My white, largely military and conservative, family in rural Southern Oregon did not necessarily set me up well to develop my Black identity.
I always joke that if I were to write a memoir about those early years that it would be called Grandma Tried. But really…she did try, but the reality of racist family roots on all sides doesn’t set a white woman up well to raise her biracial granddaughter to be a picture of #blackgirlmagic.
Through buying me black dolls and toys, and telling me I was beautiful, she tried.
Let’s just say however, that no amount of parental love and intentionality can block the racial confusion that I experienced and have responded to for the majority my life. I won’t even try to act like I am some beaming picture of self-actualized Blackness, because again, 20 years of racial confusion doesn’t lend itself to simple and painless identity (re)formation.
But the killing of Michael Brown and the consequent and unsurprising lack of indictment for Darren Wilson unexpectedly pushed me into political and social activism.
The work resulted in the loss of many friends, family, and ministry supporters. I was criticized, questioned, mocked, or maybe even worse, ignored, as I attempted to navigate the confusion that I was experiencing mourning the loss of a man I had never known and the series of brothers whose lives were taken after his.
When I came home it was the first time that my family ignored my existence over a holiday and actively voiced their discontent with my participation in #blacklivesmatter.
Honestly, I didn’t think that would be so hard. We weren’t that close to begin with, but there is a certain comfort in not being alone over holidays even if it is with people who you constantly fight with or disagree.
The human existence is not intended to be experienced alone, and I realized that my Blackness had cost me something: my family.
The loss of my family connections revealed the isolation I was experiencing in moving to a small predominately and unapologetically white city 6 months before for work. I didn’t realize the level in which I felt deceived, angry, and isolated for the sake of my job. And right, as Christians we get super twisty around calling and will justify all sorts of avoidable pain and isolation in the name of the gospel. I certainly felt called to move but the lack of support for me as a Black woman from my organization who claims a value for the well being of Black staff and students, manifested in bitter conversations filled with racial niceties that did very little to address the confusion and isolation I was experiencing.
There was not a single person I felt like I could turn to engage my own emotions.
I attempted a counselor and friends, but I felt more isolated as I sought to explain why what I was feeling was legitimate.
My value organizationally was in my work and activism; however, as a low-identity, bi-racial person, my own association with Black folks in the organization did more to make me feel isolated and on the outside than even the loss of my family.
I was drawn back to a reality that I have known all too well. I am too black to be white, and too white to be black.
I became an angry Black woman ready to shut some things down. I was mad about the isolation, I was mad about the indifference, I was mad about the lip service paid to deeds done in the past whether organizationally or individually, and I was mad that I was mad.
It was in that emotion, for the first time in my life, that I had most felt like I could relate to the Black community…and that was pretty devastating.
I didn’t enter into higher identity blackness through music, food, dancing, story, or joy- I entered in through pain.
It was at that point of anger than my commitment to stop pandering to whiteness was birthed.
I quit dealing with the non-sense of people thrusting their hands into my hair, I allowed respectability politics in my speech to dissolve, I started using the word “militant,” and I quit centering my conversations about race on white people’s feelings.
It totally sucked.
People hate not being pandered to, and I realized the deeply seeded fear of Black people’s anger in a new way. I finally began to understand the indignation of my friends from college in my ethnic studies program. I am more and more grateful to my friends who were always considered too angry or militant-
I realize now, that they were just responding appropriately to the dehumanization of their community’s bodies. So, specific shout out to my queer people of color friends who taught me, even years after the fact, that anger isn’t evil…it is a response to evil. You have impacted my pedagogy and practical theology profoundly.
Then I attended a gathering in Ferguson put on by “Concerned Black Academics” as a reflection on the events of the previous year and #blacklivesmatter, and I was like a kid in a candy store.
I thought I knew stuff before I went to Ferguson…I left realizing that I hadn’t known a thing. I saw things there that I literally never thought that I would that restored my soul in an indescribable way:
I saw Black woman in academia speaking to the realities of racial disparities in the church
I saw the church, the Black church at that, partnering with queer people of color to fight for their mutual liberation
I watched a White man preach to a Black church about white privilege and power in the church and on the streets
I saw a worship team affirming the dignity of Black lives on stage with #blacklivesmatter shirts
I saw the memorial to Michael Brown Jr. and watched clergy come and mourn his death a year later
I heard people speak with hope in the midst of pain for racial justice
I saw white people make space for Black voices
I gained hope that others would come along on this journey with me, I gained friends to be with me, I gained theology that told me that my life matters, and I gained mentorship that has been profoundly impactful since.
This year God taught me that I am not alone and that I, in all of the beautiful and dynamic Blackness that he has given me, am enough.
It is enough for the people around me and it is enough for him. God takes joy in the robustness of my identity and I receive it as a gift given from God himself through all of you who have been on this journey with me. May 2016 bare the fruit of this version of myself- this truer manifestation of who, deep down, I have always been.
This is an excerpt from the post I Was Born a Poor White Child on Brandi Miller’s blog stirringupholymischief.com .