When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!” (pt 2)

Dawn’s Perspective

It was the final evening of a lovely week at Grammie’s in Charlotte. Grammie makes sure we have the best time possible in her city, a city that has southern hospitality to spare. With such an inviting combination, how can anyone on vacation lose?

Grammie thought it’d be nice if we went to Maggiano’s on our last day before returning to our routines in Chicago. Somewhere between the discovery of the best artichoke dip I had ever had and bites of fried zucchini, my then 4 year old says aloud, “I hate white people.”

Mind you, our server was white as were the dinner guests at the table next to us, and the majority of the dining area. As I recall, my toddler son did not yell the shocking declaration. There was no anger in his voice. Instead, he made his announcement with a sad resolve and perhaps resignation.

The three adults at the table, myself, his father, and his grandmother were stunned to absolute silence. “Where did this come from,” I panicked internally. “Have I given him a reason to hate white people?” “Has he heard hate come from my mouth or seen it from any of my private actions?” I was literally stupefied.

My first external reaction was to vehemently dismiss his words and to protest, to chastise him for making such an “obscene” statement. “No, Bryce!,” my face grimacing. “No! You do not hate white people!” Bryce, a wonderfully expressive child, who heard my reprimand and took in the perplexed faces around him, immediately began to cry.

I then knew that chastising him was the wrong response and frankly not at all consistent with the way I had been parenting him. I’ve always encouraged Bryce to speak the truth, that there is nothing at all wrong with telling the truth about how he feels. Sometimes, I even go so far as to reward Bryce for telling the truth. This time around, because I was embarrassed by Bryce’s truth-telling, I reacted in fear.

The wisest of the bunch, our dear Grammie, naturally found the words to ask the reasonable question, “Why, Bryce? Why do you hate white people?” Bryce responded matter-of-factly, “Because they killed Martin Luther King.”  It was interesting to me that he said that “they,” white people, killed Martin Luther King. He saw fit to tie the actions of one white man to all white people…a generalization that causes me to question the role we all play in our complicity when an unjust crime occurs. Grammie’s non-verbal response was priceless. She nodded and said nothing at all.

What was great about the moment was that there was nothing to be said after Bryce’s answer.  Bryce had been learning in school about the work of Martin Luther King and about the Civil Rights Movement. He goes to a private school that is intentional about African American history as well as Christian principles. So Bryce learned that an innocent man, who used his life to challenge, oppose, and resist hateful violence, oppression, injustice, and savagery was murdered because of his race, because of his life’s work. Why wouldn’t that cause anyone to feel deeply and to have strong feelings against the perpetrator and his actions?

As Michael said in his post, we knew that Bryce didn’t hate white people. He calls his godparents, Aunt and Uncle, not because we make him, but because it’s a natural term for him…they are family. When Mommy and Daddy cannot pick him up from school, and Uncle David or Auntie Maggie shows up, he runs to them and greets them with a hug. He eats food from their hands, he shares a bed with their son, he is comforted and consoled by their hugs, and their words of love. The same is true for Aunt Sheila and Uncle Alan, and “Bonsai” and Ms. Wendy…Bryce has love for people in our lives who are white.

But the truth of that moment and what made me so proud of Bryce for saying what he said, is the courage it took for him to say how he felt. He knew it could be problematic for him to say aloud how he was feeling, hence his preface, “I don’t want God to be mad at me.” But he pressed through the baseless facade, something that I couldn’t do as an adult of 36 years, and he spoke his truth, which gave us an opportunity to clarify his feelings.

He doesn’t hate white people, he hates whatever it is that causes people to treat other people so dishonorably. I marveled at how he could make such an honest connection at his young age. It reminded me that one of the gifts of a child is to remind us what the truth really is, to face it, and to uncomfortably sit with it…something that frankly seems like the honest thing to do concerning race in this country.

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When Bryce Said, “I Hate White People!”

Last December we were at dinner with Grammie, which means we were in Charlotte. Memory says that we were dishing fried zucchini and salad, dipping bread in olive oil. The boy went into a spiral that surprised us all, even him.

He started crying about how he knew that God didn’t love him and how God was going to be mad at him because he hated white people. “I hate white people,” cried my then four-year old son. I think we were all stumped for a moment, stumped the way people who talk to other people all the time get stumped when something even you didn’t see coming comes.

It was only so appropriate that two pastors were at the table. Given my boy’s confession, we were immediately put on the interior spot. “I don’t want God to mad,” he said in quick fashion as if to convince us so that we’d prevent trouble from coming. Perhaps it was God’s goodness that we were there together to hear Bryce’s comment and plea and intention.

Grammie took up the theological matter about God loving Bryce. She did it the way a pro would. Grammie’s been communicating about God’s love for more decades than I’ve been alive. She was a star even with a kid. Her explanation was simple and brief.

