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My Lived Experience

I am the White great great great granddaughter of a confederate soldier who served under Nathan Bedford Forest, the first grand knight of the KKK. While this is my heritage, it is not something I am proud of. As much as it connects me to the very troubled history of this nation and helps define me as an American, I am much more than than the people who came before me.

I was born in southern Alabama in 1975 and lived in Memphis, Cincinnati, and until we moved to the Detroit suburbs around 1978. My mother, who was adopted at age three and was from Indianapolis and my father was from Alabama. My father left my life around the time we moved North. And I didn’t see him again until I was 37 years old. My mother remarried and my stepdad was born in Michigan, (but his mother was from Tennessee) and adopted me. This woman’s southern influence in my life was strong and wonderful. Her love and acceptance of me were more powerful than words can describe but she came from a different time.

My mother’s adopted mom told her she couldn’t’ have black friends. They were not allowed in her home. My mother hated that. She knew that was wrong. She raised me to welcome all people at our table. And to this day, many of my diverse friends call her mom too. 

I grew up lower-middle class and our neighbors were Black. My friends’ names were Heather (polish), Shalonda, Tequila, Marquetta, Agnes (polish), and Dawn. My school was predominantly white but my neighborhood bordered a predominantly black city. And our streets were filled with kids, that were all colors of the beautiful rainbow. 

I have gone to college in rural Michigan, in a suburb of Detroit, as well as in midtown Detroit. I have seen how education and learning experiences in different environments change based on where you study. My master’s degree is in communication but focuses primarily on intercultural communication. And my thesis focused on Diversity Training Ineffectiveness. I learned about Black culture, call and response in the church, code-switching, and the power of Hip Hop, I learned about Middle  Eastern troupes in movies and media, I learned about the power of storytelling in Asian and Native American Indian Cultures. I learned about how culture informs our experience and affects how, why, and the way we communicate and interact in society. This includes the psychology, anthropology, and sociology of these minorities as they exist in the whiteness of this America.

I thought I knew what racism and culture were. I thought I was open-minded, progressive, and liberal. What I didn’t know is…I didn’t really know.

I have lived almost a decade (about 25% of my life) in the south since I married my army husband, seven years in North Carolina, and two years in Virginia. Our neighbors and friends have been Black, White, German, Middle Eastern, Italian, and Hispanic. I have lived in Spain and Brazil. I have traveled all over the world and throughout our amazing country. I have been the only white person in a sea of dark faces, I have been spit on by police for being the other. But my experiences are very minor compared to those who live as the other EVERY. SINGLE. Day.

Before I got married I dated a diverse group of men. I dated White men, Black men, Philipino men, French men, Peruvian men, Spanish men, Indian (from India) men, and Lebanese men. I also sought out friends from all over the world. I loved the things that made us different. I loved learning about their language, culture, religion, food, and traditions. I served on a board of directors for an organization that welcomed diplomats from other countries to Detroit by hosting them for dinners in our homes so they could experience what our lives were actually like. I have learned more from my travels and these relationships about what it means to be American than from my own education and upbringing.

I have worked in fast food, I have worked in corporate America, I have helped build a startup. I now own my own marketing company. I have worked very hard for everything that I have. My ethics, sense of fairness, integrity and my word are everything. I am extremely authentic. What you see is what you get. I am also joyful. Kindness, love, and laughter is everything.  

I am a foster mom to four Black & biracial children, the adopted mom of a Black son, and a stepmom to a White son. It wasn’t until my fierce loyalty and love of these children grew, that I started to see how deeply ingrained racism is in our society. My first real wake up call was when Treyvon Martin was murdered. Our own foster son was about the same age and wore hoodies and was truly an innocent soul that I started to see the people I loved in the faces of those being murdered. Our foster daughter also felt extreme shame in going places as a family because so many people looked at us and whispered. I kept telling her that we should be proud to be a true example of what love and acceptance is… not just mere tolerance. All of a sudden black people talked to us more. All of a sudden our white friends didn’t share racist jokes anymore (thank goodness). We were part of a different club. I actively sought out Black connections for my kids so that they saw people who looked like them. Who they could ask tough questions about the police and Black history. Because that simply was not my experience and no matter how much I learned, I was never going to be Black in this country. 

