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Learning and Unlearning: Decolonizing my Identity

Hey y’all! Ya got Rachel here, checking in! It’s our first time meeting and since you don’t know me (yet), allow me to introduce myself. I am Rachel…

leader | soft spirit | companion | auntie! | creative | traveler | the loudest laugh in the room | twerker | plant momma | researcher | one with water | caremaker | enough

While I choose to introduce myself this way, I can also share that I am a bi-racial, adult millennial, heterosexual, cis-gender woman who was born in the Southern United States to a White mother and Black father. I present as racially ambiguous; never White passing, never Black passing.

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, an area where nearly 50 percent of the population is White and nearly 50 percent of the population is Black (this has been and continues to be true). Myself and all other People of Color made up the rest of the less than 10 percent of population demographics.

At a young age, my father and mother separated, and I was raised in an apartment with my two younger brothers by my White mother and White half-brother (who was barely an adult at the time!). As a single parent, living in poverty, my mother also relied heavily upon her community to share in raising three young children. I was, then, raised by a small army of Christian women who cared deeply for my mother and who believed that it was God’s work for them to provide for me and lead me to His eternal love and grace. And while I do have memories of certain Filipina ‘aunties’ feeding and staying with me, these were in large part White women. To say that my caretakers reflected my multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural truth would be a gross overstatement.

My early years were spent in Christian churches. The churches, and church members, were critical to my survival. This community influenced the formation of my identity, values, and relationships to self and others. At the center of my worldview was the Church–and I was revolving around it. The Church taught me values such as love, forgiveness, and humility, but I also learned right from wrong, guilt and silence. I learned that certain people (adults, leaders, preachers, evangelists, pastors, prophets) had the authority (read power) to affirm if the actions of myself and others were good or bad in God’s eyes. I learned that the confession of bad was inherently necessary to receive forgiveness and that certain people had the authority to pray and affirm that forgiveness. I saw how to perform the values I was taught (I still hold love, forgiveness and humility dearly) and learned to reenact the performance.

In a city that equally reflected the two parts of my racial identity, one might hope that one of those certain people was Black. But as is true in so many parts of our society, that just wasn’t true. So, I also learned that those in authority are (and should be) White. This idea was reinforced in my schools and home life.

Let me take a pregnant pause riiiiight here…

Some of you might be reading between the lines of what I’ve shared so far, but let me make it explicit. Yes, I was surrounded by White people who I relied on for both survival and a sense of belonging. But I was also surrounded by White culture. And if that needs further defining, this is an amazing resource for understanding what it is, how it persists and what the hell to do about it.

Rachel, who you’ve met today, did not exist during this time. Instead I was self-righteous–but simultaneously lacking in confidence. I was completely reliant upon the White male gaze and other authority figures in my life (teachers, pastors, parents, coaches) to affirm my sense of worth. I was silent when I felt uncomfortable, and I contorted myself to mimic what I perceived others liked about me. I shunned those who didn’t neatly fit into my beliefs about rightness and goodness–or worse, I desired to save those “poor souls.”

I guess all of this begs the question…what changed? Well, internalizing messages of racial inferiority takes a toll. Suppressed anger, frustration and isolation first bubbled up as depression and, later, as a full-stop 180 as I marched valiantly and ignorantly into the unknown, leaving the Church community behind. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was an act of resistance. I thrust myself out into the world and began searching for communities that would affirm my existence, my power and my identity.

I wish I could share that this journey was like walking along a sunny path, over a rolling hill and finding the pasture of abundance! But for any of you who, like me, are unlearning deep socialization in search of a more “you” version of “you,” you know it is just really not that easy. Every time my community expanded to include more diversity–gender, race, ethnicity, cultural, religious & the list goes on–I had to face all of the ugly narratives. (Sometimes those narratives prevented me from being in community.) And in so doing, I had to face the root beliefs that not only were they ‘not good enough’ but I was not good enough. In order to give and receive love from communities that looked, sounded, and felt like me; in order to build an authentic community, I had to learn and BELIEVE that I was worthy, autonomous and enough!

I would like to note that in conversations with members of my BIPOC family, I have learned that the Christian Church can also exist to affirm and build community amongst communities of color; that it has existed as a survival mechanism for the safe expression of Black joy; that either/or thinking cannot be explicitly applied to describe the experiences of People of Color within the Church. What I’ve shared is my experience, and I hope it serves to add to the complex body of knowledge about how we live and exist as People of Color.

Comment below–I'd love to keep the conversation open! What has your experience with the Church been? Where does Whiteness exist in your life? How are you unlearning our socialized ways of being and connecting to your Truth? And check back in with me next week to talk about the problem with this equation:

self-care = self-love

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Mar 24, 2023

Heyyy! I am white, and grew up in a white home, my family was never big on church it was not part of bring up. To be honest I’ve never even read the Bible. Something I did find strange is the handful of times I’ve been “dragged” to church and had it thrown on me that I NEED to go was always by elder white people close to me. It in a way turned me away from wanting to go to church!

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