Dangerously Different

Having been born in the Deep South I have a heritage steeped in both immense pride and terrible shame. I was born in Louisiana, lived in Texas and Georgia, graduated high school in Mississippi. I have close family in Arkansas and am raising a family in Alabama – I get it, I truly do. I get what our unique culture offers, good and bad. I have experienced it.

My friend and pastor often says that a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. This is so true. I have experienced a unique and sometimes dangerously different way of life that can’t be argued away. It doesn’t matter one bit if you refuse to agree or refuse to see, my experience will not yield to your arguments.

Twenty years ago I would have just turned thirty and have been feeling quite grown up with some strong opinions on the ways of life, the ways of the world. Had you asked me about racism I would have expressed that it was a terrible, unacceptable, shameful part of our past. I was convinced. I would have tried to convince you. That was my experience as a white, middle class woman of the Deep South.

Then, our life changed drastically when we became foster parents. Suddenly my experiences were changing because a whole new ‘world’ within the world I thought I knew so well was revealed to me. I began to see clearly that racism was most certainly not a thing of the past and even within the hearts of people who claimed to harbor no racism, there were invisible but firm lines drawn in the proverbial sand of what was acceptable and not acceptable.

It was one thing to bring a child of a different skin color into our home temporarily as a foster child. It was quite another to consider adopting that same child and making them a permanent part of the family. It was one thing to allow their toddler daughter to be a playmate to our dark skinned son, quite another to think they might ever date.

Little by little, experience by experience, everything changed, especially me. Some of the people we loved, people we respected, people we considered friends took a stand and they stood on the other side of one of those invisible but firm lines of what was to be tolerated and what wasn’t.

Jesse came to us as a two-week old, 5lb, premie baby and absolutely stole my heart at first glance. To this day, he is the only baby I’ve ever gone into a hospital nursery and worn a paper gown to hold. His skin was very dark and his head full of hair. He was the most beautiful child I had ever beheld as they placed him in my eager and empty arms. It never even crossed my mind that the whole world wouldn’t be as thrilled, as entranced as I was. I would soon learn differently.

So, I was a bit blindsided by some of the reactions towards this light skinned momma and dark skinned baby. There were times of bold questions, hostile glares, snide remarks and rude comments. Surely these were just the few, the exceptions, the ignorant, was how I reasoned it all out.

At first I was hurt and humiliated. Then I became angry and offended. Some days I was more long suffering than others. Some days I was more scared than others. I was suddenly quite aware that to many, the love of a white momma for a black child was viewed as dangerously different.

When we found out we would be able to adopt Jesse (two and a half years later) I knew that we could not enter into such a commitment without a plan in place. Where we lived, how we educated, the church we attended, would all be decided with this thought in mind. Little did we know that Jesse would be the first of seven adoptions.

Twenty years later, things have changed a lot. There has been improvement. But, like a disease laden cockroach that scurries into a crack when the light comes on, racism is still there. Perhaps, as many point out, it always has and always will be. Perhaps. But, the fact that is has existed a long time, that others are doing it too, that ‘we aren’t the only ones wrong’ does NOT make it right. It does not mean we should ignore or defend it. If I see a roach in my kitchen I will not shrug my shoulders and explain to my family that people in the north have roaches too. I will not justify that my neighbor has more roaches than me, so we aren’t so bad. I will address it, take measures to exterminate it and keep my family safe. I will turn on the light.

Yesterday, I took my seven children to the zoo and for the first time in a long time I was reminded of how some people view us. It was a trip down a memory lane that I honestly would rather avoid. One man dropped his hands to his side and openly gaped as my tall, man sized Jesse lovingly draped his long arm over my shoulder for a moment as we walked by. Another younger man actually sneered at me, making a point to make eye contact with me expressing his open disapproval as he passed us in the crowd. Others frowned as my son Josiah held hands with his fair skinned girlfriend. Some raised their eyebrows when my little ones called me momma. I ignored these ignorant people and like a little momma hen, focused on my brood of children around me. Were they safe? Were they aware?

I breathed a sigh of relief. They were watching the animals. They were oblivious to the people who watched them disapprovingly. We saw some very dangerous creatures yesterday. Creatures that required cages and bars and precautions. Unfortunately, to many people our family, with a wide range of skin colors was the most dangerously different of all.

“Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn’t know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.”(1 John 2:9-11 MSG)

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15 thoughts on “Dangerously Different”

  1. Stephanie, I don’t have the words to respond to this in a way that expresses the emotions I’m feeling right now. I’m in tears. When I saw the picture of your beautiful family yesterday, what came to my mind was just “what a happy bunch! look at those smiles!” I cannot imagine the small-minded ignorance of people who would see you and openly mock and stare.

