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I am glad the exercise is still open... I was at a loss as to where to start or how to relate to this one...

As I described before, I appear to be white, and am treated as a white person. But due to a somewhat exotic nose and a slight olive cast to my skin, I have blended in with Persian, Greek, Eastern Euro, and Jewish groups, and have had folks from those (as well as other) groups theorize that I'm half them when I tell them my mother was artificially inseminated so I don't know what most of my ethnicity is.

I suffer from envy, a lot... envying people with obvious or overt cultural background, their beauty, their identity... envying their ability to relate to or identify with a whole population of people and the history that goes with that people... I feel like an "Other" most of the time, and I suspect that the vast majority of people do, especially women, because our skin and our racial background aren't the only things, there's just being a woman, in this world... But that's a whole other Workshop, right?!

I have travelled 11 countries, mostly Europe and Central America. Did you know that there are people that think Central America is the Mid West?? Lol!! As a Baha'i, I'm around folks from the Middle East a lot.

There is so much history and bad old blood between the whites in America and the blacks, the Native Americans, the immigrant population from Central America... The meer fact that so many people claim the percentages (down to 8ths or 16ths??) of their lineage is a reflection of humanity's general obsession with pedigree... it's so weird to not be able to join that discussion, which is such a basically typical one to have. I used to make stuff up, just to explain my nose, or my skin.

So I recently went to a poetry night in appreciation of women. The invitation read that it was at a coffee house in the North part of town which has a largely black population... but I used to live over there, so I didn't even think about that... I just went... and WOW... It blew my mind.

I was the salt in the pepper shaker. That's how I felt. I walked in, my Cambodian dh and dd trailing behind me. There were 2 other men, and about 30 women, 2 other toddlers. Everyone I saw was black. And the looks... oh my. The looks (which always make me feel doubly weird cuz I don't have a history to claim or a people to fall back on, and I just don't identify with American Whiteness...) were loud and proud, "Well, hello, White Girl... and what brings you here today?" I felt very tolerated. Is this how they feel? Around whites?? This is awkward, I thought... but I felt like I had every right to be there, as a woman, and as a writer, so I just took a deep breath and smiled my dorky smile at everyone and sat down.

"What am I doing here? I don't belong here! Are they irritated that I'm here? They're words and writing and the things they are saying are so profound... what can I possibly bring to the table??" Dh just looked at me, seeking some sign of what to do... raised by a white Jewish family, he felt as out of place as I did, despite his brown skin... Only dd was unphased. Dd ran around the room, and played with the other two toddlers, clapped for the speakers, and was totally oblivious to any difference.

A gorgeous jet black woman had just finished a strong and powerful piece about her music and her strength in the face of adversity... that adversity being black in a white town... all the while looking at me. I looked around me at the other women, when the woman I later came to find out was the hostess of the event, leveled me with a strong look and a smile saying, "You're next." I almost fell off my chair. I gulped and said softly, "I didn't come with anything prepared..." I honestly had only come to watch and enjoy the poetry... I didn't sign on for any of what I was experiencing thus far... and it just made me feel awful, that the collective experiences of these women would bring them to look upon me with such open disdain... I felt like I was being dared to get up and speak... And then this little waify pale white girl who'd been in the back got up... "Where did SHE come from??" I thought. And then she did a Maya Angelou piece, and it just sounded trite and contrived coming from her... like she was faking it. And I was embarassed for her. And a bit ashamed of her... like "Girl, why are you trying to have that as your piece, here?? Why not your own?? Or someone less renowned??" It felt like a total cliche! They all looked at me... "It doesn't have to be something prepared," the hostess said to me gently.

Then dd climbed up on the podium. And tried to speak into the mic. I was beside myself... but a number of the ladies reassurred me. "Let her speak if she wants to speak..." they said... so I stood behind her to make sure she didn't fall off her chair and she said a Baha'i children's prayer... "Oh God, guide me and protect me. Make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou are the mighty and powerful. Abdu'l'baha." She hopped down blithely to their applause and I was undone... my 2 year old just showed me up. My 2 year old was fearless and joyful... because she wasn't thinking it to death... and I realized, "That's what I'm doing... that's what I do... I and all of us... we are all thinking it to death. We are so afraid... so skeptical... burned by years of thinking it to death and being thought wrongly of..." I was so proud of her. Proud to be her mom. And they were joyfully receiving her, and me, too... and it was lovely.

I thumbed through a few books they had there, and found the perfect piece for me to read... "The Insurgent"..... About a man who wanted to be accepted and trusted but wasn't because he was black... but when he went to Iraq in the Gulf War, he was accepted and trusted as a soldier. And when he came home, and was no longer a soldier, he was further rebuked not just for being black, but also for having been a killer. And he was sad, for he felt that no one saw the Man that he was... until his child loved him as a Dad. And via the shield of his child's love, he experienced life, again, as a Man, and not just as a Black, or a Soldier... and people trusted him, because his child lead the way.

I think they will if we let them... our children will lead the way. We were supposed to. When we were children. We were told we will lead the way... but all that history and bad blood is a lot. It's tough to shield oursleves and our faith and trust in others from all that stuff we didn't actually have a part in.

I'm tired. Tired of having no identity to speak of when the questions come: What are you? What is your child? Tired of people looking at me like that, like I'm a 'bad guy'... What would happen if we wore the way we feel or think on our skin? What would our world be like if THAT's who we were perceived as rather than our color? What would those women have thought if they could see how intimidated I was, and how humble I felt? I'm tired of hearing how suspiscious people are of their neighbors, or the people who ask them about their heritage... It's all so old and tiresome. I wish for newness... new perception, joy and fearlessness.

I want to go to the next poetry night, knowing those ladies will remember me and welcome me back. Will they? I hope so. I haven't gone back in 5 months, but I will get up the nerve to go again, and maybe there will be happy welcoming faces; other beautiful strong women, welcoming me as one of them.
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