My life? It's like Fresh Prince, but in reverse.

CULTURE | 9 mins

Chance The Rapper favorited my tweet one time.

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I had tweeted to him, applauding him for his vulnerability. I wrote a tweet that included, “We as black men…” Much to my surprise, Chance favorited my tweet, and it took on a life of its own from there.

The majority of people liked my tweet, favoriting it, retweeting it, and even commenting back in agreement. However, two guys took offense that I said, “We as black men.”

If you look at me, I think you can tell that I am a light-skinned black male, but some people assume I’m mixed. These two Twitter users (one black and one white) proceeded to tell me that I wasn’t black, or in their opinion, dark enough. I found myself trying to defend my black experience and culture against two opposing people.

Unfortunately, being attacked by both black and white people for my skin color isn’t new for me. Growing up both in the inner city of Chicago and rural Indiana, I have been aware of my unique skin color for as long as I can remember.

If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong, maybe you can relate. Perhaps it was in a church building or a bar that wasn’t your scene or a group where you were the minority. Maybe we all have felt the sting of not feeling accepted at some point in our lives.

Now imagine feeling like that all the time, everywhere you go. That is my story as a light-skinned African-American male born into a well-off family.

I grew up in Chicago in a neighborhood called Old Town. It is close to downtown and right next to the Gold Coast, which is nothing but million-dollar homes. Living in this area with my skin tone made it really hard to connect with kids my own age. My neighborhood was filled with mostly white kids who would make fun of me because I wasn’t white. My friends who were black made fun of me because I wasn’t dark. Growing up, I felt like there was no group where I could just be me without having to address that I was different than everyone else.

My parents didn’t come from much money, but they both worked really hard to make sure my brother and I could live the best lives we could. They went to college, got their master degrees, and provided a great life for us. That said, they didn’t want me to grow up living a life of privilege. So instead of sending me to a neighborhood school, they chose to send me across town to a school in South Side. The school I went to was in the center of one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. We weren’t allowed to have recess because students had been killed by drive-by shootings.

I felt like I was stuck between two different worlds, and I didn’t belong in any. If you’ve ever seen the TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” I felt like I was the reverse. I would leave my wealthy neighborhood to go to school in a dangerous area because that’s where my mom was a guidance counselor. I never grew up in poverty, but my friends and their families did. As much as I wanted to understand what they were going through, I knew I never would. They would go home to bad situations and I wouldn’t.

Although my friends made fun of me a lot, I also got the chance to experience two different worlds in a way that most people don’t. I got to spend time with wealthy, predominantly white families in my neighborhood. I got invited into their homes and experienced how they lived. I also got to hang out in low-income areas with my friends who were predominantly black. I got to eat with their families and to see how they lived. I enjoyed the opportunity to do both. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how uncommon these life experiences were.

Right before I hit middle school, my parents decided they were done with the challenges of living in a major city. They moved our family to the middle-of-nowhere—Richmond, Indiana. I was like a fish out of water. Going from riding the subway trains to seeing kids driving tractors to school was a life experience I didn’t know I needed.

It took me a long time to adjust to country life and even longer to make friends. To this day, I find myself rooting against Indiana sports because of my experience moving there. For the first time, I was called the N-word by people who had never had a conversation with me because I chose to date white classmates.

Over time, things settled down. I found out there was more than one school in my new town and that there were other black students my age. Once I stopped complaining about not being in Chicago, I let my guard down and made the most of my new situation. Instead of being able to go to the theater and see skyscrapers, I went fishing and hunting with my friends’ parents. I went from the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to living out the movie “Hoosiers.”

It took me finding my faith in God to see my skin tone and diverse experiences as a gift. Fast forward fifteen years, and I’ll tell you why that matters.

I now work for a church. My goal in life is to share Jesus with as many people as possible because our world is so divided. My life experiences have shown me He’s the only way to reconciliation—both for the divisive culture around us and in the relationships with people different than us. I don’t know what you believe about God, but I think most of us can agree that we desperately need that kind of reconciliation.

Now, I am able to see the benefits of having so many diverse experiences in life. Whether someone is from an inner city ghetto or from a country farm, I know how to talk and relate to them. Not because I read about their stereotypes in a book, but because I have lived alongside people similar to them. There is a famous person in the Bible called the Apostle Paul who explains this idea. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 how he has learned to become all things to all people so that he can better explain his encounter with Jesus to them.

I might not belong to just one crowd of people, and that’s OK. Because right now, that’s how God is using me to share the Gospel with other people. The “Gospel” simply means the good news of Jesus. That good news is that He left his comfort zone to be with us, to reset the world to the goodness he intended—a world where division is gone, love wins, and people everywhere experience his freedom. He came to model how people who follow him can be that unifying force to everyone they meet.

I currently live with four white male roommates, and it’s been a constant learning experience for all of us. My roommates don’t treat me like I am different, but when I bring a new perspective to their attention, they listen and hear me out. We have grown by listening to each others’ experiences and experiencing life together. We have built trusted relationships where we can ask each other about being black or being white and support one another.

It has been harder for me to build relationships with black friends in Cincinnati because I had to seek out those friendships. But I realized that my friendships were unbalanced. I actually started praying to meet more black people in my community. Since then, God has brought some amazing black friends around me who can understand and relate to my frustrations as a black male in America. They don’t ask me to prove I am black enough to be around them. They accept me for who I am.

You might look different than me, and you might not have grown up in the communities I have, but you can still receive the gift of diverse experiences. We can choose to practice the lifestyle Jesus modeled that reached out to people of all kinds and modeled love. Diverse experiences happen when we get outside of our comfort zone and make an attempt to get to know someone who is different than us.

Don’t just ask one person of an opposite race to hang out and be discouraged when it doesn’t happen. Ask several different people. You never know which person you might create a lasting relationship. We can invite people into our homes for dinner and offer to go to theirs. Choose to do life together. See your perspective grow. They will be given the same gift in return.

Choose to use “we” language with famous rappers, even if you get shade for it. Our world needs more support, empathy, and oneness. Each of us has the chance to bring that to life.

Written by Cameron Marshall on May 28, 2019
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

Disucsion Questions

  1. What strikes you most about Cam’s story? Why?

  2. No one likes to think of themselves on the “wrong” side of today’s racial divide. But the best way to actually be a part of bringing reconciliation is to actively pursue relationships that heal it. How intentional are you about having diversity in your life? What are your barriers?

  3. This week, think of one way to take a step out of your comfort zone to build a relationship with someone different than you. Look to heal specific conflict around you. Tell someone what you plan to do so they can hold you to it.

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