Monday, March 23, 2015

"Rediscovering Color"



Who am I?
Where do I come from?
What is my culture?
What is my heritage?

I grew up thinking I had none
No culture
No heritage
No ethnicity

I grew up white American

Those questions were heavy
I had no answer for them
I decided they were unimportant
Vain imaginations of others

Secretly I feared those questions
But couldn't admit it to myself
The feelings were buried too deep
I avoided facing the absence

I tried to think I was beyond it all
That the melting pot vision was greater
And others just needed to evolve
Because that was true "equality"

I didn't know there was something to it
This talk about heritage
About who you are
About race and ethnicity

I was cut off from my people
A long time ago before I was born
For survival my ancestors
Tried to blend into white America

They did what they thought was right
They didn't know what confusion
It would bring to their descendants
What confusion it would being to me

But Creator is good
And He awoke my heritage in me
Now I am recovering what was lost
Now I am reconnecting with my people

This is my prayer and my wish
For so many Euro-Americans
I want them to become untangled
From the confusion of America

It takes a good dose of humility
To recognize and admit the absence
To face the hole in your heart
To let go of the pride that hides it

But it is such a rewarding journey
It is healing
And America desperately needs healing
Even the privileged whites need it

Our colors were buried
Our heritages were left behind
Across the sea in old Europe
And our hearts felt it deep inside

Creator, help us see
Help us heal
Help us to humility
And to the journey of a better road

****

The personal stories and feelings Jacqueline Keeler shared in an article recently move me in a way I can fully understand yet. Maybe it's because I grew up looking and feeling white, but in my 20s found out I was actually more than half "the other"...

It's a odd feeling. I want to know and reconnect with the "other" parts of me, and those who share the same heritages, but looking at me people will probably never guess that those are my heritages. I'll likely never be mistaken for anything but white.

I'm not completely sure that I'm bothered by that much... I think I'm not. But under the surface in me something is going on and I can't quite put my finger on it. I think I would *like* to be mistaken for who I am sometime.

But maybe more than that, I relate to what Jacqueline shared because learning of my heritages, I feel like an exile, like I grew up away from my people (and I did), not knowing I was one of them, not looking like them... and if they saw me they wouldn't recognize me as one of them either. "In exile" but not knowing it—neither myself not others knowing it.

I'm perpetually disoriented and finding new reorientation... heh. Growing up white you feel like you have no culture, which is one of the reason whites get so upset when "race" and ethnicity are mentioned. We feel the deep absence of culture and community (which I believe comes from having left tribes and homelands in Europe, and then trying to create a new nation across the sea, proclaiming pride so loudly to keep from facing the inner heartache of having left home and people). But it's weird to hear of people wanting to pass as white or being "stealth minorities", so to speak. Lots of whites feel like I did growing up, that we had nothing special culturally to speak of... no "color" but just a bland nothingness. No identity.

It's strange to hear of my Mexican grandparents trying to raise my father and his brothers in a white neighborhood, in white schools and churches, trying to speak only English at home, etc. Like most whites I grew up never seeing let alone understanding the reasons minorities would try to pass as white... couldn't see the systemic racism, pressures and injustices that made people want to "fit in". I wish my father's family could have held on to their heritage more. Part of me wants to scream back in time to them, "What are you doing! Your children's children are going to suffer from this!" But then I know they did it for survival. Like the Cherokee ancestors on my mother's side who had to try to pass as white because the state made it illegal for Indians to live in Missouri and own property there.

It's irony that many minorities, just to survive, have tried to inch closer to "white", while whites themselves are often really empty and longing for the "color" of heritage, ethnicity, and culture. (Not to mention a suntan, haha.)

Far from being a utopic "melting pot" I think America (especially white America) is more like a confusing wad of tangles and knots, like when you take your EarPods out of your pocket. There's a good bit of time needed to untangle the mess. You want to hurry, but sometimes you just can't and need to spend time to see where a tangle or knot comes from in order to undo it.

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