Nikki Kamp

The Journey Tower Grove

Fact number one: I am the cultural engagement resident at The Journey Tower Grove. 

Fact number two:  A video of me as a high school student exists where I am in blackface. 

I cannot express to you the paralyzing shame and guilt that tears at my insides when I think of those truths side by side.

Some (all white) friends and I made a project for high school English where we were trying to make people laugh. It was a Shakespeare play (maybe Hamlet?) that we had turned into a series of pop culture skits. In one scene, I thought it would be funny to be Beyonce, so that I could parody one of her songs to pertain to the play. I thought it was so clever and creative, and for a layer of added funny, I decided to paint my face brown with acrylic paint in a scramble and then rush outside to show my friends and make them laugh. I thought it was outrageous that I would be willing to paint my face with acrylic paint— that it would be really funny.

I didn’t know the history of minstrel shows and how they have perpetuated injustice against and the dehumanization of black folks, making a costume out of their being. I thought it was funny. I didn’t know anything about injustice, about the systemic issues plaguing the kids that were bussed to my high school from the city, the difference between their lives and mine. I only went to the city for Cardinals games. I didn’t know the way that I was degrading the Imago Dei of my black schoolmates. I didn’t know that my white skin afforded me privileges that others inherently did not receive. I just thought it was funny to paint my white skin brown for a laugh.

I can barely describe to you the disgust I feel when I think of that film project playing in my high school classroom, my teenage mind just waiting for giggles of approval. I can’t imagine the inner feelings of my friend, specifically one of my dear friends who is black, as she sat in the classroom and watched. Or imagining my current close black friends, ones who I regularly do life with, watching it. I am ashamed.

I have been so ashamed of this video that I pretty well repress it until something triggers my memory of it, and I re-remember, as the guilt knots up in my stomach and the desperate wish to erase the past rises up in me. But I cannot live like that— pretending my sin never existed because of the guilt it causes me. I own up to it. There is racism in my past, racism in my present biases.

Help me, Jesus. Help me not fear to call out my racist actions and biases, past and present. Help me confess them. Help me be honest over and over and over. I repent, Lord. I repent and pray that you would help my heart not tire of repenting.