To understand a world in the midst of racial, social, and environmental transformation we must look into the belly of the beast and work to understand where the beast comes from, how it functions, and what is its agenda. The forces of colonization and white supremacy are those beasts. And the greatest threat to that is WHO WE WERE BEFORE those forces came in. Here’s part one of how I’ve lived through and view this battle.
What I’m about to share with you is what my eyes have seen, what words I’ve listened to, what life experiences have taught me about our humanity and the state of the world today. My views are a result of the guidance from many of my teachers and elders, schooling, educating youth, as well as my abilities to see things this way. I’m grateful fro all of those gifts and I welcome dialogue around this post.
MY LIVED EXPERIENCE
When I was in my mid-20’s I was dating a black man. My father caught wind of this and give me the silent treatment for about 6 months. I had no idea that was his reason. Then my mother asked me one day, “Do you have a black boyfriend?” I confirmed. And the next thing she said shocked me, but didn’t throw me off completely. She said, “Well Dad’s not talking to you because he doesn’t want black in the family.” My response was, “Wow, you both are racist!” I felt safe enough to continue with her by telling her, “I don’t get why you think this wouldn’t happen when you raised me here in the Bay Area.” Even though in the back of my head I knew racism was very much alive in the Filipino culture, and in particular, anti-blackness.
This was a “crucible moment” in my life that taught me that anti-blackness was global. Because up until that point I was a brown girl navigating my life as a Filipino American. I wasn’t yet exposed to the histories and the stories of anti-blackness outside of the United States. But it was clear to me in that moment in my parents’ faces, in their words, knowing their migration story, and the belief in anti-blackness that it was an ideology they adopted from somewhere else. But where did they learn this? Back home in the Philippines? Or was it something they learned after immigrating here? I didn’t care to ask at that time. I was too disgusted and disappointed.
We never resolved anything around this situation, but I knew that for myself, resolution was not even an option. I had to just continue on with my life however I chose because I chose my free will.
OUR TRAVELING DNA
As a socially conscious educator and ecologist, my lens has always been one of curiosity and connection. I see things in terms of systems, inter-relatedness, and interdependence. So, personally as I went about my years teaching our youth, expanding my experiences, and getting to know me, who I am, and where I come from (because a lot of my work placed me in direct interaction with racism), I decided to take my own DNA test for ethnicity. This is where I began to understand my family’s history as well as our identity as it related to colonization.
While I was waiting for my results to come in from Ancestry.com I began asking my parents how much they knew about our ancestors. To my surprise, neither of them could tell me much more past their grandparents’ names, so, my great grandparents. Not much was recorded. If I wanted to dig deeper into their stories I’d have to actually go to the Philippines, maybe go to the Catholic Church for records. What was also striking for me was to see that all of my relatives had Spanish names, not Malay or indigenous in origin.
A sudden wave of emotion and information came to me and I realized
(1) they lost so much including the ability to retain indigenous names (i.e., because of assimilation),
(2) what they endured compared to what I’m enduring in this life was so much more deeper and heavier on their soul and
(3) what they endured brought me and my family to be here, now. I couldn’t help but be sad about this. But it also ignited more curiosity about ancestry, migration stories, and global race relations.
Shortly after my results came in I picked up this book by Christine Kenneally, “The Invisible History of the Human Race”. It was common knowledge to me that all of us have that <1% African DNA in us, but she confirmed it for me when she opens her Chapter 12 on The History of the World,
“When you visualize the human tree, picture its trunk firmly planted in African soil. Modern humans emerged there several hundred thousand years ago and lived only there from 250,000 years ago for at least 150,000 years - much longer span of time than we have lived across the globe.”
The chapter goes on to describe where this <1% comes from and how the band of humans that made the migration out of the land we know of as Africa remains in our DNA today. Kenneally goes on and says,
“Around sixty thousand years ago a small band of them - perhaps not much more than one thousand to two thousand five hundred individuals- went traveling. We don’t know why they left or if they had any sense that they were going somewhere new, but we do know their decision kicked off one of the biggest events in the history of the human genome.
Those who remained are the ancestors of most of the one billion people who live in Africa today. The small band that left are the ancestors of everyone else in the world, and the suite of NDA they carried was only a small sample of the variety of human genomes that existed in Africa at the time of their departure. Indeed, we know the migration occurred because even now we can see that the genomes of everyone in the world outside of Africa is a subset of the genomic variation still found in Africa.”
So basically what that book was telling me was that we all come from the land which we call Africa. Which means, WE ALL COME FROM A MOTHER FROM AFRICA. As trivial as it may seem, realizing it like this blew my mind!
So, we all come from a black mother. The DNA shows us that she is our most common ancestor, whoever that woman was on the land we know of as Africa. But this revelation always brought me back to this perplexing ideology that globally, being black, especially was bad.
Why is it that you can find anti-blackness around the globe and ingrained in the beliefs of many cultures? Because I couldn’t see that there were other examples of other races being seen as so inferior in the same way. Well, the first reason is probably obvious: colonization.
THE COLONIZED MIND
There’s no other way colonization can happen successfully unless you also control the minds of the people that come from that land. Not only in Africa, but in all colonized countries (which is a lot!) if you don’t have pride in yourself and the land you come from, you won’t fight for it.
Colonization’s goal is to separate people from their connection to their land therefore severing a connection to themselves & their identity. This is how the colonizer can take all the power over that land and its people.
For Africa, it’s our origin. It’s where our expansion to create and populate the rest of the world comes from.
There is a certain power that exists when you know you come from a story that began creating this world.
And that’s the type of power the colonizer DOESN’T want you to have.
The second reason is our need to …
RECONCILE WITH OURSELVES
This one is the more spiritual and existential reason.
It wasn’t until I had this frank conversation with a peer healer and Ancestral Healing practitioner, Dumbei Okonji, where I realized what the ultimate teaching was around anti-blackness. I shared what I knew about migration, DNA, indigeneity, connections to our land and ancestry, and asked her frankly,
“But why black? Why do we hate on blackness so much and why is it uniquely global? I just don’t get it.”
And her profound response,
“Well when it comes down to it, we just don’t like who we are.”
Knowing this, I began to understand the deeply seeded weaponry of self hate. The more we choose to accept and adopt all forms of self hate, the more we perpetuate our separation from each other, fulfilling the colonizer’s agenda.
When the evidence showed me the origins of humans coming firmly from Africa, I began to understand the importance of Black Liberation.
To support and advocate for Black Liberation is to connects us back to who we are as humans.
And this can be a form of radical healing.
Knowing the history of black people over time, what they’ve endured, their ancestral story, and the impacts that continue to destroy and perpetuate destruction due to enslavement and colonization, lives within their bones, blood, and DNA of their descendants. WE are all their descendants.
Over time, as our origin from Africa migrated out to populate the rest of the land globally, our lineages began with our own indigenous mothers, giving each lineage their own origin story. Each of our lineages have their own grandeur family tree deeply rooted and planted in the land that we each came from. This also helped me understand the importance of indigeneity as the greatest threat to colonization, but that’s for Part 2!
So, in partial conclusion, this exploration of my own individual identity has opened up so much learning and unlearning about who I am and how my identity can show up event in how we relate with each other.
I hope you’re able to gain a little bit more for yourself after my share.
Please comment and add to the conversation in the comments below!