My mom loved casseroles. They were cheap, versatile, and fed all of five members of my family.
She could throw random ingredients together and we would feast – poor-man, gourmet style.
These concoctions were really not my mom’s creations, nor was it her fault that she fell prey to the gooey, fatty, salty, decadence of the casserole. Nearly every cookbook in the 1970’s and 1980’s extoled the power of these dishes.
My favorite was Tuna Noodle Casserole. It consisted of Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese, canned tuna,canned cream soup – all topped with shredded cheese and crushed Ritz crackers. A heart attack on a plate.
My tender taste buds had zero experience in spice, nuance, or texture. I just wanted creamy, cheesy, and familiar.
When my now-husband Thomas and I started dating, I brought him over a tuna noodle casserole one night. “What is this?” he asked.
I was flabbergasted. The man didn’t know what this was? Didn’t everybody who was anybody consume this dish? As my old Baptist grandmother used to lament, “Surely the coming of the Lord is nigh” (indicating the end of the world), because my new man had zero clue what I was talking about.
“Yeah, at our house growing up, we usually had beans and rice and fresh tortillas,” he said.
“Well, this white girl grew up on tuna,” I quipped, and then I kissed my Mexican-American man.
It’s funny to me how a casserole made me feel so freaking white. It also started made me think about the other really, really, really, really white girl things in my life.
Thinking Tobasco sauce is hot.
Expecting to fit in, no matter where I travel.
Picturing Jesus as a white man.
Taking a solid education for granted.
Feeling unafraid of cop cars.
Getting a decent job most of the time.
Honestly, my family didn’t notice race or skin color when I was growing up. Being the daughter of a pastor of a U.S. Military church on a base in Germany helped. I played with Korean girls,
Black girls, Southern girls, and Mid-Western girls. I didn’t care what they looked like; I just wanted friends.
My youth was a rainbow of innocence, hugs, and girlish love for anyone in my circle.
Regrettably, however, there was an underlying thread of unacceptance that ran through certain members of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Organization my family found ourselves a part of. They didn’t overtly say they weren’t accepting of others who weren’t like us; they just didn’t go out of their way to include anyone of a different race, ethnic background, or group into their day-to-day lives.
Maybe they didn’t intend it to be exclusionary. But it certainly was.
When I was 7, I recall my parents having a conversation about a man and woman in our church in Germany who had just gotten married. He was white. She was black. “They are going to have a tough time of it,” my Dad whispered to my Mom. His voice sounded heavy and tight, like he was weary of climbing a mountain.
I didn’t understand what he meant.
If they loved each other, why couldn’t they be together? What was so wrong with that?I supported them loving each other.
Later in my teenage years, I remember listening to an episode of a show I used to love, called “Adventures in Odyssey”, produced by Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The show produced a 3-part episode once on the Underground Railroad. I listened to it obsessively. At one point, a Southern lady whispers to a Black man, as she helps him escape, “I hate what my people are doing to your people.”
Through my soul, the truth resonated. I hated it, too. It’s just I thought that all of those problems were in the past and solved with the Civil War.
How is that for white-girl bias?
Am I not called by Christ to love every person, no matter race or ethnicity?
Am I not called to speak out against this systemic racism that plagues, not only my country, but most of the religious organizations that I cherish?
I speak out against it. I condemn it. I thrust all my white-girl privilege into the corner of those who deserve to be heard, respected, and treated equally.
There is a great crescendo in Saint
Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the Bible, where he writes, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave
nor free, but we are all one in Christ.”
That is where the life is — in the wide, expansive, open field of Christ’s universe where all are embraced, regardless of skin color or religious background or cultural differences.
When I surround myself with others who have varied pasts, it’s me who is the lucky one.
I’m not doing them a favor.
They don’t need me.
I need them.
I want to be at a table with people from all backgrounds, walks of life, accents on their tongues, and experiences they can share. Their experiences teach me. Their actions humble me. Their bravery astounds me.
That’s the cool kids’ table.
I’ll bring the tuna casserole.