As a white woman, of European descent, who was born and grew up in America, racism lives in my DNA. White Europeans, including my ancestors, were fleeing horror in Europe, in search of a liberated life. The trauma caused by centuries of patriarchal violence does not just disappear when arriving on a new land. Just as personal trauma does not dissolve by moving to a new home or getting out of a toxic relationship less it is healed, collective trauma is carried over and becomes behavior. Behaviors get passed down and, over time, they shape family, community, and societal norms. In America, the collective suffering and dominance of different groups of people is what shaped a nation.
White-skinned Europeans brought all of that unresolved trauma and violence to Turtle Island and repackaged it on this land. We transmuted our suffering into dominance over the land and of indigenous people. We created racism and enslaved other human beings to serve our desires. We tried to eliminate the pressure of European trauma in our own bodies, and inflicted our suffering into people with Brown and Black skin.
The Trauma Passed Down Through Generations
When I was researching cancer causes and learning about my DNA analysis, I became more interested in genealogy. I began looking into my paternal ancestry in Vermont and traced the path backwards to their arrival in Massachusetts as early colonizers from England of the religious persuasion. I have been aware of my English heritage for most of my adult life, always having felt drawn to the forests, weather, and “kitchen witch” practices of England. Now I looked at it through the lens of the harm these ancestors caused in their positions as religious and economic colonizers. One ancestor was a lawmaker in Vermont around the time of the eugenics project—sterilization of Abenaki First Nations people and other dark-skinned, and some disabled people on the stolen lands I call home.
My maternal ancestry is French via Quebec and some Irish. I learned I am a descendant of the The Filles du roi, or Daughters of the King, women sent over to populate Quebec per order of King Louis XIV. Women directed by the patriarchy to leave their homeland, to serve the patriarchy and colonize Abenaki land. This family lineage grew, along with many others, over-populating Quebec, forcing migration south when farming could no longer sustain livelihood. These families came through Vermont and landed in industrialized areas of Massachusetts, working the hardened life of factory workers and experiencing the economic disparity of classism.
While I didn’t recognize it as such at the time, I was doing ancestral healing work. While I began the work to find resilience for the suffering I was experiencing with cancer, the floodgates were opened to relearn white-washed American history. With that came so many painful emotions as I felt into the horror of what my lineage represents—the harm that was caused so I can be where I am today. It was extremely difficult to come to the realization that I exist because of the suffering inflicted onto others. I believe because I was already in such a raw emotional state from uncovering layers of trauma during my health crisis, I was able to readily drop into the complexity of white Western European ancestral truth.
Over the course of my experience healing from cancer and trauma, I spent time researching and reading as well as meditating and journeying in the dreamtime to find ways to connect with these ancestors to feel into what their experiences may have been like.
My paternal ancestry is a very privileged, intellectual elite who benefited from and informed the dominating patriarchal world order. I felt the oppression and emotional harm this lineage passes down, being raised in a strict father model upbringing with all of the related implications of paternalism and how that presents in my relationships. On my maternal side, women were controlled by the patriarchy, similar to the manner by which they arrived on this continent. Working class pain further toughened the women over the generations as they closeted emotions to drive progress with the force expected of a workhorse constitution. I felt the emotional wounds in my own feelings of unworthiness, drive for perfectionism, and compassion fatigue; all of which I have projected onto others. On both sides there is trauma—from being oppressed and from the acts of oppressing others.
The Emotional Experience of Ancestral Healing
I needed to learn how to feel the guilt, anger, hurt, and shame and sit with all of the discomfort, drawing connections to how that ancestry shows up in my own behavior. I also needed to recognize I am here because of love and resilience, and find ways to honor the strength that was passed down by my ancestors. I needed to work through the pain of ancestral healing to create the space for feeling where love existed in my bloodline. At the same time, I also made decisions about how to repair that harm in the ways I can.