When we adopted our Black son, we made a very conscious choice to surround him with Black culture. We researched and purchased children’s books that celebrated Black history, amazing Black people, and stories that elevated his blackness. We sought out toys that looked like him. Which is actually still pretty difficult. There is a sea of white superheroes but there are only a handful of Black ones. We did this because our positive white narrative was everywhere but positive blackness narratives needed to be found. White parents have the privilege to unconsciously parent around these same issues. 

We watched very eye-opening independent movies and documentaries about the black experience. (There needs to be more.) They touched on issues of education, housing, drugs, incarceration, music, and injustice. We read about trans racial adoptions. And our very important role as White parents to a Black child. We began to understand that many Black and White people didn’t want us raising a child outside of our race. And issues of colorism were brought to our attention. Will our son ever be truly Black enough to fit in or White enough to feel accepted? We sought deeper connections with our Black friends. Had tougher conversations. Asked unsafe questions. We began this long journey of awareness.

White supremacy is rooted in our education. Is depicted in our statues and what is revered. Is spoonfed to us via the media. Through words and images. I feel like my lived experience is uncharacteristically varied and diverse and I am still truly struggling with my inherent whiteness. Ironically, that very privilege has allowed me these exact and varied experiences. And to be safe doing it. We have been indoctrinated in this country to not even see our whiteness. We only see the other. But in 30 years, we will be the minority. What then? 

My stamina for racial inequality and injustice is low. I have not had to face this head-on for my entire life. As I learn, I am building the mental muscles and capacities to question the “truths,” to check myself, and to call out racism when I see it. This is so extremely difficult. Oftentimes, I am gutted when I learn of Black history and how Whites have perpetrated crimes and injustices. I have tremendous anxiety about this topic. I genuinely fear for my son’s life. He is my everything. The cost is high. What if he wears a hoodie, says the wrong thing, is in the wrong place, what if he commits a crime and his life is snuffed out? By white people who fear him or police officers who should be protecting him? 

I find myself praying for the right words and resources to inspire change and to help people become more self-aware of the systemic racism in this country. I also pray for the grace to forgive people for what they do not know. To have the patience and understanding that this internal reckoning is hard. But its not nearly as hard as what Black people have lived through. I pray for strength for them to have the wisdom to guide us, to be angry in ways that teach us (kneeling, rioting, singing, dancing, speaking, sharing, etc.), and to have the fortitude to deal with our continued ignorance as we navigate through all of this “new” information. It’s a lot to unpack.

We are all part of the Human Race and we all descend genetically from black women in Africa. My blackness has just faded over time due to living conditions, climate, and diet. I recently completed the Ancestry.com DNA test. I have Nigerian blood in me. I also have European DNA. My Black son also has these same genetic markers. We are more alike genetically but we have very different lived experiences in the United States of America. 

I have people whom I love dearly who have ended conversations and threatened business contracts because I simply shared what they are posting and sharing on social media, has a bias, or is racist. They are more worried about protecting the status quo and what they know then stopping, listening, and realizing that maybe just maybe I have a point. They are so fragile in their whiteness that any new information seems to question who they are. I am not saying you are a bad person. But I am saying this reality exists. And I need your help to know when it is presenting itself in your words. 

When I am confronted with the idea that I have hurt someone, I genuinely reflect and want to affirm those I have hurt. Not make excuses or justifications for my behavior. I want to grow and learn. We have a social responsibility to learn. This is no different. I have a son, who deserves to know his mother will fight for him until the day I die. What am I fighting for? A life without fear, hate, and ugliness from the society he lives in because he was simply born with Black skin. I want a future that is better for him and my grandchildren. This is my legacy.  

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