“I felt my skin turn black…”

Son P., who happened to receive a book by Henri Nouwen from us for Christmas, alerted me to a 3-part radio documentary “Genuis Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henry Nouwen,” coming up on CBC Ideas. I listened to Part I on Wednesday and commend it to you. (Parts II and III follow on Jan. 16 and 23.)

There’s a line in the first part of the documentary I can’t forget. The documentary speaks of how Nouwen came from his native Netherlands to study in the U.S. and how while there was drawn into and became supportive of the civil rights movement. On March 21, 1965 he attended a rally in Montgomery, Alabama, where he heard Martin Luther King speak. Nouwen later wrote, “I felt my skin turn black…”

What an incredible way to describe his growing sense of identification with a people and a cause. He was not Black, the Black experience was not his, and yet, listening, loving, feeling moved to join — to “listen and believe” as Gene Robinson puts it in reference to supporters of a contemporary cause, LGBT concerns — he felt his “skin turn black.”

Can we draw alongside people with that much sensitivity, that much openness to identify, wherever we are called to be supporters, allies, friends, companions?

3 thoughts on ““I felt my skin turn black…”

  1. What a perceptive and sensitive reaction to Nouwen’s response to Martin Luther King! And your simple invitation at the end is profound. Thanks, Dora.

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