March 5, 2010

Speaking Out for A Silent Culture

As children, the strength of our voices is determined by our parents. If you were raised in a household where children were supposed to be seen and not heard, then speaking out and standing up for your needs would have been a difficult task that would inevitably worsen the older you got.

This was my upbringing.

Too often, I was told that I wasn’t to air our dirty laundry in public or discuss family business with strangers. I was also told to just be quiet, particularly, during those times when my parents were tired and didn’t want to be bothered.

My siblings and I did very well playing by ourselves. Most times, we chose not to play together because we were told we were being too loud.

Other childhood messages we received were messages that instilled a lot of fear in us. If we ever did something wrong or said something deemed inappropriate, we were told that “God don’t like ugly., and our punishment usually came ” ’round the mountain ” at neck-breaking speeds.

We were not raised to embrace diversity, even though, my stepfather was mixed. I had the Chinese last name, and I lived in a house where Chinese bric-a-brac was widely dispersed, but sadly, I wasn’t taught anything about my black heritage. Putting me in a dashiki during Black History Month didn’t exactly qualify as educating me of my roots. Neither did frying up some chicken served with all the fixins!

Unfortunately, that education was left in the hands of my teachers… even then, I couldn’t question. I was never permitted to ask, “why?” something was the way it was. I was never taught that hearing the sound of my own voice and speaking out was okay.

I am often asked how am I now able to be so vocal when it comes to the advocacy work that I do.

I still live with fear and doubt. Fear that my culture will look at me and say, “I can’t believe she’s sharing that with strangers!” Doubt in my own ability to truly make a difference because of the fear that is embedded so deeply in my genetic make up.

Deep down, I’m still that little girl who’s afraid to share what’s on her mind. Afraid of being ridiculed. Afraid of being ignored.

Thankfully, the big girl in me is stepping more into her own power and standing her ground!

When my stepfather wrote a letter to my (biracial) son (when he was 1 years old) telling him that he hoped I would teach him about his black heritage, I was enraged, and I spoke up! On that day, I vowed that I would no longer sit back and tolerate such bigoted thinking… especially from my family.

The journey down this road has been frothed with tension and drama. As a culture, we are taught to accept things as they are, or worst yet, ignore anything that we feel cannot be changed. We have been taught that our voices are not welcome, and have, therefore, become our own slaves.

We play the same negative messages in our minds over and over, even after we’ve heard something positive and uplifting. Fear of change and fear of acceptance have wreaked havoc over our minds. The pain of yesterday has kept us trapped within self-constructed prisons. Living for ourselves, not for our past, is a desire that has crippled us in so many ways.

How can we speak out for injustice for others when we’re still unable to speak out for ourselves?

My son is nobody’s “dirty laundry”!

How we use the teachings of others is up to us… advocacy starts at home.

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