Whitenesses harsh movements

I am angry. I am feeling my feelings of anger towards my family history, my experience of my life as playing out the stories of my ancestors, and the release of anger within my cells: that has been held captive for what feels like a lifetime.

I am angry that my grandmother was a slave. I am angry that she had to endure. I am coming to understand that my grandmother has “paid her dues”. that she has spent a lifetime suffering, surviving, and then healing: healing herself, healing her husband, healing her children, healing her community, healing the earth. I am coming to peace with the truth that I may not be able to rely upon her to support me through this cellular healing work.

I have feelings about the way in which my personal experience of the family history project presentation played out. I am dealing with the opposing idea that this work is individual, and yet… we are a group. My feeling is that many things played out the evening of my presentation that led it to be a violent experience for me. Some of these movements were external, and yet some were the lack of noticing and the lack peaceful movements with myself. I do believe that whiteness crept in that evening in some ways that contributed to my understanding that it really could have played out in a more peaceful and healing way, a restorative justice kind of way, rather than through the harshness of whiteness. my perspective leaves me questioning some of the actual events that took place and how appropriate they were to the healing work of the family history projects and WWG. I saw the focus of the evening drawn to a distraction of whiteness and its unrelenting ways of pulling our attention from the healing and towards the suffering and over questioning, over analyzing out our failures. I saw a missed opportunity for our usual checking in with the group whilst my believing how truly important that was to the group at the time. I noticed myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the way in which things were playing out, and yet sitting in silence of that and continuing the harsh movement towards pushing myself to do what I was “supposed” to do, which is present what I had prepared. I missed the signs and I numbed this feeling so that I could get it over with.

I am being emotionally abused in my home and going through a separation so it is not surprising that my body is in pain, my breath is lacking, my focus is fleeting, and my health and wellness is in disrepair. The movements of this project have been healing, yes, but also have been very intense on my mind body and spirit in a time that I am already feeling like I and struggling to breath. I am grateful for this work.

I am questioning my understandings with the ideas that safety does not equal comfort. I am unsure of where the boundary lies with this feeling and how to navigate though it in a peaceful way. I question this when it comes to the connection of trauma informed care and really just the way that we are around each other as humans, and the ways in which we energetically affect each other. like when I am provoking trauma in someone, especially without consent, then it seems to me like I am taking away that persons safety, in a way. or at least their feeling of safety. even as I write this I am experiencing this blurred understanding. I am not sure if it was appropriate to involve another cohort in the presenting of the projects. or at least, maybe more boundaries could have been agreed upon. It reminds me of the time I was in training and the group was experiencing some heightened conversation: one person, whom had left the space or was just joining it, came into the space and quickly began to contribute to the conversation they had just joined. This action was quickly halted by a leader explaining that it would be more appropriate if they had listened for understanding rather than jump to contribute. This was a feeling that I had felt again once I had finished presenting my project. For me it felt like a similar experience playing out: someone who does not know my story, and who has not been a part of this conversation leading up to the family history presentation with my cohort, quickly contributing to the response. This felt violent. It is my understanding that we want to make this movement work, so I think it is important that I share ways in which I think things felt like they were not working for me. It is not that I feel blame with my feelings in response to any of these movements. It is not that I feel that I have all the answers or know what this work is meant to look or feel like. and I certainly understand that we are all growing where we are and I would be breaking my agreements within this movement if I was to try to control how this work plays out external of myself. I am just noticing.

I am questioning what the balance of support and accountability looks and feels like in this peaceful movement, this important anti-racist movement, this movement of healing, repairing, and working together to heal our hearts. I think is it so important to move slow, to work deeply on our connections as humans with one another on this path of healing. I believe we must work on seeing each other to be able to support each other we need to be able to feel one another to understand when the time, the energy, the environment are all conducive for this healing. I do wish that I felt seen that night. I don’t blame others. I can see myself and reflect on my movements in that time and space. I was not allowing myself to be seen. So what can I do to work towards a peaceful movement in the future, on the path of kindness towards myself and others. The eight limbs is a start for sure. Continuing this conversation of my reflections and noticing is a movement that I do not want to run away from, yet, i did feel that way following my presentation and probably do still. I did want to be done with all of this work and am desperate to find a reason to believe that I am not being supported by this group. its just the truth, and I am noticing this as a trend in others following the presentation of these projects. is it more important to walk in accountability or to notice how we can support each other with ease in this process? maybe it all plays out as it should, or maybe there is a shift that needs to happen. I am humbled in this questioning, knowing that I do not have the answer.

I feel like I am stuck in the middle, of two opposing ideas. is this just where all humans are: alone? in the middle, and the sooner we come to terms with it the more able we are to walk the middle path, the path of kindness. I do feel lonely in this group. I feel like there is a misunderstanding of my experience with IRS and IRI, of my ancestral experience: the one of oppression, and slavery, the one that I feel in my cells. I do not feel like I should have to explain myself when I share the story of my experience. Words like slavery are a part of my story and I do not feel that I should have to apologize for how they are expressed. I do want to be able to meet people where they are and express myself peacefully to other humans in a way that can promote real change. I am white. I come from slavery. lost in translation. I am willing to do the work. I can only be where I am at with my understanding of what that looks like and I am not sorry for making others uncomfortable with my expression of words like slavery when talking about where I come from. Maybe it is harsh.. to believe that maybe that feeling of discomfort is where some of the growing towards understanding takes place.. I want to be seen but does that mean I have to be the one to expose myself?

according to me, I said it all. I ripped off my clothes (so to speak), opened my heart, laid my soul on the floor and had exceptions of being held once it was all done. it hurt.

I exposed myself to my grandmother: the truth that is that I know what my grandfather did. I know that he beat his children (amongst worse). She shut the book (so to speak) said good bye and hung up the phone. said that she did not want to hear me talk about her husband that way, that he was a good man. The truth is my grandmother is a survivor. she has endured and survived. she continued to walk on this earth with love. I forgive her and I do not feel that she owes me support. she has always supported me. she does not have to walk with me in this truth. I set her free.

The project was supposed to lead to the idea or reparations. so this is it for me: sharing my story, living in my mind body and spirit, allowing my cells to heal. allowing my grandmother to grow where she is, which is in a time and space that is not shared with me, yet is me. Her story is one of survival. I see her, coming from slavery herself, yet working on reparations: like drilling wells in Africa to provide clean drinking water for other humans with her share of the money earned from the book written about her story. reparations is healing our spirit and walking in a path of peace, of love. She did call me back shortly after. she will never give up hope of the true power of healing, which is love. not turning our backs. seeing and being seen. holding space. feeling sadness. I am an embodiment of her work. I am held.

for me, right now, reparations means not running away from this work. not running away from myself. and being seen.

Healing has become a shift towards boundaries in my life, of understating how things work towards healing. healing cannot begin until I have space. I must make space, and take space, and must work to find balance within this movement. I see now that there was space that I could have set boundaries with my work regarding the family history project, throughout the whole process. but that is not the way of whiteness. the slow movement, is not the way of whiteness. it is with harshness that whiteness continues to move. I am white and I walk with harshness, this is the undoing I am working towards, this is the harshness that I am angry at.

 

Still

Still breathing through that realization in my family history project that it was still legal when I was born/adopted to steal babies from Native American families and place them in white adoptive families as forced assimilation into whiteness. And that is not the only people of color group that has had children stolen for adoption into whiteness. Still breathing through the layers of impact my adoption has had on me – the dissociative amnesia, the dissociation from body, the attachment trauma – which just adds to how whiteness has had similar/the same impacts. I can’t heal this quickly, or maybe ever. Still breathing through my fear of having a conversation with my birth mom about how it really was for her at the time. Thinking about how much more trauma would be involved for parents and child if it hadn’t been her choice. 

Still breathing.

it’s nice to be a 10 minute walk away from the 100 year old graves of my relatives but it would be nicer if i could actually find them.

i’m finding everybody else’s family graves though.

hey was your mother in law Bernadette? i ask the woman from larimer at the nursing home.

(you’re not supposed to talk to people while they’re trying to pee but here i am doing it anyway)

hate to say it but the italians sort of pushed the germans out of larimer, the other daughter at the nursing home told me. see larimer used to be all german.  then the irish came and pushed out the germans. then the italians came and the irish and the italians pushed out the germans. and they did not like us. we used to get picked on all the time.

really? i said. cause i asked my mom’s cousin and she said she never heard anyone say anything bad about italians.

oh yeah we got picked on, she said. there was this joke: what does an italian say? and the answer was wop wop wop.

i’m sorry, i said.

oh everyone picked on each other back then, she said. the germans picked on the irish and the irish picked on the italians and the italians picked on the –

i waited but she didn’t finish.

