imagine being black (part 2)

If you missed Part 1, here you go.

Our pastor, Rich Johnson, posted a link on Facebook earlier today that made my heart sing. Because the title? Is exactly what God has been pressing on my heart. It’s Time to Listen: Feeling the Pain Despite the Facts.

Because, while I have been so, so, SO encouraged by so many white friends working so hard to understand what it’s like to be Black in America and so many African-American friends working so hard to help us (without rolling their eyes, which is what I’d want to do if I were them), I’ve also been really frustrated by this tired argument: “We don’t know all the facts of the story yet. We can’t just assume this is about race.”

Yes, we can.

If we’re white, we can just shrug it off. If we’re black, we can’t. Because it goes deep and means much.

I beg us all just to put the facts aside for a minute (or a month) and just LISTEN. Just feel a black person’s pain. Just feel it. Enter in. Feel it.

Another amazing article a friend linked to today, called Different Rules Apply, is one I encourage every single white person reading this to take a minute to read.

It’s so, so good. And so, so helpful on this road to empathy and understanding.

I want to thank Carlos & Gloria, Jamiya & Amanda, and Rich for letting me share their stories yesterday. And today I have stories from my sisters and brother: Comfort, Mandie, and Andrew.

But first, a comment my (white) friend Judy left on my post yesterday: This is EXACTLY the kind of stuff white people need to read and take in. Regular people. These aren’t the stereotypical “thugs” whom we defensively assume are the ones being stopped by cops. The only thing that makes these people different from us (white people) is their race, and they are treated significantly differently because of it.

I think this is important. While every black life matters (thug or evangelical pastor or anything in between), while every life matters, period, (Or as our young neighbor Emilios would say, “Every life matters. PYRAMID.”), I do think the underlying assumption is that, if black folks would act more like white folks (you know, more civilized), they wouldn’t have these problems.


The profiling and injustice happens to engineer/worship band member Carlos, Pastor Dad Rich, and teacher/painter/worship band member Jamiya. And photographer/pianist Comfort. And social worker/humanitarian Mandie, and teacher/children’s ministry director/worship band member Andrew.

Let’s listen to some more stories.

Comfort (Black woman. Beautiful, talented friend of mine married to Will, mama of 2 gorgeous kiddos): Last year I was in the Westerville Kohl’s, shopping for shoes for me and my daughter, Camille. Three times within 15 minutes they paged someone over to the shoe department. Camille and I were the only ones there. The associate would come to my aisle, look at me, then act like she was doing something for two seconds, then disappear. She never said anything to me, never asked if I needed help, just kept checking up on me. I guess I look like the shoe stealing type.

I was so angry when I first heard about this. Comfort calmed me down, told me she called the store, filed a complaint, brushed the Kohl’s dust off, and moved on. “Don’t worry about me, Marla. I’m okay.”

Mandie (Black woman. Married to Andrew, a black man. Stylish, talented, people-loving, beautiful-inside-and-out friends of mine): Let me first say, it’s hard to pick just one story. It is. Almost every time I see an officer, my heart skips a beat. Last Labor Day Andrew and I were traveling, and we got pulled over for “not maneuvering a curve properly.” Before the officer got to the car, Andrew told me to take off my sunglasses and head scarf as a precaution and not to give the officer any ideas. The officer continued to ask us the same three questions over and over, and then continued to word them differently. He repeatedly went back and forth to his car checking information. He tried to lure Andrew out of the car by saying traffic was loud and he couldn’t hear. This felt like a trap, especially with Andrew’s knowledge of the criminal justice system serving in the jail. After 30+ minutes of questioning, he let us go.

I asked Mandie to share some more thoughts on being a black woman, particularly at her alma mater where she was a minority, like there might have been 5 people who weren’t white (I graduated from there 10+ years before she did.).

I can tell multiple stories of people being surprised I’m black because I sound so educated and professional. I’m not sure how and when I learned to be cautious of the police, especially being adopted into a white family and diverse neighborhood. But, at my alma mater, one male said to me you black girls (from school) are not like the girls on BET. It blew my mind that he felt completely comfortable to say that and/or make that comparison from just meeting me.

Also during Obama’s first election, I was working on campus and my boss asked about my first voting experience. He went on to de-fame Obama and all the black people who voted for him simply for that fact. I stated I had voted for Obama and that wasn’t the reason. He questioned my Christianity and told me the only reason I’d vote for him is because we’re both black. I tried to defend myself and he wouldn’t budge. I was so embarrassed and hurt, I had to reach out to professors for support.

