Recently, I was confronted with a post expressing anger with any comparison of the LGBT civil rights movement to that of African Americans.  The post expressed that their struggle should be “kept in its place.”  For me, those words stirred memories.  Memories of a time when African Americans were also told that they should know their “place.”

Now, I don’t profess what it knows like to be black or gay.  I am neither.  I am white woman, born in the sixties, who merely witnessed some of the struggles during that time.  I am the former wife of an African American man born to a mother who was subjected to the Jim Crow laws as she grew up in the South.  I can never know what it is like to be her and I never presumed to know her struggle.  I just knew I loved her son because of who he was, not because of what color he still is.  He was my first love.  The initial distrust was replaced with respect and then love.  She was a no nonsense straight shooter shaped by her own experiences as I was mine.  The relationship with her son may have ended for reasons unrelated to color, but my admiration for her never did.

That relationship, however, gave me an inside view into a world I never knew.  The prejudice… the daily injustices.  A world colored by distrust.  I remember once I was out with friends when a man approached me and began talking disparagingly about the interracial couple at the next table.  His thesis was that only ugly white women date black men.  After exploring this with him for a bit, I asked him whether he thought I was ugly.  When he said no, I calmly blew his thesis apart by telling him my boyfriend was black.  Needless to say, I never saw a man move so quick.

But even though I was allowed into this world, I never was truly a part of it.  I could always walk away.  My ex could not escape his skin color any more than I could escape mine.  His struggle was uniquely his own.

Maybe that is why I found the comparison of struggles so troubling.  I don’t know what it is like to be subjected to suspicion because of the color of my skin anymore than I know what it is like to be subjected to hate because of sexual orientation.  But here is what I do know.  I know that everyone has their own intensely personal unseen struggles.  Struggles that remain hidden because of feelings that no one could possibly love them if they know. I know that, even if someone allowed me to be a witness to these internal  struggles, I can never truly understand.  I know that skin color and sexual orientation are not a choice.  I could not choose to be anything other than the white heterosexual woman I am.   I don’t presume to think that it a choice for others when it is not for me.

I also  know that  that judging which struggle is more valid is pointless.  It creates divisions and ill feelings.  It tears us apart instead of bringing us together, in the spirit of understanding and love.  I know that when we judge, we are the farthest from the Divine.   That is a location I wish to avoid.



I still have the doll.   Drowsy is her name. She isn’t in the best of condition. Her hip juts out in one direction.  The string that I used to pull to hear her voice no longer works.  It only makes a strange indiscernible sound.  What hair she has stands straight up.  Her body bears scars of being mended after my brother ripped her apart. But her face hasn’t aged although mine has.  I still have her, forty four years later, because she was the last gift I received from my grandmother for Christmas in 1969.

She died forty-four years ago today from internal bleeding after being admitted to the hospital for breaking her hip.  It was the eve of Christmas Eve.  My last memory of her was waving to her as she entered surgery and knowing then that I would never see her again.  She was a strong German matriarch with a soft side that she rarely showed. As a young child, I remember at times being afraid of her – especially after I spilled coffee on my grandfather’s lap on his seventieth birthday.  She was a constant in our lives until she was no more.  I can only hope that my grandfather, who died the year prior, was waiting for her on the other side.

Hers was the only doll I ever kept.  I kept it as a way of remembering her.  I kept is as a way of holding onto the times I shared with my grandparents.  I was only six when she passed.  When I lost her, I lost my last living grandparent and my mother became an orphan.   The doll brought me back to a different time.  A time when I had grandparents who doted on and looked out for me .  They were a safe haven from my parents’ tortured marriage.  That safe haven was now gone and I was left to navigate my parent’s troubled relationship on my own.

As an adult, I sometimes wonder what she would think of this adult version of her granddaughter.  I know she wasn’t concerned about how I would turn out.  At least, that is what she told my mother. She believed my intelligence would carry me through this world.   Maybe this is because she saw me doing multiplication at a very young age.  Maybe it is because I picked  up things quickly.  Or maybe it was just a hunch.   But still… I wonder.  I know she would not have approved of all my life choices.  But I also know that, regardless, she would have been there. Just like my mother was.  Just like they still are… just from a different location.



I remember a time when the end of Thanksgiving signaled the beginning of one of our favorite times of the year – cookie baking season!  My mother was infamous for her Christmas cookies and my brother and I were more than willing to help.  Sometimes that meant cutting out the cookies.. other times it meant making sure the reject cookies were properly disposed of.  They taste just as good.  But regardless, this season brought a whole slew of new smells to our kitchen… the old standards, gingerbread, sugar, chocolate chip…. and the new.  This was our family tradition…. and one that was passed down through the women in our family.

These cookies were meant to be shared… and shared we did!  Our family and friends were guaranteed a tin of homemade cookies during the holiday season. All we asked was to return the tin to ensure  a batch of cookies the next year.  This never seemed to be a problem as our family and friends happily complied to ensure a stream of  Christmas cookies.

I don’t know how many batches of cookies we made… but it sure seemed like a lot.  We stored them in our cool basement to keep them fresh and, to keep them out of our prying hands.  It didn’t always work… we would sneak downstairs and score some gingerbread cookies anyways.  But enough cookies remained so our family and friends could enjoy them.

As an adult, I carried on the tradition for awhile.  I still remember a Christmas when it was the battle of the cookies between my mom and me.  We both had brought cookies to a family friend’s house.  I reached for one of my mother’s standards, peanut butter, only to discover that she had forgotten the peanut butter.  When I told her, she immediately grabbed one and insisted that she tasted it. Everyone else disagreed and my mom endured a little bit of ribbing that Christmas.

That tradition ended when I became Muslim much to the complete disappointment of my then husband who had enjoyed cookies from Christmas past.  I was made to feel that  I should avoid anything which appeared to celebrate Christmas.  Terms like “haram” and “imitation of kuffar” were bantered about.  I couldn’t understand how an innocent cookie or two, ok a whole lot more than two, could lead me away from  my new found faith but I complied anyway.  I knew I would still be getting cookies from my mom anyway.   But I could never bring myself to avoid giving gifts to my family, as was suggested, because this season was so heavily filled with family traditions which were important to them.  It would have been hurtful to do otherwise.

This year, after much reflection, I am reclaiming a family tradition.  The truth is I’ve missed it.  I’ve missed the smells, the companionship of making cookies with family or friends, and the joy that comes from giving them away.  So tomorrow I will bake.  I will bake with friends who are coming together to make an unprecedented amount of cookies. (And sample some as well).  It isn’t that I have changed faiths, I haven’t.  I still don’t believe that Jesus is God in the flesh.  But we Muslims do believe in the virgin birth.  We do believe in the underlying message of love, compassion, and peace on earth.  We do believe in sadaqah which encompasses any act of giving out of love, compassion or friendship.  This is something I can get behind – embracing a family tradition of sadaqah…. and sneaking some good cookies. . . .  I have to sample them right?