Being called an “Oreo” as a young girl and throughout adulthood was a dagger thrown at me for existing in a Black body while cranking my head to Nirvana; knowing all the lyrics to R.E.M.’s Green album; shopping at Lululemon; dying my hair purple; dating white folx; making vegan mac and cheese; being addicted to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer; swirling like a hippy at drum circles in the UCSC forest; busing to Whole Foods in Redondo Beach from Inglewood at age 15 so I could eat organic; and so on and so on. I never saw these activities as “white” but that label was used by those whose perception of black people was simplistic and narrow-minded. In all-white spaces, I felt perpetually misunderstood and undervalued. In all-black spaces, I was goofy, aloof or just plain weird. I have come to understand myself as complex, broad-minded and thirsty to try new things; thanks in part to my mother’s acceptance of my B-52’s obsession and her common refrain, “You like it…I love it.” I can also thank a hodge-podge of friends and found family throughout my life: black, brown, asian, indigenous and white; jewish, christian, buddhist, atheist and pagan; queer, gender binary and not, trans and cis, fat and thin, and living with mental and/or physical disabilities, for helping me feel at home inside our bubble of collective complexity.
Over the years as I lean more into mindfulness practices and deepen my connection to spirit, I am making more conscious choices about which workshops/courses to pursue, teachers to study with and spiritual/creative adventures to leap into. I find myself pausing at the entrance wondering if I will encounter the exhaustingly familiar space of being the only person of color, or one of few. Even as I experience sacred connection and value in relationship with white spiritual leaders, I can’t shake the feeling that I am opening my soul to folxs who have no idea where I am coming from as a black, queer cis-femme in America. Even growing up in Inglewood, California, going to high school in East Los Angeles, through higher education, yoga teacher training, meditation instruction and now the study of Judaism, my teachers have mostly been white. Frankly, I get tired of learning from white people. Inhaling the savory teachings of sages and mentors of color like Sonya Renee Taylor, Aria Sa’id, Amanda Nguyen, and others, acts as my continued resistance to the monotone view of the world that is often purported as universal truth.
Coveting spaces with other bipoc is not about exclusion, it’s about being able to release the pressure of explaining what cannot be explained to people who have no way of understanding. Just as I cannot understand the internal unfolding, resistance and self-acceptance my beloved trans and non-binary friends have experienced, white people cannot put themselves in my shoes and then walk with any semblance of how to take that first step. Being Black in America means that I carry an overbearing load of historical trauma fueled not just by the racism of individual people, but by the institutionalization of that racism in every system I touch. No one puts down a copy of White Fragility and leaves with that takeaway. Even my partner, who is white, couldn’t get through it, deciding instead to read Resmaa Menakem and Ta-nehisi Coates to further their understanding of her role within systems of oppression and how to do better as a white ally.
Right now I am so grateful to the community of Jews of Color who have welcomed me with open arms to learn and experience unity as I continue conversion with my local queer synagogue. And I am especially thankful to pioneers like Rabbi Sandra, who are raising awareness and creating community like Kol Hapanim for JOC and allies to practice together and be supported in our faith and in our experiences as BIPOC. Their first Zoom Shabbat is this Friday and I am ON FIRE about it!
I expect my blog posts to become a bit more sporadic because I am starting a course at the Writer’s Studio in two weeks, and I also hope to be accepted into a program examining the dharma through an anti-racist lens, the work of which will consume most of the limited free time I now enjoy. Considering myself a lifelong learner, I know I will not always find classrooms that are balanced in leadership and participation with regard to race, gender, and other forms of diversity. My mind and my heart crave diversity because within it I feel seen, valued and respected, rather than invisibilized, dismissed as an ABW or peddled as the magical Negro for having insights that seem profound, but are simply the result of living with substantially less privilege than the average white person. I intend to stick with my current yoga teacher (he’s deep and hot..sorry, not sorry), and Chani will forever be astrology bae. But I will never stop seeking that sanctified space: an inclusive tribe of alt rock-loving hippies who do yoga to soul music, dig mystical Judaism and binge-read prose and poetry written by a cadre of anti-racist, multicultural thought leaders. #SquadGoals