Ancestral healing work guided my personal transformation though a health crisis, empowering my work in cultural transformation and social justice at the intersectionality between personal and collective healing. I also needed to find ways to embrace my ancestry and learn about customs and lineage that I want to honor in my spiritual practice and in the ways I live my life, so I am not appropriating from cultures I do not belong to. I also recognize that my lifelong commitment to justice came from my resistance to the patriarchy, and I work to connect with female ancestors who may have also been on that path. I created EmpowR out of my love for humanity and a commitment to heal the harms of white ancestry through healing navigation and culture change work.
The painful truth that People of Color have known for centuries is that this country was founded on genocide, colonization, racism, and colonialism. Capitalism only thrives because of racism. The violence we as white people brought to this land is the violence that has perpetuated over time, manifesting so blatantly in the insurrection in Washington, DC. We must, as white people, learn how to accept this truth. This acceptance can only come from feeling through the painful emotions and healing the trauma that has been living in our bodies for lifetimes. Individual healing is the path to collective healing. We must change the norms of dominant culture, to make space for healing, which cannot happen when we are addicted to economics as the solution. We must constantly remind ourselves capitalism is a primary cause of the racial and class suffering being pitted against each other as we speak.
Cultural Context of Behavior
Racism and violence is at the foundation of who we are as a country and it manifests as oppressor trauma in white bodies. For many of us with white skin, the oppressed trauma of patriarchy also lives in our bodies. A perfect storm of a deep-rooted inability to process our emotions lives in the bodies of ALL Americans. A myriad of behaviors arise out of this shared cultural trauma—such as abuse, violence, apathy, compassion fatigue, and not speaking up when you see something unjust happen to another human being, to name just a few.
It is our responsibility as white people to unravel this complexity outside of the urgent pace to fix everything in ways that are economically prosperous. Racism, patriarchy, colonization, and genocide ARE the root cause of the majority of suffering in this country—for people of ALL skin colors. Yet, for many white people, it’s too big to start there. We need to begin with our emotions and just learn how to feel…to feel pain and joy and the full spectrum of emotions and accept that all of them are okay to feel. It’s what we do with those emotions once we can recognize them that can either cause harm to ourselves and others or begin the path of personal healing which leads to cultural transformation.
I learned so much going through cancer about cultural behaviors that caused me harm. By engaging in ancestral healing and being committed to anti-racism work, I am able to understand why those toxic norms and assumptions exist. People telling each other how to feel that pushes for toxic positivity is an obsession we have as a white culture to “stay positive” and discredit the depth of our emotions out of fear of feeling “bad”. We have this binary way of thinking that something is either good or bad, happy or sad, light or dark; when instead it’s all happening at the same time and multiple realities exist simultaneously. Feeling despair and hope can be felt at the same time, instead of denying one and only focusing on the other.
As I did more work to unpack racism, I learned judgmental and harmful behaviors I experienced navigating a health crisis are key traits of the dominant, status quo that defines American culture. These same cultural behaviors are also the characteristics of white supremacy culture, a word that brings up a knee-jerk emotional response in people because it is uncomfortable. The avoidance of that discomfort is in fact a key detriment to our ability to feel the feelings behind the discomfort so we can begin to heal.
The behaviors that come from the shared white European lineages of oppressor and oppressed ancestral trauma got passed down and became character traits and family values. These then became norms and got passed down among more generations and more widely accepted so that they became dominant culture. In the case of America, this toxic culture harms us all. I began to understand these harms through my direct lived experience healing from cancer and trauma, and the lifelong journey of unlearning and relearning the experience unleashed. An understanding of my life purpose to work towards changing culture, began with retracting from the harmful cultural norms of white supremacy. By engaging in personal healing work that is inclusive of understanding who we are and how we got here, we are able to start to recognize why changing our behaviors directly influences those around us and contributes to dismantling white supremacy culture.
I am committed to the lifelong journey of becoming an anti-racist, decolonizing my white-centric worldview, and working to upend systemic racism and it’s intersectionality with all forms of oppression and injustice. I invite you to learn more about the EmpowR vision for cultural transformation and to read my personal story of healing and transformation.
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