White Passing: the spiritual implications aka how I am dealing with white ancestors
Next in the Series: I made a mistake and from it I learned...
Then Following: How I celebrate the souls of my Black and Mexican Ancestors...
And Finally: Discovering how to heal generational trauma carried on through my white racist ancestors I never knew.
Growing up in a small town where everybody is white is easier when you are the shade of brown that is white passing. I have the skin color that made me look like the "exotic" little girl. The one color that made people say, "oh what a beautiful tan," or "what are you?"
It was also easy to be a brown girl in a white town because I was ignorant of my roots and because of that, accepted that I was of "exotic" and had the "good curls". (HOW DID I NOT KNOW HOW OFFENSIVE THIS WAS? SMH)
So let's get started.
My Mexican-American grandmother never talked about our roots from México and chose to bypass our mestizo identity so she could reach all the way back to the 1500's for the pure blood of Spain. "We are from la sangre pura," she would tell me as she pointed to illegible documents from the genealogical vaults in Monterrey, México. If my history were dependent on her storytelling, I would say I were a tan woman of Spanish nobility mixed with a nice dose of Choctaw princess from my dad's side.
As for the rest of my identity, I had no clue. My dad was adopted and for some reason there was a rumor we were Choctaw (once again, thanks to my Mexican-American grandmother imagining a romanticized Nativa American grand daughter).
So there I was- A little exotic brown girl in a white town with no identity or way to answer the probing question often posed to those of mixed heritage: "What are you?"
Over time, the mention of my color as being "exotic" became so normal that even I considered myself to be so. I imagined my Native American ancestors and my rightful place with people who understand and respect the Earth. I saw my Mexican identity as something to be proud of and regardless of the stories told by my grandmother, began to reach within and bring the Mexicaness into my own life by reclaiming my roots. And as for my whiteness... it didn't really have a place because I didn't know of them and their place in my story.
It was easy being the exotic girl because my skin was light enough, but it was not easy finding places or friends where I felt like I belonged. I never had a long lasting friendship and I didn't relate to majority of the white people I interacted with.
Full Stop: But this is not a sad story about how hard it is to be a mixed girl living in ignorance. All of this was written for context for what is to come next.
So anyway, as I was saying... I was ignorant but always wondering... who am I and where do I belong?
Fast forward to 4 years ago. I meet my dad's biological sister. She is tan too. Dare I say exotic? (No, I dare not because at age 33, I learned that this is not a way to refer to myself or others.) She is loving and filled with joy and eagerly shares our story with me and my dad. We are the children and grandchildren of Anna Faye, the only black woman in a family of whites. My biracial grandmother, daughter of an affair. My Black Grandmother who had a white mother, white stepfather, many white sisters, white aunts, white uncles, white grandparents... all of whom came from a lineage of white supremacy and racism.
Immediately upon seeing her picture, I connected to her heart and soul. Even though I did not meet her in life, I was told that she knew about me when I was a child and loved me as her grandchild. She and my dad would speak on the phone but never met. I never met her. She passed away before I learned about her but her spirit dwells with me now and I am learning so much. I now cook recipes she cooked, I have a space for her on my altar, I live and work to do right by my blood ancestors who carried love in their hearts through adversity and pain.
Because she was Black in East Texas, she had to live her life differently. Being a Black girl in a white family, she was subject to internal and familiar racism. Nobody ever told her about her identity and everyone claimed to "not see color." Somebody must have seen color when she was forced to go to a school that had already integrated after Brown v. Board of Education when her sisters still attended a segregated school in Gilmer, Texas in the mid 60's.
Everybody said they didn't see color. My Black Grandmother was Black but never got to be Black or to celebrate her identity. She never got to meet her father. She never got any answers to her questions about her skin color or features that were different. She could see the difference and so could the school system and all the community around her... but the white family members said they couldn't. A quote from a recent family reunion: "I didn't and don't see color."
Since learning about my grandmother and also learning more about my Mexican family, my mother's father and his family (another wormhole of secrets), I found so much pride in being a brown girl. My inner child rejoiced at finally putting together pieces of an identity puzzle that had cause a sense of isolation for so long. I am so proud to be Black, Mexican....
but learning what I did about the white side of my Black Grandmother's family, in addition to never feeling a closeness to whiteness, demonstrated to me a huge part of healing that I have willingly avoided: working with my ancestors I inherently don't like or know- the white ones that I feel disconnected from and at times, have hated.
So all of this is to say, that it's taken me a minute to understand what white passing means to me beyond my responsibilities in actionable terms. Only recently did I begin to understand the personal and spiritual aspect of the necessary work of someone white passing. I acknowledge that in addition to ancestor veneration of my Black and Mexican lineage, I must heal the wounds caused by my white ancestors. I must go into this very ugly past that accepted and thrived upon racist ideology and structures. If it is possible to heal generational trauma, and it is, then I must confront their history, for the sake of my Grandmother and my ancestors who came before her, for my own spirit, and for the sake of a new chapter in my own story of one day being an ancestor.
Stay tuned for the next post: "I made a mistake and from it learned," as I share a bit about how I insulted myself and others by saying "I hate the term 'white passing' and wish I could go back to being 'exotic." (CRINGE!!!! In hindsight, that was my ignorance and unwillingness to accept my whiteness due to a loathing of my white ancestors I never knew which in turn, became an extension of hate towards myself. Also, I am literally unpacking family history as we speak. Nobody in my family has told me the stories so I am investigating til I get some goddang answers and can bring a sense of closure to open wounds.)
If you are mixed or white, please stay with me on this because we are going to get to the healing part for the ugly ancestors which (Spoiler Alert) is not easy, fast or pretty.
Please note, I am still uplifting and thanking my ancestors of benevolence and beautiful melanin and culture because they are my strength and love.