As gratefully creates space for an open heart, I want to thank Felicia for radical honesty and rooted, critical love, Amanda for wise teaching, asking, and adaptability, all the fellow white ladies in the group for openness and support, my ancestors, my family alive today, and my future family lineage. Thank you for some wonderful historians in my family who shared and continue to share a rich knowledge, research, and documentation of our heritage and lineage with me.
To grow in a net that works! Thank you makers of what must be made, destroyers of what must be destroyed.
A somewhat version of my family history project:
This is a story about whiteness – about being more honest about its creation in the U.S. and the acceptance, adoption, and assimilation by my ancestors who are me and who are not me. What was sacrificed and stunted, tied off, tucked down, hidden, given, taken – consciously and unconsciously. Acting in what Joyce James calls “critical love” for myself and my ancestors, I will leave no aspect of our lives uncritically examined. Grateful, with my eyes open.
As my ancestors pursued freedom in the New World…
- New to whom
- How did freedom always come with slavery and inquality
- People were killed
…as my family became white others became black
Three quarters of familial lines came from then Bavaria (today Germany) in the 1700s, landing in the Port of Philadelphia before the revolutionary war. They were responding to advertisements William Penn strategically (as a way to make money and attract his preferred kinds of people, those he judged as hard-working and Quaker or at least Protestant) sent to Bavaria. Penn attracted persecuted minorities to buy the land for 40 cents/acre – land that had people living on it for over 2,000 years. At the time Penn was gifted 45,000 square miles, Lenni Lenape people were living on and with land that became the Philadelphia area, where my family moved and own(ed) land. In Philadelphia, a mile north of where my great-great-uncle Ray worked on a statue of William Penn that loomed over the city, Penn and the Lenape met and discussed a future of promising friendship soon after Penn arrived in 1682. Today, there are no federally recognized tribes living in Pennsylvania. Most Native American tribes who were living in the area that was gifted to Englishman William Penn were forced to move west in the 1700s and now live in reservations in Oklahoma.
My paternal father’s great-great… grandfather, Andreas Krauthamel, arrived in Philadelphia on September 30, 1754. As per the following list 220C, he swore allegiance to the British Crown, as recorded in the Court House in Philadelphia:
“At the court house at Philadelphia Monday, the 30th of September 1754.
Present: The worshipped Charles Willing, Esq., Mayor. The Foreighners whose names are underwritten, imported in the ship Edinburg, James Russel, Master from Rotterdam and last from Cowes did this day take the usual Qualifications.
5 Roman Catholicks, 1 Mennonist 160 qualified Patatinate and Wirtemberg.”
Andreas (XX) Krauthamel.
The captain’s list had Andreas Grauthamel. Andreas made his mark against his name “Andreas Krauthamel.”
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s mother’s side – Johannes Swartzlander, gave the same oath on the day he arrived to Philadelphia on November 7, 1752. 220c was mandated in 1727 by the Pennsylvania Provincial Council, who was worried that the influx of German immigrants of non-Saxon descent might mean that German language and culture would overtake English language and culture. Johannes Swartzlander left Steinhartwald with his wife Maria Magdelena and their 7 children, ages 1-9. They may have been of Austrian nobility lineage – either way, somehow they had wealth enough to travel for 6 months as a family before sailing from the port of Rotterdam to Philadelphia. The 20 week journey along the Snow Louise was especially long and about as sickening as many ships moving from Europe to America at that time- Maria and Dorothea, 9, Maria, 8, Jasper, 7, Margaretha, 2, and baby Jacob, 1, all died on board. In the 1700s, ships were mostly owned by English men primarily concerned with full loads and profit. They had an advantage over Germans by speaking English.
The Swartzlanders arrived with enough wealth that they did not become indentured servants upon arrival to Pennsylvania, like around half of European settlers at that time. Johannes, his two surviving children, and his second wife, Margaretha Agnes, settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They were farmers and Johannes, a land-owner, was a citizen of the United States almost immediately upon arrival, an outcome of his pale complexion, Penn and English men’s approval (albeitwith some warrienss) of the general Bavarian character, and the wealth Johannnes had before making the journey west. Men brought to this country in chains from Africa were not counted as full humans for another 114 years (1866) and were not allowed to vote until 4 years after that. Even after they were legally allowed to vote laws and practices made it difficult or impossible to until 1964, or arguably, through today.
