• Ashley Casillas

White Passing: I made a mistake and I learned.

If you read the last post, you know a little bit about my background, how I identify and also how I know I am perceived.


With Mexican, Black and white ancestry in my blood, and virtually zero stories of who my ancestors were, I have had to do my own work to discover more about my story. Due to the racialized world we live in, especially in the United States of America, it is difficult to truly know a cultural story since documentation of Black lives and Mexican lives were not treated with the same care for preservation as white documentation. Even when being told stories from family members, "white lies" abound about those who came before us in an effort by older (and sometimes brainwashed) generations to paint a tale of how well assimilated our family was/is.


After 2 years of committed work in tracking down ancestry data, I finally have a better understanding of who I am and what makes me proud. On the same hand, after 2 years of committed work in understanding more about my Mexican and Black ancestry, I have completely ignored the white side of my family that I never met up until a year ago. Why is this so? Well, it's complicated but I know for sure that growing up "exotic" or as the girl with the "tan," I never really felt that close to white people who made those comments. Even at age 7, I could hear how ridiculous it was to compliment a visual example of a mix of racial identities while not respecting the identity within itself.


Sidenote: I will never forget the time I went to the beach with my lighter-skin white passing dad and white stepmom. We went to a restaurant and when the waitress showed up, she said "Oh what a beautiful little girl. Did you adopt her?"


...


Being mixed, I of course have known about my white passing privilege within the context of societal acceptance.... but inner work with the white passing frame or lens is necessary to move forward in a way that connects you spiritually to the matter of racism and your role. Anyway, moving on to the point of this whole post: Up until now, I have ignored my whiteness because I didn't like what it represented. I ignored it and essentially was ignoring my responsibility to work with it, grow from it, and heal with it.


Recently after attending a protest, I was reminded of my internalized dislike for my white ancestors (for reasons we all know and others that I will not go into here). Anyone who has been to a protest, knows how many emotions can be stirred and the tidal waves of feeling come over you when you get back home. I came home Angry. Bitter. Saddened. Exhausted. Loathsome. Confused. In a moment of feeling all those feelings, I reached out to a prominent Black healer in the community asking for a session to help me process and in the the midst of the emotional outpour, I said: "I hate calling myself white passing. Can we just call me 'exotic' like they did when I was growing up?"


AND JUST LIKE THAT, I BECAME A HARBINGER OF RACISM IN MY OWN LIFE AND THE LIVES OF OTHERS. With that one sentence, I called upon a term that had been used by so many to "compliment" the fact that I had a tan but was not too black nor too brown for societal acceptance.


When I said that, I immediately felt a pang of wrongness in my gut. You know that feeling? The one when you step out of line within your own knowledge of right and wrong and you feel sickened by your own actions without anyone even calling you out? Inevitably, a downward spiral of sadness and disgust ensued. I didn't know anything anymore and was going into one of those existential crisis modes... day in, day out trying to understand how it was possible for me to slip up like that. Guilt, shame, disgust, embarrassment... the whole gamut.


One whole week later, after many nights of self-questioning, I finally understood the complexity of that one sentence I uttered. What it meant about my conditioning in society, what it meant personally and emotionally in the present, and what it meant spiritually in connection with my ancestry. I finally knew what it meant for me, (ME), to do the work.


This self-induced slap in the face was a long time coming. I am 33 years old and only now seeing that I have to give the same amount of acknowledgement to my white ancestors as I do to the Black and Mexican ancestors I so love. I cannot fully understand my self, spirit, and role in community until I am fully honest about all of my ancestry. I have to see the shadows that exist within me. There is a universal balance of light and shadow from which there is no escape. To try and escape is to seek refuge within ignorance and perpetual discomfort at the cost of your spirit's and community's wellbeing.


This face slap also let me know something else important that has always been on my mind and in my heart. I needed to find where I belong, where I know I can seek refuge and where I can be taken care of. What that sentence also meant to me was "I do not feel at home with strictly white people even though I am white passing and I don't know where I can go be taken care of safely within the BIPOC community, without harming anyone else's healing experience."


This was a lesson on many fronts.


So yes, I made a mistake. I learned from it. And now I am working on being the light in my ancestry of shadows. I am doing inner healing not only for myself but for my grandmother, her father and his family before him. I am also doing this work to maybe possibly heal old wounds and bring closure to an ancestral line where racism existed. Just because those ancestors are not alive does not mean they don't live on. I am their future.


Perhaps this will ultimately lead me to where I belong.


If you are white or white passing: What family shadows are you avoiding?

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