3/24/2023 0 Comments
An Obituary For the Living: A Letter to My Mother and All the Black Women & Girls Society Forgot
I’ve started this letter a thousand times and still the words escape me. I saw a video of a brother who wrote a poem for his father, it was relatable. I considered doing the same, working through the disconnect while making peace with the shattered pieces of who we are, and of who we could have been. As I sit and look over those late-night scribbles, they reflect the heart of a broken little girl who wanted to be held and nurtured. I won’t say that little girl is dead and gone, she’s not, but she’s learned to hold her own heart with the tenderness the world refused to show her. I’ve ridden the waves of trauma that come with being a Black girl, a Black woman, in a world that seeks to destroy us the moment we take our first breaths. I wish you had been there to lift me up when the world assaulted me physically, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually… the tears I’ve cried have always felt like little prayers, begging for anyone to hear and hold me close.
In the dark silence, I’ve learned no one comes when we cry out. I wish you had told me there would be no one to build me up and that the world would take every opportunity to tear me down. I wish you had provided me a tether to hold onto when I’m drowning under the weight of all this life requires of Black women. But, if I’m honest, we’re in this mess because no one told you either that our vessels are more like prisons in a world hellbent on our destruction. Who and what ground you down until there was nothing left? I wish I knew. I wish I could fix all that we’ve endured. To sew up our wounds with the ease I patch up a tattered blanket, but we can’t be patched as easily. The tears run deep, weaving into each generation and screaming to be rectified.
Life has taught me in your absence that there is no going back, there is only the painful motion of forward with the wounds bleeding like breadcrumbs to a past we can’t fix. If the world had told us we mattered and meant it would you have been able to battle your demons and love me the way I needed? Would those demons have even existed? Even in this moment all of this sounds like selfish cries from a lost little girl. I know these answers. Our trauma exists because to the world we were consumable and disposable. I wish I could tell you it’s changed, but it hasn’t. My heart is traced with stress lines from the fight to exist in this body freely and safely. I draw lines in the sand and people tell me those are walls.
I call them safety.
Did you ever feel safe? I remember the first time I truly felt safe. It was last year. Yeah, I know I’m almost 40 but time is funny in this body. I broke down on my bedroom floor and felt like the fight was over. They expect us to carry the world on our shoulders and smile through the death and destruction they unleash. I was tired of smiling when I wanted to cry and scream. My husband came in and kneeled in front of me, he spoke not a word but wrapped his arms tight around me and I wept from a place I didn’t even know existed. I clawed at his clothing. I screamed. I ached. The pain we’re expected to carry like crosses upon our backs is fucking unbearable. As I released decades of abuse the fog started to clear. It’s easy to blame ourselves when the trauma compounds, but nestled under the trauma was a light screaming for air. That was the first night in my life I slept without a nightlight… The first night I knew I didn’t need to fear the darkness, it needed to fear me.
I’ve been tending to that flame since. It’s been difficult, they really don’t want us to survive out here. I want more than survival for us, I want us to thrive. The world tried to blow out both our flames. I’m sorry no one sees the way they’ve tried to snuff out yours. I understand now that your rage and violence are the mechanisms you’ve developed to survive in a world that doesn’t want you to survive. They demonize us for the very skills they force us to develop to endure the violence they casually unleash on us daily. I understand you couldn’t protect me, it was work enough to protect yourself, the world fractured us and there was only so much you could do.
You deserved better. We both deserved better. All Black girls and women deserve better.
We deserve a world that values us.
A world that sees our pain and changes.
A world that lifts us up instead of tearing us down.
I can’t undo what’s been done, but I promise to do everything in my power to nurture my flame so it burns as a beacon to others so together we can burn down this world and build a world deserving of the magic we possess.
Until then, may this letter be a spark, and may you know peace one day.
All my love,
Rayven Holmes (c) 2023
3/12/2023 0 Comments
Seasons of Life
With age, certain things become easier to see, like the way our lives move in seasons. Those moments when there are overarching themes and it’s our duty to recognize them and dissect what it is they are trying to tell us about ourselves, our lives, and how they are calling on us to determine where it is we want to be when that season is over. For the past year, I’ve been battling a suffocating bout of depression. If I’m truly honest about it, it's been creeping up for a good while now and I’ve tried my best to manage it while still weeding through the triggers that were setting it off. I’ve struggled with admitting the root cause because then I would be sitting in this season of my life and reevaluating where I saw myself in the future; I wasn’t ready to do that. The root cause or theme for this season has grown increasingly loud and I can no longer ignore it if I wish to thrive in future seasons.
My proximity to whiteness is killing me in both a literal and metaphorical sense. My proximity was manageable when I was single. I could build walls around the areas of my life where I wanted peace and keep those who were trying to get good white people stickers in strategically placed zones. I did the work I felt called to do and moved my energy when they crossed boundaries. I still experienced hurt, those gut-wrenching and soul-crushing moments when folks you have put your faith into show you that they are still 110% invested in whiteness didn’t stop, they merely became manageable. Recovery was easier because I had it all contained. I had places of refuge from the onslaught of inhumanity I experienced. Then I remarried and said I do to a white man and to a job position in a predominately white faith that had already shown me some yellow and red flags, but I made a leap of faith that ushered in years of trauma. I find past me apologizing to present me a lot. I thought those yellow and red flags were fixable, and I thought this interracial marriage would be different from my first one. I walked with faith and not facts, and time and time again my heart has paid the price for my faith.
It started off small, as it always does. In my marriage, it was comments and derogatory language by his friends and family that I would ask him to address and instead of jumping at the opportunity to show me my humanity was a priority to him he would become combative and demand that I consider how uncomfortable it would be for him to have to confront those people. He had known them for years. I was asking too much.
