May 16, 2011

Insider/Outsider/All in the Family

I have been the only white person in a room of a hundred or more black folks on more than one occasion. It happens whenever my family is lucky enough to have the money saved up to attend a family reunion. It is good for me to experience what it is like because it gives me a very different perspective on what it means to be in my skin. Such experiences are not always comfortable, though, and it can be stressful.  The reaction you get when you are the "only" in a sea of "others" can be overwhelming: people either stare at you or ignore you completely and pretend you're not there. Sometimes they assume you are there for some nefarious purpose and they follow you around, waiting for you to start a fight or to try stealing something.

My experiences of being the only white person in a room have given me a chance to imagine what it was like for my husband, who attended school in Iowa for many years and was the only black kid in his class. I can only imagine, though--day after day and year after year being the only kid in the class that looked like him. I don't have a clue what it would be like experiencing that feeling of being "the only" for such a long period of time.

The best feeling though, comes when you are welcomed into such a room of 100 people who don't share your skin color, but greet you as family.  The best feeling is knowing that they are family and that they don't care about the color of your skin. They care that their son/cousin/brother/nephew loves you, married you. They trust him, so they love you, too. It's unconditional because it's family. They aren't afraid to tell you that they love you (even though they just met you.) They aren't afraid to show you, either, and the hugs and kisses and holding of each other's babies and the sharing of family stories happen the way they'd happen if you weren't there or if you didn't look different. With a couple of my in-laws I had to wait to gain their trust, but for the most part I am completely accepted. In fact, they will be offended if they read this and see that I called them my "in-laws." To them, I am simply FAMILY.

I recommend the being "the only" in a crowd of "others" to my students each year--be the only guy in a room of 100 girls; the only Christian in a room of 100 Muslims; the only white person in a room of 100 people who aren't white. See what it's like. Catch a glimpse of what it feels like. It will change your perspective and open your eyes to a different world.


  1. Jen, this is great! I really love your post and I can totally relate to you on this. I am finally coming to a place where I feel like I'm getting over the lost relationship between me and my MIL. I suppose I've been grieving in a way and I really miss the relationship we once had, but at the same time, I am so hurt by all the things that she said and did during our wedding planning. I'm coming to terms with it though...through venting on my blog. I really love your story and I'm so glad for all the positive love you have received and the relationships you have cultivated with your hubby's family. I will say this...there's nothing like the love of in-laws when they take you in as familia! Definitely a bond worth protecting! Thank you for sharing this. ♥

  2. Thank you Chantilly! I hope that you continue to come to terms with the pain from your MIL's comments. I am very lucky, but definitely have had a couple of experiences like the ones you wrote about on your blog. I have learned that practicing acceptance means that I must accept the good and the bad of others. It can be really hard! It's hard to know when to accept someone's comments and when cut yourself out of a painful relationship (that's another story--from my side of the family--concerning my estranged grandfather. No happy ending there.) Hang in there. The years will go by and it will be easier!

  3. Thanks Jen. Right now, I am at the point where our in-laws are no longer in our life, but hopefully things will change someday or we will learn to accept the loss. <3

  4. First thank you for the visit loved your comment it has been one of my favourites thus far. Second I am glad that we found each other because I just read this one post and i like what I see. Looking forward in getting to know of you and your family.
    Third I am now following. =)

  5. What a touching post. There is nothing like a family's love, to feel accepted and a part of something bigger. Your family is beautiful.

  6. Adriana--thank you for visiting and following! Your post really touched me. I am glad that we found each other, too!

    Ezzy--thank you for the comment! That feeling of acceptance is very special. Sometimes I wish I could bottle it up and offer it to others who have never experienced it.

  7. Excellent post my sister. I agree. When I've been to Mexico I was often the only gringo around. It's humbling to be the minority. 

  8. Thank you gringo Glenn ;) I agree, it is very humbling and I wish more gringos could experience it. If the Census is correct, they may be forced to in the not-to-distant future!


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