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 unless it is healed, collective trauma is passed through generations and becomes personal behavior. Behaviors perpetuate unless the trauma is healed 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 decades of unresolved trauma and violence to Turtle Island and repackaged it on this land. As a white woman of Western-European descent, I speak with connection to the trauma of my ancestors being transmuted from our suffering in Europe into dominance over the land and people in shaping America. White people, including my ancestors, 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 pagan/Earth-based/”kitchen witch” spiritual roots from England. Now I have an additional lens to consider with 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, some Irish, and a bit more English. I learned I am a descendant of the The Filles du roi, or Daughters of the King–women sent from France to populate Quebec per order of King Louis XIV. Women trafficked by the patriarchy to leave their homeland and culture to mother colonizing Abenaki land. My 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 a hardening life as factory workers and experiencing the economic disparity of classism and its intertwined relationship with racism.
While I didn’t recognize it at the time, I was doing ancestral healing work. When I began the work to find resilience for the suffering I was experiencing with cancer, the floodgates opened to unlearn white-washed American history. With that came so many painful emotions as I felt into the truth of what my lineage represents—both the harms and sacrifices so I can be alive. It was extremely difficult to come to the realization that I exist because of 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 in a way that may not have been as accessible to me if I was not already in a deep rabbit hole of identity examination.
Over the course of my experience healing from cancer and trauma, I engaged in meditating, journeying to the dreamtime, and spiritually connecting with my ancestors to find ways to feel into what their experiences may have been like. I also conducted genealogy research, learned from family member research, and read a lot about what had been published about my ancestors.
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 white people brought to this land is the violence that has perpetuated over time, manifesting so blatantly in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, DC. White people must learn how to accept the truth of the violence of our lineages as foundational to this country.
Acceptance of the truth is accessed by feeling through the painful emotions and healing the trauma that has been living in white 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 pitted ourselves 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 white women and non cis-male gender identities, the oppressed trauma of patriarchy also lives in our bodies. And a deep-rooted inability to process our emotions lives in the bodies of ALL Americans as emotional detachment is a survival mechanism to be able to navigate white dominant culture. 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 the responsibility of 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—inflicting people of ALL skin colors, though not all in the same way. 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 cause harm to ourselves and others if we are not able to be culturally supported with paths of personal and collective healing that are what will lead to cultural transformation.
I learned so much going through cancer about cultural behaviors that cause 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. For example, toxic positivity is an obsession in 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. It is critically important to release from perceiving through a binary lens if we are going to be able to learn to listen to and accept the lived experiences of people of color and actualize steps towards healing the disease of racism.
As I did more work to unpack white dominant cultural norms, I learned judgmental and harmful behaviors I experienced navigating a health crisis are key characteristics of the status quo that defines white 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. However, understanding white supremacy culture as being the status quo is a key to stepping into anti-racism work. The avoidance of the discomfort that comes up prohibits white people’s ability to feel the feelings behind the discomfort so we can begin to take responsibility for our emotional healing and how it is connected to implicit bias, racial micro-aggressions, and unconscious racist behavior.
The behaviors of white supremacy come from the shared white European lineages of oppressor and oppressed ancestral trauma that got passed down and became character traits and family values. These then became social norms cultivated through generations until so widely accepted, that they became dominant culture. In America, the toxic culture of dominance harms us all. I began to understand some aspects of the harm through my direct lived experience resisting the status quo and how that manifested into disease. My journey to heal opened me to understanding my life purpose to the movement of personal and cultural transformation, which centers around retracting from the harmful cultural norms of white supremacy and co-creating something new. By engaging in personal healing and self examination 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 and creating conditions where the racial justice movement can build momentum.
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 my personal story of healing and transformation.
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