I don’t know why Johannes and his wife decided to make the journey to Pennsylvania. I wonder if they were religiously persecuted, or hopeful of gaining more wealth? A chance to escape the turmoil in Bavaria at that time? I wonder what say Maria had? As Beah Richards affirms, “White womanhood, too, in chains – the difference is degree.” I think about the ways farming happened in Germany – more collectively in a village, and the private square lot they owned in Bucks County. How did they work land differently while still coming to know the distinct soil texture, the arch of new hills, different rain patterns and root systems.
This family lineage went on to establish a farm in Montgomery County where my uncle, aunt, and cousins still live and grow+sell food. In 1885 my great-great grandfather Frederick Kohler had a newspaper article written about him. In it, he was praised for his relationship to the land. At that time, the whiteness of those of German heritage was rarely contested – the Frenchmen responsible for pairing ‘white’ and ‘American’ saw Germans as white at that time. In 1786, Thomas Jeffersonsaw only Anglo Saxons as white. Germans were praised for their ability to assimilate quickly and for beauty standards. The same standards that, in the1990s, led a family member to starve herself to sickness.
Two years after the article was written about my great-great grandfather, the Dawes Act broke up Native American land into individual rather than tribally-owned allotments. Those who accepted the individual allotments and lived separately from the tribe would be granted US citizenship. A violent act to assimilate, the land that was not taken up was stolen by the US government, called ‘excess land’ and sold on the market.
Johannes and Maria’s son, Gabriel, (of whose lineage I descend) was a mill owner/operator. Gabriel fought in the Revolutionary War. My mom’s grandmother, Dorothy Shive, was a proud member of the daughter’s of the revolution. In Howard Zinn’s “A people’s history of the United States”, he writes about the dissent people had against the Rev. War, knowing that substituting one nobility for another wouldn’t change their lives. Why put their lives on the line for the same dynamic by a different name? I see delusion in fighting, a belief in freedom that feels sad and untrue. I am judging my family members as hopeful, with blinders on their eyes. And celebrating that legacy feels like a drunkenness of specific Amnesia – how quickly we forget in this country. With every wave of immigration, the ‘old’ immigrants feel native, entitled to citizenship, holding up their new white shield, blocking out the sun with it in stunted and protected life.
The family history project has asked me to accept my role as upper middle class for many generations – pre revolutionary war even. A convenience in promise below nobility, land ownership. I see myself in a long lineage of finding financial stability while participating in a ‘moral’ way. Comfort and praise for being good. Farmers, working the land, physicians and weavers. The middle class supports the nobility, aristocrats, elite above – we buffer and keep safe the 1% – too often we are not aligned, working in solidarity with people living in poverty because we have ingested a myth that economic mobility upward is possible (and desirable) if you work hard enough and a bunch of other non-truths including that we are not the same, are not and cannot be one front. Unity is incredibly dangerous, we know this and race-creating legislators knew this in 1676, the year of “Bacon’s Rebellion.”
The third heritage line I can trace because of the privilege of records that mark voyages from ships that never crossed the equator and the hard work of a family member to collect that information, is my mother’s father’s family, the Lightkep family. They, too, traveled from Germany in response to William Penn’s advertisements. Abraham Tunes and Beatrix Luken (a lineage that married a Lightkep a few generations later) were on the Concord (also known as the German Mayflower) along with 13 other Mennonite families in 1683.
In 1729, the Gottfried and Ann Elizabeth Leibgib (which became Lightkep) departed from Rotterdam and arrived in Philadelphia. They were likely fleeing religious persecution as part of the Schwarzenau Brethren, a religious group “in conversation with Mennonites and Anti-baptist” (Wikipedia) that believed in the imminent return of Christ. This family assimilated away from anti-Baptist religion and into other more mainstream forms of Protestantism.
Reflections of the process:
In my first iteration of the family history project, I dug into learning, hungry to capture the information of family lineage and historical and racial context, I ran through books at increasing speed toward the deadline. I accepted imperfection in terms of organization, map accuracy, and detailed information and felt proud that I could set my own limits and swim against the current of particular kind of white woman perfectionism. I connected to sadness of my sacrificed Bavarian and Hungarian heritage – how whiteness allured and paralyzed growth for me and my people. I connected to our shallowing relationship to land, stolen and bordered, privatized plots.