    This is a powerful piece of writing, straight from your heart, and your love shines through every word. Thank you for writing it,

  2. Very beautifully written, Stephanie!!! (You are a great writer, BTW!) It brought tears to my eyes too! I know exactly what you are talking about. But your family is BEAUTIFUL and I LOVE the love I see in every face. Who cares what ignorant, racist people think? God is the only one whose opinion really matters anyway. 🙂 And you know what’s funny? Some people will actually see you in the opposite way. Different races together is “trendy” and cool. I just hope some day we will see people as people, not races, and we will love everybody the same, without considering their race. God created all men equal, and Americans, especially Christians, should realize that. Our country was supposed to have been founded on that principle, after all.

  3. Deep thoughts, Stephanie. I wrote a novel about racism a few years back and remember that my editor argued with me– she didn’t think it still existed. But it does, and in some of the least-expected places. God bless your beautiful family.:-)

  4. What a beautiful family! I have recently been disheartened and, I must say, surprised that the recent Cheerios with a mixed-race couple got flack. I really thought we were, on the whole, past this. (My own background–I live in OR and grew up in Canada. And I’m white.) I see lots of mixed-race couples and have never thought to be bothered by it.

  5. I had a time in my life where I had to bear witness to racism where children were concerned..I applaud you..A Momma loves here babies, she doesn`t even notice their skin color..I was Blessed to be put in a Foster Mom position to numerous children/teenagers during my life in St.Louis..Some were just throw away kids..I could not believe how some parents could just ignore their own child and their needs..I was never a “Legal” Foster Mom..I was just Mama Mary..a place you could sleep, inside, get a meal if you were hungry, get help with anything I could possible have knowledge to be able to help..I was a teenage Mom..When they came to my house, there were no colors, it was left outside..There were only God given names, for me, I didn`t want to know who you had to be on the street…I was just becoming a Christian myself and I can say now with all certainty, that those were my tests that were going to build my Faith as well as theirs…Many died, breaks my heart, but I do they had more from knowing me, than what they had to stay away from at home..I also, thanks to FB, get to keep up with several who made it, and because of my love for them, they become educated, independent, a good parent, just Giving God all the Glory that he deserves…The fact they still believe in God and that no one is any better or worse than the other, gives me a full heart and peace of mind knowing I did what they needed,..and didn`t care what society and any given race thought about me…I loved those kids and am very proud of who I helped them become..and not one time did it have to do with skin color…

    1. That sounds like many seeds of love and faith were planted. I am able to stay in touch with some of my former foster children as well on FB.

      God Bless you for investing in others.

  6. Unfortunately it’s not prevalent just in the south, it’s everywhere. I’m on the West Coast. As a light skinned black woman I don’t feel it nearly as much as my husband who is dark. He still gets followed by new police officers in our predominately white small city even though we’ve lived here over 35 years. My ds29 got stopped by the police while walking to a movie because he was wearing a dark jacket like a burglar they had been looking for. That was the reason they had for questioning him. Except the description of the burglar was Hispanic and had been happening on the opposite side of town. I’ve had people ask me if my family was brought here by a program (dh and I both went to the university here) and as recent as two years ago had the parents of my 18yo son react in open mouth surprise that we had lived here longer than them and were university grads. My fear is that people will react first when they see the color of my children’s skin before they get to know them for the wonderful people they are. Keep being that momma bear. Things change one person at a time.

    1. Thank you for that perspective. I often tell my children if everyone’s skin was the same shade people who want to hate would find another difference to focus on.
      I’m trying my best to see that my children are raised to be tolerant of differences. Thankfully, they are so comfortable in their own skin that they don’t internalize any looks or comments. They usually say, “That dude has a problem.” And they are right.

  7. Reblogged this on Stephanie Rodda and commented:

    So, today this blog entry came up on my memories, I wrote this three years ago.

    It may seem a strange thing to say your own writing moved you to tears, but in this case it is the simple truth. Of course I was carried on the wings of memories to precious moments from the past. A small portion of Jesse’s adoption story is included. It’s such a beautiful example of how God has formed our family so lovingly together.

    I’ve recently spoken to a literary agent about the possibility of writing about our adoption stories. I’ve hesitated to do so because, well, they are so personal. Reading this blog myself today afresh and anew has given me the courage to try.
    They are such stories or love conquering the very things that want to tear us apart and using the very glue of adversity to bind us together.

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