As part of the AJC’s RE:Race project, we asked our readers to write to us about how they’ve experienced race in Georgia. This has yielded dozens of first-person pieces, from people’s rides on MARTA to stories about being followed around retail stores to tales of kindness and acceptance. Today’s article is from Christina Ekoue-Bla, who teaches English as a second language at North Fulton Community Charities.
We were interested in her story, but we also wanted to know: what do your parents say? Ekoue-Bla sent her article to her mother, Lois Johnson, who wrote her own piece in response. Here are both articles.
‘I’ve had to ask some hard questions’
By Christina Ekoue-Bla
For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
My thought on race in Atlanta: we need to keep working to move the needle toward acceptance, equality and unity. I know this because of what I have experienced within my own family.
I’m white American, my husband is black Togolese, which makes my two kids literally African-American.
My parents shocked me 17 years ago when I asked whether I could bring my then-boyfriend home for Thanksgiving. They knew he was from Togo (wherever that is!) and that he had just arrived in the U.S. that year. That’s all they knew — and that I had feelings for him. That was enough for them not to want to meet him.
Now with the years gone by and their experience of having him in our family for 16 years, I am shocked and hurt to learn that they haven’t opened up as much as I had thought.
We don’t talk about politics, religion or race in my family. The last few months, though, I’ve had to ask some hard, uncomfortable questions. Having seen my husband come to the U.S. after winning the visa lottery at the age of 27, yet have to go back to school and get degrees from here because his weren’t recognized, I thought they would have some sympathy.
After watching my husband provide for me and our kids so I could pursue my passions, I thought they would have some support.
Seeing my husband be there for our kids, even though he grew up with an absentee father, I thought they would have admiration.
But no. Just like the no I heard when they wouldn’t let him come to our family Thanksgiving dinner. All these years I thought we were leading by example. I thought that showing through actions the stand-up, kind and ambitious man my husband is would change the hearts and minds of my parents and family, but I see now that it hasn’t been enough.
I have to say that my parents are very close to my children, that they have a typical grandparents-to-grandchildren relationship. This is especially important and special to my kids since none of my husband’s family lives here.
Last year at Thanksgiving, however, we sat my parents down and asked them directly about that time in our past and why they reacted the way they did. They said it was prejudice. They said they had to deal with their own prejudice.
I see now that more is required of me. I have hope that the needle is moving even if it seems to move in millimeters. These times call upon all of us to be aware of what’s going on around us. We don’t have the luxury of being quiet and accepting the status quo anymore. White people: it is incumbent upon us to speak for justice and against injustice when we see it.
And we have to do it in a way that doesn’t cause division but ignites unity. We have to be the conduit that asks the uncomfortable questions so the minds of others may be opened. As I asked my parents, what part of American history do blacks look back on as being great for them? Black Americans are no doubt looking to “make America great,” but not “again.”
‘That hurt takes time to forgive’
By Lois Johnson
For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Prejudice is a very real emotion and mindset. It is an ugly attitude that can stay buried in one’s heart so deep that it can remain undetected. That is what happened in our family 17 years ago when our daughter wanted to bring her husband-to-be to our family Thanksgiving dinner. Many of us reacted negatively, and this is when that sin of racism began to show its ugly face. We each had to deal with attitudes and feelings that we hadn’t had to deal with before.
I personally had to go to my Heavenly Father and ask Him to show me what to think, so it began a journey into unexplored territory. As a result of this openness to say, “God, show me what is really in my heart,” He did expose my deep-seated prejudice against blacks. My husband’s journey took a little longer. We were still coming out of all this erroneous thinking when our daughter and son-in-law were married four months later. It was a difficult and at times uncomfortable period in our family as we made these internal adjustments. We have asked our daughter and son-in-law to forgive us for hurting them so badly.
That hurt takes time to forgive and that is what we ask them to do — to forgive us. That, also, is a matter of the heart, and I personally believe it takes God Himself to do so — just as the exposing and removal of racism in our hearts needed God’s intervention. No matter who is in the White House or what the government tries to do, the sin of racism cannot be changed by those institutions.
Through the years we believe our family has embraced our son-in-law as openly as we know how. We can truly say that we love him as much as we would if he were white. We have always spoken highly of him whenever possible as an example of one who has come from a country of limited opportunities to America to pursue his dreams and passions.
His struggle began with getting the proper documentation to even get here! He has had many obstacles along the way but with persistence and drive, he has overcome each one. He grew up in a very different culture and even family life and expectations were a little different. Right now we are all working on that with them in blending their family desires to mesh with those in our family.