imagine being black

“Why do black people have to make everything about race?”

“We’re never going to move forward in this country if people don’t stop playing the race card.”

“Maybe if Michael Brown would’ve had more respect for authority, this whole mess wouldn’t have happened.”

“Why doesn’t anyone complain when black people kill each other?”

I’ve heard all of these and more this past week-and-a-half, and it makes my insides churn. With every day that passes, I feel a burden to do something. More than just a quick blog post. More than just linking to these beautiful words by my friend, Becca. More than meeting with a dozen or so friends from Sanctuary Columbus Church to pray and lament for Michael Brown’s family, Ferguson, leaders/law enforcement, and our own city.

But what’s a white girl to do?

I think the hardest thing for me to stomach is to hear other white folks speak from a place of ignorance. Not ignorance as in stupidity. Ignorance as in NOT KNOWING, having no knowledge of, having no black friends who have shared their personal experiences with them. White people who have NO IDEA that just about every single black person in this country can share a time (if not 2, 3, 10 times) when they have been profiled or treated unfairly (particularly by law enforcement) because of the color of their skin.

No other reason. None. Just their skin color.

After our prayer time Monday night, God just kept nudging me and nudging me. Use this space to tell their stories. Not everyone is as blessed as you to have so many friends of different shades. Not all white people have black friends. Not all black people have white friends.

Share their stories.

So I spent some time on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning sending messages to some of my black friends and asking them if they’d be willing to share their stories. Their emphatic yeses overwhelmed my heart with gratitude.

And they are all my real-life friends. They all live in my city. They all follow Jesus, and they all either go to the same church I do, or we attended church together in the past.

Please take a moment to listen to my friends. Put yourself in their shoes for just a moment. Try to imagine what your life might be like if your skin was a different color.

Gloria (White. Married to a black man. Carlos and Gloria and their two beautiful kiddos are friends who go to church with us.): When Carlos and I were dating during high school, he used to talk to me about how he strongly believed he would not make it past the age of 21. As a black teenager, he regularly was stopped by police officers as he walked the 1 mile to my house to visit me, thrown down to the ground, and searched. This all happened in our suburb of Colorado Springs.

Carlos (Gloria’s main squeeze): Frank (my first white friend) and I were walking home from a church softball game – in which Frank had knocked home a winning run. As you can imagine we were re-enacting the game until we made a critical mistake: we swung the bat as a police car was passing. The lights turned on, and the officer flew out of his car, face contorted in rage, accusing us of having swung at the car….

We pleaded our case, even pointing at our VERY OBVIOUS church softball shirts to no avail. I saw Frank’s face go from absolute shock to understanding and then to anger. He knew – had it been two white boys walking on the sidewalk the officer would have never pulled over.

Frank was white, he knew his rights and began to speak louder about his intentions to continue to walk home, however, I stood stark still as I watched the officer’s hand slide next to the cuffs on his belt. Thank GOD we were walking near Webster Elementary a few miles from the southern gate of Ft Carson. Frank senior rounded the corner – saw us, and intervened. Who knows what would have happened had he not been coming home at that exact moment.

I have not had a traffic violation since moving to Ohio in 1996 – but I get pulled over twice a year and let go with a warning. A few months ago I was pulled over in Gahanna. The officer followed me out of the hospital parking lot and pulled me over before I accelerated. He wanted to warn me not to speed in the 200 yards from the light at CarePoint Ohio to my turn at the corner of Hamilton and Johnstown road. Apparently there’s a preschool there. I wonder what impression the kids got of the black man talking to the police officer trying not to make eye contact with the cars streaming by. It’s the little things that add up to distrust and tension, for us and for the next generation.

Rich (Black male. Dad of 4 beautiful kids. Our pastor): Not long ago, I was on my way to a friend’s house in Gahanna to borrow a tent. On the way there, I passed a police car. 100% of the time, I hope and pray I don’t get pulled over. And I’m not just talking about the times I’m speeding. This time I was not speeding. I did not make an illegal turn. He asked for my license and registration and asked where I was coming from. Detroit. Shoot, I thought to myself. “Mr. Johnson, may we search your vehicle?” I knew it was my legal right to refuse, but I also knew my resistance would give him enough suspicion to search the car anyway or handcuff me and take me to jail for resisting. He didn’t find anything. He said he pulled me over for not having a front license plate. Please forgive me if I’m not completely rosy when I see a police officer. I’m middle class, educated, knowledgeable enough to know all police officers don’t have ill intent. I teach my kids to respect police officers. Unfortunately, the outcome for so many other African-American males is not as favorable.

(Note: I have white friends who have been pulled over in Gahanna for the same thing–no front license plate. Not once has their car been searched.)

Jamiya (Black man. Married to a white woman–my dear friend, Amanda. Dad to 3 gorgeous kiddos.) Two weeks ago I was helping a white friend… I was restraining him from hurting others. The police were called, and when they arrived, they automatically assumed I was the one doing the attacking. That’s one of many racial profile examples.

When I was in college at Miami University, a girl couldn’t find her Tommy Hilfiger coat. I had one just like it. Blue, puffy. Someone saw me wearing my own coat and assumed I stole hers. They came to my dorm and workplace looking for me. They didn’t believe me when I told them it was mine, and I had to go into the police station to defend myself.

