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Gold From Pain

Originally published January 26th, 2023.

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, 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

Copyright(c) 2023 Rayven Holmes

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