A quiet, small voice has been nagging for clarity in the close reaches of my subconscious for so many years. To make sense of our own purpose, or to open ourselves up to understanding purpose, is a journey of self-identification. It is a critical prerequisite of antiracist work. I’ve been discovering my “self” along the way. The truth is, that now, in my mid-30s, I’ve moved out of a selfish and self-centered youth. Adulting looks and feels connected and intertwined with souls outside of my own. I have a husband, children, neighborhood, and community that is as much a part of me, as I am of them. The quiet voice has matured and grown into a booming, borderline raging voice.
I wasn’t settling into the safe and comfortable life I had “made” for myself. The material wealth shored up in a safe home of convenience and access did not feel authentic. I presented myself as a mother, career woman, wife, friend, or community member around this picturesque white exterior. I had created a false identity for myself as a wealthy, country-club raised, white girl. The movements of my life were that of a square peg forcing itself into a round hole. I was miserable.
For myself first
I came across a quote from James Cone years ago and it planted itself inside my mind. “If we cannot recognize the truth, then it cannot liberate us from untruth.” It was a small signal, an imperceptible seed of truth planted that would nag me to reconcile two very different identities trying to metamorphosis.
The call to do antiracist work is not just born of the cliched hope for an outcome to “make the world a better place.” As I pull into my neighborhood, now crowded with “Black Lives Matter” signs, I do wonder how many still chose to live in the bliss of the ignorance of what those words truly mean. The lonely, heavy, and exhausting work involved with unlearning racism and white supremacy, is an act of self-love and self-care. I cannot be whole or feel any happiness without doing the essential antiracist work. Dedicating myself to unlearning and distancing myself from my role as a white supremacist, I found redemption, love, hope, God, and respect for myself.
Self-awareness and unlearning
There is trauma that needs to be addressed, reconciled, and behavior that needs to be unlearned — quickly. To truly be an antiracist, the work must begin with an internal and external period of self-reflection (see Insight to develop better self-awareness). Starting my own work to be antiracist, brought to light that my past attempts to help others as superficial, and potentially causing more harm to black and oppressed people. Sadly, I realize my charitable efforts may not have been genuinely liberating. I am unsure if my actions, despite my intentions, were creating a space for others either to truly thrive.
Nobody enjoys suffering, even when we have faith the benefit will be our own growth or triumph in the end. The process is similar to grief when it’s time to face your own demons. Strong emotions that emerge in subtle ways, such as anger and denial, are common. It took losing my father this year to understand that grief of our loved ones and grief of losing our “earned” status or reality look very similar. I look back with grace as I recall heated moments of being called our or called into my own white supremacy — my own denial and anger leaking out in statements like “I don’t see color” or “I’m not privileged, I’ve worked really hard…” I don’t want to live with demons lurking in the shadows of my life.
For my children, and theirs, and far beyond theirs…
During my undergraduate studies, I learned about the physical and psychological burden of trauma passed down from generation to generation. In WWII, many survivors of Nazi concentration camps moved on to have children. Studies showed their children carry the trauma of that horrific violence into their own lives. Many suffer from depression and succumb to suicide.
It has been difficult to establish a genuine connection with my ancestors. To embrace lineage on my mother’s side has proven particularly difficult. A few years ago I learned through DNA testing that some ancestors arrived in the Caribbean, in chains, from the Congo and other parts of Africa. I was excited to learn that a tiny piece of me is Taino, the first peoples of the Dominican Republic. It became very clear to me once I shared this with my parents that there was a lot to unpack, on both sides.
Trauma occurs both for the oppressors and the oppressed. My father, a white “traditional” man from Tennessee opted for silence, ignoring that particular part of my heritage and biology. My mother chose denial, and then rage towards me. She was uncomfortable and unwilling to acknowledge or accept this as part of herself, fearing the implication would diminish her “status” in her extremely white, country-club social circles.
Our Dominican ancestors had not only survived the first year of the transatlantic slave trade, but I realized my mother, sister and I carried the blood of an indigenous people, the Taino, victims of Columbus’s greed-fueled genocide campaign. As for my father, I saw a scared child, too marred by generations of Southern black-hatred and violence to verbalize the mix of emotions. Tap into your humanity to recognize that no child witnesses a lynching and is capable of living
My father’s ancestors have a string of uninterrupted experiences in cruel violence. We know this exists because my great-great Grandmother is a Cherokee, who was said to be the result of rape. Neither path evaporates with time, but rather, carries instincts passed down alongside the same genetic markers as eye color.
Ending the cycle
Despite holding solid evidence of self-identification in my hands, my parents’ reactions left me feeling unsupported and very alone. To deny my multi-racial heritage, and the refusal to acknowledge anything other than “you are white” was incredibly confusing. To hold the visible answer to that on my skin, hair, and now in my hands that said otherwise.
I will not leave this burden on my children. The cycle of trauma will end with me.
An accurate history
Living in truth is liberating even if it is painful at first. The freedom of my truth allows me space to grow and mature. As a self-proclaimed “learner and student,” the most important type of learning is to unlearn. Then to relearn with accuracy and truth.
I no longer accept that I am a victim or merely a forced participant in the happenings around me. The power to critically question the accounts of history, religion, and reality was in my power. I can audit an ‘expert’s teachings, or my own experiences to examine the evidence and facts to understand what is really happening. To take ownership of uncovering the truth is taking back my power.
It’s selfish and I know it
There is a hot rage that burns under my skin. A burning sensation of hot coal in my throat as I witness the injustices and inhumanity unfold around me. It’s the same rising heat I felt as a child when I witnessed my dad belittle my mother for her accent. The passive-aggressive comments about Dominican foods, or the casual spirit of the Dominican people. It was beyond judgmental, it was mean-spirited, meant to degrade and diminish the experience of happiness in others.
Despite what my dad believed, he caused great harm to whitewash my identity. My mother has not managed to shake the racist education she’s been given, and to this day she will defend the actions of Christopher Columbus. Her will to survive is strong, much like her ancestors, in a world that is still very racist and white. Perhaps this is a gift that she’s shared with me, albeit a sad one, to shed light on a perspective. Giving me the strength she did not have to see the ways in which I can break from the supremacist perspective and the shame that has put me “in my place.”
Unlearning behaviors and actions that forced me to hide my heritage is now the fuel to grow my voice. I choose to raise my voice for justice for myself first. I am not embarrassed or ashamed to admit that I will choose myself first – self-care is my priority. My calling to do antiracist work is calling to be closer to God, and He demands of me that I accept the truth.
Self-care is activism
I need to embrace self-love before I can give to others. To wash off years of accumulated inflicted shame for having browner skin so that I can set a correct course for the racist actions I have projected onto others. I cannot do this antiracist work for or with others until I do it for myself first. To embrace my mixed-racial identity and community as my truth; to embrace its beautiful authentic glory is an act of self-love. This lights a spark of empathy, respect, and precise action to fight for BIPOC, because it is a fight that allows everyone to be free.
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- As you begin your own antiracist work, failure and making mistakes is part of the process. Read more about how we encourage and embrace how to Fail Gracefully