When I am embarrassed to be white

It was Saturday morning, only days after the Charleston shootings. As part of the Huntsville Dream Center, believers from different churches were spreading out in the community to celebrate fathers in the housing project, to mow grass for elderly widows, to hand out quarters in laundromats.

And to visit the lonely in nursing homes.

That’s where I found myself. I walked into Mrs. WL’s room where a visit was already in progress by two teenage ladies in our group, Shelby and Bella.

They were talking with Mrs. WL, an elderly African-American woman stretched out in bed, still in her nightgown, her breakfast tray untouched. But she was wide awake and talkative.


She told us about her tall son-in-law who could reach the top of the TV. She explained why she took organ lessons growing up in Birmingham. She insisted Shelby open a cabinet to see her stuffed dog.

But between these ordinary things, she’d ask us a question:

Did you hear about that boy that killed all those people?

Ugh. “Yes, ma’am. We did. So awful.”

Then she’d change the subject. Talk about her children. About her husband working at the post office. About receiving so many birthday cards she couldn’t count them all.

But then it would rise up again, clearly on her mind, something she couldn’t quite put to rest:

Did you hear about the boy that shot those folks?

Nervous sighing. “Yes, ma’am. Such a tragedy.”

By the third time, she didn’t let go so easily. She followed up with:

Why? Why did he do that? Do you know?

Ouch. “Well, not exactly.”

And then it fell, her final question, the zinger:

Were those people black?

I wanted to lie.

Would it be easier to take if it had been a white-on-white crime? Or black-on-black?

But it wasn’t, and even Mrs. WL, secured away in a nursing home with her short-term memory, could figure this out.

So we had to answer, honestly, “Yes, ma’am. They were black.”

Now she knew. She said what we hadn’t wanted to, visibly hanging her head as her words came out:

Then I know why he did it.

Wham. I wanted to crawl inside my pale skin and turn inside out.

I was embarrassed to be white.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m afraid you’re right. He had hatred in his heart. It was horrible what he did.”

Then Mrs. WL led us in a conversation about how skin color doesn’t matter. About how we’re all alike on the inside—or as she put it, “We all have the same guts.”

We all have the same heart. We all have the same God.

“Yes, the same God,” she repeated.

How many times have we all offended our God? Not by our skin, but by our hearts?

Maybe it’s not really about being white—or black—but about being human. About being flawed. About being offensive, whatever our color, whatever our prejudices.

We’re not all prejudiced against skin shade, but there are other things. There are always other things.

  • Maybe we’re judgmental towards a neighbor we deem lazy.
  • Or are disgusted by a sister’s poor relationship choices.
  • Or bitter about a church system that hurt us low.

The object of our prejudice may differ.
But the verb is the same.

Our only solution is to let God determine our identity. Starting from the inside. Scrub us clean with his righteousness, until we’re declared perfect through his Son.

No one should feel disgust with how God made them on the outside: red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in his sight.

But our true identity—in Christ—goes far deeper. Shame can’t reach there.

Mrs. WL moved on to tell us about her cat Hazel. About liking the new Pope. About her pink “#1 Mom” pillow.

And about how pretty our two young ladies were. Over and over and over she told them.

Even more times than she’d asked about the boy killer, she complimented Shelby and Bella on how beautiful they were.

You’re the prettiest girls I’ve ever seen,” she told them. “I hope you remember that!”

I hope they remember, too. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Exactly as they are. Exactly as we all are.

I am who I am

* * *

When have you been embarrassed about who you are? Let’s talk about this in the comments.

Important reading:

  • We need to talk about white culture by Joshua DuBois
    “But if we’re serious about preventing future tragedies, we must confront some very old demons. . . . My brothers and sisters from the majority culture—White Americans—need to have the courage to drive this dialogue, and help us find some answers.”

37 thoughts on “When I am embarrassed to be white

  1. Laura

    What a difficult conversation this was wrapped up into a beautiful visit. Daily, there are things that happen in this world that I do not understand, this shooting in Charleston being one of them. Skin color doesn’t matter, and as you say here, so many other things “don’t matter.” Two people can be so at odds with each other over differing ideas, yet they believe in and worship the same God. Back to God…that’s where we all need to go. Back to the God that unites us all.

  2. Cheryl Smith

    Oh, do I ever know how you felt! We live in a predominantly black area, and I feel SO ashamed of what happened to those precious, precious brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no rhyme or reason to heinous crimes like this, and all of us wish we could go back in time and somehow prevent this horror from happening. The one thing we should all focus on now that it is all over, is the way the family members of the bereaved have exemplified the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. They are living, breathing ambassadors of His heart, and the way they have handled their grief is truly amazing. Charleston is a city set on a hill, shining forth what it means to be true Christians! If you care to, it is worth your time to read Tony Perkins’ article for more details at: http://www.frc.org/ Have a blessed day!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it has been breathtaking to see how much love the victims’ families are showing. I enjoyed reading those words you linked to (even though it made me cry). I too wish that somehow time could be rolled back and this tragedy averted. But you’re right that now we can only go forward and focus on the love and forgiveness of Jesus. For each of us. Thanks for sharing, Cheryl.

  3. Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours

    I’ve never been embarassed by my white ancestry, but I have been in similar situations when my color added a heavy awkwardness. But yes, if color isn’t the prejudice, there is ALWAYS another one, and I know I have grieved God on many occasions; sometimes out of ignorance, others out of self-focus. As you said so well, our true identity is in Christ. May we all choose unity before God…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Exactly, Susan—we all have weak spots that not only drag us down, but can drag others down with us. All the more reason that we need each other for support and direction and courage. Yes, unity. Thank you.

  4. June

    Lisa, thank you for saying what I’ve been trying to figure out how to say, but being white am afraid will just come out wrong and/or further offend. “Maybe it’s not really about being white—or black—but about being human. About being flawed. About being offensive, whatever our color, whatever our prejudices.” I’m not ashamed to be white, but I do grieve deeply for the sin in this world, and the people caught in the cross-fire of a motive so senseless and just, plain ignorant. The message of Christ crucified, a heart transformation through forgiveness of sin, is what changes people. I agree with Elizabeth, this is the best post I’ve read since the shooting. Well done.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you, June. I think we all are wanting to be extra sensitive and not make matters worse with our words. May the Lord give us wisdom to say the right words to speak against injustice and to speak up for love. I appreciate your encouragement here and for your faith that Jesus Christ is what can make the ultimate difference.

  5. floyd

    To truly know God is to know the words from scripture that we’re all of One blood. Knowing Him makes the difference… That’s my kinda women, calling it like it is and as simple as it gets, “We all have the same guts.” That’s wisdom that can make a point with so few-uh-words.

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I’ve never been embarrassed to be white, because…well, because I’m not. I’m Mongolian.

    The shooting in Charleston was unspeakable, but I’m a little bit concerned at too many mea culpas from the white community actually perpetuating the root causes, and re-emphasizing the divisiveness. Assumption of the ‘right’ to apologize for past crimes like racism and slavery – when one has not, in one’s own life, shown racial prejudice nor owned a slave – is a dangerous road, because in feeling compelled to pick up that instrument of self-flagellation, the temptation to require it of others is not far away.

    Would we have felt justified in 2001, demanding that all persons of Saudi and Pakistani descent apologize for the actions of bin Laden and his minions? Indeed, an effort was made to avoid any of that broad-brush assumption of guilt-by-association-or-descent.

    And holding oneself to a different standard – one in which the neighbor is treated with more consideration – is proscribed by Jesus’ words, “love they neighbor as thyself”.

    We have to work together – all of us, whatever skin color or facial features we have – to eradicate racism in all its forms, but I believe the actions have to point to a new future, and not remained mired in taking on guilt for a past in which we had no part.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree we need to work together for a unified future. And sometimes that future starts best with an apology today for things done in the past, even if not done directly by “us,” nor done directly to “them.” I’ve been the recipient of a group apology of sorts, and even though the person apologizing was not the one who had committed the wrong, it still was healing to my soul to hear the words said.

      So even if we’ve not been actively involved in discriminating against others, we are still human and selfish by nature and at least have indirectly participated in perpetuating an unfair system.

      I can only start with me; you can only start with you. I do believe it will continue to get better. We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet.

      1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        On reading your reply, I was forcibly recalled to the words of John Donne.

        Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

        And healing comes before recovery. You are so very right, and I spoke with a lack of compassion.

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          You did share this though: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. A beautiful command that would make everything better if we could follow it better…. The Lord has mercy.

  7. nicki schroeder

    Bless that dear sweet woman’s heart for giving you a gift of perspective. It truly is a heart issue, all of the craziness that surrounds us in this world. It goes well beyond what the eye sees. Well done Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it is always a blessing when we are given the perspective behind another’s eyes. I was so grateful for Mrs. WL’s attitude that day, and in the end, I was also grateful for her not backing away from it, but digging in when I wanted to avoid it.

  8. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! I can only imagine how hard that conversation would have been. To be a white person, saying that black people were killed out of hate. What a powerful emotion hate is! Certainly this woman could have decided to kick you all out, and hate all white people for what happened. And the people affected by the killings in Carolina could have chosen to riot.

    But they show us the way, don’t they? Love. Forgiveness. Pointing out beauty. Those are the powerful things that were shown to the nation and to you in that nursing home. That’s Christ. That’s the way we are called to be, even in the midst of such evil.
    I am so grateful for the witness of this one woman. And for all of the North Carolina community too.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Exactly, Ceil. The witnesses we’ve seen of love and forgiveness have spoken so beautifully. These responses are the kind that bring honor to Christ. May we all keep learning how to do this better.

