Racial Reconciliation in Christ: KeNosha Whitehead and Chandra Crane
October 13, 2017
KeNosha Whitehead and Chandra Crane are distinctly different from the white and male evangelical seminarians of previous eras, due to their respective backgrounds as albino and mixed-race women. In this conversation, the friends discuss how overlapping questions of family, gender, and racial identity shape their experiences as the next generation of Protestant clergy in the South.
This story was produced by David Dault at Sandburg Media, LLC.
This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
KeNosha Whitehead: You know I tell people I'm a black woman who's been trapped in a white woman's body. My hair is blonde, my eyes are green, and my skin is paler than a lot of my white home girls’ skin is, so that caused me to look drastically different from my family. And obviously had some issues with that growing up, just being surrounded by beautiful brown skin and having to not be able to go to the beach or even go to recess.
Chandra Crane: Yeah. I mean, I think that's why we've been drawn to each other, is because we both know what it's like to be the other and to be an odd duck, even in your family.
KeNosha Whitehead: That's true.
Chandra Crane: So, my birth father was Thai and he and my mom met in college, and she's white American. When I was five, she remarried a black man who became my dad, the only dad I ever knew. So, I didn't meet my Thai birth family until I was in my early thirties.
So, it's very much that whole multi-ethnic fusion thing, which now is so popular. And so I'm so on-trend, but back in the eighties was not. Like, how do I affirm brothers and sisters with darker skin and all of the beauty that comes with that, but also all of the heartache societally that comes with that, all of the injustice that comes with that. But stay authentic to myself and acknowledge that I am a person of color, just not much color. A little bit of pigment, some melanin.
KeNosha Whitehead: It's very true. And for me that is complex in a way that I never imagined, because I was speaking with one of my white classmates about something or another, I don't even remember what we were talking about. And my professor goes, "When you think about things, when you process certain things, are you a Christian first? Are you a peacemaker first? Or are you black first?"
Chandra Crane: Oh, man.
KeNosha Whitehead: And I was like, "What? Excuse me, that is not what we were talking about." And it stopped me in my tracks because I.... and I began to really think about my identity in Christ and my identity as a black human and a black woman in so many different ways.
Because I was like when you're coming from that perspective of being a believer in Jesus and like wanting unity, then your first thought is, "Let me really seek to understand, and not to first be understood," as the quote goes. So that really helped me a lot.
Chandra Crane: Oh man. Yeah. That's a powerful moment. The not so happy story that happens a lot is people even question if I'm allowed, whatever that means, to get my M.Div. So every semester I meet some fool who's like, "Well, what program are you in?"
And they say, "Are you an MFT?" Which is marriage and family therapy. And I say, "No."
KeNosha Whitehead: Always, always get that…
Chandra Crane: And then they look at me, and then they say, "Are you master of arts?" And then I smile and I say, "No."
KeNosha Whitehead: ... Guess again.
Chandra Crane: Guess again, exactly. And then there's this pause where they're racking their brains. And actually one guy said, "Well, there isn't anything else." And I said…
KeNosha Whitehead: Oh my god.
Chandra Crane: ... "Yeah, what degree are you getting?" And I said, "Well I'm getting it a M.Div." I said, "Me too." And he just looked at me like, "Surely you can't be." And I've had people tell me, "Well you can't get an M.Div. here." And I'm thinking, "I did not sneak on campus when no one was looking."
KeNosha Whitehead: I am a registered student.
Chandra Crane: ... Right. The administration actively recruited me, and has empowered me, and blessed me. And I'm here and I'm taking all the classes, you know?
KeNosha Whitehead: Yeah.
Chandra Crane: No, my diploma won't have an asterisk, which I definitely was asked that before. I'm like, "My diploma better have an asterisk, and the asterisk better say putting up with your shenanigans." Like I want extra credit for that.
KeNosha Whitehead: An asterisk…
Chandra Crane: Yeah.
KeNosha Whitehead: ...that is insane.
Chandra Crane: I think the biggest thing that I see in multi-ethnic communities is you can't just want to make the minority comfortable, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable as the majority. Right. You have to be willing …
KeNosha Whitehead: Mm-hmm, that's powerful.
Chandra Crane: ... to sit through a song that you maybe don't like, but is biblical, and beautiful, and full of the Gospel. And just because it repeats the chorus or just because it has a certain style to it, you have to be willing to say, "Well this is not my preference, but it's right, and it's good. And it ministers to my brothers and sisters. And so here it is."
And if you don't have people of color or whatever minority you're trying to reach in leadership, then you just don't think about it. It's your blind spot and you don't notice it. The fact that I get to sit under a black head pastor…
KeNosha Whitehead: Love him.
Chandra Crane: ... in Jackson, Mississippi... I know he's the best…
KeNosha Whitehead: ... he and his family are the best..
Chandra Crane: ... every time... and this is the same with our last pastor, who was also a black man. Every time we do communion, sometimes when they serve communion to the pastor it's one of the black elders, and more often it's one of the white elders. And every time I see our black head pastor in this church building, where people were turned away traditionally, being served communion by this white brother, like I just choke up. Like here it is, right here. This is reconciliation in Christ. This is people's preferences being put aside. This is valuing the Imago Dei in humanity and seeing the beauty in all of the colors. Oh, I love it. Yeah, every time it gets me.
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