Reflection

If I Woke Up One Morning and God Had ...

This poem illustrates the experience of a young white child who lived in the South during the United States Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968). We follow...

If I Woke Up One Morning and God Had Changed Me

This poem illustrates the experience of a young white child who lived in the South during the United States Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968). We follow her as she contemplates the difference between what she heard in church and what she witnessed in her everyday life. As you read, contemplate these types of differences in your own life and how you can address them in a positive, justice oriented way.



 

If I Woke Up One Morning and God Had Changed Me into a Negro
By Susan Hudson McBride


“If I woke up one morning,
and God had changed me into a Negro child,
would you still love me all the same?”

I’m eight years old
and my daddy’s got me thinking.
All his preaching about God’s
unconditional love
and how it’s like the way
parents love their children…

I smell a fish.

My mother was in no mood
for my silliness.
“Come back when you’ve
got a question
about something that’s possible.”

“But God can do anything.
Doesn’t that make turning me
into a Negro child possible?’

My daddy says I shouldn’t mock God.
I never reckoned that’s what I was doing.
He turned on his preacher voice.
“Now if God turned you into a Negro child
it would be for a very good reason
and not something we would understand.”

But would you love me all the same?

Dicy comes to clean our house every Monday.
Her real name is Virginia Fuqua.
She needs the money,
but she dusts like she doesn’t care.
She’s moving things around
that my mother has set in place,
and later my mother will complain.

“Dicy keeps moving things from where I put them.
I wish she would just leave them alone.”

Dicy knows, but she does it anyway.

“Your mama got too many salt and pepper shakers.
She need to give some of them to Dicy.”

Some weekends when my mother is busy
I go to Dicy’s house out in the country.
Dicy’s girls and I jump double dutch
in the dirt side yard.
They know the best rhymes.
I share them at school
with the white girls.

Dicy’s house smells clean
and always like greens.
Her girls and I study color.

“Put your arm
up next to ours,” they say.

We stare.
Dicy irons and watches us.

Sixth grade.
Negro children come to my school.
Now it’s their school, too,
just not in their neighborhood.

The teachers act like it’s
always been this way.
They don’t want any trouble.
They talk like we’re all the same.
Nope, they don’t want any trouble.

I get my homework done
while Dicy makes supper
before my mother arrives.
I think about her girls
and the rhymes
and our arms
lined up like a flag.
Dark, light, dark.

I don’t mention
any of this
to my mother or dad.
Some things are best
kept to myself.

All over the south
people are marching and sitting
and preachers are preaching
a Godly confusion.

After church my mother and I go to lunch.
There are reserved signs on all the restaurant tables.
My heart sinks.

“Its’s OK. You can set anywhere you want;”
The waitress says to us.
At the door a Negro family is stopped.
No room in the inn.
Their faces appear determined.

I don’t want to eat at this place ever again, ever.

I tug at my mother.
She pays no attention to my questions.
The Negro family stands their ground at the door.
My mother tells me to stay still in case there’s trouble.
I saw trouble on the tables before the Negro family arrived.

Now we’re back home.
The house is still.
A dark sadness shadows everything
that never gets said.

I’m a child with a simple question.
It will be years before I know
I was not alone;
that lots of children wanted to know,
“If I woke up one morning,
and God had changed me into a Negro child,
would you still love me all the same?”


This poem was written by Susan Hudson McBride, a former volunteer prison chaplain, student of theology and prison activist.

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