A New Earth

Birdless sky swells grey blue against
trees that stand like brushes 
stiff in the cold

It is the penultimate breath
of a new earth.

The dark disappears in a steadfast
philanthropy of color: red, orange, rose 
blush up from the land over lakes and hills 
and roof slats to tell the inhabitants

Night has not prevailed.

Earth  e x h a l e s
as the sun spills her promise.


DAwnLake

disarmed the sun

she bathed in sweat just
from breathing, shoulders 
rouge in the evening blaze

        as she balanced on the edge
                                     of hope

        the decisive rain
        disarmed the sun,
        a zealous s t u t t er
        that drenched her to a start

        and she smiled

                   as she fell headlong into
                                             expecta
                                                      tion

FacetoSky

The Race: Caucasian Native American, Part 11

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I define myself racially as Caucasian and Native American. My father was the son of an Armenian man whose family lived in Egypt. My grandfather became the ambassador to what was then Persia, and later sent my father to the US to attend Yale University. My mother was English and a daughter of the American Revolution. She met my father while she was at Wellesley College and they were soon married. Neither of the families approved and the relationship was a difficult one. My parents divorced when I was 11 and my father soon ceased contact with my brother and me.

AlexIn the past several decades in the Northeast, I have been approached by the Native American communities of the Lakota and Tlinget and found, among native people, the first true sense of love I had ever experienced. I was given help, guided by those who, watching with their hearts, saw what I needed to heal and to learn. I was attracted to the Lakota because their tribe name meant human being, my concept of who I have always been. The concept has to do with Western civilization’s compartmentalization of identity. Americans have their spiritual identity, their financial identity, employment identity and family identity. Human beings have one identity, not split in values. It is because of my shared values with the Lakota that I have become a native of the land on which I live. This country land is a land that the white man does not know and still fears in the dark. I hope this will become untrue before all the trees are gone and the natural world is beyond reclaiming.

2) So you don’t identify yourself as Armenian at all because your father left? And you associate yourself racially with the Native Indians because they are your adopted family?

Armenians are Caucasian. I didn’t use the word Armenian in the opening because I know little of the Armenian tradition and none of the language, but I’ve had the cooking my father’s mother forced my mother to learn. It was in recent years that I looked up the history of the Diaspora in which the Turkish people killed 75% of Armenians in less than three years. This is likely another reason I relate to Native Americans, victims of genocide at the hands of the English who wanted this land.

3) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

In my early years we moved frequently as my father completed college, medical school, internship, before opening a private practice. We relocated once again when, due to the divorce, we moved to Connecticut to be nearer to my mother’s family. My maternal grandparents were quite formal and my mother was almost always away at work. Due to our many relocations and the preeminence of conflict and monetary concerns that occupied our lives, I never had a cohesive family or community identity. For the last thirty-five years I have lived in Northern Vermont in a civil war-era farmhouse, the only real home I’ve known.

4) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

As a child, I lived in many different places amid varied economic and ethnic communities. The neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts had many Italian families, and I enjoyed the people. They were so much less formal about everything than my English relatives. The food was new to me and they always wanted me to eat more. I also liked their customs like keeping the children, married kids, and elders living nearby or in the house. They had real extended families. We also lived for a brief period in south central Florida. The community was segregated and the KKK burned a cross in our yard because my father did not agree to separate black and white patients. I didn’t understand why everyone got so upset. One day when I wanted to walk our black housekeeper home she begged me not to saying “they will kill me if they see me with a white child”. I have always remembered the incident because she was so afraid. I also remember the tar paper shacks and poverty. A few years later when Dr. King spoke and the South erupted in violence I began to understand racial and ethnic divisions for the first time.

5) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

I first became aware of my race and ethnicity in Florida. When my mother took us to Connecticut I became aware of the stigma of being the child of a divorced woman and felt the scorn of rich neighbors. It was a long time before I realized it was not some deficit in me that brought on the social rejection but the prejudice against our low income (without my father) and foreign last name in that small, all white, New England town. Although my mother’s side had been there for generations none of the families there had children so I had no social support.