One of my heroes is a fellow classmate. He was white and a better advocate to the white campus than I could have been, just amazing. One reason he left before graduation was because the pressure from whites to leave racial reconciliation alone and the feeling of being one of the very few whites advocating for biblical reconciliation was too much. We have to link together and build a bridge, knowing some won’t walk to the other side, but those who do are game changers. 

(Note: I voted for Obama. All while loving Jesus. And also not being black.)

And I want to close with some words from my friend, Rob, an African-American friend of mine (we go to church together, and I just love him and his wife and their three handsome boys). He posted this in response to someone on Facebook last night (a white woman who felt like there was nothing she could do to make things right), and it really impacted me.

You are doing something right now by asking the questions to gain understanding. My concern is, after your African-American brothers and sisters give you their perspective and views, what do you do with that knowledge? What do you do when one of your White counterparts makes a racially insensitive remark in regards to this case or any other case in relation to law enforcement and the death of another African-American male? Do you educate and inform to give them our (African-American) perspective or do you say nothing and continue on to the next topic? If you choose to educate, then you’re contributing towards reconciliation. If you choose the latter, then you’re contributing to what appears to African-Americans as a growing insensitivity to our issues and concerns. You have more power than you give yourself credit! 

Marla Taviano’s blog is a perfect example of doing something about it. She is standing in the gap to share the views of her African-American brothers and sisters to anyone who is willing to take the time to read her blog. More of this is needed, and that is what you can start to do. The interesting thing to me is that you appear to be more concerned about the facts of the case to defend the policeman’s actions than to understand the reason for why the killing ignited the riots. Yes, we do have laws to protect the public and our law enforcement officers. However, when 1 out of every 5 black males killed by law enforcement are under the age of 21 it’s hard to ignore from an African-American perspective that something is very wrong. 

Having said all of that, the reality is that African-Americans can’t invoke racial reconciliation alone. I need you to understand why I’m more afraid of my three sons getting killed by a police officer than in a car accident. I need you to understand why I choose to stay in my hotel room when traveling on the job in western VA so I don’t get racially profiled. I need you to understand that I’m not looking for a handout, welfare, or any special privileges. I just want to be treated fairly. I just need you to listen and truly understand where I’m coming from. And then stand in the gap for me and educate two or three others that don’t understand. That’s what you can do. God bless you and good night. 

White friends, will we take our brother Rob’s plea to heart? Will you join me in the gap?

11 thoughts on “imagine being black (part 2)

  1. Mary

    I wonder…if you would be willing to post the other side of the story? What is it like to be a police officer? What is it like to be a police officer’s wife? I am reading these stories and I see judgements being passed upon officers. I am the wife of a police officer. My husband works five days a week, often not coming home til late hours, then having to work the weekends away from his family. He is a Christian. He feels like this job is his ministry. Every day he leaves, I wonder if this is the day he won’t come back home. He works his heart out and when he comes home he usually has to bring work with him, because there are so many cases that he can’t finish in time at work. He is the one who puts child molestors in prison, he is the one who shows up when you’ve lost a loved one, he is the one who comes home sad over people who are ruining and wasting their lives with drugs. He gets discouraged because it’s so overwhelming and he deals with people’s sad stories and sees people at their worst and I keep telling him he is making a difference and I’m proud of him.
    I totally understand the reason for these blog posts. I feel ashamed for my race when I hear about these horrible stories. But I beg you please to see that there are men like my husband out there who truly try to do what is right and view their job as a ministry. And as his wife it hurts to see all officers thrown into one category, because my husband is amazing and he cares.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      This is such a good point, Mary. Thank you for sharing. Our pastor (who is African-American) shared with us last Sunday that he wants to do some positive things in our community to help build relationships between the people and the police officers. He wants us to write letters to them affirming them in what they do. He’s going to take a ride-along with an officer for a day and see what it’s like for him. And he’s going to host an appreciation breakfast and invite Columbus police officers and people from the community so trust can be built between them.

      I’ve chosen to share these stories from my friends because, in my experience, the majority of white people I know are already on the side of the police and unwilling to admit that racism happens. Very, very often. I wish there weren’t “sides” at all, and I’m asking God to bring about reconciliation of all kinds. It saddens me that your husband is a casualty of this whole thing. Please thank him for his caring heart and all he does to serve.

