Token White Girl

{This week's series: #ChurchOfManyColors}

{This week's series: #ChurchOfManyColors}

I could easily reword my Christian testimony to reflect the number of interactions I had with people of minority races before the age of 22:

“I lived in an all-white Christian home, attended a mostly white Christian school, and went to a predominantly white Christian church.”

In specific regards to African Americans, what I knew were things I was taught in history books or saw in the movies. To me, they were like mystical creatures who manifested themselves into three categories: historical figures from the Civil Rights movement, NBA players, and Tyler Perry’s Madea.

Which is why, early on in my high school career, when a tall African American student was enrolled, my very first thought was, “The boy’s basketball team is definitely going to win the state championship this year.”

In a school of 800, I never met this kid, nor to this day do I remember his name or if he remained at our school for only one semester or two, but it didn’t take long for him to become Token Black Guy. A term I hadn't heard until recently, watching movies with my husband.

“Token Black Guy!” Husband said, referring to the one African American in a movie otherwise cast with all white characters.

I gave Husband my stink face, clearly communicating that I had no idea what he was talking about.

“That character is a Token Black Guy. He has only a couple lines and no backstory to tell us more about who he is. Always a loyal sidekick, never the main character? Oh yeah, and in action movies the Token Black Guy usually ends up dying.”

He cited examples of various productions I've watched with their own Token Black Characters, and my eyes widened at this pattern I never before realized existed. {i.e. She’s All That, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games, The Incredibles, Pete's Dragon, most movies with Chris Rock.}

This notion of placing assumptions on an entire race is nothing new – not from the movies I’ve watched, nor to those like myself who didn’t grow up around a lot of melanin.

In high school, I assumed one of the few minority students came straight out of Glory Road – probably an above average athlete, predestined by God to support the dreams of white boys who wanted to win a title.

Never mind the fact that the boy’s basketball team had won its fair share of championships in recent years with zero African American players on the roster.

Never mind the fact that this boy had his own story being written, with his own unique personality, likes and dislikes, his own hopes and dreams and life and faith.

Never mind the fact that I wish I would have had the guts to just say hello.

But no matter how many movies I’d seen with Token Black Characters, the idea of silencing minorities into basic characteristic or economic stereotypes has been much more on my mind since we decided to send our daughter to an all-black school.

That is correct. Out of roughly 280 students, our four-year-old is the only white kid. And for months leading up to the school year, I was wracked with doubt: 

Will she be able to relate to her classmates? 

Will she make friends? 

Will she be bullied?

Twelve years ago, I thought nothing of a few minorities coming to my high school and trying to navigate its predominantly white culture. But now that my daughter is learning to navigate the social culture of African Americans living in an inner-city neighborhood, suddenly I want to think about our differences. About the implications.

Will she be Token White Girl?

Will her classmates get to know her and assume all white people speak with a slight lisp, are terrible at sharing, and never stop talking? Or will they not get to know her at all and just assume she loves drinking pumpkin spice lattes, devouring Nicholas Sparks novels, and playing Frisbee sports?

While the circumstances surrounding our daughter’s education are related to being a minority among a majority, there are vast differences. I'd even dare to say that the similarities stop right there. 

But I'm praying that as a school, a neighborhood, a city, a Kingdom, we will learn to see each other's differences without mudding the waters with our ignorant assumptions.

I'm hoping that although stereotypes exist for a reason, I'll learn that the reason is because it makes me more comfortable to put my minority neighbor into a specific category.

And I'm searching for answers to questions I'm often afraid to voice out loud, like:

What is it about being part of the predominant culture that gives one the freedom to be a variety of personality traits and preferences? 

What is it that allows someone to make an accomplishment without being called “a credit to their race?”

Why is it that years ago, I didn’t think twice when someone said, “He married a colored girl. She’s actually really nice.”

While I can't cure worldwide racism, I can examine my own heart for the ways I have placed minorities into narrow stereotypes without learning their unique backstory.

As Christians, our identity is not rooted in the color of our skin. But that doesn't erase the fact that we are a church of many colors. A church created to be of diverse tribes, languages, peoples, and nations. 

That is something to recognize, reconcile, and celebrate.  

 

Grace and Peace,

Kendra