white privilege

From Ignorance to Understanding: A Conversation About Race With Cadian Lawrence Hooker

cadian.JPG

I’ve been waiting to post this interview for two months. It’s not that I didn’t want to post it. I waited because I wanted to sit with the interview, digest it and give it the time and attention it deserved. I realize now that no amount of time spent writing could do this post justice…and it’s not MY words I want you to remember anyway.

I first met Cadian Lawrence Hooker (Cades, as I call her) during our freshman year of college. Our boyfriends at the time were roommates. While our relationships with them didn’t last longer than a semester, Cadian and I became lifelong friends. We lived together our sophomore year of college. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and I flew across the country to attend hers.

But it wasn’t until the past few years—maybe even the past few months—that I feel like I’m starting to understand a bit more of who Cadian is…where she comes from…what she values…and what it means to be her—a black woman raising a young black boy in a world that all too often values whiteness.

To be honest, I feel unworthy of posting this interview. I am a white girl who grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Richmond, Virginia. I went to college and worked for years afterward in Raleigh, North Carolina. I lived in Sacramento, California for a brief period of time. These cities were extremely culturally diverse; and many of my classmates, friends and colleagues were black. Yet, it never occurred to me to ask them about THEIR life experience; and until some of the atrocities of the past few years, I honestly never gave much thought to the fact that the lives as a black man or women were that different than mine.

My ignorance makes me both embarrassed and deeply grateful for people like Cadian who came alongside me, answered my (often ignorant) questions and helped me expand my worldview.

This interview with Cadian is different than the ones I’ve done before. Other than the formality of an introduction, I jump right in to the tough questions. These are questions I wasn’t always comfortable asking, and I’m sure Cadian wasn’t always comfortable answering. Unlike my other interviews, which seemed to have a sense of closure after the last question was answered, this interview feels like it’s just the beginning.

And, in fact, it is just the beginning. Cadian and I are teaming up for something fun—and challenging. But you’ll have to read til the end of the interview to find out what it is. I said it earlier, but I’ll say it again, I’m so thankful for Cadian, her friendship and her willingness to talk about the hard things. 

***************

Jenn Prentice (JP): Tell me about yourself.

Cadian Lawrence Hooker (CLH):

I had what I feel is a very diverse upbringing. My folks both hail from the Caribbean. 

I was born in a California and lived in Germany until I was six. I was an “Air Force Brat”. My father was stationed at several bases, so we moved often…luckily not as much as some of my fellow military kid friends. Today, I’m a wife to Isaac and a mother to my almost two year old son, Isaiah. I’m very lucky for the blessings I’ve received.

JP: How old were you when you first became aware of racism and/or encountered racism? What were the circumstances surrounding that?

CLH: Hmmm…I was aware of racism from childhood, but I don’t recall personally experiencing it until college. My brother and many of my friends had experiences with it at a younger age because, sadly, it’s not uncommon. My first encounter with racism was when I noticed a women clutching her purse and stepping away from me on a sidewalk. Mind you, I was just walking past her.

Another encounter occurred during a soccer tournament in college. One of the girls on the opposing team said some incredibly vulgar and hateful things to me, which were disgusting and embarrassing for her. I actually didn’t hear what she said, but my teammate got so angry that she cursed the girl out… All because of something that happened on the field. Crazy, right?

JP: You have an older brother. Do you think his experience with racism is different than yours? Why?

 CLH: I’m sure my brother’s experience is similar, but different. In the black community, experiencing racism is very prevalent.  I say his experience is similar in that he and I are both black, but we have definitely had different personal experiences. As a black male he got targeted for the car he drove, clothes he wore, or even just being in a place others didn’t think he belonged.

I grew up in the 90s. Things were fun and laid back. I sometimes wonder living on Air Force bases might have been more like living in a bubble? Maybe? Others may disagree. My brother is 5.5 years old than me so I know for a fact that he experienced different things than me. People just hate—on him, on black people--for no reason and don’t expect us to excel or succeed simply because of the color of our skin. It’s a shame.
 

JP: What impact did the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and others have on you? When these horrible things happen, how can we as white people, Asian people, people of different races reach out and show love and support to our black friends?

