Black Was Once A Color to Me: Reflections of a White Father of Black Children on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

{This is a guest post from my friend Ian DiOrio.}

Black was once a color to me, and only a color. The remainder of all colors collected and melded into one. The conglomeration of lighter and brighter colors, mixed upon and within one another to create the darkness of black. Black is the color without color; black is light without light. At least that is how I used to see black, when it was only a color to me. Today black is no longer a color, only a color; it is a social history, a narrative in and upon those whom make my fatherhood possible. I am white, and my children are black, and to me, as their father, their color is brighter than all whites and more magnificent than rainbows and fireworks. Black is no longer the absence of color; it is, as the father of black children, the divine sheen that makes my fatherhood possible.

ian diorio reflections of a white father on MLK day

I am white. Mostly pale and without definition. Gifted by transparent ghostly color, not shaded with highlights of oppression or social marginalization. No, white means I am the color that bleeds into none. White the color, the creator of history, the storyteller weaving mendacity among victims of precipitous hate and malformed rage. White is to have no story, other than the story that yours is the one story that bleeds all stories together, without itself being smeared or tainted. Some call white Devils, others Angels. Regardless, let it be said that the absence of color- the clean canvas of yet discovered symbols and brush strokes- embodies within its absence, a cacophony of dotted lines, stringing together unions of souls, never to be naturally united, yet by notorious events, collided histories into a common framework which makes my fatherhood a possibility.

I, a white canvas am the father of black children. Never did I imagine such an occurrence. I assume all who desire to have children imagine them mirroring themselves. Yet, as I take it, all children, come with surprise and difference, thus in this way, mine are the same, yet our skin tells different stories. Mine speaks of a heritage of opportunity, of warm-hearted suburban citadels, while theirs preaches of a stolen heritage, a hijacked trilogy of geography, tradition, and religion. Together we live under the banner of pithy slogans of equality and freedom, yet such quips have never been called into question in regards to my social identity, yet, for some strange and infamous reason, my children are the progeny of a widening of black humanity, which only until recently became at least acknowledged to be partaker in the credo of American society. It is therefore as a father, not only as white male, that I reflect on the heritage of African Americans on this Martin Luther King Jr Day.

For in the  adopting of my children, I with them adopted their heritage. In this way my compassion is eternally bonded and engaged with the historical and current precedent of black marginalization, not because of political partisanship or agendas, merely out of love and a deep devotion to my children, who happen to be black in America. As a father I cringe and shiver at images and video of white only signs and water hoses and police dogs attacking peaceful protestors fighting for the constitutional promise that all men are created equal in the sight of God. As a father of Black children, I am drawn into a history that has always been taught as “black history”; a separate history for those “others” whose history and dignity is always in the process of being redeemed.

My children will learn of their “black history” eventually, and when they do, what should their white father tell them? How will I narrate this part of American history to my children? Black oppression, in some ways, gave birth to profound points of black identity inasmuch as those oppressed gave witness to the beauty of their “blackness” in opposition to those who hated and shamed it. How will my children seem themselves, in light of such a history, and in light of being the children of white parents?

Those who suffered injustice during the struggle for civil rights, and those who still struggle today, are surely victims of malformed evil, but their history is not one, at least from my vantage point, of only victimization, precisely because leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. embodied strength to love their victimizers, and by doing so incarnated love. The correlation to the other as a victim creates an awareness of and bolsters a devotion to those whom you love and empathize with their suffering. Usually we are most compassionate with those we most relate to. The closer we are to the situation of those who are suffering, the greater are compassion. Compassion and empathy result from truly understanding someone as victim, and are attempts to share in their pain. To “feel with” another’s pain, is not the same as experiencing their pain in its totality, but it is the most human way of saying, “I may not understand, but I want to understand.”

In this way I am compassionately caught up in the trials and tribulations and future of those who are black in America. I am the white father of children who will be known as and classified as black. They will be known as black children of parents who will be classified and related to as white. Therefore, I empathize with and am concerned for the state of black people in America, not as one with a shared skin tone, but as one whose life finds meaning as a father inasmuch as the children I love are black. To love them means that as a white father I will have the responsibility to talk with them about the awful and vast story of racism in America. My prayer is the story of racism will be just that, a story of outdated ideologies that are far behind us, but I fear this will not be the case.

How does a white father who loves his children more than his own life explain that people who share my skin tone hated people who shared theirs? What will I do or say if, or, God forbid, when, my children will be called names or will be mistreated because of the color of their skin? Their history and color, and with them, whatever pain may come, are my own, as they are my own. Their history is my history, inasmuch as their scars will be my scars. The scars enforced on African Americans are now present on the soul of my paternal love.

Wounds of love draw me into the well of black suffering, both historical and present, and not strangely, I find Jesus there. Jesus has been described as the wound of the fathers love. The world is the wound that never heals -for how will it in a world that opens sutures of healing with vile hate and discrimination? Jesus though can do no else other than to heal. Balms of heavenly atonement never stop atoning. And because this is so, Jesus is with all those who suffer, for he is healer, forever healer. My prayer is that the healing of Jesus will flood a world which judges and divides and marginalizes over ignorance and fear, and His love will uplift such a world to new heights of grace and care, so that, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. there will come a day when “my little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” As a white father of black children, I can hope and pray for none less.

As the proud of father of African American Children, I offer this reflection, along with overwhelming gratitude, to all those who struggled in the Civil Rights Movement.


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