Gray Matters

When it comes to matters of Black and White, there is much gray in between. I am reminded of this every day on social media, television, at work. I was reminded of it when my brother texted me close to midnight recently and said he needed to talk. My brother has never texted me that late before.  I can talk now, I told him. Is everything okay? My mother’s family hurt me, he said, but let’s talk tomorrow. 

My brother is technically my half-brother. Put another way, he’s my brother from another mother, my father’s second (now ex) wife. He is the father of a beautiful, vivacious six year old daughter who has a Black mother. He is the White father of a Black daughter and for the first time since her birth he is beginning to understand what this means for him and for her.

The email chain his mother’s family, all of whom grew up down south, was passing around started with a long diatribe from an 80 year old aunt against NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem. Others chimed in and the chain became one big bashing session against spoiled, rich players who disrespect the American flag.

These are the people who, when I was 11 and went to Atlanta for Christmas with my father and stepmother, introduced me to Gone with the Wind and were proud to take me to Kennesaw Mountain and a Confederate Museum. They were proud because the Confederacy was part of their Southern heritage and it tickled them to educate me, a New England Yankee, about it.

I admit as an impressionable young girl, the romantic picture they portrayed fooled me for a while. From the time I was 11 until about 13, I read Gone with the Wind over and over until I lost count of how many times. Although I knew that owning slaves was wrong, being White allowed me to ignore that part of the story in favor of Scarlett O’Hara’s saga of survival and misguided love.

My brother was no different. Before my niece’s birth, before she came to him crying that she was afraid the police were going to take away her mommy, before he saw how excited she got when a group of peaceful protestors marched through their quiet, small town chanting Black Lives Matter, and she started to chant, too, and said Daddy, you say it, too, he would have ignored the email, by his own admission. He no longer has that option. Instead, he is grappling with how to educate himself, and his extended family, so that he can be the best, most supportive father to his little girl.

He spent days composing an email response that attempted to educate his family about the history and legacy of American slavery, systemic racism, segregation, etc. from a Black perspective (to the extent he was able) and why it might compel some players to take a knee. He sent each new draft to me for review. I wouldn’t share that video, I’d say, your Aunt (a devout Christian), will be offended by the profanity and not see past it. And, You don’t have to convince them of anything. Just say that you love our flag, too, but as the father of a Black daughter, you also see things from a different perspective. There was the not so helpful, Why don’t you point out to them that it’s ironic they’re so proud of the confederacy, traitors that seceded from the United States and declared war on and killed Americans, yet they have a problem with some guy kneeling to silently protest the treatment of Blacks? 

His efforts and my feedback were for naught. His mother insisted on reading his email response and begged him not to send it. She felt it would cause too much pain in the family. His attempt to speak his truth and stand up for his daughter was effectively shut down.

The American Flag on my house.

I admit that when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, sending the country in an uproar, I barely paid attention. I do not like football, never watch it, not even the Superbowl, and blew it off as sports-related drama. Someone, I cannot remember who, asked me once how I felt about it and I shrugged. It didn’t matter to me either way. Stand, take a knee, whatever. Just because I stand for the National Anthem, and place a hand over my heart, doesn’t mean everyone has to. My grandfather served in WWII, my father and a brother also served, so this is important to me. I am not personally offended by people who choose differently. I don’t know their story.

My brother’s text and subsequent emails forced me out of indifference. I asked myself, what would drive me to the point that I would protest the flag of my country?

The very fact that I shrugged and thought, whatever, is a privilege most Black Americans don’t have. I realized I have a responsibility to understand. I Googled, Why do NFL players take a knee? I learned that taking a knee has a long history in America’s Civil Rights history. That players used to be in the locker room during the Anthem, until the United States Department of Defense started giving the NFL lots of money to promote patriotism.

Each of us views life and its many facets through the lens of our own experience. It is human nature to do so. Some of us, however, are so fixed in our mindsets that we cannot or will not see another’s perspective. Being in black or white, right or wrong, is simpler, cleaner, affirming. Gray matters get messy and murky. They force us to examine things that are complicated and uncomfortable. Yet gray is the space where learning and growth, and new ways of seeing and being, take place, if we are willing to go there.





13 thoughts on “Gray Matters

  1. Kim, suffice it to say I understand your brother’s conundrum and how there is a perceived gray area. This is a perfect example of absolutely needing to be able to take on another’s perspective in all ways (and it reminds me of the Golden Girls’ episode that’s making social media rounds now; it’s about how Blanche was explaining hanging the Confederate flag).

