June 28, 2010
“The spirit I had caught gave me insight into the sufferings of others, made me gravitate toward those whose feelings were like my own, made me sit for hours while others told me of their lives, made me strangely tender and cruel, violent and peaceful.” — Richard Wright
I was reluctant to publish my last post, “Intruder,” because of the potential controversy it would spark. But then, I think, that is our problem. We’re afraid to speak of or deal with unsafe matters or uncharted territory.
The lack of feedback “Intruder” received in relationship to the number of hits it had is astonishing. You read it, you squirmed a little, you pointed your finger at me through the screen, you nodded at me, you high-fived me, you rolled your eyes at me, you shook your head, you “unfriended” me, you befriended me. But you dare not comment.
I don’t mind, actually. I have a fear of commitment, too. And I don’t expect you to expose your discomfort or knowledge or lack thereof on my website. Your private issues are between you and your God. But, this is my website. I’ve not assumed some pen name or Internet-friendly persona. It’s me. And I choose to divulge what I choose to divulge. And if you read my point of view, I hope you do squirm a little.
You don’t know me well enough to properly interpret what I had to say. You don’t know me well enough to understand the time I’ve invested in African American studies — and not just in books or churches. You don’t know me well enough to understand that I’m not just curious. You don’t know me well enough to know how many black churches or other organizations across the country I’ve walked into alone. You don’t know me well enough to know how many times I’ve heard: “You’re crazy, Melissa. Are you on a mission to integrate churches single-handedly?”
You don’t know me well enough to process the strange obsession I’ve had with learning this stuff. Heck, I don’t even understand it. But I do not question it. It’s been given to me. You don’t know me well enough to consider that my son is black and I have a responsibility to teach him as much as I can. You don’t know me well enough to believe that I know I cannot teach him how to be something I am not. You don’t know me well enough to trust that I do not desire to be someone I am not.
“You have no idea what it’s like to be Black, Melissa. You will never deal with what we have dealt with/deal with on a daily basis. Your little experiment is fruitless because you can never know.”
But I try, which is more than what many people do. Booker T. Washington said, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” I am me and I am casting down my bucket where I am. Though I take the steps to meet you where you are. I’m not naïve enough to think I’ll ever tell your story. But I can tell mine.
A very dear friend of mine left a comment not here but on my Facebook account where this post was listed. She felt the need to point out that what I felt that day in church is the same thing black people feel when walking into a white church. She said: “I can assure you, blacks truly relate to the stares, even though you are on the receiving end this time.” I’m not sure if she left that comment for me, or for others who’d left comments and read that page; but I heard her message. Loud and clear. And it won’t stop me. It hasn’t stopped me in the 20 years of this obsessing. It feeds me. The clearest message I hear in that is, Go deeper, Melissa.
She knows some of the journey I’ve taken and the studies in which I’ve submerged myself. I’m fearless as it concerns this matter. Relentless in my pursuit. Our tendency is to stand outside looking in, trying to change people, or, even worse, ignoring our differences altogether. Blink them away. I refuse to do it. I cannot blink you away any faster than you can blink me away. So I’ll learn you and your past and your present to the best of my ability so that your future somehow blends better with mine than is the case today.
The real matter here should not be that I’m a white girl who feels more comfortable in black communities than in “her own,” but that I’ve lost a very dear relationship with God. That is the issue that will shock my professors who stop by here occasionally. My professors from my Christian university. And the church family I used to know. The church family who used to rely on me to help usher them into the presence of God.
I don’t believe in sharing my dreams with you; my actions will suffice. But I do have a mission. Of that you can be sure.
- Recommended read: James Baldwin’s “A Stranger in the Village,” a short story