In my job, while I was fighting for my humanity at home, I was debating with my supervisor, a white man in his late 50s, on the best course of action for discussing racial justice. He didn’t want to make the white children and parents uncomfortable or have to deal with any potentially racially insensitive moments happening. He drove this point home by saying “what if some kid says at home we use the n-word and my dad says that’s fine”, except he didn’t say “the n-word” he said the word! The N- word. With the hard motherfucking r. He stared at me, and I stared at him and all I could get out was “I don’t even let my children use that word.” Then, I left for the day and called my spouse who had no real comfort to provide and somehow managed to make the whole moment even worse. So I reached out to friends who could hold space for me while I worked on drafting an email that stated what happened and how things would be going forward in regards to the professional relationship between my supervisor and me.
Small churches don’t have HR departments and the minister had already made it clear she wasn’t thrilled that I was given the job, so I was effectively swimming in shark-invested waters alone. When I finally started to test the waters and shared that a racist moment had happened -without going into details- I was asked “who did you tell” not “how are you”.
I wiped my tears and kept my head up, but my sanctuaries were eroding. There were no longer spaces for me to lay down my load and breathe. For the next four years, I went from one trauma experience to the next, all while navigating raising children, trying to build some sort of career, and moving through a pandemic that still isn’t over even though everyone else is over it.
I did my best to push all the hurt down. Every fight for my humanity, for my people’s humanity, chipped away at the walls I had built to keep my mind and heart safe. Every time I had to say this is what your family, your friends, or you have said to me, this is why it’s harmful, please correct it, and was met with an opponent instead of an ally, my wall crumbled a bit more. Every time I said this is how I and/or my children feel excluded by this activity because have a conservation about it and was met with resistance, the cracks from the years of abuse I had endured in other seasons of my life got deeper.
Every meeting or discussion where I pointed out an issue in the church and then was dismissed until someone white regurgitated what I said, took a sledgehammer to the layers of my walls that were clingy desperately to each other. Every meeting or class where a white person said I was angry or “acting out of character” was like chucking grenades at the walls that no longer had anyone left to defend them. My armor was gone. I no longer had spaces for renewal with the pandemic putting literal barriers between those who held space for me and myself. I wiped the tears and tried to keep up the good fight.
These issues were fixable, I told myself over and over again. White people can be moved and for some reason, the universe has put me in this body, in these spaces, at this time and it must be to help these people move to a better place. I chose my tone and my words meticulously in each interaction. I took my yellow brick road and covered it with eggshells in hopes that it would help me tread carefully. With each step, I erased my own humanity but I wouldn’t allow myself to see it until a stack of beautiful glass and crystal literally landed at my feet.
It started on a Monday afternoon, I had already spent the morning running errands and taking a small human to an appointment. I had items I needed to prep for that evening and I was on a tight but doable schedule. And then I glanced at the top of my fridge and thought “I’ve told them countless times to not stack those like that or they’ll fall. I’ll deal with it in a moment.”; as that last thought left my mind the platters shifted and tumbled off the fridge. I tried to catch them and watched helplessly as they eluded my grip and crashed onto the floor.
As I looked upon the broken glass all I could think about was the way each platter represented every cross I was bearing, every single day, and how often I felt voiceless. And I was angry about all of it. So fucking angry. I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to give my children a safe and loving home. I wanted peace. And in those pursuits, I put my peace to the side and there it sat on my kitchen floor, broken into a million fucking little pieces waiting for me to clean it up. I sat in my shower that evening crying trying to push the voice down that was screaming to be heard. After 30 years with my shadow mistress, I know she only screams when I’m being stubborn and ignoring the red flags my trauma has taught me to see clearly.
There was a theme for this season of my life and acknowledging it hurt in a way I couldn’t put into words, only my tears could spell it out as they mixed with the hot water. I’d given whiteness too much access to my mind, body, heart, and soul. And whiteness did with that access what it does with everything, it ravaged me and left me battered and broken, like the fragile glass that had littered my kitchen floor that afternoon.
I stopped ignoring the voice and leaned into what it was saying, run or die there is no staying. I calculated the logistics of death and realized I didn’t want that. I want to wake up every morning. I want to love on my children until I’m old and gray. And I want to continue to make the world a better place, but it needs to be in a way that affirms my humanity. Doing so means walking away from the people and spaces that I had once committed myself to. I left the church job almost a year ago and haven’t secured anything in that realm since, aside from some freelance projects. I do my best to honor red flags, raise awareness of the red flag, and then cease contact. As I sat in my shower, I had to ask myself if the few commitments I had in that faith were worth the investment of seeing them through before completely walking away. I told myself they were because they were a small step in a larger plan that I can’t quite see right now and that’s ok. I’ll finish my last projects this summer and the relief that provides me is invigorating. I’m on the right track. I feel it in the depth of my being.
Then I had to have a real conversation with myself about my romantic relationship. Things had improved, slowly and painfully from the day we had said I do, but they still weren’t where they needed to be.
There’s a beautiful song by Priscilla Renea called Let’s Build a House, in it she says:
“You on the edge, me on the ledge
Clinging to you, driving a wedge
Just tryna keep this thing floating
Let’s build a house, tear this one down
Might take a while but it’ll be ours
Let’s use the stones that everyone’s thrown
We need a sanctuary of our own”
I tried to weave those words into the gaps left by the pain that was inflicted. I had hoped they would be the glue needed to piece me back together so I could feel completely invested in the relationship; as the tears fell I found that those words created a false hope in my mind because, at the end of the day, I’ll never be able to fully trust that my humanity will be affirmed and protected by the people and institutions that have already shown that they would rather fight me than love me. Ultimately, I would have to rebuild the walls that whiteness tore down and for that season, those who caused harm would need to be on the outside of those walls and those who respected the distance and did self-reflection in the process may be granted entry in another season.
But that entry is not guaranteed.
I know that now. I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever allow any white person or institution to get that close to me again. Does this mean that my current marriage is over? No, it isn't. We have an understanding. The house, my essence, is being torn down and rebuilt so that it is once again mine and mine alone. I’m using every stone that has been thrown at me to shore up my foundation. Once the fortress is built there is no guarantee that he will be permitted a key. He was given the choice to leave or wait, understanding that I’m not guaranteeing anything other than my own peace, he has chosen to wait.