      1. Mary

        Thank you for understanding. I agree whole-heartedly about wanting no sides. You do amazing work! Thank you again for being open to my comments.

    2. Dianna Tennant

      Mary, I appreciate you and your husband. A police officer and their families have one of the hardest jobs. Your husband sees things, that no one should have to witness. But he is still there protecting those who may not be able to protect themselves. Helping those, who may not be able to help themselves. I think police officers, firefighters, paramedics, are just as important as the military. They are helping and protecting us here in the community. Please tell your husband thank you!

  2. j.m.b.

    marla–thank you for sharing all of this. this is truly, truly helpful and insightful (your next book?? a compilation of a millions stories like this could ignite a social revolution!)

    I have some thoughts, but I’m hesitant to say them for fear I will most likely put my foot in my mouth. But, I’m going to anyway–and maybe you or some of your other readers can address them? you know me, but i’ll share for anyone else reading this: I’m a white girl. I think I’m nice and friendly (my husband my disagree at times–ahem.). I like to make new friends and I LOVE people. But, I don’t have any black friends (aside from a little girl at our church, and a few people I knew in college, but don’t see anymore.).

    Here’s my thing. As a white girl, and being AWARE of all of this & compassionate about all of it–there are things (fears) that hold me back.

    I’m afraid to describe people as black because I don’t know if it’s really okay! (“do you remember that one time, we met that nice little boy on the playground? you know, the black one?” is that acceptable? or is that offensive? Is it okay to point out that someone is black as a descriptive word? or do I just ignore that fact, even though it might be the easiest/quickest way to describe someone to someone else.)

    I’m afraid to ask black people about their family life/traditions/interests because I’m afraid they’ll think that I think that I’m trying to get to the bottom of how life as a black person works, when really I ask every single person I meet at least 1,000 questions in the first 15 minute because I love learning and knowing people deeply.

    I’m afraid i’ll use a heavy word completely STUPIDLY in a terrible way because I just start talking and the words come out. I was at a birthday party not long ago and met an AMAZING woman in her 50’s. She was black, and so friendly and insightful about parenting. In the course of 20 minutes, she shared some parenting ideas with me that really encouraged and taught me and changed me. And then we were making small talk about all the cute little birthday guests and I noticed that the big kids and little kids were sitting at separate tables. And I said, “oh, look! they’re segregated into age groups! the big kids and the little kids don’t want to be together.” I could have DIED. I was so embarrassed. BUt i didn’t know if i should be or not. Did she think that I brought up the word segregated because I’m racist and was trying to send a hidden message? Did she notice at all? Is/was it a big deal? So then, the rest of the time, I’m internally fretting about my stupid comment and no longer fully engaged in conversation.

    That was a really wordy way of saying that I care, and i have compassion, and i would love to have a bunch of friends of all different colors and races. But I don’t know how to do it the right way. So it makes it too easy to hold back (including not even trying to make friends with black people.) out of FEAR that I will say or do the completely wrong thing and become the type of white person that I DO NOT WANT TO BE.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thank you, friend. I love your heart (and have for a long time). You are not alone in these questions and fears. If it weren’t for this amazing church I’m a part of, I’d be in your exact same boat. I will help you find answers for your questions. I’m so encouraged by you and feel like a proud big sister. Keep on trucking, girl. xoxo

    2. judy75

      I think you hit on something important. This is a vulnerable process. If you are willing to engage then you will probably make mistakes and will possibly make people mad at some point. But I think it would be a great loss if you decided not to engage this process out of fear. There is much to be gained and not a lot to lose really, other than some pride. I think over time your heart will be obvious even if you say something silly from time to time.

    3. Dianna Tennant

      J.M.B, don’t be afraid. Put yourself out there. Everyone is different no matter what race, so they may or may not react the same to questions or comments. I for one am Black, Korean, and my great great grandmother was Cherokee. My husband’s great grandparents were German and Scottish or Irish. So, my kids are going to have a very diverse ethnic background. I love when people ask me about my ethnicity, because I am proud of my heritage.

      As for your comment about not knowing if saying black is okay, I think it is. My father who was born in the 1930’s, also would say to refer to him as black. He didn’t like when people said African-American. He would say, I am not from Africa, I was born in raised in America – I am American. I know that he nor I would like to hear the word colored just because of the negative connotation during segregation. However, if you said colored, I wouldn’t hate you or think less of you.

      So, again, don’t be afraid. Just be yourself and get to know people of different races, because you never know, you may be missing out on a truly wonderful friendship!

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