Braids, Gospel, and Connection
Sometimes I wonder if a part of me was born black, and when I say that I mean, a part of me relates to a part of the African American culture. As a child I saw all the amazing things about the African American culture around me; awesome braids and hair extensions, amazing music, cool dance moves, a strong religious community, and a close extended family. But, as I got older, I learned about some of the hard aspects of that culture too. Truth be told, I still learn things all the time! I didn’t really know what to do with those hard things. So, while I continued to admire the good, I pushed the hard aside. My excuse… I was young. I love how children see the good, the gold, and the hope, and rarely see the struggle. They build their initial worldview on the positive first and after that’s been formed, they move forward in understanding the hard things too.
Sometimes I Wished I was Black…
There were times that I wanted to be black. I wanted to wear my hair in amazing braids with beads! I wanted to attend the high spirited gospel churches portrayed in the movies, but mostly, I wanted to sing gospel music. One time when I was a teenager, I was singing to myself while outside on a walk. An older African American friend/mentor of mine called out to me, ‘Girl, you could be a black woman!’ I hadn’t seen her walking behind me and my heart soared as I thought that surely she was referring to my singing voice. As I turned around and said hello, she said, ‘Those hips are black woman hips!’ Well, that wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to hear, but it’s a precious memory of a woman from another American culture accepting me.
I now know, that every culture has so much more to it than the small parts we see. I have learned that every culture has a history marked by achievements and progress along with pain and tragedy . To say that you want someone else’s heritage to be your own means accepting not just the parts that you like, but also the parts that you don’t like. It means entering into the whole of that culture and maybe even setting yours aside.
Acceptance and Relationship…
As an adult, I realized that I didn’t actually want to be from another culture and leave all that I came from behind. What I was really longing for in this case, was a connection to the black community. I wanted to be accepted by this community, to learn from the people, and to grow in relationship with them. I’m still growing and learning all the time. It’ll be a process for my entire life – one where I’ll likely make mistakes that hurt others (I’m sorry in advance) and make mistakes that embarrass me (oops!), but also hopefully make relationships that’ll change my heart forever.
Post Script:In talking with an African American friend, whose thoughts and opinions I highly value, he applauded me for my openness and also suggested that some people might ask me the following questions:
- Why can’t you be white and sing gospel?
- Is there a rule somewhere that enforces that white people can’t have braids, cornrows, or any other hair style that originated with black and brown people?
These two questions have been rolling around in my mind and really challenging me on how I would answer them. I hope to write a post or two addressing these questions in the future!