 

 

shame and secrets

I feel a lot of shame surrounding my project. I feel a lot of shame surrounding imperfection in general. I don’t want to address it, and so instead, I walked into my family history presentation prepared to let out an ounce of vulnerability. I was so ashamed about my family’s history and the way I handled my project that I had shoved my shame so far inside of me that I didn’t even know it was there. And then, when I tried to let out an ounce, there was a flood.

 

I was teaching yoga with youth who have been incarcerated at a juvenile detention center last weekend. We were using yoga pretzel cards. Something interesting happened during airplane pose. “Where will you fly your plane?” read my co-teacher, who is a woman of color. 

 

“I’m going to Africa” declared a female identified youth, a woman of color. My co-teacher agreed.

“I’m going to Japan to find my siblings” said another young woman of color.

 

I was silent.

 

I worried that if I told them I would go to Italy I would be judged as privileged and, obviously, white. That I would be JUDGED for wanting to go to a beautiful place that was once the homeland of my family.

 

I’m surprised that I didn’t fall out of my airplane as I contemplated telling them I would go to Germany to see family. I thought about how they might instantly think that my german ancestors were possibly involved in Adolf Hitler’s work. And I was ashamed that I never had such a thought.

 

My shame tells me a lot about myself. I know that when I am feeling shame that I don’t want to speak about, I need to find more time to process it. I can recognize afterwards when I have had large moments of shame that I try to cover up by being busy, pretending I can do everything, pretending that I have it all together.

 

It’s been difficult for me to admit that I have deep and kinda dark feelings about this. It’s been hard for me to admit that I need my life to be more conducive to my healing. I have for such a long time seen myself as a type of healer. Someone who was always there to help others. Now that I need to help myself I feel guilty that I can’t give more of my energy to helping others. 

 

I realize that helping makes me feel whole when I am covering up being broken. Focusing on others allows me to escape and ignore my internal pain. 

 

I look at others and what they need instead of looking at myself. This is a pattern that I have learned from my family and then tried to use to help certain members of my family, only to find resentment when all is said and done. I resent that I spent so much time on other people’s happiness. I resent that this pattern has created a large secret 

 

I resent that we’re not perfect, that we pretended to be perfect, that I believed we were nearly perfect, and now that I know that we’re not, I feel betrayed. 

a familiar name on the 1930 census:

hey does your family have a connection to larimer? i ask someone’s daughter at the nursing home.

it turns out my grandpa’s family lived down the street from her dad’s family; my grandpa’s sister married the son of the people next door.

can you tell me about any italian traditions or anything italian? i ask.

well i remember my parents went to this big italian wedding, she said.  my mom told me it started on friday and didn’t end til sunday and for 3 days there was constantly all this food being served and people coming in and out of the house day and night.

hey mom do you remember going to Sergio’s family’s wedding? she asks.

vaguely, her mom says.

it’s the most lucid thing i ever heard her mom say.

did you live in larimer? i ask the sicilian.

no we lived on 25th street, she says.

like in the strip? i say.

yeah, she says. then we moved to 47th street.

we lived on tioga street, the woman from calabreze tells me.

where did people go? i ask my mom’s cousin.

most people went to penn hills, she says.  it was the new up and coming neighborhood. a lot of italians had done work there and then they had the opportunity to live there.

oh yes italians were known for being bricklayers, my mom says. her brothers Frank and Lou helped Grandpa do some work on our house in wilkinsburg.

my mom and dad didn’t want to be like everyone else, the daughter at the nursing home tells me.  they tried to stay. their street was a throughway but the city closed it off and made it one way and it became drug infested.  finally someone held a gun to my dad’s head and i told them they had to leave.

when was that? i ask.

1985, she says.

my family was holding guns to people’s heads in larimer 60 years earlier but i don’t tell her that.

 

 

 

it occurs to me finally that i’m swimming in a sea of information about my family history project the way they say we’re swimming in an ocean of divinity.

at the nursing home i start paying attention to names that end in a’s or o’s.

hey are you italian? i start asking people.

oh yes, they look me in the eye and say. full-blooded!

(participating in the lie of white supremacy helped to steal the vitality from the immigrant communities of irish, italians, jews, poles, and others, i read)

what part of italy are you from? i say.

spigno, they say.

sicily, they say.

calabreze, they say.

(these people who can’t tell me where they are or what time of day it is)

where are you from? a woman asks me.

naples, i say.

ah napoletano, she says and i try to say it back to her a couple times.

(this flavorless cracker who 3 generations later can’t pronounce the name of her own people)