I was often lonely and confused seeing anyone who liked me get pulled away and criticized. I had no concept of a town where generations of families lived together and considered foreigners inferior. This affected my self-esteem greatly and I soon turned to nature and books for escape. When we moved again just as I entered high school, it was to a blue collar factory town where I was treated as an uppity rich kid after my mother’s remarriage. Distrustful of the wealthy children I turned to the less popular Polish, French Canadian, and sometimes Irish or Jewish children with whom I became friends. This left me with a permanent refusal to see anyone through a lens other than kindness or its absence – not race or wealth.

6) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I have no preference for my own ethnicity, especially the wealthy of English ancestry. They are usually preoccupied with their own news, perspectives and well-being, usually undeveloped emotionally and rather proud of the fact that they are “conservative”. As soon as I know my way around another ethnic group I feel right at home. I was shocked to discover that my lawyer, after greeting and chatting with me off and on for ten years after the traumatic divorce he saw me through, had never bothered to learn my name. He also had no idea what he had represented me for. We had to drive 100 miles roundtrip to court for each hearing and I paid $200.00 an hour. He had greeted me for a decade as if we were friends and acted out the part having no idea who I was. That is “formal behavior” I would rather not perpetuate.

7) What do you call the language that the two tribes you mention speak? How fluent are you in that tongue and how long have you spoken it? Do you write it? What language do the Indians speak to you in?

I know only a few words of the language called Lakota, some used in ceremonies. The Indians speak English to me except in greetings, partings, and words used in ceremonial interactions, the most common what we call in English the sweat lodge or sweat bath.

8) Tell us a bit more about the ceremonies.

Over many years I met the challenges of growth and celebrating the Sioux ceremonial rites of passage, grew into a man. I was involved in a group that challenged the state of Connecticut to permit a Native American prisoner to have a sweat lodge in prison after the Native American Religious Freedom Act passed in 1976. Not many people realize that Native Americans were forbidden by law to practice their own religion until then. After we won the case I went into the prisons to sweat with men every month (the natives opened the lodge to any who wanted to come) for seven years. After that Natives from the Sioux and Tlinget cultures who had known about the project approached me. I got to know them well and both tribes adopted me.

And so I have a family in Juneau, Alaska and in the area around Wounded Knee. When I was adopted into the tribe in Alaska (Tlinget) by law it meant my new family was literally my family. It was a real adoption. Too many white people who want to be part of Native American culture are only seeking a fad. The real ceremonies are very private and few nonnatives ever see them. We used to laugh because the only ceremonies you get invited to are the fake ones unless you are family. Being native is a religion, a worldview and a way of life. Unlike Europeans who have one identity at church, one with family, one with business, another paying taxes; Native people are not compartmentalized that way. Caring and sharing is what life is about. Not conquering and getting rich by any means available. Truth has no spin.

9) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

As an adult I identify myself as a human being. I would rather spend time with those who share my belief in kindness, equality, and growth. I answer the rest of the questions in these final comments.

10) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

I appreciate this exercise as a chance to remember my blessings, share and learn and help any who may feel that they have no family, community or tribe. Those who love are family. I sign with my Native first name. You will notice it is not capitalized.

Mitakuye Oyasin, (All things are my relations in Lakota)
hinhun ehate        (Laughing Owl, Lakota name)

Alexander at Pendragon’s Poetry.

The Race: Asian Australian, Part 10

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I was born in Australia to very traditional Chinese-Malaysian parents. The word “Malaysian” refers to a nationality. There are predominantly three races living in Malaysia – Chinese, Malay and Indian. A very long time ago, the Chinese came and settled in Malaysia. My grandparents – and many generations before them – were born in Malaysia. My relatives and extended family don’t know where our ancestors originated. We don’t talk about Chinese history but the history of Malaysia. We’ve always considered ourselves Chinese people living in Malaysia. We don’t identify with China the country but with Chinese culture. Chinese Malaysian is similar to the term, say, Korean American.