CLH: They have each had a huge impact on me. It’s sad because this has been going on for years but with technology and social media these events are finally coming to light. People need to communicate and get involved. Speak with your friends. Ask questions and don’t sit idly by expecting the world to change with their silence. No one is asking you to disregard your race but when you know

something is wrong speak up. Say something. It is beyond frustrating when people know right from wrong and stay quiet.  Young black men and women are losing their lives for nothing. I don’t think the media helps either. 

JP: I feel like there is a resurgence of racism and racial tension in the last few years in America. Do you feel that way or do you think these issues have always been there, but we, as a culture (or at least some people in our culture) are just more aware of them? 

CLH: Some may call it a resurgence, but it has always been there. This goes back to what I just said about technology and social media making us more aware of the racial issues and racially motivated hate crimes. With our current political state, I do think people are starting to feel more comfortable committing some of these racist acts. Unfortunately, the issues have always been there. Some people may be more aware of racism now, and really, that just means that we as people and parents who are more aware of these atrocities need to lead by example. We have to teach our children right from wrong and to speak up when something isn’t right.

JP: How are you going to explain racism to Isaiah? What do you hope his life growing up as a black man in America will be like?

CLH: I will explain it to him when he is old enough to understand. How I will to say it specifically I don’t know yet. A black man in America is a target. Period. I’m heartbroken over all of it. 

Now that I have brought a son into his world I’m extra paranoid. As a mother we always want what’s best for our children. I know when he gets older I’m going to have to speak with him about how to act in public and what to do if he gets pulled over by a police officer. I’m already worrying for about him growing up black, and he is a toddler. That’s not normal. Parents should not have to bury their children--especially when they are being murdered for no reason. 

JP: What are things that white people say—perhaps unconsciously—that can be hurtful or offensive to black ppl?

CLH: Let’s just list a few. Keep in mind, there are several that people say and not just whites people. These are just a few examples I’ve heard:

“Why don’t you sound black?”

“You don’t sound ghetto.”  (As if a race has a sound. How does one do that?)

“Do you wash your hair?”

“Can I feel your hair?” (Why is there a phenomenon with feeling black people’s hair? We are not pets. If the situation were reversed, other people would be upset.) 

“Do you wear sunblock and can you get sunburned?”

“You’re beautiful. What are you mixed with?” (Why can’t someone just be beautiful without asking what their ethnicity is?)

JP: What does being a black woman mean to you?

CLH: How much time do you have for this one? Haha. It means so much to me. It means love, courage, wisdom and strength. It means I have to stand strong with my head held high no matter what is thrown at me and be a Queen in a world that sees me as less. 

My culture and heritage run through me. I’m not saying others are not just as proud of their culture and heritage, but I just love being black and love where I come from and what it means to be me. 

JP: Ok. Last question. For now. Because we are continuing this conversation. We have to continue it. It's too important to stop talking about it. I'm asking everyone I interview this question: At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you hope to leave?

CLH: I want people to know that I was steadfast in my faith. That I loved my family, helping others and that I didn’t take no for an answer. 

***************

Re-reading this interview made my eyes well up with tears. As a friend, a mother, and a woman, so many of Cadian’s answers broke my heart; and in many ways, I feel powerless to do anything about what she said.

Recently, I listened to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast interview with Austin Channing Brown. In the podcast, Austin talks about how “one cup of coffee with our black friend” is simply not enough to change the way we (as white people) think or change the way the world works.

Racism didn’t happen overnight, and it can’t be fixed in one conversation or one interview. Austin points out that each of us has a responsibility to dig a bit deeper…to continue the conversation and figure out where we can contribute to greater change around issues of race and racism.

This blog is my corner of the world, and if I’m being honest, it’s one way I hope to change the world…or at least the hearts and minds of some of the people who read it. In August, Cadian and I will be reading and discussing Austin Channing Brown’s new book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.

AND (drumroll please) WE WILL BE DISCUSSING THE BOOK ON MY NEW PODCAST. I can't give many details about the podcast yet, only that it will launch in August and center around a different book each month. If you want to join the fun, order a copy of Austin's book and start reading!