Monday, July 7, 2014

The Magnetism of Racial Comfort

Sometimes I want to deny it’s there.  And for many, depending on your make up and your experiences, this may not be something you encounter.  Well, yesterday, I experienced a phenomenon I’ll call “racial comfort” for lack of a better term.  Some people may not “get” this post and that’s okay.  Maybe this post is more for me anyway.  Maybe I’m just letting you into my thoughts.

Yesterday, Isaiah was getting a little restless, so I sat with him in the lobby of our small church, near the front door.  We were about 45 minutes into the service, so I was somewhat surprised when an older Black woman entered the church  – surprised because we were already 45 minutes into service and surprised because she was Black (more about that in a second).  She looked through the windows on the doors to the sanctuary and explained that she had dropped her daughter and grandsons off and had gone to get money for the offering.  They had been trying to locate another church, but ended up at our church instead and decided to stay.  She didn’t want to enter the sanctuary while the pastor was speaking, so she sat in the chair next to mine and began talking to me and Isaiah.  She told me a little about herself, sat forward and said, “Let me hold that baby.”  Isaiah nestled in that woman’s bosom and drifted off to sleep.  As I watched this woman and listened to her, I was drawn to her.  I felt an instant comfort and connection that I hadn’t felt in while.  Why?  Let me explain.

I lived a great deal of my childhood and most of my adult life traversing a world where I was either the only or one of very few Black people.  We often lived in areas that were majority White.  Third through sixth grade, I was the only Black child.  In the eighth grade, there were me, another Black girl and a biracial girl who did not want to identify as any part of Black and teased me for being Black.  In college, we prided ourselves at being “minority students”, making up only around 10% of the student body.   I was often only one of a few Black people at my places of employment.  Even in my present church life with my own family, we have been part of majority White congregations since 2003.  I’m used to it.  We are all part of God’s created human race and I love my brothers and sisters of other skin colors and cultures.

But yesterday, when that Black woman walked through the door with her short, heavy-set stature, take-charge demeanor, dressed in her Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, pantyhose, heels, smelling of perfume – I was taken home… a home where comfort was found among my Black family.  Though this woman was likely only a few years older than my parents and didn’t bear a particular resemblance to my relatives, she was familiar.  I knew her.  She reminded me of the times I watched my grandmother get ready for church, hearing the swish, swish of her pantyhose as she walked.  She reminded me of Sunday dinners – fried chicken, greens, macaroni & cheese and cornbread.  She reminded me of a comforting hug that only “Grandma” can give.  I didn’t realize until today, how much I missed those things.

You might ask if it was her race that was so important.  You might say, maybe an older White woman with those same qualities would have evoked those same emotions, those same memories.  I will admit there are a few White brothers and sisters at our church who take me close to home from time-to-time.   It might be a phrase they use, something they wear, or a story they tell that takes me almost there.  But as the saying goes, “almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”.  It’s the whole package that takes me home – Black skin and a certain “way” she has about herself round out the package. 

Before anyone thinks I’ve gone off the racial deep end, I truly understand that ultimately my comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) and my home (dwelling place, Psalm 90:1) are found in the Lord.  However, I believe the Lord gave me a little gift yesterday in the comfort of the familiar. 

I don't know if anyone will be able to relate to what I’ve written.  Honestly, I probably haven’t conveyed my thoughts in the most coherent fashion anyway.  But like I said at the beginning, I think maybe this post is more for me and I’m just letting you in.  In Christ, Talya