This past weekend I graduated from the Mastery program of The School of Womanly Arts taught by Regena Thomashauer (aka Mama Gena) author of several books including her latest New York Times bestseller: Pussy- A Reclamation. Yes, you read right. The program took place over the course of the Spring with three live weekend intensives in three different venues NYC with over 900 women. The impact has been profound and I know it will continue to unfold for quite some time to come. I struggle with the words to describe impressions of experiences that elude description but I'll try because I want to share another powerful story of redemption with you.
Firstly, having read the title of Ms.Thomasauer's book may have made you cringe or even want to stop reading this blog. And that's fine. It is a provocative title to be sure. Personally, I was drawn to it but many women may definitely recoil at the very sight of the word. That alone begs the question as to why we would feel such disgust for a term that has been used to describe the female genitalia or even worse, a coward.
Oh, so much to unpack. Another blog, perhaps. Just know that the story I want to tell you is not specifically about my or anybody else's vulva so you can relax...a little...for now.
In between our intensive weekends my fellow Sister Goddesses and I had access to teleseminars with accomplished women of our culture who spoke about their work, their challenges and answered questions from women on the call. One of these calls addressed Race and Sisterhood. The teacher was Milagros Phillips, a 'Race Healer' who has published several books that offer ways in which to engage in productive healing conversations about race.
During the call Milagros talked about ancestral trauma. Recent research is now suggesting that not only to do we inherent physical traits and health related tendencies from our family line, apparently traumatic stress is also passed down through DNA. As Milagros was relaying this information I felt as if I had been struck by lightning. Here's why. My father's lineage is Afro-American...
Me and my dad all dressed up for a father/daughter event. This was one of the rare times I saw him as a young child. We reconnected in my teen years and became very close. His recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's has broken my heart.
My grandmother, Helen Chappell smiling at me. She was one of the first women of color on Long Island to earn an advanced degree in Education. She raised three children on her own. she died of colon cancer when I was very young.
I have no photos to share of my maternal great-grandfather but I have early memories of him...very dark skin, very white kinky hair, very warm and loving. He was a preacher.
My paternal grandfather was a prolific writer and wrote many books. One was titled The Seeking; an autobiography about finding a safe place for his Black family in America that wouldn't discriminate against them based on their skin color. I never met him but that book shook me to my core
So, growing up on Long Island in a predominately Black and Puerto-Rican neighborhood, my particular existential conundrum was seeded in the very fair tone of my skin and the very blue in my eyes due to my mom being second generation Swedish! It was the seventies. I was in elementary school and Roots by Alex Haley had been published and turned into a ground-breaking made for television mini-series; stirring up lots of righteous anger and frustration among my school peers. I was bullied and berated for the way I looked. Things at home were bad enough but school was terrifying and confusing. I was proud of my black heritage and felt strongly connected to it but my whiteness made that beautiful heritage null and void in the eyes of my classmates. This continued up through Middle School.
My freshman year of high school, we moved to Vermont and my skin and eye color were suddenly no longer a problem. However, I always felt a very strong sensitivity to any acts of racism and was quick to shut down ignorant comments and jokes because I took it personally. Weird, right? How could I take it personally if I've never experienced what it's like to be walking around as a girl of color?
As the years went on, I had my son who is now a grown man of 32. He's known his grandfather his entire life and is aware and proud of his Afro-American lineage. Also fair-skinned, he has confided to me that he also viscerally feels the pain and oppression of our Black communities having never personally experienced it in a brown skin. This is something that we have discussed at great length over the years. We've discovered that we both are magnetically drawn to the people, music, comedy, food and all around beauty of Black culture. My son moved to an all Black neighborhood in Philadelphia so that he may feel comfortable with his neighbors as he finds his way in the world. But how does a seemingly white person try to explain all this to a person of color? They just don't. So I never did. Until this spring...
To be continued.