Human Family

"I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." ~Maya Angelou, "Human Family"

I was 15 years old before I understood racism. 

Growing up in Kenya, I was something of an anomaly... pale skin, blonde hair, and green eyes. I became accustomed early on to being touched by strangers – particularly the caressing of my hair – but it was never malicious or sexual. I knew I was different than the majority and that was okay. But, different wasn't bad. I believed people were just people.

Oh, I knew we had our differences. Food was always the obvious one – but food is one of the great planet Earth adventures. And, sure, we worshipped different gods – or the same God called something other than God – or no god at all. Our differences excited me. It made humanity so much more interesting. 

Then we came back to the United States and spent ten months in Louisiana... the "Deep South," KKK country. Don't misunderstand me; there are millions of wonderful people in Louisiana who aren't racists – but there are probably just as many who are and it hit me like a crowded bus traveling at the speed of light.

Every high school has its version of "affinity groups" (aka: cliques) – my multicultural high school in Kenya was no exception – but here, in tenth grade, is when I realized that, aside from the classroom and the sports field, the Whites hung out with the Whites, the Blacks with the Blacks, the Hispanics with the Hispanics, the Asians with the Asians, etc. Even the military kids from the local Air Force base drifted to their like kind, which puzzled me immensely. "Shouldn't they think like me?" I thought... until someone confessed that military kids really have no need to leave a foreign base unless they want to (Why wouldn't you want to?). 

Word spread quickly in my new high school that I had moved from Africa, perpetuated, no doubt, by the youth from the church we attended because they were the only ones who knew. I was uncomfortable from day one, but I was also determined to not let it change me or the way I treated people; however, my efforts to remain friendly to everyone, combined with the collective knowledge of where I was from, earned me nicknames I refuse to repeat. 

Some of the White boys became progressively uglier in their taunts. Their obvious malicious intent was countered by a handful of Black football players who took it upon themselves to escort me safely from one class to another. Eventually, thankfully, the novelty of the blonde girl from Africa wore off. Teenagers have notoriously short attention spans. I continued being friendly with anyone who would allow me and I become close friends with two like-minded military girls who made the remainder of that academic year tolerable

But my eyes has been opened.

Racism was no longer something I read about in a history book; it became a living, breathing, thriving entity... and I loathe it. It makes me more angry than just about any other abomination. 

When I returned to Kenya, I began to see and experience White privilege where I had been blind to it before. I am even guilty, in my adolescent years, of blatantly taking advantage of it. I realized at sixteen that, being White and blonde, I could waltz into any club in the country without showing proof of age. Some would say it was my relative attractiveness that earned me such special treatment. No. That's White privilege making excuses for White privilege. 

I came back to the United States for university in 1992 – Arkansas, one state above Louisiana – back in the "Deep South" – and, 25 years later, I still struggle with racism every day.

I am here to tell you that white privilege is real and more people need to recognize it. 

I am also here to tell you that Black Lives Matter. 

Sure, all lives matter, but that's not the point

Black Lives Matter because, as the mother of sons, I fear for the boys of my Black friends like I have never had to fear for my own dudes. 

Black Lives Matter because good people are turned away from the most basic of jobs and forced into the system by the same people who then accuse them of milking it.

Black Lives Matter because, in a town that has two universities, but is still the size of a postage stamp, a person of color should be able to walk across the street from one campus to the other without a shade of suspicion. (Unless it's Battle of the Ravine rivalry week, of course, and then we are all suspicious of one another.)

Black Lives Matter because they are still treated as though they don't belong – generations of people who have helped build this country into the nation it is today. 

Black Lives Matter because those who choose to speak up about the freedoms they deserve are still perceived as "uppity" or seeking to incite violence. 

Black Lives Matter because this degradation and assault on basic freedoms is far too often met with grace, forgiveness, and hope... when they have the right to be angry. 

Hell, I'm angry. It makes me livid, but I have hope and I want my Black friends to have hope too. It's there. 

My sons are now 21 and 16. I've watched closely as they have grown up in such a wildly different environment from the one in which I was raised; but, like me, they don't really recognize color as a divide between people. Many of their friends – White, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Mixed – they feel the same way. Of the oldest's three closest friends, two are of people of color... one Black and one Middle-Eastern. And my teenager? His girlfriend is part Japanese. Oh, there are still cliques in high school (and college), but they aren't all separated by race like the one I attended all those years ago. 

This is our future. 

If we let them... if we stop taking one step forward and five steps back... these millennials have it in them to end racism and build us into the Human Family I have always longed for us to be. 


  1. YOUR WORDS ARE GREAT. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic close to your heart.

    1. Thank you, Tarissa. I struggled with the decision to post this piece. I didn't know if my words needed to be added to the conversation. In the end, I decided it was important for me to put out there... even if no one read it. Thanks for reading.


"Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?" ~Walt Whitman


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