I was once pulled over three times in one day in Chicago. After the 3rd time I asked why, and they said I fit the description they had of someone who had committed a crime (black man in a Honda Civic).

Amanda (Jamiya’s wife): I remember them taunting you and saying you were on drugs/a dealer. You kept insisting you were NOT, just doing honest maintenance work. When they pulled up your record, they had to let you go because you DIDN’T fit their description. Oh man, I totally remember my righteous indignation flaring up that day. I wanted to march directly to the police station.

Friends, please notice that these aren’t dramatic, embellished stories. It’s just the facts. Friends sharing some (not even all) of their experiences. Something that has become a way of life for them. Something white people don’t ever have to worry about.

I’ll be back soon with more stories just like these. Please take a minute to listen. I don’t want us to argue or debate or try to discredit.

I just want us to listen.

And if you have your own story to share, the comments are open for you.

11 thoughts on “imagine being black

  1. Pingback: imagine being black (part 3) | Marla Taviano

  2. Pingback: imagine being black (part 2) | Marla Taviano

  3. Amanda Pride

    Love to you Marla! And I want to add, the person that had the perspective about animals & human species- did come and apologize a few years later.

  4. Amanda Pride

    Marla, we do thank you for initiating this conversation. Jp and I wanted to share his experiences -not to have people feel sorry for him but to make people aware that racial profiling is still prevalent and strong today. I’m SO very grateful that we serve a God who created ALL people and doesn’t show favoritism. When I first became a Christian at the age of 16, one of the first areas of my heart the Lord began to change was the issue of race. As a follower of Him, I was moved to my core to no longer “judge” people by their outward appearances but for who they were. I took steps in at a very “white” college to step out of my comfort zone and begin to forge friendships with African Americans. The people I reached out to, accepted me and appreciated me making the effort and I developed life-long friendships with many of them. I grew not only in my “black” friends but as a person-as the Lord was preparing me for my future. At the end of college, I moved to the inner-city of Chicago to continue this passion for racial unity. I found myself among many others who had a similar passion and desire. To bridge the racial gap. I have experienced the LOVE of God and have witnessed HIM bringing people of all different races together for one cause…Jesus. I met Jp while living in Chicago and we were married in 1998. Jp and I are so VERY thankful to be a part of the body of Christ. And honestly, don’t know where we’d be without it. When we first married 16 years ago, we honestly didn’t have much support. But we both felt that we needed to stay the course and because of our love for each other and God, we moved forward in getting married and making our commitment to the Lord and one another. I was definitely tested in my new passion, as now it was not longer just a nice idea, but one that would change the course of my life and family forever.
    We had “older” family members that refused to see us once I married JP. I spent much of my early years constantly defending him and letting others know that he was a great, Christian who loved me and the Lord and that I was going to be just fine. I had a christian tell me that I was out of God’s will- that God wasn’t for interracial marriages and that he didn’t allow animals to cross breed and he felt the same about humans????? What the what? Aren’t we HUMANS all the same species regardless of our skin color??? That was by far the most ridiculous thing I had heard!
    Over the 16 years, my husband has been my “steady eddy.” He has been faithful and has stuck around even when he wasn’t the most “welcomed”. He has stood up for truth in LOVE and has remained humble and gentle. I have seen the LORD bless Him and use Him to help break down the “black” male stereotypes. God has often put him in “white” jobs where he’s the only black male. I’ve witnessed people’s hearts change and views of “black” males change bc of his willingness to step out of his comfort zone. No he’s not perfect, but he’s willing to step out and be used by the LORD.

    I could go on and on but I want to end with this, God has given us the ministry of reconciliation-first to Jesus then to one another. With Jesus as the center, LOVE will come. Hearts will change. Oh Praise HIM!!

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Oh, Amanda. Thank you. You two have blessed our family in more ways than you know. Always giving of your time, your money, your talents, and yourselves. Praying God’s blessings all over you guys! And asking him to sustain you in the hard work he’s called you to. Love you so much!

  5. judy75

    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.

    Also, there are plenty of rallies against black on black crime; they just don’t get any press. Just because you don’t know about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

  6. Sharon

    Oh.My.Word. I literally want to vomit when I read how awful your friends have been treated. And not just once, but repeatedly. It is unbelievable. But, of course, I do believe all the stories and imagine there are many more to tell. Perhaps some so bad they are blocked from memory. Thanks Marla and to all those willing to share here.

  7. Rachelle

    Thank you! I’m an admittedly isolated white girl. Not purposefully but geographically. More and more I know that silently doing nothing equals injustice to my precious brothers and sisters that are suffering. Please keep sharing!!

  8. Holly B.

    Thanks so much for creating space for us to listen to these stories, Marla. It’s essential to simply hear these voices.

  9. Megan Tietz

    Oh, friend. Like you, I have been grieved to my very core by what I have heard white friends saying in the past week. And like you, I don’t even know where to start.

    Thank you for collecting stories. I think the stories of others are one of the most powerful fuels in any revolution. Thank you to your friends for speaking their stories. Thank you for giving us a place to listen.

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