NEW YORK (BP)–I am a white American woman, with suburban, Eastern European roots, and a life steeped in privilege.
Many times during my 40 years, though, I have not been aware of just who I am. At those rare times when I do stop and think, when I stare at my baby pictures and my college graduation photographs, when I glance from the mirror to the world, I confess: I don’t quite know what to do. Especially when it comes to race.
So I pray.
I know deep in my white soul that only God can help me make sense of what I see and what I’ve experienced and what I will encounter. And where I came from.
I grew up on a block where all the houses were built exactly the same: brick boxes with small lawns and two car-garages with short driveways. All of the families who lived in the brick boxes looked like mine: a father who worked long hours, a mother who stayed at home and cooked and children who ran and played and laughed and teased. We were blonde and tan in the summers, bundled and pale in the winters. Lilacs bloomed every spring and dry, colorless autumns ushered golden-haired, blue-eyed children into each new school year.
Every street in my suburban neighborhood was lined with wide sidewalks and bushes, every driveway had a station wagon and every front yard had a child’s bicycle, a short tree or two and a few garden tools. Maple Grove Elementary School was right next door to the junior high school and both were just around the corner from the Safeway grocery store and a couple of churches. If ever there was a picture of uniformity — that is, of white middle-class America — it was Applewood, Colo., a 20-minute drive to downtown Denver.
My parents, Jack and Jan, worked hard to give my older brothers, Jim and John, and me what they never had as children: comfortable stability. That’s what suburban parents did in the 1950s and ’60s. Even our initials were all the same.
But I was a restless child.
Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for the tennis lessons my parents paid for every spring at the private club down the street. I am thankful they signed me up for a ski club in the Rockies five winters in a row so I could learn what it meant to risk, fall and survive the cold for the joy of skiing. I am grateful they encouraged me to play softball every summer from the time I was 8 years old until I graduated from high school so I could learn the value of teamwork. And I appreciate the piano lessons (even if I can only play “Swans on a Lake”), the ballet classes I bungled in second grade, the Girl Scout troops who endured me in sixth grade and the YMCA camp outings in the mountains when I was “old enough” to go on my own.
In fact, it is difficult for me to imagine what life would have been like without riding my turquoise sting-ray bicycle in endless figure eights on the backyard basketball court. Or hosting slumber parties with my softball friends in our basement. Or sledding down wintry hills at Maple Grove or in the field that now has become Interstate 70. Our life in Applewood was full of hamburgers on the grill, vacations in the car and hide-and-seek in the yard.
And awkward distance.
But the opportunities were gifts, I see now. Gifts of privilege and access and choices, symbols of a lifestyle that America forged in the afterglow of a world war victory along with the Cleavers, Ed Sullivan and Dick Van Dyke.
Gifts available for all the people in the United States … who looked like I did.
Kadlecek is a freelance writer in New York City and coauthor with Pamela A. Toussaint of “I Call You Friend,” a new book on race relations published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.