I haven't written about the Trayon Martin case on this blog because I didn't want to be part of the controversy. I don't know what happened the night he died, who was the aggressor. Really it's hard to know the facts in news stories any more with even the press being dishonest. All I know is that it makes me sad.
And while I'm not sure how much race played into that particular case, I do know that the race relations debate that resulted bears some truth and though many conversations were offensive, many were also good.
As a white mama to a black child, I know that we have come such a long way as a nation in the 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech! But I also keenly know that we are not there yet. In this country people are often still judged by the color of their skin.
Before becoming an adoptive parent to my Ethiopian child, I was naively colorblind. "Skin color does not matter," I probably would have told you. Now I know that while that is a good dream, it is not reality. And I cannot be a good mother to my black child if I do not acknowledge that she is and will be sometimes judged by her skin color. That her experiences when she goes somewhere with her white family members may be different than when she goes places by herself.
President Obama said he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago. While I could not have been Trayvon Martin, I do feel like I could have been his mother.
I hurt with his mom that he is gone. I hurt for the friends I have who have black sons and sat them down after hearing news of Trayvon's death and instructed them to "Never run through a neighborhood!" I hurt for my own 4 year old Little Girl and fear the day she is old enough to understand and feel the sting of discrimination.
I recently switched Little Girl to a dance studio that has many black little girls in the classes. At our previous dance studio my daughter was the only black child in her class, one of the few in the whole studio. I found this other studio which is actually closer to our house and am excited for Little Girl to have a place to go where she is not in the minority but where many of the little girls look like she does. I am also happy that the owner and founder of the studio is a black woman and a mother of three and can serve as a woman my little girl can look up to. And in another good reversal, my white daughter will also be taking dance at this studio, yet she will be in the minority!
While not always comfortable, embracing some of the differences of my black daughter, rather than ignoring them or pretending they are not there, has been a growth experience for our entire family. So much so that my 6 year old recently lamented that he, "wished his skin was not white because you have to worry about sunburns!"
Then there was the time recently when I took Little Girl to get a hair cut. I shake my head looking back now on how nervous I was taking my youngest daughter to a black hair salon for the first time. I knew with my Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost white skin I'd stick out like a sore thumb. I worried that the ladies there would be condescending to me about Little Girl's hair, tell me I'd been doing everything wrong. I worried they'd feel sorry for her for having a white mama.
I couldn't have been more wrong! I parked in front and immediately noticed the Trayvon Martin sign and the first thought that popped into my head was "These are my people!" because the whole case with Trayvon Martin hurt my heart, too. And some of my nerves began to calm. I did still pray for Jesus to be near as I grabbed little girl's hand and walked in.
I was the only white person in the shop for the entire hour we were there but everyone could not have been nicer to me or to Little Girl! The hairstylist we got is also the shop owner and she even commented on how healthy Little Girl's hair felt (which I totally took as a pat on the back for how I've cared for it rather than a condemnation of my care which I feared).
Little Girl really loved getting her hair washed in the special sink!
THEN the stylist and I began to talk about adoption and she told me she'd like to adopt. She then proceeded to share with me about losing her only child, a son, as a young infant due to a genetic disorder several years ago. My heart broke for her and we visited as two mothers, two women, about blessings and pain and life and hope. By the time I left we were friends.
I re-learned a life lesson that day in that black hair salon. In all my worry that I'd be too different, too much of an outsider in that setting, I forgot something so key. The ways we are the same are the things that really matter.
Celebrate the differences, but focus on where we are the same, that stuff is far more important.