Out of Place Series – Brandy’s Story
His name isn’t important. Though, as with any boy you have a crush on during your formative years, he went by both first and last. You know the type. They are the “Jordan Cattalanos” and “Dylan McKays” of the world (at least that’s who they are if you’re in your 40th decade). And this guy was my own, personal, full legal-named-heartthrob. My very first crush in the 4th grade.
And he was white.
And I was black. I am black.
It was the late 1980’s and I attended a very racially diverse elementary school. And I thought this kid was so cute. I, the rabid rule follower. He, the passionate rule breaker. It was the stuff of John Hughes.
He got into trouble most days for sassing our teacher or not doing his homework, but he was always kind to me and always funny. Man, funny will get me every time! But something happened that year in Mrs. Lang’s class that wasn’t so funny. Something that wound up forever changing the way I thought of myself and the way I approached being interested in boys who weren’t the same color as I was – with hesitancy.
As you’ll recall, my crush had an aversion to homework. So it should have come as no surprise when he asked me to finish it for him one day. After all, I’d been breaking down long division for him in class for months by that point. But on this day, the little rule follower in me decided to show up with arms crossed. I said that I couldn’t do his homework. I said it nicely of course. And knowing me, I probably even threw in a “maybe next time,” with a smile to help ease the blow. Polite to a fault back then.
Polite until his next words sunk in.
“Whatever,” he said smugly. “At least I don’t come from a checkerboard family.”
It took me a minute to process what he meant…Checkerboard? Black and white? Oh…oh riiight – he’s talking about how my mom is half black and half white and how my grandmother who drops me off at school every day is white and how my grandfather who sometimes walks me home is black.
Oh, I get it…that’s funny.
Except it wasn’t funny at all and my little heart sank.
Listen, I understood that I was black and he was white. I wasn’t, “colorblind”. I knew we were different. I just hadn’t, at that point in my life, experienced someone pointing out our differences in a negative sense. My grandparents had experienced the kind of racism that kept them from being lawfully married in several states; and though my grandfather was in the army serving his country his family was looked at as some kind of abomination. I knew our history and thought it was “different” in a ridiculously brave and courageous kind of way.
I also liked this boy’s differences. I liked the way his blonde hair shimmered gold in the sun. I liked the light of his eyes. I saw that we were different and I enjoyed it. What my child-self came to understand that day was that there were people – including my full legal-named heartthrob – that didn’t like it. Or at least the part of him that carried around his parent’s voices in his head, didn’t like it.
He had reduced my multi-racial family to some sort of measurement at the bottom of a ruler. The way he saw it, what I came from – the people I came from – were somehow “worse” than the people he came from. He may not have done his homework, but sheesh – at least he wasn’t from a checkerboard family. It was the cruel retort of a child. Not based on anything more than fear I’m sure, but still I knew in that moment that I was “other” to him. And that he thought it wasn’t okay to be like me. In an instant I knew I’d never be invited to his house or sit at his dining room table or go with his family to the movies. The moment opened my eyes to the way I might have been seen by the kids I had previously only considered friends.
Everyone is welcome at the table
But that moment also helped form my own enduring dedication to invitation. Every girlfriend I had, regardless of their color, was invited to my birthday slumber party that year. And from that point on, whenever I heard kids made fun of for any reason at school it seemed to poke at me little too. What I didn’t understand then, that I understand now, is how God would use the pain of that moment to invite me into the healing process of someone else. And He invites us all to do that. If we let him, He’ll use our moments of exclusion to prepare us to be those who accept, invite, and celebrate. But it’s up to us to see and embrace the image of God that has been used to mold every human; making us worthy of all dignity. If you’ve ever been made to feel unworthy or that you fall into the category of an “at least I’m not…” do not believe it. Remember always, that you are a child of God – and that measurement amounts to always more. Never less.
If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!
Meet Brandy Wallner
Brandy Wallner is a freelance content writer and ghostwriter. She is the founder of A Good Conversation Dinner; a table ministry designed to help people connect as fellow image bearers of Christ. She and her husband live on a hill overlooking the Port of Los Angeles, where he runs a successful personal training business and she loves creating a beautiful home for friends and family to gather. She’s a foodie who is just as likely to crave fine dining as she is donuts and nachos.