I grew up in the semi-small town of Washington, PA which is about 30 minutes south of Pittsburgh. There were two public school districts in my hometown – the black school and the white school. Although whites still outnumbered blacks in “the black school” by about 60%, black culture still embedded “Prexie Land” as we called it.
Most white parents in my hometown would have preferred that their children attend “the white school” or private school, but in a low-income town, one must be highly privileged to attend a school outside of their home district or afford private school. Those who were middle class in my town, such as my family, would really have to make huge sacrifices to go outside their school district.
I attended private school 1.5 years of my k-12th grade life. I was also homeschooled for about 6 months in fifth grade. But other than those two years, I attended “the black school” every other year. In primary school I did not see race. My black friends were just my friends and I played with them the same way I played with my white friends. I am grateful that my parents started me out in a diverse school. In those early years of social development, I learned that black people were just people like myself. My little black girlfriends liked to have sleepovers, play barbies and “house” just like I did.
As middle school approached, racial tension stirred a bit more. My perception became that black girls were mean. I had several black friends who sort of turned on me in middle school for no apparent reason. It hurt my feelings of course and a lot of natural segregation started happening. By 8th grade, white girls generally hung out with white girls and black girls generally hung out with black girls. There was peace among the two groups for the most part, but not strong friendships like we had in elementary school.
Since I had a big mouth and refused to show my fear of black girls, I was threatened quite often. Nothing crazy, but I was kicked in the back once, my ponytail was yanked once, and I was often told I was going to get punched in the face. I am literally smiling while writing this because it sounds so much more serious and scary than it actually was. A lot of the black girls I grew up with actually had really amazing hearts, but were taught to be defensive and leery of white people. Looking back, I think black girls were afraid of me too. I think we struggled to understand each other and relate because our worlds were so different.
I can honestly say that I love black people and that their lives really do matter to me! I think in order for healing to take place between blacks and whites, we need to consider the other race more important than our own race. Philippians 2:3 states, do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Have many black girls been disrespectful to me? Yes and there is a part of me that wants to defend myself, but God is not in that business. God is in the business of redemption and reconciliation and this only happens when we begin to set our defensive feelings aside and validate the cries of others.
I will say the same thing to my black sisters: you girls are loved, but many white girls have been hurt by black girls and their perception is that black girls are mean, scary, and disrespectful. Are you going to get defensive over this or are you going to choose to love white girls and change their perception? We all have a part to play in restoring equality and justice and this means putting others above ourselves. This is Jesus’ way and it goes against everything within our humanity, but we must love those who may not love us back.
Although I could be wrong, I believe that many black girls were mean to me growing up because I was privileged and many of them were not. Although it is not fair to be mean to those who have more than us, it is certainly understandable. The girls I went to school with were facing battles at home and in society that I knew nothing about. It was not my fault that I did not understand as a kid, but as an adult, I have a responsibility to see the whole story and forgive.
I believe with all my heart that God is asking Christians (blacks & whites) to rise above the past wounds, forgive, and stand beside each other. While white people have faced racism for simply being white and of course our lives matter too, can we choose to look past it and stand with a people group that has faced severe oppression for hundreds of years in this country?
As God’s children, can we allow love to penetrate our political views and challenge old mindsets. Racism against blacks continues to get swept under the carpet. It is easy for us to ignore and excuse injustice that does not directly affect us or our families. But make no mistake, hate and inequality eventually affects everyone.
Mostly, what we need to do as white people is simply say “we hear you” and validate the cries of racism against blacks without adding statements that are self-serving or trying to change the focus of the conversation.
Black lives matter to me because black people are my family and friends. They matter because I played barbies and had sleepovers with black girls. They matter because black teens taught me how to dance in high school. They matter because black people are funny and cool to hang out with. They matter because they see the world differently and have a unique perspective to bring to the table. Black lives matter because they were created in the image of God just like I was.
I want my future children and grandchildren to have black friends who are just as privileged as they are. I want them to play together as children and stay close friends as teens and adults. I want them to “get” each other and accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I thank God for growing up in “the black school” because I had the privilege of experiencing the beauty and pain of diversity first hand. Breaking chains of inequality is no easy task, but if we choose to let go of past hurts, defensiveness and humbly put other people groups above ourselves, we will get there much faster and the the future will thank us for it!
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