Contextually and Culturally Awesome
October 14, 2013
So on Friday, my friend Laura texted me this picture:
This giant banner of my giant face is apparently up at Denver Seminary right now. It is advertising the contextual and cultural sensitivity of the school. With my face. My black girl face. I have a few thoughts. Here they are.
* First of all, am not angry at the school or those who decided to put this picture up. We sign releases when we start at the school, so they are not doing anything wrong in using my image. I also know that this image was not used with any ill intentions. The phrasing on the banner comes from the seminary’s goal to “serve all people effectively and faithfully, with cultural discernment, and without prejudice or favoritism.” I do believe this is a goal of the seminary, and I was chosen as someone who represents that (perhaps because I am good at having friends who don’t look like me). I have received an apology from the school, and I am confident that it is sincere. They have offered to take the image down if it is embarrassing or hurtful to me, even though they have a right to use the photo with or without my permission. I have been very grateful for the seminary’s response, and I know no one there intended to hurt me, and I do not intend to hurt them. I am not going to force the school to take it down or throw a temper tantrum or start picketing. I appreciated my time at Denver Seminary (except when I was taking comps or writing my thesis or learning Greek or …), and I am very grateful for the caring faculty and staff.
* I felt it was a bit ironic to use my face to advertise cultural sensitivity, when it seemed culturally insensitive to do so without asking my permission or at least letting me know. But, again, I know it wasn’t done to be hurtful.
* Seeing the banner reminded me that the organizations I’ve worked at and the schools I’ve been to have often asked me to be in photo and video shoots. It is never explicitly stated, but I assume that part of this is because I have dark skin (and I’m super photogenic and gorgeous, obvi). It makes me feel self-conscious to be the token black girl — it makes me feel like that is all I am seen as. Also, this does not just happen at the hands of white people. I have been invited to join certain groups because I am black, and I know that certain other black people have talked to me solely because I am black. I once worked somewhere where I was asked (by a black lady) to travel to conferences so that customers would know that there was a black girl working on their product. Umm, no.
* Some people of color may have loved to be on that banner, representing cultural sensitivity. But being known for being black has just never been my thing. I am bi-racial, my mom is white and my dad is black, and that is how I see myself. Culturally, I grew up in Minneapolis, was home schooled, then went to a majority black public high school, and then a majority white private, Catholic university. I worked at camps in very small towns every summer. I moved to Colorado Springs and worked for organizations that have mostly white employees. I am moving to Canada — white. Culturally speaking, I would probably be considered pretty “white,” although even that bugs me. How about instead, I’m just me. I want to be known as someone who loves Jesus and loves other people. I want to be known as a writer, as someone who you can ask about the Old Testament, as someone who is hilarious and awesome and likes BBQ chips. I don’t necessarily want to be known as the black girl.
* I like being bi-racial. I like that my parents didn’t care about the color of each other’s skin, and that their families didn’t throw a fit because they were culturally different from each other. Andrew’s sister and brother-in-law recently adopted a bi-racial girl, and I love that she is now a part of their family. If Andrew and I get married and have kids, they will be one quarter black (like the Psych a cappella group). I like all the mixing. I think it shows that we can look beyond color and culture and however we might normally define people, and get to know people for who they are. And I know that my school would agree with me about that as well.
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. They are solely mine, and I know other people probably have other thoughts and experiences. Tell me what you think in the comments!
(If anyone would like to hire me for a photo shoot in which I eat BBQ chips, I am in!)