My bookshelf is peppered with them: dusty books on racial reconciliation that often scream for me to clean and read them. They sit among my favorites: books on spiritual warfare and women’s discipleship, Nikki Giovanni poetry and all things James Baldwin. But the racial reconciliation books sit there, tucked away with little chance of speaking to me and helping me to integrate my life. They remind me of my relationships with the non-black women that I have known: With Stephie, Denise, Gina, Laura Kim, and Laila, I was excited about the connection, but then something happened and the newness became a thing of the past. My relationship with Stephie is the best example of this.
We met during a rehearsal for the Saks Fifth Avenue Teen Board fashion show we were in. She just started talking to me, and we hit it off. Stephie was funny and fashion conscious and our conversations flowed freely. To be honest, I thought she was a light-skinned black girl because she had dark curly hair and a deep tan. I don’t remember when I found out she was white, but it didn’t matter to me. We had bonded and Stephie became my first white friend. This was the summer of 1984.
For the next few months, we talked for hours on the phone and made plans for a sleepover that winter. Her mom agreed that I would spend the night at their home, but the elder’s conversations with me revealed a change of heart. She warned me that I would be the only black person at Stephie’s high school basketball game and told me that I would probably be uncomfortable. And she wanted to know what “special foods” I ate, expressing her inability to cook something other than what she was used to cooking. In spite of her attempts to deter me, I went to her home in her nearly all-white town.
The basketball game was snowed out, so Stephie and I hung out in her room and chatted like we did on the phone. This time she occasionally included her mom in the conversations. “Mom, look at her Guess Jeans. Aren’t they nice?” “Mom, she has a Coach purse.” I felt uncomfortable being on display, and that discomfort continued when at dinner her mom asked me what my parents did for a living and a host of other questions about my family and lifestyle. Breakfast the next morning was comfortable, but I felt antsy again when Stephie blurted out “You have a big house” as they pulled into my driveway after bringing me home. They met my family, glanced around the house and then went on their way. That was the last time I saw Stephie in a social setting. After our sleepover she would sneak to call me because “my mother said I couldn’t be your friend.” When her mother caught her sneaking to call me, all our contact ended, and though I have my suspicions, I am not quite sure why.
So like my books, for years I have shelved any potential relationships with non-black women. The pain of rejection has been too great. But those books have been screaming to be cleaned and read. And because I met Natalia Powers I might just do that. You’ll have to read the next post to find out who she is.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith