My God sister, Gracie, has always been a prophetess in my life. We don’t talk much, but this woman, 15 years my senior, has always been connected to me in the spirit. Recently she sent me a journal right after I had just given one away. Then she sent me a book on prayer when I had just committed to more in-depth prayer. Only the Lord could have led her like that. Years ago, when I was steeped in rebellion, her prophetic voice through a letter warned me of the consequences of selling certain greeting cards in my company’s We Dare to Go There line. And then there was the more subtle admonition about me not having any white friends; she sent me the book My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love, and Forgiveness by Patricia Raybon.
Raybon talks about her journey to forgive whites and her father because of his “[r]ules about always being better than the white people, so they couldn’t find anything wrong with you even if they tried hard.” These rules caused her to seek perfection and to please others and these unrealistic expectations eventually made her feel less than enough. But instead of remaining mad at her father, at her first white friend who befriended her despite others’ expectations and all white people in general, Raybon to chose to forgive so she could love herself and others, regardless of their race or shortcomings. Her awakening had me ready to meet my first white friend, again. That was about 15 years ago, and my contact with white people was limited. There were a few at work, but they mostly kept to themselves. And the ones in grad school ignored me outside of colloquiums and group projects. I never reached out to them because I remember how my relationship with Stephie ended and I didn’t want to chance that again until I met Natalia.
Natalia and I are members of the same church. She and her family started attending and eventually joined last year after hearing our pastor on the radio. God has called her and her husband, Bill, to plant a multicultural church in an Arab American community. They believe God led them to Evangel to prepare them for their call. When I found this out during our brief talks in the nursery as we cared for our children, I believed their call is from God. See, she’s not the typical “white girl” that I usually find in a black community. You know the ones who get their hair done at black salons, date black guys and walk and talk in ways that “out black you.” Natalia is effervescent, yet soft spoken, and on first glance may appear to be the typical liberal, “we are the world” white woman. But I watched her and noticed that she didn’t try to stand out or fit in. She just was, is, a woman who is confident in her white skin and comfortable with me in my black skin. I found this to be true outside the pleasantries of church.
During our first phone conversation we talked about motherhood, marriage, feminism, Biblical womanhood, writing, college, spiritual gifts, and a lot more, including race. I told her my Stephie story, and she apologized, not on behalf of whites who had wronged blacks but because of the pain of rejection that I felt. “No one should have to go through that because of who they are,” she said. It was that comment, her framing her thoughts based on a Biblical worldview, and the overall spiritual and intellectual tone and comfort of our conversation that I knew Natalia was my sister. Not just because Jesus Christ is both of our Savior but because she knows who she is, she flows in who she is and freely embraces others with the love of Christ. Natalia is my first white friend, again, but I believe she will be my last. I don’t see any need for a do over because I believe this first white friendship will last.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith