Originally published March 12th, 2023.
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. And then he stared at me, and I stared at me and all I could get out is “I don’t even let my children use that word.” And 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 with 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 because when I finally started to test the waters and shared that 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 wall that no longer had anyone left to defend it. 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 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, 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. And 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.
Copyright(c) 2023 Rayven Holmes