Every morning I wake up and “write” for a while. With a pen. It is kind and generous to myself to call it writing. Mostly it is scratching and scribbling out a bunch of garbage that needs to get itself out of the inside of my head and live somewhere out of range of bothering me with its ridiculousness. Some days it’s like looking in a mirror. Yesterday it was like looking in a mirror and having my own reflection reach out and slap me across the face.
[Short aside: as a general rule it is probably not a great idea to be Facebook friends with exes, but I am told that in Human Design, I’m a 3-5 profile, so I don’t judge ideas as “bad” or “good” — I just try everything and see what happens and then tell everyone about the mistakes I’ve made so you can all save yourselves the heartache, have nice lives, and maybe thank me for my trouble if it occurs to you to do so. If I were a mythical-GMO-hybrid-chimera animal, I would be made up of the canary in the coal mine, a cat with nine lives, and a braying ass. …Or I’d just be an octopus, because also water-quick-slippery, squishy and curious introvert. I’m also relatively new to social media so I’m probably doing it all wrong; there is no real suffering in it, only a great deal of glancing sideways at myself.]
So, an ex of mine from a decade and a half ago recently posted a photo of herself posing with a dozen so other white women standing around a fountain at a Palm Springs resort, all of them dressed in out-of-context, culturally appropriative (not, as Ben read, appropriate, but exactly the opposite of that), “because we appreciate [consuming] other cultures (and what we buy belongs to us)” garb, and each wearing the expression of someone who would be delighted to speak with the manager. When I saw it, I cringed.
I’m still cringing, but not really at the photo. (Okay, a little at the photo.) When I saw that picture, an old knot in my gut unraveled and I cringed at myself. I looked at that photo and was suddenly awash in the visceral memory of all the times I had been caught off guard by the subtle and exclusionary racism of liberal white people I’ve been close to because I had never wanted to see it. I spent a lifetime willfully assuming that if a white person wanted to be close to me—because why wouldn’t they?— they were not uncomfortable with non-whiteness (bear with the triple negative here and I’ll ‘splain). If someone chose to be close with a “mixie” like me, of course they welcomed difference… right?
In my perfect storm of self-delusion, being multi-racial (the only __________ in either side of my family) and living most of my life in coastal, white-dominant, American cities with visible BIPOC populations, I saw myself as a shape-shifter, not a token. It didn’t previously occur to me to be surprised at the homogeneity in many of my friends’ lives because I had been bred and conditioned early for this role; at any given gathering on either side of my family, I was the diversity. (I learned last night in Freedom School that confusion is a protective skill we learn early on. Yep, I paused, too. Ping me if you want to talk about it. The psyche is a magnificent thing.)
After a few years of living in the literal and metaphorical desert, divorcing myself from normal, and rejecting any semblance of a regular social life, of becoming deliberate about every voice and every person and every presence I allow into my life, of learning from and being led by women of color, listening to my ancestors, and following my senses, it has happened that my cultural sensitivity to whiteness as a construct is heightening, and my personal sensitivity to white discomfort is diminishing. To be confronted today with the white people I love and have loved, and to abruptly recognize their deep comfort with exclusive whiteness, took me aback. Not their part in it, but mine.
To finally and suddenly notice the abundant and comfortable *sameness* in my friends’ lives was to also notice my complicity in bending over backwards to make sure that white people felt comfortable around me in my non-whiteness. In that photo full of serious-looking white women, I was confronted with my own responsibility for quietly contorting and erasing pieces of myself to belong to a made up world that does not easily welcome me as a whole person. The old conditioning and erasing of who I am is being slowly undone, unlearned, with so much support from other women of color, and only made possible by also celebrating others in their own reclamation of who they are and where they come from, from whatever land, from whatever star, in whatever body, singing whatever song they sing. To truly celebrate myself is to celebrate us all.
Every day I look at a photo of my mother’s mother when she was a young woman. She reminds me remember to giggle and laugh. She did not speak much English, and I speak only a few food-related words in Cantonese, and so laughter, food, and prayer were the languages she taught me. I laugh and give thanks today that I was fortunate to have known this ancestor, to have been raised by her in these wordless languages that ward off the erasure that the comfort of white homogeneity demands.
I give thanks now for ALL of the people in my life who are walking this winding path with me, having these uncomfortable conversations, teaching me and allowing themselves to be taught, who aren’t afraid to join me in both my grief and my laughter, because they are so often one and the same. As it turns out, the painful shedding of ego is also an invitation to connection and joy.
A New Year is upon us, and an old year retreats into the cycle. As I give thanks for my many blessings, I also wish you joy, prosperity, long life, and much laughter together.