismantling Racism. You can find out more at UMC.org/EndRacism. There is information about an online prayer service on Wednesday, June 24 at 1pm and more ways that you can stand with us against racism.