My process through the project was a often mirror of whiteness – wanting to perform correctly, put on that front of progress/progressiveness. I became trapped in an either/or thinking applied to racial narratives; either we’re talking about white history or we’re talking about black history. Delusionally, I forgot the two don’t exist without one another, two sides of the same coin, manufactured, like freedom and slavery; liberty and inequality. I didn’t digest Abraham Lateiner’s writing, ‘center the experience of people of color while putting whiteness under the microscope,’ to interrogate whiteness and fight against the country’s status quo centering of the white experience.
And the project reiterated white supremacy’s culture of intellectualization – big time. Like performing a practiced routine, a re-performance without curiosity or awareness, I remembered from years of schooling how a presentation is done. I collect facts, I feel the spark of connection in my brain and I scribble down my informational intake. I choreograph the facts in an order that makes sense and present. It would be embarrassing and inappropriate to show emotions during a presentation, so I will share from ballooned head space to head space. This is how I do it and have received praise, inflating self-worth perhaps without necessarily deepening (self) love.
So, family history project, take two. Back up, slow down, and focus on my process of different ways of receiving and knowing. That my heart is open to receive and know the brutality and pain, to move with a felt sense of our nation’s truth and the ways my personal story weaves with that. Considering how the project and process honor the larger goal, that of collective growth and liberation.
I shared the project with my brother, sister, mom and dad on Christmas night. They communicated appreciation and intrigue, saying, “Thank you, that was so interesting!”, “It was so interesting to hear about our ancestors and how they and other immigrants in their generation fit into a larger historical, racial perspective was eye opening.” My parents’ responses were upbeat and congratulatory. I think they wanted me to know I did a good job, concerned for my self-judgment and perfectionism – they assured me it was great. No one had any questions or needed clarification.
I was grateful for their full attention, for their open minds and for our ability as a family to be supportive of one another, as best as we know how.
And I felt unsettled.
I was reminded of an article we read about growing up with privilege and the stunting that comes when parents act as a “mirror of only the praiseworthy aspects of the child” (http://jewishjournal.com/opinion/171298/). I want to grow in this work and I wasn’t receiving any critical feedback or tough points to work and grow through. If my presentation didn’t bring up more emotions or urgency for my family – was it not true enough to our nation’s history?
I am not responsible for the place my family is in their journey, how can I best support my family through their growth and not take responsibility and ownership of it? And how can I honor the mirror of my process I see in them? Be real about my points of friction and how the thin veil between self and other, especially in intimate contact, allows me to see myself when I look in the eyes and at the posture of a family member.
I am grateful for the passageway into more and more open conversations about race this project opened for my family and I. What fear and attachment I held for relating in a specific way, with political conversations possible at an arm’s length. Settling for things being good enough. My dad and I thought through our family’s and country’s history in relation to news he recorded – stories about race he wanted to talk about. My brother felt confused and convicted to explore, if I am a good person, what else am I supposed to do? I feel guilty and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. My sister and I spoke about not knowing what white culture is and feeling voyeuristic learning about p.o.c. friends’ culture and heritage.
With my mom – at least I looked in my mother’s eyes. Where is the disconnect?
I asked if I made the project relevant for today. As best I could, I explained how racism also stunted, harms (but does not kill) white people, throughout history and today. My mom sank in, she called out to Trevor to ask what he wanted for dinner. I stayed calm, because I know when I press too hard I become a forceful woman, unattractive at best, an ugly bitch at worst. Impossible. Hard. Not her sweet, empathetic daughter. The sensitive one flew, who is this strong faced person in front of me? Why is she calling me a bad person?
The word interesting began to feel undercutting, harming in a way. It was very interesting – received at an intellectual level. I heard, “ It’s so interesting how human nature always breaks things up into class systems.” I began to be critical about my inability to communicate fully, to change the course, then I remembered wise words from Felicia and Martin, mentors in this journey, it’s about continuing to show up and be fully present. It’s a lifelong journey and it’s okay to not have all the answers at this moment.
I read distancing – I felt judgmental and angry. How much am I responsible for someone’s else’s distancing? Could I present with more emotion? Inspire a reaction that would assure me the project got it in some way beyond white microscopes, novel family-specific information. I see and feel white womanhood and internalized racial superiority in our communication. I want another form, and these groves are worn.
Thinking about the definition of self-care from Mistress Syndrome of ‘restoration in the chaos’ – how about different kinds of chaos – the subtlest, calmest, most avoidable chaos – a buried mess, with barely disturbance. Taking care of yourself is fighting to stay awake as restoring spirit, growing from stunts and stumps.