From the moment she and her mom walked into my office I wondered if she deserved more of a professional than me or more tenderness than I felt like I was able to offer. I felt like she could’ve been me had some things gone differently in my life.
We started by talking about her mom and the things she had been through; however, I knew this wasn’t about her mom. It was about her. Slowly, her “ehs” and shrugs turned into vulnerability that led her to open up about a friend that she deeply cared for because their lives were similar. Then, our conversation turned to basketball and how she actually wanted to do cosmetology. Then, it was about the bullying, which led to her friend’s suicide, which led to why she isn’t involved in choir. And then, partially hidden beneath the dyed reddish-brown tousled curls hanging over her eyes, she said, “I just…I don’t know how to say it…but I just don’t want to be surrounded by people that don’t get me. I don’t know where I belong. I’m either whitewashed or too ghetto.”
My heart sank.
As she talked, I found myself recalling a recent moment with my one-and-a-half-year-old son when he was innocently splashing in the water using a blue, plastic hand rake, trying to dump water over my sun-kissed, caramel legs. This toddler phase has been equally exhausting and full, and this was a moment I was grateful for exactly where we were. I found myself wanting him to keep his innocence, not necessarily because I need him to be sheltered but because I’m not sure what he’ll become.
When I first found out we were bringing a boy into this world, I felt scared. I felt scared that I wouldn’t know how to teach him that his maleness would give him advantages and his whiteness, even more so. I felt scared that I would raise just another white boy, soaking in the advantages of white supremacy and forgetting about his mama, his papa, his great grandparents and great aunties who existed as outsiders in a world designed for his flourishing.
I couldn’t help but hear her words and locate myself in her story. Words I easily resonated with as a biracial Black woman living in the Midwest. “I’m either whitewashed or too ghetto.”
There is no place for those whose bodies physically manifest the realities of being mixed.
I adjusted and found a way to blend in to the culture in which I grew up, but I knew that she, at 15, was already stronger, braver, and more aware than I was. Not because of anything she chose for herself, but precisely because she didn’t have a choice. The environment she was born into was already complicated from the beginning. Survival meant rising from the ashes of her parents’ choices, not all of them dealing with race but most of them dealing with lives I don’t know that they would even choose for themselves. We talked more about her experiences with depression over the last year, and eventually I asked how she felt it all affected her relationship with God. She said, “I just don’t understand—if God loves me, why would I want to die?”
This moment was where my two worlds collided. Mothering a sweet little boy who eventually will grow into a man and who, whether I like it or not, will get to choose whose voices he turns his ear to and whose he will ignore. And then, mothering, or sistering, or pastoring a beloved teenager whose only choice is to keep on surviving.
I didn’t know how to answer her question. Because the reality is that being a Black woman in the Midwest–a biracial Black woman at that—means that she will shoulder this weight, and it sometimes feels like an act of God is the only thing that can save her.
May we be people who make choices and raise our babies to make choices that help others not just to survive, but flourish. May we be people who always look to see who might feel like an outsider, even in their own skin.
Haley Wiggers is passionate about discovering how the messy, painful, and unexpected gifts that come with being human connect and relate to and offer understanding of how God relates to and cares for us. She’s been married to her husband Tyson for 4.5 years, and together they just welcomed their first little into the world. His name is Theo, and he is the cutest. United by undeserved grace, they’ve created a life centered around table fellowship with others and long walks with their puppy.