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
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
I get questions from time to time about all sorts of things. How to manage single parenting and homeschooling. Red wine. How to get through a divorce. Red wine. And how to be a less shitty white person. The answer to that question isn’t red wine. Sorry, not sorry.
The most recent, “How do I not screw up while being white” question I was asked about was Juneteenth and how to recognize the holiday when you’re not Black. I figured it’s been a while since my last post so I would put my response here for all my white readers trying to be better in 2020. I’ve expanded on my original answers to offer a bit more depth to all of you. You’re welcome.
So, you want to celebrate and recognize Juneteenth:
Begin your work now:
Copyright©2020 Rayven Holmes
On Sunday night, I made a prediction that on MLK day my newsfeed would be full of “feel good” MLK quotes and painfully silent to the current issues affecting the black community the day after. Naturally, I was right. My newsfeed was alive with King quotes. Or was it? There were plenty of quotes about choosing love over hate, which follows King’s philosophy but, I was curious to see how accurate those quotes were. I set out Googling the quote I saw the most, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”. What I found was interesting. The quote in question is a cherry picked sound bite from his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?”. Those two lines aren’t even sentences or part of the same sentence. The full quote is as follows (with the sections of the aforementioned quote bolded):
“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”
The cherry picked quote conveniently ignores that King was speaking about a specific kind of love. A love that is strong and demanding, which links back to the point he was making at the beginning of his speech when discussing love and power:
“Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”
He wasn’t speaking about some magically warm and cozy love where we all take hands and skip merrily down the street. He was speaking, as he often did, about love that got its hands dirty and changed the world. A love that demanded justice for every human that walked this earth. Even if that demanding love brought you discomfort because he knew that in discomfort we create change.
As MLK day fades into the Facebook memory banks of cherry picked quotes and feel good posts that sanitize the man’s legacy, stop and think about the love you put into the world. Is it really a love demanding of justice, are you actively working to end racism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism (for ALL women), classism, and every other fucking -ism and -phobia out there? Or are you absentmindedly sharing more noise without thinking further about the actual context of the words spoken and continuing to remain silent about the oppression of others all while happily patting yourself on the back for being a “good” person?
Where Do We Go From Here Speech
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Photos used under Creative Commons from slgckgc, Eskling, Tomasz Stasiuk