I looked at Dawn as if to ask without asking whether it was her or me who would pick up the rest. One of us had to deal with the part about hating white people. Now, me and Dawn have a way of teaching the boy. We share. We move toward our strengths. I was telling her the other day that she’s a better teacher to him than I am. She has more patience. But oddly, I’m better at explaining things. Where her explanations get complex for her attempts to tell him the whole story, mine are swift and simple.

She tends to answer the question, “How can I explain it all to Bryce?” I tend to think about how I can explain it to satisfy his specific question. So my wheels were turning as he made his claims about hatred. I called him over to me, telling him he wasn’t in trouble, something Dawn had already been saying. He doesn’t get in trouble for telling the truth. Of course, this is immediately tricky during moments where his truth-telling leads to a consequence for unacceptable behavior.

At dinner, he wasn’t in trouble at all. So he came to me. I told him that he didn’t hate white people. “You love Auntie Maggie and Uncle David, don’t you?” He seemed relieved but a little confused. He said he did. “Aren’t they white?” He knew they were, and he knew that they loved him too. And this simple love, this relationship between my son and a white couple became the bridge between Bryce and whatever moral crisis he was experiencing.

I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to relieve him of his internal pain. It had to be enough to say that he didn’t, in fact, hate white people. He even loved a few of them. We were able to name several white people he loved. And it was an easy move from there to say something less major about how hating white people and saying that he hated them was okay. “Telling the truth about your feelings is good,” we said. And of course, my son doesn’t know any white people that he hates. That was great. He’s not experienced the mass of faceless sphere called “white people.” He knows particular people with specific stories and clear ties to him. And thankfully, he enjoys those relationships.

I thought about that dinner conversation last Sunday when Alan came up to me after church with tears in his eyes. Alan’s one of those people Bryce loves. He and Sheila were among the cloud of witnesses we named to remind Bryce of white people he cared for. And when me and Alan chatted about how hard it must be to talk through junk like Charleston, we were both glad that Bryce hadn’t seen the news or asked a question. Depending on his question, I may not have had a good answer, an easy or quick answer about his feelings.

“Illustrating the Possible”

“This is the thing about the art market. If a young kid isn’t invited to know what they have inside them, and how to unlock that, then what they have is just devices. And you pretty quickly run out of devices. I had a life before all this. The lights were off for me, I was out in the shed, but that was a really useful way into this world…I am invested in illustrating the possible.”

Theaster Gates talking about art and autobiography and “what happens when you stay”. Please read the rest here.

“Grief” by Stephen Dobyns

Trying to remember you

is like carrying water

in my hands a long distance

across sand. Somewhere

people are waiting.

They have drunk nothing for days.

 

Your name was the food I lived on;

now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.

To say your name was to be surrounded

by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,

I touch glass and barbed wire.

Your name was the thread connecting my life;

now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.

 

I was dancing when I

learned of your death; may

my feet be severed from my body.

 

(Posted in remembrance of our father, Mardell Culley, Sr. on the second anniversary of his death)

Things That Strengthen Us, pt 2 of 2

From Christian Wiman’s meditation, in My Bright Abyss (pg. 161):

Life tears us apart, but through those wounds, if we have tended them, love may enter us.  It may be the love of someone you have lost.  It may be the love of your own spirit for the self that at time you think you hate.  However it comes through, in all these—of all these and yet more than, so much more—there burns the abiding love of God.  But if you find that you cannot believe in God, then do not worry yourself with it.  No one can say what names or forms God might take, nor gauge the intensity of unbelief we may need to wake up our souls.  My love is still true, my children, still with you, still straining through your ambitions and your disappointments, your frenzies and forgetfulness, through all the glints and gulfs of implacable matter—to reach you, to help you, to heal you.

Things That Strengthen Us, pt 1 of 2

From Christman Wiman’s meditation, in My Bright Abyss, undoubtedly written first to the close loves of his life (pg. 161):

My loves, I will be with you, even if I am not with you.  Every day I feel a little more the impress of eternity, learn a little more “the discipline of suffering which leads to peace of the spirit,” as T. S. Eliot said, writing of the seventeenth-century poet and priest George Herbert (read him!), who died when he was thirty-nine and had only recently found true happiness with his new wife and new commitment to God.  My loves, I love you with all the volatility and expansiveness of spirit that you have taught me to feel, and I feel your futures opening out from you, and in those futures I know my own.  I will be with you.  I will comfort you in your despair and I will share in your joy.  They need not be only grief, only pain, these black holes in our lives.  If we can learn to live not merely with them but by means of them, if we can let them be part of the works of sacred art that we in fact are, then these apparent weaknesses can be the very things that strengthen us.