  9. Susan Shipe

    “The object of our prejudice may differ.
    But the verb is the same.”

    I’ve never been in the situation as you describe. I loathe when crimes against Planned Parenthood are committed by “Christians trying to save babies”. I’m 125% PRO-LIFE and I detest PP and what they do but when people who profess to be born-anew believers do such things I just want to shrink. As though God needs help defending Himself!
    Interesting post and those gals are beautiful. Visiting from Faith Barista slot #13.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Susan—>”As though God needs help defending Himself!” He’s a big God and will accomplish his will in this world with or without our help. He’s gracious to allow us to participate alongside him, but isn’t he much happier when we participate with hearts and acts of love! Thanks for your words.

  10. bluecottonmemory

    Oh, yes, Lisa – “Our only solution is to let God determine our identity. Starting from the inside. Scrub us clean with his righteousness, until we’re declared perfect through his Son.” It breaks my heart, though, that anyone would be embarrassed by how God designed them – from the color of their skin to the gifts God put within them. You packed lots of wisdom in your post!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I think we can do better to help everyone feel okay in their skin, beginning with ourselves…. And comfortable (and even excited!) with their giftings too–excellent point.

  11. ~ linda

    Oh, my! This precious woman and she knows and she really knows a deepness that so many miss in life. It is our heart that God sees. He created us and knows our skin tones. He knows those who have narrow eyes. He knows those who are old and weak and vulnerable. He knows us each. Oh, that we would look through the eyes of Jesus and see that we are God’s beautiful creations. I think of the Disney song and ride, “It’s a Small, Small World.” Oh, that we would only believe that, know that.
    This book I told you I was reading is such an eyeopener in such a sad, burdensome way, but a read I truly want to know about. Because our white skinned brothers and sisters of days gone by were wrong. again. and again! It is heavy, but I want to know so that I could do better.
    Your title drew me in for I have been ashamed of the whiteness as well.

    1. ~ linda

      I meant to say that I am ashamed of the whiteness but also remember that God created me with this white skin so I am believing that He has work for me in His world.

      1. LisaNotes Post author

        I feel we’re on such a similar track, Linda. I feel burdened by the things we’re seeing, reading, feeling, but it pushes me to want to do better. Doesn’t it all go back to the old, old scripture, Micah 6:8? Love this in the CEV version:

        “The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands:
        ‘See that justice is done,
        let mercy be your first concern,
        and humbly obey your God.'”

        I do wonder what all Mrs. WL has seen in her lifetime. Part of me hopes that her memory has erased the bad stuff; I’m sure she saw mistreatment and injustice through the years. Yet to come out of it without bitterness. That is grace!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I’m afraid that our real problems run deep and first we have to realize that, sometimes the hardest step. 🙁 But then God can cleanse us and we can start over. Yay for God’s grace and forgiveness! Thanks, Sarah.

  12. Nannette and the Sweetheart

    I am not embarrassed to be white nor am I ashamed. The actions of a few psychotic, deranged or hate-filled people do not represent the majority. I am, like you, heartbroken over the terrible tragedy that took place in Charleston for sure. I am heartbroken that it was a racial issue. I think our country has been pushed back 50 years in race relations and so much of it is fueled by the media and a few influential people stirring the pot. We have a long way to go to get to where we do NOT see skin color. I pray the Church rises up as an example to the nation how we are to love. and the infilling of the Holy Spirit changes that heart from the inside out. Kudos to your beautiful friend in the nursing home. What a sweetheart!

    Great post, Lisa. Always love to visit and hear your words! ♥

  13. Betty Draper

    We all have the same guts.” I love this statement, love it. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. We all are part of the fallen race…all are racist in some way about someone at different times of our life. To admit it helps, to live above it works better then any program there is out there. Good post Lisa, glad I stopped by today…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Betty–“to admit it helps, to live above it works better”. You said a lot in those few words. Now for each of us to go live it out…. I’m glad you stopped by too.

  14. Maria

    Thank you for this post. As an African American from the south, I found the church attack to be not only embarrassing but devastating for the Christian community. It became clear that many(bloggers/ministers) found it safer not to mention it. That sadden me because many of those bloggers/ministers I found to be great teachers but turns out they cared more about their followers than the Christ they followed. Simply calling on their bloggers to pray for our country and for the city of Charleston would have blessed many. Instead, they waited until the ruling on same sex marriages to call for prayer etc. I’m grateful that your blog is different and you as a blogger have chosen to follow hard after Christ. Keep going my sister, nothing to be ashamed of. Thank you!!!!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It saddens me too that many don’t talk about it. 🙁 People have so much fear. Thankfully my church talked about it and prayed about it as we looked at the pictures of the 9 slain brothers/sisters. May we all learn to be more brave and talk about the things that matter the most. Thank you so much for your comment here, Maria. It means much to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.