Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause,” (Isaiah 1:17).
My heart has been heavy this past week. I haven’t brought myself to watch the video of George Floyd because I’m not sure I can handle it. I’ve spent a lot of time journaling and processing my hurt through worship and sharing them with my husband. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on here because I feel like this space is my own and my hope is that if you’re reading this you would hear my heart.
The first black person that I knew that had died of police brutality in my community was Amadou Diallo in 1999. I was around 8 years old and lived four blocks away from where it happened. He was shot 41 times by four white cops due to racial profiling. His death was one of the first deaths protested about in NYC. Right now it’s 2020, and we’re protesting the same issues.
I remember growing up my dad would always make remarks about how he never wanted me to date a black man. The idea of having brown or black grandchildren just wasn’t something he saw appealing. Yet he himself has brown skin. Both of my parents have a much darker complexion than me. My grandparents were also darker-skinned and had indigenous features. For all of my life, I’ve been considered the fair skin girl with pretty hair. Between my mom and dad, I was the light skin girl.
I grew up in the South Bronx where everyone was a minority but blacks folks were always painted out to be thugs or low class, it wasn’t white people saying that… it was Latinos around me. My community was considered to be one of the many areas in the Bronx to live in poverty. I lived on the street near the projects where people would be robbed and shot all the time. It was the norm and I wasn’t scared of it because I was used to it. But my family would always make remarks about how I needed to watch out for the black men around me. My aunt experienced a robbery in our building once by a black man and that only added to her negative perception of black men. She feared them, especially in our neighborhood.
I very much stood by this idea that I saw “no color”, I guess I thought that by seeing no color I was just acknowledging that I saw people for what they were and loved them. But I never realized that by saying “ I don’t see color” I was not acknowledging the identity of someone, who they were, their culture, or who was raising them.
I am half Dominican and Honduran, my deep roots are indigenous and of African descent. The skin color of my family members ranges from all shades, light to dark. Racism, Colorism, discrimination, and microaggressions have been part of my upbringing. It wasn’t till a few years ago that I acknowledged it. Poverty and lack of opportunities have taught me that there is a race that has the upper hand. The hate within the Latino community also taught me that. The lack of empathy and acknowledgment of privilege from white folks taught me that too. As I’ve reflected on my life and uprooted things from my heart in therapy, I’ve gained a lot of insight into my own prejudices and even insensitive comments against black people, white people, and other races.
And I’ll be honest to share that the more Calvin’s skin darkened and the more his hair curled into a fro, I became unsettled for many reasons. The biggest one was admitting to myself that I believed others would find him less beautiful because of it and I feared that others would look at him and judge the man he will be based on his skin and culture. I remember the first time a Dominican woman asked me if Calvin was half black and I told her he was Dominican, (Afro-Latino), She sighed with relief and said “oh good because you’re very fina” in Spanish that means beautiful or good looking. That moment really stood with me because I wondered what she would have said if I said that he was half black? I wondered why I didn’t dismiss her or why I didn’t say that I found it offensive that she even asked me that. It was the first time I felt like someone looked at my son and saw him less beautiful because he didn’t have my skin color or hair.
I’ve spent a lot of time embracing Calvin’s hair as something beautiful rather than “bad”. In the beginning, I didn’t- I didn’t like it. I didn’t know how to embrace it because I don’t have his hair. The more I wrestled with why I wanted to cut it the more I realized that I had a standard of what beauty looked like and it didn’t really look like him. As I unpacked that I shared with my husband that I would not cut Calvin’s hair anymore. I would have to learn to embrace and even learn how to care for it. And for some people, they might say “hair is not a big deal”, but it is. When I’ve listened to my black and Afro- Latina friends share about how much shame and lack of beauty they felt growing up because having an afro or curly hair meant you had “bad hair”, I think about Calvin. I never want him to feel like He’s less beautiful. I never want my family to make him think that embracing his hair or skin color is wrong. I’ve spent nights thinking of how much harder opportunities might be for him, not because he isn’t intelligent, but because of the skin he lives in and the culture he embodies. His skin color scares me because I’m not sure what life could look like for him outside in the world. I look at our friends and their children are much lighter than him and I must confess that sometimes I wonder if they find him to be beautiful. This mindset rooted in believing that one race is more beautiful than the other, it breaks my heart to think I even have these thoughts.
We must seek Justice, we must believe that #blacklivematter Matters! We must weep with those that weep.
So when I think about my black brothers and sisters, the most loving thing I can do is first check myself and I must embrace their color and the stories that come with it. It’s seeing them for all they are and acknowledging that although I’m a minority and person of color, I have not experienced racism like them. I hold privileges by being a much lighter Latina. My experiences are different than theirs and so will Calvin’s. Just because my son is brown skin, I can’t say that his experience with racism in society will be like his black friends. I’m saddened and broken over the pain that the black community is experiencing right now and I write this in the most transparent way that I can.
I can only teach Calvin the value his life holds no matter what society or those around him tell him. It’s my job for him to understand that he will have friends that he has to advocate for or teach his wife and children about the challenges people of color face. I hope to raise a son that sees not only his own color but acknowledges that color matters. I would be failing as a mother if I didn’t check my heart for whatever sin I hold against race.
So I challenge you to check your heart, if you’re Christian I hold you to a high standard to not hold any hate or racist thoughts against your own people or others. Racism is not a sin of one race, we can all be racist against someone.
If you’re a parent, it’s your job to speak life and truth into the hearts and minds of your children. How are you empowering them to feel enough and valuable? How are you teaching them that others that don’t look like them hold that same value? No matter the color of their skin. What hard conversations need to be had with them about their race? What books do you need to start reading with them?
If you’re like me right now still trying to educate yourself and acknowledge that you may never experience what black people experience in society in this day of age, I hope you continue learning, asking questions, and checking yourself. Love on your friend’s mourning right now. Ask them how you can stand with them during this time. What are the hard conversations you need to be having with family or friends who don’t get why #blacklivesmatter is so important or why racism and race need to be talked about? How are you impacting your community at small?
And if you don’t understand what’s happening and you can’t seem to empathize with the pain and trauma of the black community, I’m praying for you. That your heart would feel and turn away from any racist or discrimination you may hold over the black community. Acknowledge what privileges you have had in your life and the ones that others will never get as easy as you. In this country, light is higher than dark, and that is the truth of America.
To my black brothers and sisters, I pray that your hearts would be comforted and justice would come. Be hopeful. May you be embraced and have others stand on your behalf to remind you that you are valuable and meant to be treated with dignity and honor, just as any other human. God is a God of justice and He sees you, all of you. Remember that you are enough, not only because of the color of your skin but because you were made in the image of God that loves you.
To my son Calvin, I love all of you and I’m sorry if I ever once thought that you were any less beautiful. You are enough, you are beautiful and you are made in the image of a God that created you with value and purpose.