What does the next season hold? Only time will tell. But for now, I’m ready to finish sweeping up the broken glass of this season in my life and move on to the next lesson with my walls firmly intact.
Rayven Holmes (c) 2023
3/10/2023 0 Comments
Healing Ain't Pretty
Healing ain’t pretty.
It forces us to take an honest look at where we’ve been and where we wish to go and adjust our behavior accordingly.
It means building fences and leaving strategically placed doorways.
Healing ain’t pretty.
It calls us to be the villain- so we can be the hero of our own story.
With each wound we lick, another appears begging us to hear its story.
Healing ain’t pretty.
It’s maddening. Life changing.
It challenges us to ask, “who is this person looking back at me?”
Healing ain’t pretty.
But it ain’t pretty.
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
2/22/2023 0 Comments
Gray Matter Revisited
Five years ago I sat in a hospital room gazing upon the body that brought me into this world as machines kept her alive. She eventually woke up and will spend the rest of her life in a nursing facility, a shell of the woman she use to be. As the wheel of life turns and I age, checking off preexisting conditions with each new year, I try to give myself some hope. “You’re not her” my doctor mutters over his notes, doing his best to reassure me that while we have the same conditions we aren’t living the same life. I can count on one hand the number of alcoholic beverages I’ve had in the past two months. I’ve never touched hard substances. I still mask in public spaces, and around those outside of my vetted bubble of trust. I don’t overindulge, I exercise regularly, and I operate from a place of love, compassion, and an occasional ass-kicking. I take my medications every morning, attend every appointment, and see every specialist I’m instructed to see.
I do my best to do everything right to combat genetics and the stress of systemic misogynoir, and yet at night when the house is quiet and I’m left to my own thoughts dread fills my spirit as my memories drift to her. The fear that encompassed every fiber of my being as I grappled with estrangement and my own mortality still lingers five years later.
I sometimes wonder if the fear is merely guilt. I’ve spent my adult life doing my best to prove I wasn’t her. I wouldn’t abandon my kids, I would fight my demons and win, and the demons wouldn’t steal the moments that make life worth living from me. When my brother and I arrived five years ago at the place she called home, a transitional apartment complex, those in charge weren’t even aware she had children. Nothing in her records indicated that she once lived in the south where she walked her children to a small pier and told them stories about Medusa, or sold Avon and let us lick the bowl after making brownies. No one knew about the butter on the walls from thrown dinner rolls, or the specially named belt that left welts covered by stockings with little hearts.
No one knew anything.
That decade of life didn’t exist for anyone but us. I tried my best to soothe my inner child while reminding the adult me that I’m not her therefore I can’t end up like her. As I packed up various bits and pieces that were her life and saw pictures I never knew existed, a life lived without us, I did my best to breathe through the rage, sadness, and fear.
Death is the great equalizer and always does his best to remind us to stay humble, and even after he packed his bags and left us in limbo I struggled to unpack my baggage.
“You’re not her” I whisper into the wind every chance I get, hoping it will echo back and appease the anxiety that grows with each passing year. At the beginning of this year, one of her sisters reached out to me and asked if I would write to my mother. She thinks it would be good for her to hear from me. But what does one say to the person who left the hole that depression nestled into? What do I tell her?
She missed 28 years of my life. There’s a lot I could say.
Births I could recall, the strength I pulled from a place I didn’t even know existed inside of me. Parenting moments that challenged me to rise above my own abusive childhood to create a home where my children felt safe and secure. I have failed, god have I failed, countless times at being a decent human being and I still get up the next day and try again. I could recount each failure and the lessons learned. I’m stubborn like her, but I have compassion that neither of my parents ever showed me. I’m a ray of fucking sunshine hellbent on making the world a better place before I take my final breath. I could tell her all the ways I’m not her, I could show her who I am, and I could tell her that with every choice I make I still can’t shake the fear that my path will still end in a hospital bed, in a dark room, alone.
Those who love me will assure me that my fear is unfounded. Even if I experienced the same medical emergency she did I wouldn’t be alone when it happened. I would be rushed to the hospital, I would have people fighting to ensure I got the best care possible, and when I finally opened my eyes I would be surrounded by the living embodiment of all the love I’ve tried my hardest to put into the world.
I’m not her and yet as I stand at another crossroads, to either reintroduce myself or to continue pretending that we’re just people we use to know, I find myself questioning the decision I made over 20 years ago to go no contact. I know where she is now and I can contact her whenever I want, that’s all I wanted when I was younger to the point that I would cry myself to sleep from longing. Now I have it, I have what my heart ached for and I don’t know what to do with it. Instead, I’m left wondering if true healing is in forgiveness granted on my own terms.
Does a simple letter have the power to grant us both peace? Only time will tell, but I’ll never know if I don’t at least give myself the opportunity to say what my heart never got the chance to speak all those years ago.
Nothing is final until the curtain closes and the coffin is lowered into the ground. Until there is always an opportunity to write a new version of your story. Here’s to a new story.
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
2/14/2023 0 Comments
In Defense of Valentine's Day
Hallmark commercials, overpriced red roses, and blood diamonds for days. Our ideas of Valentine's Day are intricately linked to a capitalistic view of what love is. Like most holidays in Western society you have the Christian/Catholic story layered over the previously celebrated Pagan tradition. Valentine's Day is no different. Taking the celebration of Lupercalia, removing the ritual sacrifices, random picking of a sex partner from a jar of names, and public flogging of women by naked men -some of these traditions are still practiced privately today by followers of Lupercal- and tossing in the supposed patron saint of heteronormative romantic love with sprinkles from the rising greeting card industry (thanks to low postage cost) and you have the foundation for what we experience today.