Melbourne

Melbourne

When I was growing up in Melbourne, I always heard my parents speak Cantonese to one another. But when they spoke to my kiddy-self and chided me for running under the blazing sun and turning “ugly black”, it was always in English – with Cantonese words here and there. We celebrate the Chinese New Year every year. I always come home to rice and noodles on the table. In short, “Chineseness” has always been a part of my life. I would be naked without it.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I lived in Melbourne until I was six. Then my family moved to Malaysia and later Singapore when I was ten. Throughout school in these countries, my classmates clamoured to sit with me during recess and went, “Mabel is from Australia. Australian! She is my friend!”. They thought I ate fish and chips and went to the beach all the time, which was far from the truth. It was as if being Australian came with “white privileges”, that being Aussie was “classy”. The Malaysian/Singaporean accent rubbed off on me a fair bit. I returned to Melbourne for university. Australians pointed out my accent, asking me “Where are you from?” every odd week. Thus, I’ve always felt too Asian to be Australian and too Australian to be Asian.

3) Is “Asian Australian” a fairly common designation?

Very common designation used of someone who holds Australian citizenship and is of Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean/Thai/etc. descent. I have met a lot of people who identify with this label.

4) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

My preschool classmates Down Under were mostly Caucasian. There were a few Caucasians and Eurasians amongst the countless Asians I went to school with in Malaysia and Singapore. My first language is English and I think and speak in this language. I talked with all my friends in English. Although I know basic Cantonese and am fluent in Malay, rarely did we talk to one another in these languages.

5) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

I was about six in preschool. One afternoon, I was sitting in class across one of my blonde, blue-eyed classmates who was a head taller than me. I always admired her – outgoing, confident and sporty. All the things I was Asian-stereotypically not good at but wanted to be. She looked at me condescendingly, brows furrowed, eyes narrowed. So fiercely, in fact, I was startled, thinking I had done something wrong. She demanded, “Why is your hair brown?”. I felt very small at that moment. I wanted to cry. Maybe this is why I sometimes still feel shy speaking to Caucasians today.

6) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I’ve always found it easier talking to those of Asian descent. Maybe there’s an underlying assumption that we’ll understand each other easily for the shared cultural values. That’s not to say I don’t like talking with people of other races. I do. When I meet someone, what they have to say about the topic of conversation piques my interest – given they’re from a different background, usually their opinions will differ from mine.

7) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Of course there’s my family, and my closest friends are of Asian descent, those who have predominantly lived in Asia and/or Australia. Not too sure why this is so. Perhaps I’ve shied from others because of racism towards Asian Australians, which I’ve discussed here.

8) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Similar racial values or shared interests don’t usually play a part in encouraging me to feel a sense of connection to a group. I don’t see how we can’t feel a sense of belonging and feel comfortable if we’re with people who respect who we are, our values and what we do. I connect most easily with those who don’t judge me, say, based on my speech or dress. It’s their nonjudgmental attitude that makes me want to spend time with them. I like hanging with those who have strong opinions too and feel there’s something worth learning from determined minds.

9) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

At university and work, I mingle with people of different cultural backgrounds pretty much every day. Very frequently I’ve met classmates and colleagues who aren’t from around Australia but grew up in Asia with their first language being, say, Chinese or Vietnamese. I never had trouble conversing with them in English, though I admit there are times when I can’t understand some of their English-mangled sentences. When this happens, I politely ask them to repeat what they say and usually get their point. When I don’t, I change the subject as seamlessly as I can so that the conversation keeps going.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

As an introvert, I have fearfully kept my mouth shut in front of Caucasian after experiencing racism in Melbourne. After six years back here, I realised part of the problem was because I held the impression Caucasians frowned upon my culture and who I am – a minority, an Asian Australian. A silly, narrow-minded thought; surely not everyone is like that. Today, I’ve learnt to love who I am and am more confident talking to people.

11) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

I thought responses to these questions would come easily. I was quite wrong. It was a struggle to put reflections of my past into words. Race is a sensitive issue. This exercise reminded me we’re all culturally different, a beautiful thing. We should never judge others but embrace who we are as individuals.

Mabel at Mabel Kwong on multiculturalism.

Seven Signs You’re a V.I.P. Blogger

1. You laugh and cry with people you’ve never met. And if anyone tells you they’re not real friends, you know which friend is on his way out.

2. You feel like a superhero. Not because you’re out at night saving the world but because you have this whole other identity, a life some friends have no idea you live.

