This is my family. Yep, I grew up in a family of white people. In Northern Wisconsin. In the 1970’s and 1980’s. No matter what, I was going to be raised by white people. I am bi-racial. My birth mother was a first generation American whose family had immigrated from England. I was the result of a college exchange program where students from the north studied at a college in the south for a semester or an academic year. Call it study aboard 1969. My birth father, I know nothing about, expect that he was Black. That means biologically, I’m half Black and half British.
My birth mother made the courageous decision that she was not ready to be a mother and placed me for adoption through Lutheran Social Services/State of Wisconsin. When I was five weeks old, I was picked up from Madison, Wisconsin by my mom and dad. As the story goes, they met me and were told to go out to lunch and “think about this” because raising a bi-racial child was going to be hard. My mom always assures me that it was the fastest they ever ate lunch. They went back to the agency to pick me up and to take on the challenge of rising a bi-racial child.
Was it hard raising a bi-racial child? I don’t know, you’d have to ask my parents. What I know now, looking back at growing up, is that what was in vogue at that time was being color blind. “I don’t see color. I just see you.” This means I was whitewashed.
I didn’t grow up fully understanding what it means to be black in America. I knew I was black, but didn’t have the necessary resources to help me grasp our world. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would have been able to fully understand, or if my context would have been receptive to a more vocal pissed off pastor’s kid. Meaning that I grew up in a pretty protective bubble that only let in a few of the socially acceptable forms of racism.
Chippewa Falls was in some ways a protective bubble for me. I did have to face many of the socially accepted forms of racism, but no one went too far. It was always words and never sticks and stones that I had to deal with. My dad was the pastor of one of the local Lutheran churches. It was a small town and you knew everyone. Everyone knew Pastor Skatrud and everyone knew that I was his daughter. I was protected by my family’s whiteness and my dad’s position of leadership in the community. However, that protection was only good in Chippewa Falls. Everywhere else I was seen as a black girl and it has taken me years to fully understand what that means.
My white family has provided me with advantages: easy access to education. On one side of my family I’m a second generation college student, on the other side – 3rd generation. A “white” first name that wouldn’t flag me as not being of European descent in an application process. Access to loans and wealth. Growing up I never dealt with racial profiling by the police. They instilled in me the belief that nothing could hold me back.
What my white family could not provide me: a full sense of my identity as a black person in America. (It has been hard to figure out where I fit in.) They could not provide me with a full sense of the systemic nature of racism. (It took going to seminary for me to start to finally get it). The racial profiling I would experience as an adult. The reality that people would want to hold me back simply because I’m black. What my white family has provided me with and continues to provide me is an abundance of love and support.
My memories of growing up are not all bad. Far from it. Playing upstairs at grandma’s house with my cousins. Being on grandpa’s farm. My parents cheering for my friends and I at swim meets, marching band and winter guard competitions. Continual support in finding my passion and calling. I will never forget Uncle Arne saying, “She is one to watch out for” after preaching at one of our family reunions. Ultimately, my family has provided me with unconditional love (we are Lutherans after all). I haven’t been the easiest child to raise. Some of that has to do with me, and some of that has to do with the racism that is in the air we breathe in this nation and not having the tools to talk about them when I/we really needed them.
I know some of you who read this blog will be more comfortable knowing that my family is white.
This post is not about making you comfortable.
It is about making me comfortable knowing that I ‘m writing this blog being as transparent as possible within the context from which I write.