There have always been haters of V-Day. From those who saw (and still see) its connection to Lupercal as godless hedonism to a corp of mostly white third-wave feminists who saw it as another tool of the patriarchy to keep women focused on things other than equality and equity. There's always someone willing to shade Valentine's Day celebrations. Even I toyed with tasting the nectar of anti-Valentine's Day sentiments for a while. It would be easy to say my anti-Valentine's Day sentiments were a result of coming into my identity as a woman and seeing the harm of Valentine's Day, but that would be a lie. It's over-commercialized, like most major holidays in our society, and we should look objectively at the way capitalism is equating love with spending money and the long-term effects it has on our ability to build meaningful relationships, but that doesn't mean we have to throw the arrow toting baby out with the bath water.
At the beginning of my journey through adulthood, I was apathetic and at times hostile toward Valentine's Day not because I didn't see the beauty in a holiday dedicated to love, because I did, no my disdain was rooted in my own longing that was going unmet. A longing to be showered with love, and to shower someone else as well, for no other reason than it was February 14th. After my divorce, while I was firmly in my "I can buy my own flowers" era of hyper-independence I took time to reflect on various traditions -which ones I wanted to toss away and which ones I wanted to get better at adhering to -, and Valentine's Day was at the top of the list of traditions that needed further examining.
My experiences with Valentine's Day go way back. I don't remember the first time my father bought me a red rose but I do remember when it stopped, I was in high school and dating the man that would eventually be my first husband. My father, in true narcissist form, acted like I had betrayed him and withdrew the few signs of love and affection he had shown me up to that point. Instead of teaching me what I should look for in a partner and how to establish boundaries, he taught me how to settle for less than my worth. So I did. Each and every year after that. Add the proximity of my birthday to Valentine's Day and there were many years where I was expected to be content with an all-in-one gift like a bargain basement disappointing all-in-one body wash, shampoo, and conditioner combo. Nothing ever felt authentic or meaningful, instead, the treatment of both days was rushed to check a box. Wanting to save myself the disappointment I removed the box and raged against it.
Why, do we hate Valentine's Day so strongly when our lives don't fit the cookie-cutter Disney image of romantic love? Because we've put romantic love on a pedestal and equated the lack of it with a personal failing. We sell ourselves short on all the love the world has to offer us when we only see Valentine's Day through the eyes of the perfectly posed Instagram photos and large bouquets on colleagues' desks. The reality is that Valentine's Day doesn't have to only focus on romantic love and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a day where you shower those you love in their love language for no other reason than you're happy they exist. Sure, we should be doing this all the time. But let's be real, we're not going to. Much like we're not going to be able to maintain the spirit of Christmas all year long we aren't always going to stop and think "maybe I should spoil my bestie today". Yes, I know there's Galentine's Day but that has always felt like a white feminist attempt to have Valentine's Day without having to commit to loving on everybody while still, conveniently, leaving themselves a pathway to celebrate Valentine's Day when the "right" partner comes along.
Valentine's Day has been placed in a box of unrealistic expectations for what it means to show up for and love on your people. Every year Valentine's Day gives us an opportunity to remind those we love and ourselves that love is powerful and it can be shown in a multitude of ways. It's saying yes to your kids playing hooky on the 14th -and joining them on the couch to watch cartoons and eat heart-shaped Fruit Loops-. It's brunch with your best friends where you remind each other that yes we can buy our own flowers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting someone else to as well. It's babysitting your neighbors' kids so they can have a few hours to hear themselves and each other. It's calling extended family that you often don't make time for. It's centering your joy and pleasure. It's an opportunity to focus on the thing that makes us uniquely human, the ability to love beyond the bonds of blood and duty. It doesn't have to be a day for bitterness and rage.
It can grow into a day that centers our desire for connection, love, and understanding. We can make it more than a Hallmark ad. Any day that calls us to love one another more deeply deserves the chance to grow beyond the confines that capitalism has placed it in.
Rayven Holmes (c) 2023
This essay was written in 2022 for the Renaissance Credentialing Program, a training program provided by the Unitarian Universalist Association to certify religious education professionals in 14 modules ranging from curriculum and faith development to system theory and multiculturalism. The assignment was to write three separate essays that covered our understanding of anti-racism, our self-care/spiritual growth, and what has changed for us as we’ve moved through the process of credentialing. I combined these three essays into one concise piece to convey my thoughts.
I’ve struggled with how to write this reflection. At first, my concern was that I would sound facetious, my life has ensured that I am painfully aware of racism and bigotry. From having a white grandmother who was openly racist toward her children while claiming she couldn’t be racist because she had married a Black man, to being raised by her son who still to this day hasn’t unpacked the harm his upbringing caused; I received all sorts of conflicting messages about what it meant to be Black, a woman, and the value my life had when those two identities intersected.
Years of unpacking the bias, anti-Blackness, and trauma inside and outside of my home taught me that the world was not fair and there are places I hold power and places I most certainly don’t. What I do with the privileges I have and with the oppression, I face not only impacts my own existence but others as well. While I grappled with how to be clear and concise without being condescending, I found myself dealing with the ever-prevailing racism in Unitarian Universalism.
Having to reconcile how I must prove in this essay, to a predominantly white panel, that I understand racism and the need for anti-racism to be weaved into every fabric of this faith, while battling the depression that being ambushed by someone’s vitriol in a Zoom meeting has caused is asking for a level of cognitive dissonance that my brain refuses to create. Not a single white person who was in that meeting interjected, after the fact they were all in agreement that what happened wasn’t ok and they felt bad that it caused me harm, but their feelings did not compel them to action when the harm was happening. Which is a pervasive problem in white liberal circles, UUism being no different.
Do I understand anti-racism? Yes, on a deeply personal and nuanced level. It isn’t only the MAGA hat-wearing, Confederate flag-waving stereotype of whiteness that exhibits racism. It is a multilayered system that operates in every facet of our lives perverting even the most well-meaning of spaces with its toxicity. It is the colorism that allows me to move through white spaces with more ease than other members of my family, but the internalized anti-Blackness that leads my white colleagues and congregational members to recoil and clutch their imaginary pearls at the sight of my box braids. They would deem themselves to be anti-racist, but anti-racism is not a bumper sticker you can throw on your electric car. It is work, lifelong work, that we each must do to break the hold white supremacy has on our perceptions and understanding of who does and doesn’t have humanity and whose life is and isn’t worthy of existing wholly as they are.