3. You burn your third pot in a month, preoccupied with the new post bubbling in your head. No one can get too upset when you’re…inSpiRed.

4. You have not only given up on the dishes but quit stressing that they’re in full display for guests. No time, no pride, no shame.

5. “Sorry? I don’t follow” or “You follow?” isn’t something you can say in cyberspace anymore.

6. Your vibes with bloggers are in sync. Just when you’re thinking of a reader, a like from the dear soul comes whizzing through.

7. You’re reading this blog.

(What Chris thought I should’ve added on Ten Signs You’re a Real Blogger. Awww, thanks, Chris. I will say it again: I have the best readers!)

The Race: Black American in California, Part 9

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of Shzyour family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I have been here four years in Sacramento, California, I’m originally from Los Angeles. I consider myself Black American, not African American, because I don’t identify with Africa all that much other than wanting to visit one day. My mom was one of seven children across a slew of age ranges, some mixed.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

When I was four, we moved back to LA after three years in New York to a very multiracial area called Echo Park. In 1969, the area consisted of Latinos, then Pacific Islanders/Asians, Whites, and others. I didn’t have a lot black friends to play with. Most of my friends were Latino and White. When I started school in 1970, there were some Asian kids to play with too. I was the ONLY black kid in my kindergarten class. We then moved a little ways to a city called Silverlake with much of the same demographics as Echo Park, maybe a few more Whites. My mom said it was better not to go to school in a black area because the public schools were better in multiracial areas. This is how she was raised as well.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

When I was three in NY, I asked my mom why we were a different color than some of the people on the bus. She explained that people come to America from different places because it was better here. I was curious about her answer, and then a year later Sesame Street came on and explained how everyone is different in a good way. That we all have to share this world with one another and that is what America was supposed to be founded on.

When I was in 6th grade in 1977, the miniseries Roots came on TV, which was kind of unfortunate because the kids teased me for being black. I was called Kizzy and Kunta Kente, two African characters on the show. At that moment, I resented being at a school with very few black kids. I never told my mom about this teasing, afraid I would be teased even more. But it was sad that kids weren’t being taught not to say mean things to other kids, because of something they couldn’t or should change. They also called me the N word a few times after the miniseries. The ridicule stopped after a few weeks.

4) Just how did being called that word make you feel, especially at that age?

It was hurtful. And confusing because it wasn’t white people but mostly the Latinos saying it. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just cried as I walked home from school. I felt alienated, and disgusted with the kids.I can’t believe the stuff you’re getting out of me.

5) Are you okay with that?!

Yeah, it’s just funny that’s all. I remember thinking when it was happening that I would never tell anyone how I felt about this and now it’s all coming out on a blog. But it’s fine because it’s cathartic. Facing my past will help me in my future.

6) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity?

When I was about 16 in 1980,  I stated identifying with black people more. I had been bused from the area I lived in to a more affluent area of CA for two years and told my mom I had enough, that I just wanted to finish school in my neighborhood. It wasn’t black but by then we had more of a mix in percentages. What drew me to my own culture was the music, the clothes, hairstyles, and becoming more conscious of black people in general. Okay, the guys. I began to love being a black American. It was when I became a Christian after getting pregnant at 25 that everything I thought about race changed for the better. The Lord taught me that he breaks all color lines, that since every one of us is bankrupt in and of ourselves, we are all the same when it comes right down to it. So my race became secondary.

7) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Absolutely not. My most meaningful friendships are based on like-mindedness or good chemistry. It’s never had anything to do with race.

8) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Racial affinity comes into play only if I haven’t been around Black Americans in a while. If I’m somewhere that is generally a black event, and I hear music that is reminiscent of my past and I see others of my race celebrating their culture in the same way, it can give me a sense of belonging. However, faith is much more important to me and makes me feel closer to someone I share this with because it has to do with something that is eternal. I feel the greatest ease and connection with people of like-minded faith.

9) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

No, for me it’s very natural.

10) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

I believe children are color blind until somewhere around middle school they become very aware of their color or race. It happened to my daughter in middle school and she faced some of the same kinds of prejudice I did when I was in elementary. Being singled out and made fun of because she was the only black kid in her classes. Her school had Latinos, White, and Asian, and others. I told her the mistreatment was unacceptable. We went to the principal’s office to report it. I also explained to my daughter that it happened to me as kid, and that kids say these things from lack of training at home, permissive parenting, and a sinful heart. So we should not be surprised that these things are said even if it’s sad. Because unfortunately, we are guilty of saying hurtful things to others as well.

11) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

By forgiving and moving on.

12) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

I don’t feel it’s possible or imperative to shed all racial stereotypes because some of the stereotypes are not only true but funny. For instance, I think it’s safe to say most black people like to dance which I love about my race. And I LOVE to dance.

13) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

The hardest question of the bunch when you asked me to be specific. This exercise has helped me to know myself better. I have learned that it’s okay to love your culture, but that it’s better to love others outside of culture. That it’s okay to be Black American, and to love being Black. Also, working through this helped me understand decisions I made in my past, and how different my decisions would’ve been if I knew then what I know now in regard to race. That the person under the skin is what’s real and important, not their color or what they eat for dinner, or how they fix their hair. What matters is the person, not the wrapper they come in.

Shazza at Musings & Rants.

The Race: Down Under, Part 8

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you?

I’m a second generation Aussie. My racial heritage is Anglo Celt and by that I mean my family is so white it glows in the dark (we do not tan well at all). My father’s family hails from Wales and Scotland, and traces itself back to the bastard son of Henry VIII.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I was born in Australia and have lived here nearly all my life, other than a short stint in the UK for work. My family travelled a great deal when I was a young child. That is, for holidays. We would travel overseas once or twice a year to different countries seeing museums and art galleries, dining and shopping – not even touring the country. The cultural differences escaped me other than that there were a lot of multicoloured people in the world and they spoke very confusing languages.

Even working in the UK did not give me much exposure to cultural difference as I mixed with those who I was sent to work with and they were all too recognisable. Wealth is wealth and I was firmly entrenched in the WASP world. Although that is a little funny as White Anglo Saxon Protestant in my family really meant White Anglo Saxon Pagan, but shhh that was not something we brought up at cocktail parties.

St. Margaret's School, Primary through Secondary

St. Margaret’s School, Primary through Secondary

3) How diverse was the neighbourhood and school you grew up in?

It is there the interesting stops I’m afraid, and we progress to the stifling boredom of white upper middle-class Australia. Elite private schooling surrounded by those who looked the same, dressed the same, spoke the same.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in colour or language. Tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

Once I left the closed environment of my school and started making my way in the world I found that I gravitated at first to those who were similar to the people I had always known, comfort in the big bad world I guess. But as I grew into my life I found that it was too narrow a world and while pretty and safe, it was also lacking any degree of challenge or growth.

I think that one of the main reasons I slowly grew apart from that society was its instinctive distrust of new ideas. I realised I did not want to perpetuate a life already planned and lived by hundreds before me and that I craved difference in my world. It wasn’t until my first marriage that I glimpsed life where you appeared to be like so few others.

My first husband was Maori and we went to a family reunion in New Zealand for our honeymoon. For the first time I was the odd person out. One little 5 ft 3 white girl surrounded by people the size of trees, all of either light or dark brown skin, very handsome but so very overwhelming at first when you are the only one there who is different.

It was the first time I knew what it was like to feel a true fish out of water, that first moment when you look around and there is no one else who has your face. It was daunting, very daunting. Coming from a world where I had never known unease due to appearance, this was a very new experience.

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

Up until this writing I would have said that I did not identify myself in any real way other than being me, whole unto myself not as part of a group or class. Over time I have come to understand that so many of my attitudes and beliefs were indeed based on ideas absorbed through my environs and the people in it. Sadly for a long time I would make thoughtless assumptions people based on their appearance and dress. It was not a deliberate form of discrimination. It was worse, based on what I had been programmed to believe appropriate. Thankfully race was not part of that.

Intellectually I would love to say I enjoy people for who they are but honestly my social groups formed around ideas imbued early. I have never deliberately judged others and when I catch myself doing it I may go out of my way to amend that behaviour, which is in itself uncomfortable for all concerned I am sure. There is a certain intellectual snobbery amongst the wealthy and well educated that I have tried very hard not to emulate as I believe as a human I am luckier than others, not better, due to my circumstances.

