I have a bright pink hand. I love being fun mommy until clean up. This time my “fun art mommy mood” resulted in my hand being dyed and the worst part is the dye wouldn’t come off. Actually, the worst part was when I realized that I would need to go to the church meeting with a bright pink hand in less then an hour and Pinterest had no ideas for removing hot pink dye from your hand. Guess they put protective gloves in these art kits for a reason.
I hate to admit it, but as I got ready for that meeting I thought, “Should I try to match my shirt with my hand?” During the meeting, I found myself holding my bag in the pink hand hoping it would get hidden. Without thought, I even slid my hand under my leg as I sat down. I am a pretty self-assured person which made me almost laugh out loud when I caught myself hiding my difference.
Ends up…a pink hand at church was quite the little conversation starter.
I got a kick out of the different reactions: “What fun project did you do today?” another mom asked me right out. I sighed and smiled. Later another woman commented, “Oops, you had quite a spill.” I jumped in to explain. Both women kindly meant to start a conversation, and they succeeded. I enjoyed telling the ladies about the fun afternoon I had with my kiddos.
You know, the whole evening got me thinking. Because of the way I reacted to my hand and the way others reacted, my wandering brain ended up on a topic that has been causing our family to react.
Now, before you go all reactionary on me, please understand that I am not writing a post about how my white self all of a sudden understands my brown children since I went out in public once with a pink hand. Actually, the opposite is true.
Would I have fit in any better if another one of the 50 people at the meeting last night had a pink hand?
It isn’t very often that I am in the minority now. We live in sweet Southern town that is not all white, but there are no Asians. (Well, there is one Chinese family who runs a restaurant in town and I am told they have a daughter in the third grade.) This causes an internal struggle as hubby and I parent a multi-ethnic village.
But we haven’t always been in the majority. When we lived in a city of a million people in China – now, that is a time when I was in the minority. I was watched, was questioned, was misunderstood and just plain did not fit in, no matter how hard I worked at knowing the language and the culture. I wasn’t Chinese. Never would be. I could act Chinese, eat Chinese, speak Chinese – but on the outside I would always be different. I vividly remember how that felt, and it makes me sensitive to the needs of my multi-eithnic family which is living in a mono-chromatic world.
This sensitivity is the exact opposite of how I grew up. I am from a small ( I mean one stoplight small) farming community in Michigan where my whole world was white. Actually, if you had asked me back then, I would have told you that my whole world WAS NOT white. (I had one friend in science class who wasn’t. I think she was adopted. And there were a couple of girls on the track team…..) My world was small and I thought that everyone was the same and I treated everyone the same. Colorblind is how I would have labeled it. Naive is how you should have labeled me.
I often have heard people say that they don’t notice ethnicity. They are “colorblind.” And while I understand what they are trying to say, I do find it interesting that I have never been told that by any of my African-American or Asian friends. But I am getting ahead of myself in the story.
I added to my naivety by attending an almost all white Christian liberal arts school. What I learned in those four incredible years shaped my faith – but looking back, I must admit that my world view was still somewhat lacking. It was my years with InterVarsity that began my journey to really understand what it means to live in a multi-ethnic world. I had some key folks from different ethnic backgrounds who were willing to shake my rose colored glasses off my face. I began to consider the role ethnicity plays in how I view the world and how I connect with God — a learning curve that was greatly enhanced by reading and openly discussing “Being White” by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp with our staff team.
(Side story: During this time our oldest son, who was attending pre-school, said he hated “that black kid” on the way to school. Inside, I came unglued, hyper-ventilated and was sure I was raising a bigot! I pulled it together and walked my son into pre-school where I ran into Mrs. Black whose son had been picking on Soccer Dude at recess. You can’t imagine my relief to meet the Black family who was very white. hehehehe.)
So why am I telling you all of this along with a stupid story of a dye mishap?
I am wrestling. I don’t want to raise my children to think color doesn’t matter and I sure don’t want my kids to think that they need to work hard in order to fit in and be something they are not.
I watched a documentary based on the lives of some adopted girls from China. One teen described herself as a twinkie, yellow on the outside and white on the inside. I am sure that is how many adopted children feel. Kinda white. Kinda not. That is how Roo, our second daughter, felt after spending several of her formative years in China. She announced that she wanted to be the first Chinese-American president of the United States. Hmmm. So cute, and so mixed up.
So my journey to understand ethnicity has taken on a whole new level of ferocity. For my children, (not just the two Asians, but all four), I want to instill in them a deep level of knowing who they are. We have started by teaching them they are all made in the image of God – I am still looking for ways to take it from there.
So that will be the next blog post on ethnicity. I want to keep talking about this and hearing your ideas. I am sure many of you have been at this longer and own it more deeply – so please share your wisdom and I will add my tid-bits to yours.
For now, my wisdom. Wear the protective gloves that come with the tye die kit because color does matter. Allow God to help you take off the rose colored glasses because ethnicity matters too.
Will you join me on this journey?