I know the assignment calls for these essays to be separate, but to be true to the intersections of who I am and what those identities mean in this faith I can’t compartmentalize these reflections as each part leads to the whole of who I am. To create balance and set boundaries I must be keenly aware of the way white supremacy moves in UU spaces and how I move in return impacts any anti-racism work that is or will be done. My tone, body language, and even appearance must be weighed when I’m establishing a boundary. Even more so when the request for my time also includes emotional labor. There is an air of entitlement to the labor of BIPOC UUs by white UUs. BIPOC UUs are wanted, or needed as we’re told, in UU spaces and at UU tables, but when we establish that our labor isn’t free, we’re met with pushback. Every time I instill a boundary, say no, or state that I will not overextend myself to save whiteness from itself I am doing anti-racism work.
This also ties into my self-care and life balance. To do the anti-racism work needed in UU spaces I keep what I reveal and how close I get to others to a minimum. My personal life is sacred and maintaining the peace that exists in it is vital to my well-being, this means limiting and curating how much of my personal life is exposed to UU spaces. I am even more particular about how and when I express discomfort and disappointment with Unitarian Universalism. It’s a constant dance of code-switching that allows me to experience peace while doing the hard work needed. I still struggle with finding spiritual renewal. UU spaces, in theory, should provide that for me but under the weight of white supremacy, it’s hard some days to feel renewed when I’m constantly being siphoned from. The mentors I’ve made during this process have helped me understand the importance of finding little slices of UU heaven in all the commotion of change.
The Finding Our Way Home retreat is what I envisioned Unitarian Universalism to be when I landed on the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s virtual doorway 14 years ago. The experiences I’ve had during FOWH services and workshops last year filled my cup in a way I was starting to believe wasn’t possible in the world of UUism. It restored my hope in what I was doing, it made me want to get back to the work of dismantling white supremacy in our faith, communities, and the larger world. I wish I could experience that soul-shaking joy more often in UU spaces. Which brings me to the last reflection, what do I envision for my role going forward?
It’s easy to get disheartened being Black in this faith, I’ve walked away a few times due to the suffocating racism at work and understand why others do as well, but I believe this faith and our aspirations have the potential for great change. Change doesn’t happen without immense work and discomfort, though. I’ve approached the process of credentialing as a discernment period, an opportunity to dig deeper into Unitarian Universalism and decide if it’s a place I can -or even should- be. I’m still in that period and I don’t believe I’ll ever leave it. By constantly evaluating my place in this faith I’m able to stay objective about the pros and cons. This allows me to lead in my position from a place of understanding for white UUs who are waking up to the realities faced by those of us not sitting atop privilege mountain, while also giving me the strength to keep picking away at the table that UUism built out of oppression so something better can be built in its place.
This means pushing for, and creating, lifespan faith development opportunities that look critically at our past, imagine our future, and then put those desires into action. Allowing UUism to move from being an aspirational group of predominately white people who rest on their laurels, to the Beloved Community of rich diversity and radical inclusion that exists in small sub-sections of the Unitarian Universalist faith.
As for what’s changed for me, I was always on the fence about wearing the label of Unitarian Universalist. How can I claim to be something when I don’t see myself represented? How can I claim a label when that label asks for my humanity to be the kindling in its chalice? How can I not wear the label of a faith I’ve given 14 years of time, money, and labor to? I’m no longer on the fence. This faith isn’t where I need it to be for me to comfortably claim it loud and proud, but I want it to be. I can give my labor; I can nurture the faith and tend to it as it grows and changes into something I can proudly claim as a part of my identity without having to claim it as part of my identity now.
Being a Black religious professional in Unitarian Universalism means I can’t compartmentalize anti-racism, self-care, and my professional future. They exist together in the intersections of my identity. To respect myself and my worth, I refuse to put each of those layers into boxes. My lived experiences inform my anti-racism work. My self-care, my spiritual health, and most importantly the boundaries I set are part of the anti-racism work I do and vital to me being able to continue to do that work in this faith. My future in this faith, in leadership, changing the narrative on what Unitarian Universalism is and isn’t, is wrapped into the work I do personally and professionally. I am a multifaceted being who wears many labels, and it is my hope that one day I can wear the label of Unitarian Universalist with the same pride I wear the others.
Until then, we have work to do.
Rayven Holmes (c)2022
1/26/2023 0 Comments
Gold From Pain
In addition to this being a year of no for me, it’s also a year for examining my proximity to whiteness from family and personal relationships, to where and how I’m using my professional skills. And more importantly, the areas where I need to cut ties or remove the looking glass and where I’m willing to dig in and fight back to create the world I know we can have. In order to figure that out I have to start from the beginning.
I grew up confused.
My father was born in the early 60s, before Malcolm X and Dr. King took their last breaths, in the front seat of a car to a white woman named Karen and a Black man named Sam. In a time before Loving v Virginia, my father was five before his father’s name graced his birth certificate. They eventually married and divorced before I set foot on the scene. I don’t know much about my grandfather, he was born in the 20s and I’ve been told he was mean but when I look back with informed eyes on the dozen or so times we were around him before they lowered his coffin into an unmarked grave, I’ve realized his malice was the symptom to a larger condition. He was traumatized. And he inflicted that trauma on everyone around him. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, because he caused real harm to his children, but it does help me understand my own rage better.
We spent summers with my grandmother and extended family. I don’t remember when it started, but when I think back on my childhood summers they center around a small house built in the 40s that invokes more fear inside my mind than my grandfather ever has. It’s where I built the tunnels for how deep my rage would go as I learned all the ways I wasn’t right. How the way I moved through the world wasn’t Black enough while I simultaneously received praise for performing the white way, straightening that hair, losing that weight, clutching my bible, and cranking up the country music while carving myself into tiny pieces. Taking every comment on the ways my skin, my feelings, and my mere existence wasn’t right and filling in the gaps left behind with quiet rage that lead to a labyrinth of trauma.