School Emblem and Badge, "Born to Soar"

School Emblem and Badge, “Born to Soar”

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

My early social contacts yes – although I would say it was more class than ethnicity in my case. My school catered to children of diplomats from a variety of cultures who were amongst my close friends. As I grew older my friendships were based on shared interests and beliefs but still would fall mainly in my ethnic group.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, home schoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Racial affinity has little to do with my sense of community in the work I do now and the activities I pursue, which largely has to do with disability groups and the marginalised. Sadly, most who need assistance do come from the poorer socioeconomic groups and indigenous members of our country.

Those who fight for the rights of those who lack the ability or funds to fight for themselves and who fight to save a world being slowly consumed by corporate greed are my friends and compatriots. For the first time in my life I feel at ease with who I am and what I am doing.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

It was never a racial or even cultural affinity that I sought, but a community, one where ideas and difference were celebrated and change was considered positive. Though I admit with chagrin that it took me too many years to understand what it was I was searching for. One’s early teachings are imbued at an almost cellular level and it takes time to recognise and resist responses that no longer fit the person you wish to be.

My son from my first marriage takes great pride in both sides of his ethnic background. Both his father and I have gone out of our way to make sure he had significant contact with his Maori heritage as well as his Australian roots. He is a much more aware person at 18 than I was, with a confidence in himself and his place in the world based not on ego or sense of superiority but simply comfort in his own skin.

9) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

Acceptance has never been something I have ever really had to struggle for. I’ve come to the conclusion that due to my upbringing I wore a cloak of self-assurance I didn’t always feel. I have found that very few people ask me to justify myself. I would second-guess myself more often than others would question me. Along with the confidence I seemed to bear, it probably helped that I was white – something you don’t even think about. Never occurs to you that you would be treated with anything other than respect. It wasn’t until I stepped back and spent time with people outside that world that I saw how differently people responded to me as they would to others. My speech, manner, dress, deportment, drilled in since childhood came together to make me (and others like me) people whom most went out of their way to help. I could go to the doctor and ask for something to help me sleep and there is no questioning, merely asking how strong I feel I would need it. If I was late on rent as I was traveling there was no real reprimand and no sense of disbelief when I explained. I came to understand this did not happen with other people. People responded without thought, assuming the best of me.

10) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

Yes I think it would be impossible and now after completing this process I think it would be a mistake to try. Common ground is one thing but trying to ignore the wonderful myriad of peoples in this world and reduce them to a common denominator out of a misguided attempt to stop discrimination would be a tragedy. Discrimination can be worked against by dealing with the idea of hatred for difference and fear of the dissimilar, not by pretending difference does not exist.

11) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

This has been fascinating and a little unnerving as I hadn’t truly thought about how much of an impact my upbringing has had on me. I’ve always considered myself lucky to be a WASP not because it made me any better but it made life easier for me in my world. Now I see it as something that let me conquer with ease some circumstance that others have to struggle for. Because of this when real adversity hit I was in no way prepared and the fall was shattering. Still at the end of the day I am me, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, foe, compatriot and champion. I love this world and all it offers despite the many problems we face but I feel that knowing who we are as individuals, as a people or as a community gives us the strength to face what comes.

Jenni at Unload and Unwind

 

the leaves of my poem

i chew the leaves of my poem
they fan green and spirited
in the height of their hour
veins visible like these 
that inscribe my hand, run
with the life of dreams 
that have nowhere to go but 
back  down   to the 
branch to the root
you don't see

look:
        their asymmetry of being

red oak stained with rain pollen
much like the blemishes on my face
t o r n  by time and caterpillars 
that become f u l l   and
bloom into butterflies

the leaves testify to all the seasons

green ash have weathered the wild 
waltz of wind and rain
hungry for the sun 
they drink from the clouds

i feel the laugh lines on the maple
and swallow their history -
    this one, curled copper
    like rusted edges but it's
just the candor of time 

grain and weave of memories 
cru n ch between my teeth
composition on my tongue
i chew the leaves of my poem


Poem Leaf