My All-White World

I grew up in an all-white world.

Well, not exactly all white. There was Maurice, the black custodian at the local shopping center, who swept the sidewalks singing B.B. King songs. There was Joe Parche, the skinny, high-I.Q. boy who they bussed in from the city in an effort to “integrate” our high school. And there was Estelle, our cleaning lady.

Estelle came into my world surrounded with myth and mystery. My mother had prepared me for her arrival by drawing me aside to whisper: “Estelle’s son was a Black Panther; he got involved in those police shootings in Milwaukee.” I expected Estelle to somehow bear the marks of her son’s crime-soaked reputation, envisioning a hard, jaded looking woman, or perhaps an aging, sensual beauty of some kind. Instead, Estelle looked like someone’s grandma. Except quieter. In fact, she never spoke unless spoken to.

All the gradiosity of my status as a neophyte of the sixties hippie culture, which held hands with Civil Rights Movement and purported to tear down the walls of race and social status, restoring equality and harmony with all, crashed into the silence between us. What was this silence but a vibration broken in mid-air like a bird song muffled by a cat paw? It was never meant to be, and I would make it go away.

But when I came through the front door Tuesday afternoons, there she would be, the black servant in my all-white kingdom, showing wordless respect. Estelle, I wanted to say, I was born into this kingdom. I didn’t build it or make it what it is. And now that I’m growing up and analyzing what I have always ignored, I see gaping holes in the politics that say that you and I are somehow on a different plane just because you work for my mother and your skin doesn’t match mine. So let’s be friends, let’s be equals, let’s begin utopia right here and now.

But I couldn’t say all that, so I would say, “Do you want some orange juice?”

At which point Estelle would turn slightly from her dusting and croon, “Why, yes, Honey-child, that would be so nice.” I would fetch the orange juice and set it down on the table.

This was our weekly ritual. A peace offering of orange juice to a race of people long ravaged by my own. In her people’s behalf she accepted graciously, willing away the bitter darkness as the sweet nectar of Florida sunshine washed her throat.

“Estelle, do you want some orange juice?”

“Why, yes, Honey-child, that would be so nice.”

It was all we could manage.

At my all-white college we over-compensated in a kind of starry-eyed admiration. This was another attempt to keep people of color at a distance, though. Our great-grandparents traded them like cars, our grandparents made them ride in the back, our parents shut them out of their country clubs, but we are going to make up for it all and worship them.

I wondered: Could people of different ethnicities actually thrive together as equals? Or was there something in our very natures that propelled us away from each other like magnets? Was there a chemical incompatibility that would automatically lead to explosion, like the bleach and ammonia Estelle used in cleaning our already clean house? I had to know, and the only way to find out was to try. But then, I lived in an all-white world.

Until I met Jesus. Becoming part of His kingdom meant that the Holy Spirit transformed engrained and inborn differences into catalysts in the bonding process rather than impediments to it. Finally in the global movement that comprises the Seventh-day Adventist Church, brotherhood with people from all over the map melted away inhibitions. Commonality that would never have been found otherwise came with faith in Jesus.

In my recent study of Revelation, I found this gem referring to the New Jerusalem, the eternal home of the saved: “Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it,” Revelation 21:5-6. That word “nations” is ethnos, like our “ethnic.” Each ethnicity has a certain God-given “glory and honor.” As the excellencies of each and every race of mankind flood the New Jerusalem, it will become an invigorating celebration of diversity.

I’ll be there, passing out orange juice. You?

10 thoughts on “My All-White World

  1. Elaine

    Appreciate this – it’s almost my story as well although I really wasn’t around any other races of people except an old black lady who went to my church in Pennsylvania. Didn’t interact with many different races and cultures until I was about 40 and then worked with many in California and learned to love them all for the differences but also the actual sameness of us all – God creatures.

  2. Kathy (from an email)

    Wonderful Jen! Absolutely wonderful! I grew up in a “mixed” world of white/spanish, from Panama, not Mexico, as my mother so often reminded us. We had a Mexican house keeper who was some how ‘below’ us, although not geographically….

    I can relate to your story in some ways, except I did not offer orange juice…instead, I acted as a spoiled child with a maid to serve me. … i regret that. And since I grew up. …somehow, I have found much comfort in my heritage, my Latin heritage, embracing the differences and finding a place in every smile and familial look from my people. They are me, they see me, when I look at them I see them, I am them too.

    Thanks for bringing such a great perspective.

  3. Steve (from an email)

    Jennifer for telling of your experience across the ethnic line. I too grew up in an all white environment, but Enterprise Academy had five black students who became special friends of mine. I have now taught people from many different backgrounds and learned to appreciate people of all races and nationalities.

    I still don’t understand why we can’t just be Americans instead of all the various varieties, and why even things said or done with no intention of offense is made such a big racial issue. Case in point, someone wearing black face is so offensive, but a black man wore white face and dressed like Dracula for Halloween, and it was not considered racial.

  4. Scott Darrel Wilson

    I would really enjoy helpin ya out with the O.J. Sis, but God’s calling me and a dog sled team up to the all white Magnetic North Pole for flux measurements. It’s a 2,000 mile round trip out over the floating Sea ice. Don’t worry, I may have a partner that’s extremely experienced in survival training and entered into the Yukon Quest which is a 1,000 mile warm up Mush Jean-Denis Britten of:
    Outbackriders Mushing. We are going to bring attention to the World’s new energy source that Nikola Tesla was on to 80 years ago. It can replace Fossil Fuels and it’s clean and sustainable! The Aurora Research institute of Inuvik, NWT, Canada has a working Geo-Magnetic Power producing prototype polar orbiting satellite (that’s a mouth full)that I have located in the night sky and recorded video. If You’re interested, check out “PLEASE SHARE; Aurora Snow Out, but Inuvik’s Prototype HAARP/Ge…” in my Facebook videos (Sorry ’bout all the David Bowie Rock and roll music, I should do a redo, but I don’t have time)… I Love You!

  5. Jennifer JIll Schwirzer

    Stay safe, little brother. I put your name out on my facebook so people can follow you if they wish.

  6. John Kilby

    My white world was growing up in whitewashed England just after the war, one wouldn’t have guessed that we had won the war, it was poverty and food stamps for my young years. Dad was a grocer, we didn’t have a car and he cycled to work, many times he would come home with a tin strapped to the back of the bike, a tin of broken biscuits was a treat for us. I did grow up though and my first taste of colour was my trips on the train to visit my sister in London, walking down the street from the station was eye opening, everyone was black! I felt strange for the first time in my life when confronted with another colour. Then came marriage and kids and a move to Australia which is the most multicultural country one could wish for. No more white world. Third marriage now and peace at last, yes, we found Jesus. At first the church taught us things but when we questioned certain beliefs on behalf of the church elders we were told to go elsewhere. But they didn’t fit the Bible! Maybe we are not supposed to think. We agree with the 7th day Sabbath and tithe but a lot of other stuff taught to us did not make sense, I don’t know if you have ever thought about it this way but we can’t go along with following the church of Rome on so many matters, we are even warned by God in Revelation that ALL THE WORLD will follow them and everyone does. So we left the church and do our own thing in Sabbath keeping etc.

  7. Jennifer JIll Schwirzer

    John thanks for your post and for sharing your heart and experience. That’s great about Australia. Maybe I’ll make it there one day.

  8. Kristine Casteel

    Your Blog is captivating. I think Jesus led me to it today. You are wonderfully talented. I will watch for more. THANK YOU!

  9. Sharon McGraw

    “If anyone offers a cup of water (or orange juice) in MY NAME….He’s has offered it to me(: J.C.

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