Part of healing means acknowledging that people are operating from the various traumas they’ve tended into sparkling personalities and growing from those places is often harder than maintaining the illusions they’ve created for themselves, so they tend to keep with the status quo. You’ll never get closure from them because in their minds they’ve done nothing wrong, so you have to find closure in your own way. Half of me began when two people, operating from trauma, fetishization, and rebellion brought forth life. In their minds, I imagine, as so many do now, they believed they didn’t need to do more. That simply creating that life was enough, they could be colorblind and everything would sort itself out. That’s not how it works, though, we can’t fuck our way out of generations of oppression. That must be a deliberate act and it requires a lot of painful work.
When we play racial politics in the bedroom and then aren’t intentional with how we raise the outcome we create confusion and pain that ripples through the bloodline. We can’t learn to love ourselves wholly as we are when the kitchen table we’re feeding from was built by white supremacy and the meal we’re being served is poisoned by those who claim to love us.
On my maternal side, I come from a long line of Black women whose skin was kissed by the sun and whose trauma is nestled deep inside my veins. I’ve given up asking myself how different my personality would be if I had been raised knowing that being Black simply meant being myself. I’ll never be the sugar and spice, light-skin-compliant Barbie with an alphabet of letters after her name that everyone wanted. I’m an unhinged ray of fucking sunshine that’s sick of being told by whiteness how she feels and who she is allowed to be. There is no going back now, there’s only forward out of the confusion.
Forward means embracing the rage. Yes, I’m angry. I’m tired of keeping a constant log of names while agents of whiteness flail about acting confused about the current state of things when they’ve cosigned this hate with their silence after every dinner, meeting, and opportunity life has thrown at them to course-correct themselves and their fellow white brethren. I’ve had a front-row seat to the creation of Black bodies from a “well-meaning” white woman who skipped her happy ass down to the voting booth in 2016 and 2020 to cast her vote for Donald J. Trump and had only the vilest things to say about President Obama. Completely indifferent to the fact that her son looked like the man she called an un-American agent of terror. I grew up hearing she didn’t know any better. She’s from a different time. I grew up hearing my own father spout the same anti-Black tropes while picking Black women to warm his bed. He patted me on my head and told me, like all Black women, I would only be good for one thing.
He was my father, but he sounded like my grandmother. I was told that my skin color ensured that I had no real worth. I told myself, before I understood the weight of my choices, that I would prove everyone wrong. I would get approval from those who sat atop the privileged mountain. I dug my nails in. I kept cutting myself into pieces. Smaller… and smaller… swallowing each piece with a dose of rage. I birthed babies of varying shades and tucked away every comment the outside world threw our way that screamed we weren’t enough as we were.
I tried to keep my trauma from pouring over my babies because someone had to get this right, but trauma is like grains of sand. It gets in so easily. When you think you’ve got it pegged whiteness rears its ugly head and reminds you that nowhere is safe, that your guard must always be up, and once the sand is in it takes diligence to remove it.
I went into my 30s bucking everything I had been taught. I went natural. I expanded what I read and where I received information. I pushed back against the notion that my worth was to be dedicated by those who burn in the sun, trying my best to remember that I was the sunshine. And yet, the sand still got in because for all my internal growth, externally the circles were still the same. The same pale faces that smiled when I was sprinkling magic into their lives, but would morph into serpents the moment I asserted my worth and boundaries. It was the same shit again, I was a kid crying for help while everyone asked why I was whining.
I’m tired of crying.
I’ve watched white folks who claim to want change attempt to be relevant and hip when in reality you’re making a mockery of Blackness for approval and giggles while patting your chosen Blacks on the head for knowing their place and letting you behave in such a manner. I’ve watched the way you cut us the minute we don’t want to play your game. It doesn’t matter if we’re kin or acquaintances, when dealing with whiteness if you’re Black you’re disposable. Everyone knows this and does their best to ignore it, but true trust and growth can’t exist as long as you always expect us to be compliant supporting cast members in your life stories. This means you must be uncomfortable at all times if you really want Blackness to thrive. If you’re comfortable, we’re suffering. Either make the changes or admit you like it that way and stop pretending otherwise. You can’t have it both ways.
I grew up knowing that whiteness will always seek out those in the Black delegation who are broken and willing to sit their humanity on a shelf and be paraded around as a “good one” for the twisted acceptance that whiteness will never really provide. I’ve spent years learning how to sharpen my tongue while keeping it sheathed so I don’t upset whiteness. My father’s voice is always so clear in those memories… “There’s mixed company here, watch what you say.”... “You know the white people in your life can see this Rayven! What are they going to say?”
Fuck. What. You. Have. To. Say.
My anger is real. It’s valid. The hit dogs will always holler the loudest and I owe no one an apology for speaking my truth. I’ve spent nearly 40 years spinning gold from my pain and I won’t dull my shine any longer for any of you.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
― Anne Lamott
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
This piece was originally written in December 2015 and never published on my blog. Since penning this in 2015, I’ve spent time exploring Womanism and find that it is a far better explanation for my views on womanhood, sisterhood, and what it means to be supported and loved while remaining free to make the choices best suited for our individual and collective lives. The issues addressed below are still relevant almost eight years later in what is now aptly named White Feminism.
The image is of a room with dim lighting. The floor is comprised of dark gray planks, the walls are black and white wallpaper in an intricate design. The lighting illuminates seven doors along the wall. The light is brightest at the center door and fades as it spreads from there. Photo is by Pixabay.
Leaning in, it gets mentioned in every article, book, or motivational speech geared toward women. It’s not always worded in the same way, but the same theory holds true. This notion of women leaning in, or that women can and should put their careers first, has always left a sour taste in my mouth. And not for the reasons you might expect. My beef is this, it packages itself as this attainable goal every woman can reach if she works hard enough, goes to the right school, takes the right chances, and -here’s the kicker- marries the right man. At the end of the day, leaning in falls back on the same practices white men have relied on for generations. That is the practice of having someone else there to do what you aren’t capable of doing.
