USA | the burning house, and it’s tenets

“No one ever talks about the moment you found that you were white. Or the moment you found out you were black. That’s a profound revelation. The minute you find that out, something happens. You have to renegotiate everything.”

-TONI MORRISON

As a transracial adoptee who grew up in a white family and was raised in a small white town in Oregon state, I always knew that the color of my skin was different, but I never thought that meant anything about me or the world around me. That is, until I was about 7 or 8. I had two experiences that I’ll never forget- not so much for what they communicated about me- but because of what they communicated about Whiteness and the White world I was embraced by in some kind of barbed wire hug.

The first; as a child we attended church every Sunday. One day a family’s house burned down who attended our church and so our church decided that we’d build them a new house. My family went to the construction site and I was helping the young son of the burned down house. We were around the same age and his name was Micah. I didn’t really know Micah, but we weren’t at all on bad terms. Hell, we were 7. What kind of bad terms can 7 year olds even be on? And then- Micah looked over to me and snarled, “go get me a hammer, nigger.”

I went to my White mother immediately and told her what Micah said and she patted me on the back and said, “it’s okay. Go back to work, honey.” I learned then that Whiteness doesn’t know how to/or won’t validate the violation of Black bodies. That even when told about a violation, Whiteness sweeps it under the rug and prefers to go on with its comfortable reality. And this reality is so interesting as I look at it in context of what was happening around me: a White family’s house burned down and our White church said “we’ll rebuild it.” meanwhile after telling my White mother that a metaphorical house of mine was being burnt down right before her eyes she said “go back into the house.” Functionally & essentially, “Burn alive, for all I care.”

My second racial revelation happened while I was at recess. In my school, Fir Grove Elementary, 3rd and 5th graders shared the same recess. I was playing four square with some friends when all of a sudden a White girl ran up to me out of nowhere. I didn’t recognize her from my class , so I knew she must be in 5th grade. I found out later that her name was Hailey. “Do you know why you’re Black?”, she asked me. As an 8 year old I can freely admit I spent not one moment thinking about WHY my skin was black. Her question intrigued me, because it revealed to me that not only was I different- but! that there must be a reason for why, too. “No”, I replied. “Because God put you in a toaster and forgot to take you out”, she shot back, giggled, and ran away. I don’t think I ever saw her again. Again, I learned another important lesson about the world around me. I learned that Black bodies are easily forgotten by the God of White people. That my Black body, and Black life, is to be forever remembered by me and the world around me, as an afterthought to the God of White people.

Life lessons like that stick with you. They eat away at you. They disfigure and disorient you. And in my country, in the White communities I’ve traveled in, they’re reinforced. Perhaps that’s why this last summer was so traumatic and triggering to me. If you’ve read my debut poetry collection You Can Not Burn The Sun, you know a bit of what I’ll say. I blew the whistle on the systemic racism within a primarily White Christian missions organization I used to work for, and their response was to gaslight, disenfranchise, and evict me. I was living in housing they provided me because I had nowhere else to go (in a global pandemic- in Dane county where there was actually a hold on evictions because of the pandemic).

Again, I blew the whistle, saying, “you have been a fire to the house I live in.” And their response was, “then find a new house because we don’t want to hear about how we’ve burned you.” There was no ultimatum, but if there was, I think it would have been something like this: “stay silent, and bear the burns of this house or be excommunicated from us.” Because- kinda like Kanye said post-hurricane Katrina about Bush and Blackness, “the God of White people doesn’t care about Black people.”

It’s no wonder I apostatized at age 18 because I suspected God was a White supremacist. I’m 25 now, and somehow, a Christian. Spiritual abuse and trauma fucking sucks. Because it irons into your soul that not just people- but God- is ugly. As I continue my life, I have to intentionally conceive of a God who doesn’t just “love everybody.” No. My God must wake up in the morning to gospel music, Godself singing how Black bodies and lives don’t just matter to God- but how we are a priority to God. Because I can’t and I won’t worship a God who forgets me.

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