He looks at me and says, “You are just acting like a white supremacist.”
I feel the knot in my throat constrict. My fists clench, unclench.
His eyes are cast down. Silence ensues.
We started out talking about masks. A dear friend made our family of six masks. Each mask took over 45 minutes to sew. She had purposefully given us fabric options, researched the best design, and chose ribbons to match. She made these masks anticipating our need, with care and love.
I had unpacked the masks 30 minutes earlier. Everyone gathered around, claiming the fabric style they requested. My friend didn’t let us down. She had even sized some of the masks to a child’s face.
We helped the children to put them on. My eight year old ran around the house, mask on, jumping, bouncing. My 10 year old put on a dress to match hers. The older two discussed whether or not their friends were wearing masks.
And, everyone’s mask fit except for my husband’s.
It quickly turned into a negotiation of sorts. I worked hard to tell him the mask could fit. He worked hard to force it to cover his nose and mouth. It wouldn’t work. Sinking into shame and embarrassment, caring more for how my friend would feel about him NOT wearing the mask, I pressed him to try again. He did.
And, that’s when he said it, “You are just acting like a white supremacist.”
The pandemic has been many hard things, and now this. I sensed it coming. In this season of quarantine, I look often at the specificity of my own complicity in white supremacist systems. My complicity leads to an exhaustion for my four children, and burdens my husband. I am a bi-racial Latina woman. This is true. It is also true that I am “white-passing”.
My graduate school studies in counseling and psychology have asked me to know my own story with more specificity so that I may serve others, in the role of trauma practitioner and therapist. Knowing particularity of story is the work of discovering identity. It not only transforms me, but means I can come alongside the generational traumas carried in my body and offer kindness to them, understanding. Yet I sit across from a man challenging me to see this oppressive system as it is. Evil.
He doesn’t apologize. I don’t speak. The silence continues.
Silence for the traumas of bodies, and the resilience of indigenous, brown, and black bodies. A silence which offers space for human dignity between Africa and Mexico. A silence linking the histories of continents separated by an ocean, and remembering the colonial violence perpetrated.
Our Mexican heritage is linked to the earth. There is a sense of belonging in the dirt of life, which holds us to one another. And, the dirt underneath Luis and me is mixed with the blood of indigenous, brown, and black bodies. It calls us to sacred, and holy spaces. The past horrors of colonization live in my body, my husband’s body and our children’s bodies. It lives in the descendants of slavery, and the descendants of the colonizers.
I am not humiliated. I am humble. He is not humiliating me. I am humbling myself. We both are. The pandemic exposes wounds we ignore in the business of family. The pandemic exposes layers of hurt and grief – the trauma of a white supremacist system we are trying to appease. It doesn’t work. There is not enough we can give, change, or acquiesce to – to satisfy this white ecosystem.
It’s a white ecosystem thriving on our shame. It consumes both the shame offered from the liberal white ally voter who has one or two friends of color and calls it good, to the evangelical conservative who boldly declares, “All Lives Matter.” This white ecosystem is poisoning our souls, families and communities. It’s poisoning my marriage.
Instead of moving away from him and his words meant to pierce me, I begin by apologizing.
“I am so sorry I forced you to keep trying to wear the mask when it clearly didn’t fit you. I so valued a white woman’s feelings, that I didn’t value your body and who you are. I love you.”
There are seasons where repentance, addressing past harms with specificity are not only painful but opportunities to experience surviving on something else besides shame. It is the opportunity to thrive by loving deeply, and experiencing hope built on truth.
As I engage shame, it is an opportunity to bring the story of other bodies, different than my own, and bear witness on behalf of another. I witness, engage, and pursue the transformation of shame and generational racial traumas, which are indeed, also mine.
Mother of four and wife of one awesome Mexican, Danielle Castillejo is a 2nd year student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, studying to get her MA in Counseling and Psychology. She works and volunteers part time in an organization in Seattle that advocates for the agency and freedom of commercial sex workers. A survivor of abuse herself she continues to fight for sanity and love every day.