The person is either your spouse or the people you and your spouse are able to afford to do these things. At the end of the day, your ability to lean in is determined by the privilege of having someone to lean on which makes the practice, heavily supported by the mainstream -easily consumable- feminism, an exclusive club whose entry hinges on the notion that life is depended on making the “right choices”. However, none of these books, articles, or speeches ever address the 12 million single-family homes, 83% of which are headed by women. Half of them live at or below the poverty line despite working more hours than their leaning in counterparts. These women put career first out of necessity and have been doing so long before Sandberg coined the phrase ‘Lean In’. Yet mainstream feminism has ignored these women and their struggles.
When Sandberg’s chart-topping book became mainstream feminism’s bible I couldn’t help but ask myself “what about the other working mothers”? What about the women holding down two or even three jobs because none of those jobs pay a living wage or grant her a full work week? What about the women who are juggling children, work, and school? Where do women with disabilities factor in? What about the women cleaning the homes and raising the children of the women who are leaning in? Where do minority women, who are making between 50–64 cents on the dollar, and their families factor in? It’s easy to tell women to lean in and to say “it’s possible” when your spouse brings home all the benefits of white male privilege, but what about the women whose spouses don’t enjoy this privilege either due to race, class, education, ability, or a combination of all of the above? Where do those women factor in? And what about the women partnered with other women? Not only does this notion of leaning in, or as I like to say, leaning on white privilege, completely ignore single mothers and the struggles of women of color, but it also alienates LGBTQ women by operating on the notion that a woman must pick the right -white- man and this will be one of the greatest things she will ever do. This brings me to my next point…
This notion that all is possible if a woman makes the “right choices” also ignores, as bell hooks pointed out, the choices made by her husband. A woman has no control over what her spouse ultimately decides to do in any facet of his life be it a career, family, or life choices that impact his health and well-being. Those are individualized choices. Making the “right choice” on your wedding day doesn’t guarantee that, that will still be the right choice years later. To tout the notion that a woman simply needs to marry the “right” man diminishes the work and struggles of all the women who didn’t make the magical “right choice”. This makes ‘leaning in’ white heteronormative middle-class feminism with a catchphrase. It ignores anything outside of the white heteronormative bubble and places any failure to reach these supposedly attainable goals squarely on the shoulders of the women it actively excludes.
While who we chose to partner with is important, should we choose to partner at all, it should not be what defines a woman on her road to success. What should define a woman, and her road, should be her and her alone.
As I’ve said before feminism is supposed to be about respecting every woman’s right to make the choices she feels compelled to make. It’s also about giving women the freedom to make these choices. A woman who doesn’t fit into the white heteronormative middle-class bubble shouldn’t be excluded or limited in her ability to reach whatever goals she has personally chosen for herself.
Feminism should be about lifting every woman up so no matter her circumstances she is free to choose if and when she wants to lean in, out, or somewhere in the middle. None of these options should be seen as the ultimate mark of a woman’s worth, nor should her choices in life be used as a weapon against her especially when options and choices are impacted by things outside of her control such as her race, class, education level, if she’s disabled or not, if she’s cisgender or trans, the list can and does literally go on.
Did your choices work out for you? Hoo-fucking-ray. Not every woman has that privilege. The important thing is to see that, recognize it, and then get to work building up your fellow women. The goal shouldn’t be to force them into a neat consumable box of acceptable feminism, but instead to help them break down the motherfucking walls so every woman can be herself in whatever form that takes. Anything else is exclusive feminism and that isn’t helping any damn body.
To read more about the impact of choices and why a sustainable movement for women needs to support ALL women, check this out!
Copyright(c) 2015 Rayven Holmes
1/13/2023 0 Comments
The Myth of Perfect
This article was originally published on Ramblings of a Dysfunctional Homeschooler in 2015. Previous pieces from that blog will be uploaded here as I am willing and able to. In the piece below, The Spouse refers to my now ex-husband.
A little over a month ago I tossed an inflatable into the room we’ve lovely dubbed “The Library” and fired the first of what would be a series of shots on both ends that ultimately brought about the moment every couple swears they’ll never experience when they get married. The “we need to divorce” talk. There have been tears, rage, and more tears, because even when you know it’s the right thing to do that doesn’t erase the emotions that went into the relationship. Instead they bubble up, unexpectedly, encompassing you without a moment’s notice. You find yourself standing in a group of people completely in control and then out of nowhere the air leaves your lungs and your balance feels unsteady.
You struggle to regain your composure before anyone notices the haze filling your eyes, it’s painful and frustrating especially when the world doesn’t know the truth. You are at war with your emotions and logic, and even some days your spouse, but to the rest of the world you and your family are as they always have been. That’s the myth of perfect at work. Two weeks ago, The Spouse and I started the uncomfortable process of letting the outside world know where we were headed. His outing involved work. I went with social media because, I figured it would be like pulling off a band-aid. Quick and virtually painless. While it was quick, painless it was not.
Our lives go through filters. This isn’t a new concept brought about by social media, no matter what the newest trending article claims, it’s something we as a human race have done for generations. Always smiling and putting the best image of ourselves, our family, and our relationships forward. Every now and then a bit of the truth slips out, but, for the most part, our lives are heavily edited to produce a show we want people to believe really takes place. Maybe that’s why reality television is so popular, we’re all doing it and reality television reminds us that we’re not the only ones using more than Instagram filters when interacting with the world. Of course when bits and pieces of the filters fall away and people get to actually view the unedited footage there are questions. One question, or a variation of it, that I keep encountering is “You guys looked so happy and perfect, what happened?”
There’s that word, perfect. I won’t lie, we did look pretty damn perfect some days and not all of those conversations or pictures were put through a filter. Plenty of them were, though, and even more were left on the cutting room floor to never be gazed upon by anyone other than myself. Why? Because they didn’t support the myth of perfect. The myth that my marriage and my life were aspirations that others should reach for. I would often cringe when someone would tell me that they longed for a relationship like the one the Spouse and I had. Of course, they only knew the bits I shared and I made sure to never share the ugly bits. Having to share the ugly bits, or at least acknowledge that we had enough of them to terminate our relationship, has been painful. A variety of things seems to happen when you tell people where you truly are in life, you either get support, advice which isn’t always useful or solicited, questions you often don’t have the answers to, or booze and trauma vultures. And because you can’t peel away the veneer that the perfect myth places on life without taking some flesh with it, you get plenty of pain.
