How I Made You Comfortable

In the Confession and Forgiveness post, I shared how, for nearly 50 years, I have been trying to make white people comfortable with my presence in the room. I’m guessing that post made some of you wonder what I did to make sure you were comfortable and I was accepted.

It probably just felt like I was sharing my story with you. It was most likely the first time we had met at a conference or workshop. We were all sitting around a table and were asked to introduce ourselves, but like I say in the “Who I am?” post, introductions are tricky. Consciously or unconsciously, we decide on what information we are going to share about ourselves. We want to make and leave an impression that ensures we will belong.

Depending on the context, I would make sure that people knew a few key things about me to feel safe with my presence:

1) I was adopted

2) I grew up in northern Wisconsin

3) my last name was Skatrud (see I’m just like all those other Lutherans with -rud at the end of their name).

There would be no doubt that someone would know my dad, my uncle, or my cousin and her husband who were also all Lutheran pastors. Those few facts would make the tension at the table relax. Your guard would come down. You could picture me as you, so then I could belong. I was giving you permission to whitewash me.

At my internship congregation in Denver, CO after an evening meeting or worship, I can’t fully remember, I was in a conversation with one of the very sweet older ladies in the parish. What I will never forget is that we were talking about race and she said to me, “But Kara, you are white.” I had to tell her, “No, I’m black.” There was a look of shock on her face. She, like so many others, had white-washed me to make themselves comfortable.

Sadly, all too often. I gave you the paint, so that you could be comfortable and I could be safe.

I made you comfortable throughout the years for what I thought was my safety as well. What I didn’t realize was that making you comfortable kept me from fully being myself. Making you comfortable kept me from speaking my truth. Making you comfortable kept me from full embracing all of my gifts and skills because I was holding back. Making you comfortable kept us all in the same dysfunctional pattern of whiteness being the norm and not making space for the beauty of the true diversity of voices that God has created.

So my white friends – make space. Hold space for everyone to be who God created them to be. See color, especially yours, and know that it not only comes with privilege, but it comes with responsibility. Responsibility to learn, to listen, and to work toward systemic change in your community and across our country. If you find yourself being uncomfortable around a BIPOC, ask yourself “why?”. Ask yourself why at least five times to get to the heart of your discomfort and be honest about it. Then remember God is more creative then humanity has allowed God to be. God is the color of water – reflecting all of God’s creation. More on that on tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “How I Made You Comfortable

  1. Annie Romstad says:

    I had not thought of this approach or wording! I think this to be right on, and a sample of “to thine own self be true.” It also made me think back on the times I re-vised some of my persona or looks in order to be accepted. Not any more! Hopefully all other “colors” will soon feel the freedom to do the same. Please keep posting all these great finds.

  2. Barb Daanen says:

    “Ask yourself why at least five times to get to the heart of your discomfort and be honest about it”. Thank you for reminding me of the “5 Why” inquiry tool.

    This is a quality practice (the 5 Whys) used in many industries to get at the “heart” of implementing changes when there were problems that could have or did result in injury or death (like big issues, space shuttle explosion or “small” issues like a faulty bolt making it through an inspection process) and truly prevent them from happening again.. During investigation of an issue, you push a problem solving team to uncover the true “why” the problem occurred from the obvious reason. Using space shuttle…. first reason: a panel failed, second why: Why did the panel fail?”… answer given then and so on (even beyond 5) to get to the “true reason” the panel failed. May have been gaps inspection, may have been untrained personnel, may have been “soft”, yet systemic reasons, like pressures to get done on time and organizational issues like if people aren’t encouraged to report problems.

    The 5 Whys is also POWERFUL as a personal discovery tool to uncover “implicit bias” and the reasons that exist in my life. I’ve used it before to examine other areas of my life… thanks for the reminder to use it again and now.

    In examining my white existence, it can help with answering tough questions. Like for me…

    Why, although I was aware of it for years and a lover of historical nonfiction/fiction, did I have no idea what Juneteenth Day was celebrating?

    Why are there only 2 times in my life, when I have truly experienced being the minority color in a crowd?

    Why do I avoid discussions (or worse am silent in discussions) with white friends and family members on socially acceptable white privilege topics where my view is different than the majority opinion of the table? Why am I so concerned about not making other people uncomfortable? Why do I not like to be uncomfortable or angry or perceived as different?

    Just a sampling of those personal introspective white privilege questions to unpack… so many more.

  3. Heather says:

    Thank you for this post. It is very telling what we decide to share when you introduce ourselves to a group. It’s worth paying attention to what we say, and what others choose to share as well.

  4. Joannie Weinberg says:

    As a member of Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church, I look forward to having you join us In worship on Sunday. Welcome aboard!

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