Becoming an Awakened Ancestor
Note to readers: I'm writing this from the perspective of a white woman and am writing for a primarily white audience.
Once we reach a certain age, we begin to think about the legacy we'll leave behind. Maybe we'll be fortunate and be able to leave some money for our loved ones, or some treasured family heirlooms, but what if we could leave our descendants with something invaluable that would affect them at the very core of their being? What if we could lessen the pain and trauma from white supremacy that we transfer to our descendants by working through our own white supremacy trauma? We now know that the human body transfers trauma from one generation to the next through their DNA, but we can lessen that inherited trauma by doing our inner work to resolve our own trauma. White supremacy is a major source of trauma, first and foremost to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), and also to those who pass as white in our culture. If we do our work around white supremacy, we'll be closer to eliminating this trauma from both current and future generations. I believe that passing anti-racism laws isn't enough to end racial injustice. We must start with healing our own hearts and stop putting our white supremacy derived pain out into the world.
There are many Black women that are doing the emotional labor of educating white people about racism and the impacts of white supremacy and whiteness. I have worked with a few, and they have all taught me so much. I've had the privilege to be part of Leesa Renee Hall's Patreon community for the past several months and have learned a lot about how white supremacy is harmful to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), as well as white people. Leesa's expressive writing prompts helped me to dig deep into the weapons of whiteness I wield, such as white centering, white apathy and white saviorism (more on these topics in future posts). Leesa was the first person who introduced me to the idea that doing my inner work on racism would make me a better ancestor. This perspective resonated with me and engaged me in the work. The work isn't easy, nor is it ever done; it's a lifetime commitment. What better legacy could I leave my child and future generations of my family than to do my inner work around my own racism and white privilege so that they would inherit less of the trauma of white supremacy?
Working through Leesa's writing prompts I was able to think of my own ancestors in a very different way. What did my ancestors have to give up to be accepted as white when they arrived in America? As I thought about the customs of my German and Norwegian ancestors and which traditions my family still practices today, I was not able to name a single one. It appears as though in gaining white privilege, my ancestors had to give up their uniquely German and Norwegian customs. No longer does anyone in our family speak German or Norwegian, make traditional foods from our homelands or practice their traditions. The white privilege my family has comes at the expense of losing much of our cultural heritage. This is not to say that what white people have lost because of white supremacy is greater than what BIPOC have lost, quite the contrary, but it is worth noting that white supremacy comes with a cost even to those that pass as white. It's shocking to me how quickly my family lost its German and Norwegian customs. It took only 2-3 generations for these customs to be erased from our lineage.
I often wonder if my ancestors knew the bargain they were entering into when they accepted whiteness. Did they readily accept that claiming whiteness would mean that they had to think of human beings of other races as inferior? We are indoctrinated in white supremacy from the moment we take our first breath. Combine that with our ancestors unhealed racial trauma and we have no choice in becoming enmeshed in white supremacy, but we do have a choice in whether or not we make the commitment to heal ourselves and start standing with BIPOC and recognizing their full humanity.
If you've ever seen old photographs of white people picnicking or seeming to enjoy the lynching of a Black person, imagine what those white bodies are doing to tamp down their trauma to find pleasure at the mutilation and death of another human being. In his book, "My Grandmother's Hands," author, healer and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem makes the case that white bodies long held trauma before they even encountered Black bodies and that the colonists likely held much trauma in their bodies due to the cruel treatment they witnessed and endured before they even arrived in America. Wealthy white Europeans were known to have drawn and quartered and decapitated lower-class white people to maintain their power. The colonists in turn unleashed their pain on the BIPOC and lower-class people they encountered in America. We all need to heal from not only this trauma, but our own.
For white passing people, I believe it is our duty to seek out anti-racism educators and resources, do our inner work to examine the effects of our own racism and to start showing up for BIPOC. This is the work that will start us on the path to dismantling white supremacy. Until we take responsibility for our own inner racism and examine our unconscious biases, we can't act surprised when we are called out as racists and as upholders of white supremacy by BIPOC.