The pain is a double edged sword, on one hand it begs you to go back to the safety of the myth. It wants you to bask in the comfort of those rose colored filters where the reality of your life was lived alone and isolated from the prying eyes that would offer their half-baked thoughts and opinions on your situation. Then the pain grabs you and reminds you why it exist. It shakes you and rocks you to your core, preventing you from going anywhere but forward. While the truth hurts, pretending kills. So you stop pretending.
Now that you all know that dysfunctional wasn’t just a cute blog title, but an actual indication of the insanity in which our family has lived, where do we go from here? I know the question portion is coming.
*Engaging announcer font* Will The Bringers of Mayhem still be homeschooled? Was it the military that caused this breakdown of such a lovely family? Did you try hard enough?
The line of questioning folks throw at you boarders on fucking insane, while some are legitimate and ok to ask, others are not. I would say most, actually, are not ok to ask. I have to tell you all before you hit that comment button, think first!
I will go ahead and answer the most asked questions, because I’m nice like that: that’s what we all want to see happen, it’s not completely to blame nor is it totally blameless, and I don’t understand that question. What exactly is enough and who gets to determine when you’ve reached it?
If you ask me I will say yes, if you ask The Spouse he’ll probably say no. We see our relationship and its end through a different set of eyes and experiences even when some of those experiences were shared. That’s the reality of any human relationship. We all see the world through different eyes and different experiences. At some point in time those differences either become the relationship's strength or it becomes their weakness. No matter how many filters we apply or edits we make for the world, we still have to view our relationships with our eyes wide open no matter how much it hurts.
Copyright(c)2015 Rayven Holmes
1/10/2023 1 Comment
The Year of No
Hello old friend, did you miss me? I can’t say with certainty that I missed you - elements of you sure but the labor and guilt-inducing shame that comes from setting blogging goals and then watching them rush past you in the mad dash that is life? Not so much.
Truth be told, I’ve been tired, well we all have I’m sure. I approached the last few years as an opportunity to say yes to almost everything in hopes of drowning out the dread that encompasses this time of our lives. All my saying yes meant bending myself into positions that were palatable to others and disastrous for me—trying to carve out spaces at tables that I thought could feed me only to be left starving and questioning my sanity.
I reached the last quarter of 2022 and spent a lot of time crying and debating the validity of my existence. If you’ve been around a while you know about my shadow mistress. She and I dance together often, after years in this body I can usually spin her into submission but last year she pulled out footwork that left me stumbling on the dance floor as I attempted to lead us through the muck.
Where is my place in the world? Is it here? Is it there? Why am I fighting to be heard amongst individuals and groups that have shown they have a vested interest in not understanding me? Are they worth the pain they cause? And who am I outside of what I give to everyone else?
When I stopped fighting, stopped trying to lead my shadow mistress, and instead followed her down the rabbit hole I found that I already knew all the answers. The footwork wasn’t foreign I was merely getting in my own way because the answers to my questions scared me.
Is my place here? Nope. Is it there? Also, nope. It’s wherever I am when I feel at peace and celebrated. It could be here, there, anywhere, and nowhere. I was fighting because I was still trying to prove that my life has value and worth and that it matters. Still wanting to prove I’m enough even though I know damn well that my value isn’t tied to anyone but myself. Somehow I had lost my way, wrapped in scarcity, stuck in a trauma cycle of simply trying to keep myself and my offspring alive as a pandemic raged on around us. I was hearing the notes of the music but not the rhythm. She wanted me to see the rhythm that went with my blues. I can give myself grace for losing my footing, it happens, and my shadow mistress is always there to remind me that death is a viable answer should I want it. It’s up to me to decide whether I want the dance to end or not.
I opted to keep dancing on my own terms. To find the rhythm that vibes with my blues. As the music faded into something I recognized and my mistress gave up control I was left with one lingering thought, this has to be the year I say no.
No to the people, places, things, and organizations that require more energy than they give back.
No to anything that doesn’t spark joy - with some caveats because having a place to sleep, food to eat, and running water spark joy but the actions needed to achieve those things aren’t always agents of joy.
No to apologies that aren’t accompanied by changed actions.
No to pretending that life is back to normal, it’s not and it never will be again.
No to last-minute plans that feel more like obligations than adventures.
Just fucking no.
If what’s presented to me isn’t worth the compromise required of me the answer is going to be no. My mistress knows her place when I remember that my number one job is to protect my mental health and that isn’t always easy or comfortable, but it’s necessary. That’s been made abundantly clear to me.
The last few years have been long and trying, as we move into whatever will transpire this year and beyond ask yourself this, if it doesn’t feed you -either physically or spiritually-, excite you, please you, or pay you then why are you doing it? If you can’t give yourself an honest authentic answer that isn’t tied to obligation then it’s time to consider your options and forge a new path.
Find the rhythm that blends with your blues instead of trying to make someone else’s melody the song of your life.
Until next time remember, if it’s not an enthusiastic yes then it’s a hell fucking no and you should go ahead and say that.
Copyright(c)2023 Rayven Holmes
All Atheist Balance #BlackLivesMatter Christianity Depression Divorce Emotional Abuse Equality Family Freedom Freethinker Freethinking Freethought Gender Godless Grief Healing Home Education Homeschooling Humanist Identity LGBTQA+ Life Love Marriage Martin Luther King Jr Day Meet The Smiths Mental Health My Herstory Parenting Passions Psychological Abuse Racial Equality Racism #ReclaimMLK Relationships Religion Single Parenting Truth Telling Work Work/Life Balance Writing
Photos used under Creative Commons from slgckgc, Eskling, Tomasz Stasiuk