    But would you mind helping me understand your brother’s connection to his daughter. He is the white father to a biracial daughter or he is the white father to a black daughter, because he married her mother who’d already birthed a black daughter? I’m confused here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kathy, I appreciate your question. I hadn’t realized how unclear this was until you asked. My brother is her biological father and therefore he is the white father of a biracial daughter. A clearer way of writing that sentence would have been something like, He is the white father of a biracial daughter and is only now realizing for the first time that she is half black and what that might mean… I did not mean for it to sound as if because my niece is biracial that she is more black than white. In fact, it has felt the opposite in some ways because until recently, it’s almost as if everyone in her life has been color blind to a large degree. Not just our family, but her mother’s family, too. Her mom is black, but her mom’s parents are white. They adopted my niece’s mom when she was an infant. They are also wealthy, as in millionaire wealthy. They live in a very wealthy, mostly white town in which the African American population is less than 1%. I remember the shock I felt when I went to their house for the baby shower over six years ago. First, because although I had been told her family was wealthy, no one had told me that her parents were white and I had naturally been expecting her parents and most of her family to be black. Instead, my niece’s mom (the mom to be) was the only black person there. All of the family and all of her friends were white. Later, when I would go there for my niece’s first birthday party and other events, it was not only all white people except for the two of them, even my niece’s toys, barbie dolls, etc. were all white princesses, etc. I have definitely felt a lot of gray areas around, for example, buying her gifts. Do I get her the white or black american girl doll? (I got her the black doll.) Do I get her children’s books with black characters, white characters or both? Will her family think I’m racist if I only get her black dolls? Am I if I do? Then there was the sad realization of how few children’s books feature black characters and how there is probably one black barbie doll for every eight to ten white barbies. Now that my niece is older and her mother and grandmother (who is very controlling) allow my brother to take her on weekends (they didn’t when she was younger because he was renting a house with two other guys and they didn’t feel it was an appropriate environment for her, but thankfully he has his own place now), I don’t see her mom or the grandmother anymore, so I’m not sure if they are still raising her from a more white perspective. All I know is that for the first time since my niece has been born, my brother is realizing that he can no longer be color blind toward his daughter. I know this is a really long response to your question, which I could have and maybe should have just answered with one or two sentences.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No apologies necessary. All of this was required. I find transracial adoption fascinating (but you know I find human interaction in general fascinating). The fact that your former sis-in-law was basically raised in a white world has its own set of “issues” I’m sure. So, I appreciate the explanation. She’s basically now raising her biracial daughter in a white world, which as you all are finding out…has its own set of issues. Whew. Best of luck to her and your family as you navigate these racial waters in a racialized world.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Very difficult situation for your brother, but difficult in that he has to word his email as carefully as possible, to get his points across in a way that won’t cause the recipients to merely delete it without reading it. I’m not certain from your post whether your brother actually sent his email or not, after his mother read it. But saying nothing is not an option.

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  3. In my opinion, gray is the area where the most truth resides. When we insist on seeing things only from our own point of view, and condemning those who don’t share it, we cut ourselves off from all potential to grow and understand. And I truly believe that now is the time to figure out all the things we have in common, rather than feed “us and them” mentality our country seems stuck in. That can only happen when we’re willing to listen and learn. I’m so sorry that your bother’s efforts to reach out were met with such resistance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is extremely complicated issue. And now all the suppressed feelings from the past rise to the surface. But it is a good thing that the gray matter gets awareness now more and people are willing to address the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Svet, I agree it feels complicated. I hadn’t considered it from the perspective that suppressed feelings are rising to the surface. You could be right. I don’t understand why we humans have to make matters so unnecessarily complicated all the time. Maybe we think too much when we should just feel.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I first thought, that’s a tough spot your brother is in. But I quickly realized, it’s not tough at all. It’s easy, actually. His daughter is his priority. It’s not for him to explain why she needs to grow up in a very different world and mindset. It’s up to them to educate themselves and understand and ask questions and use their minds to ask questions. I’m guessing they were not happy about his choice of a wife, considering how you describe their pride in southern roots. We all have to accept responsibility for our individual ignorance about certain things and then go about to correct those things we don’t understand. To shut our minds is to shut our hearts. I pray they find a way to accept and understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your input, George. I agree that his daughter is his priority and that he shouldn’t have to explain or try to educate members of his family. I don’t know how they really feel about his choices, as I haven’t seen them in years and he hasn’t seen them in a while, either. I think what was so upsetting for him is the way it was done, via email, almost clandestine-like. Meaning things they wouldn’t say in public, but in private only with family. Forgetting, it seems, that his daughter is half black. Or maybe they hadn’t forgotten. There was some shock there for him because he was seeing a side of his family that hadn’t been revealed to him before. Or maybe it had but he hadn’t needed to pay attention before. I disagree with his mother asking him to not respond. I truly was so disappointed because I love his mother and hoped for better. This was an opportunity for him not to have to explain but to take a stand and she took that away from him. He is not the type of son to go against his mother’s requests. She still treats him like a child, though he’s close to 40 years old. He’s a good person. He’s also a loving father and all of his time when he isn’t working is devoted to his sweet daughter. He literally has no other life almost except for her. I hope his love will be enough and perhaps in time he will have the courage to speak his truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Taking a Deeper Look at Black Lives Matter and Social Justice | Revbruce's Blog

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