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Skin Color, Division and Choice

My heart hurts today. I feel and see the lines of division all around. There are so many ways we are divided or that we choose to be divided. Division is a choice. We can choose to be divided by physical, psychological or mental challenges, religious or spiritual beliefs, economic status, sexual orientation and a million other ways. Right now we are seeing the division that can be created based on skin color. I am a very fair skinned cacausian woman. In my life thus far I have been fortunate to engage with and in some cases befriend diverse groups of people including African Americans. I was born in Central California where there was a population of African Americans. I had African American friends and thought nothing of it. Perhaps that’s beauty of the child’s mind. I just wanted to play and we were having fun together. Skin color was no barrier to having fun and learning from each other. Once I got to college, I was given the opportunity to support first generation college students as a peer advisor and later as a Counselor Intern. Most of the students I supported were Latinos, Latino American, African American, Asian or Asian American. During this time I served in two intensive summer programs as a peer advisor to help incoming freshman get prepared to enter into college. This was a profound culturally rich experience for me on so many levels. There were so many learning opportunities that arose from my time with this program, but one that really sticks with me to this day. After one of the summer programs, I was invited by one of my African American co-workers to a family picnic at a city park. Some other co-workers were invited as well. Upon arrival to the park, I noticed that I was the only white person in the entire park. This was a first for me. I certainly stood out and definitely got some looks. I don’t recall all the feelings I had at that moment, but I certainly remember being very relieved to be walking in with friends. I was immediately taken over and introduced to the family matriarch, Aunt Diane. Aunt Diane had a warm, yet commanding presence. She didn’t hesitate a moment before giving me one of the most encompassing hugs I’ve ever had in my life. In that embrace I knew I was safe and after that I felt like I had fewer eyes focused in on me. I had been given the Aunt Diane blessing. Fast forward a number of years, my mother was a member and one of the leaders of a professional organization for many years. One of the members of her group, an incredible African American man who lifted many others up in so many ways, died unexpectedly and she wanted to attend his funeral. My mother has some physical challenges and at this time her neck was really causing her lots of pain. I told her that I wanted to drive her to the funeral as it was in Oakland, CA. I had lived in around the Bay Area and knew a bit about where the funeral was located and didn’t want my mom to negotiate that area on her own with a restricted neck. When we arrived at the church, the first thing I noticed was the large amount of people, literally standing room only, that had gathered to honor this man as well as the diversity in the crowd, albeit, not as many caucasian people. As we entered the front door, someone who knew my mother and knew she was coming swooped over and took my mother by the arm. This was a pretty big church. We were led up to the choir box and were seated looking out toward the entire group that had assembled for this honoring of life. “Oh, boy”, I thought, ”what the heck are we doing up here” and “oh wow, are we ever white”, sticking out like sore thumbs. We were surrounded by a number of African American women who respected my mother. I felt some relief in this, but really felt like we shouldn’t be up there and maybe that was my own stuff showing through as I was really there to support my mother. She had been a high ranking officer in the professional organization where she helped create coalitions among various members of the organization, so perhaps that is why we were seated up in that choir box. The value that I found in this experience is that moment when my mother and I were immediately greeted and escorted into the gathering. There was a sense of safety and reverence created in that action. Almost like being accepted in an instant, the same feeling I had when Aunt Diane enveloped me in her arms. I am deeply grateful for these experiences to aid in my understanding of humanity on a deeper level. While I feel very deeply and have the ability to put myself in someone’s shoes, I will never fully understand what it would be like to be a African American person in our current society. I can be like Aunt Diane and the woman who escorted my mother and I into the church when the situation calls for it. I can be inclusive. I can stay curious about others rather than fearful. I can tap into the innocence of a child and reach out a hand in play. I can lead from my heart. I can stay open. I can seek understanding, build bridges and hope from the deepest part of my being that others open their hearts and minds to what is possible when we begin to create and live cooperatively with no division based on skin color or any other way we’ve created to divide ourselves.

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