On Blackness

I’ve always considered myself to be a serious person. I take my relationship with my Creator seriously because He is the source of my life and creativity. I take my relationships with people seriously because I value their lives and their connection to me. I took school seriously because it was my avenue of escape from a dangerous and insecure home life. Then, I became a parent and discovered that I had barely tapped into my seriousness.

My earliest memory of the realization of my blackness was when I watched Eyes On The Prize on PBS as a child. I remember thinking, “They look like me and my family. Their stories are my stories.” As the stories were being told on the program, not only did I understand them, but I also felt them in my blood and in my bones. None of the adults in my life sat me down and discussed being black or the black experience in America. I didn’t think to ask them about it, either. Unfortunately, the only black history I got was whitewashed for the consumption of Christian schoolchildren: the obligatory MLK, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver. Our contribution to history is minimized and rewritten to avoid using words with negative connotations. I grew up largely ignorant of the scope of black history.

I didn’t take blackness seriously enough until I began having children. I began compiling information in 2008 in order to provide my children with a family tree. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the answers to my questions only yielded more questions. It was hard to get more than a few names from one of my grandmothers, at first. It took a few years of asking, but once she told me some of her experiences, I understood her hesitance to talk. It’s one thing to watch The Help; it’s another thing to hear someone I know and love talk about foregoing school to work for white folks who sometimes paid her in hand-me-down clothes.

The current stirrings of black pride are inspirational and necessary. For so long, we have believed the lie that black is inferior. I think that the most revolutionary moments are small and private. It begins with us loving who we see when we look in the mirror each day. Once you learn to love yourself, you can begin to love your brothers and sisters. Would you sit idly by while your siblings are bullied and victimized? Not likely! This is the heart of the revolution.


It’s Complicated

When most people say, “I was raised in the church.” they do so with an air of pride and a sense of foundation. It’s a badge of honor. Such a declaration implies that the individual knows the difference between right and wrong, and unequivocally chooses to do right. However, I do not make that statement with pride. I have mixed feelings about aligning myself with the community of church babies.

I was raised in a black missionary Baptist church. My mom’s ancestors were founding members. My family was (and still is) very involved. I remember “going forward” (walking to the front of the congregation) at four years old to announce my beliefs. I remember attending Sunday school and BTU (Baptist training union) and being baptized. They always used Welch’s grape juice for communion services, and I still feel a twinge of naughtiness when I drink more than a tablespoon at a time. I looked forward to the choir processional, and dreaded the offertory parade (I didn’t want people looking at me and I was afraid I would trip and take out a couple deacons and the offering plate).

My mom and I lived with my grandparents until I was four. I have a close relationship with Grandma because she kept me while my mom worked. Once we moved, my life changed. Sometimes Mom would go out and I’d have a sitter. He lived across the street from us. Mom didn’t know it, but he was a pedophile. No one explained to me that he wasn’t supposed to be touching me. I thought it was normal, even though Dad never did anything like that to me. I didn’t realize what had happened until years later when I took a class taught by a missionary through the Baptist Bible institute. I didn’t tell anyone at the time because the abuse had stopped. But thanks to the class, I learned what was appropriate and what wasn’t.

We moved again when I was eleven. We changed churches, too. Mom got involved with the youth pastor and they married when I was twelve. I was in the wedding and hated every moment. I was against the whole operation from the start and was very defiant about it. Turns out, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We were a picture perfect “family”, but I knew better. He began abusing all of us in different ways almost immediately. All the while, we were going through the motions at church. I accepted my fate and became as involved as possible in church and in school. The less time I spent alone with him, the better. I tried to reveal what was happening, but he hijacked the conversation, “repented”, and it was swept under the rug.

Throughout my adolescence, I lived with glaring discrepancies between what was said and done at church and what happened at “home”. When we changed churches again, it was because he accepted a position as the youth pastor. I am so grateful that it was this particular church. I made a lot of friends, but one of my friend’s families became my refuge. It was heavenly to get a good night’s sleep! Hyper vigilance and method acting is exhausting. I pretended to be the happy preacher’s kid that I was expected to be, but I was plotting my escape: college.

I stayed out of the house as much as possible. I took on extracurricular activities and got a job. I stayed on the honor roll and earned an academic scholarship for college. I went out with my friends from church and sang in the youth choir. On the surface, I was an angel. However, in the back of my mind, I was battling a homicidal rage.

After a couple wonderful years in college, I decided to talk to my mother about the abuse. Ultimately, she didn’t do anything except put him out of the house for a while. By the time I got married, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. No way was I going to knowingly expose my children. Thankfully, my aunt and uncle had my back and went with me to the police station to file a report. The day that The Genius was born, the story broke in our local newspaper. I have abbreviated the story a lot, but you get the gist.

People who are regular churchgoers often wonder why someone like me, who was raised in church and attended Christian schools, does not care to set foot in church. It’s quite simple. I just don’t trust people. Who knows what lurks? Because of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, everything about church and Christianity feels tainted. Certain songs and passages of scripture trigger PTSD. Some people have testimonies of how God brought them out of addictions, off the streets, found them in prison, etc. My testimony is different – that through all of the darkness, He kept me.

My husband knows my whole story, so he took me to a particular church a few weeks ago. I was skeptical, but I absolutely loved it! It felt like home.

(Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. I know it was long.)