Over the past several days, I have been experiencing a very turbulent series of heavily triggering emotional conflicts, which ultimately all centre around some pretty formative episodes in my life that inform my politics and direct my aim as an ally to people who are marginalized in different ways than I am. This past week in particular has been more painful than most, as the issues are hitting me in some of the darkest and most traumatic places of my life and much closer to home than many similarly stressful interactions in the past.
For instance, exactly a week ago today, heavy machinery started back up once again, breaking the surface of a nationally protected historic site without the authority to do so. Only this isn’t just any nationally protected historic site. It’s a Musqueam burial ground and former village site, where the ancestors of some of my extended family were desecrated last summer — their remains put in plastic storage containers under a tarp — initiating a 24-hour occupation of the site that lasted for over 200 days before a small private ceremony was finally held to once again restore the ancestors in a traditional burial rite to their final resting place. Though I did not hear about it immediately, when that soil was broken by heavy machinery the first time, something deep within me was moved and hasn’t been the same since (this is not necessarily a bad thing).
You see, it just so happens that this coincided very roughly with another critical event in my life: meeting, by complete chance, one of the surviving family members of one of the missing and murdered women who was stolen from Vancouver’s downtown east side, just days before a national news scandal that cut my life as I knew it up to that point into ribbons. When I met this man, and he told me who his sister was, I recognized her name and her face immediately. My face flushed and tears welled up in my eyes instantly, because I lived at one time in a homeless shelter with women who were no different from her while a serial murderer was plucking 70 of them one by one from the streets of Edmonton. I came as close as I possibly could have without actually losing my life at the hands of a serial predator, to being one of those women, and this is not even a slight exaggeration. Meeting this man in the flesh closed the gap in my mind between his sister and I that had so far been maintained by just one differential detail—my race.
So within days, when he told me to turn on the news because other surviving family members were convinced that the national news had aired stills of a Pickton self-made snuff film, and I recognized a face I knew intimately well — that of my estranged friend, RCMP officer Cpl. Brown, whose last interaction with me involved him putting his fucking hands all over my ass before I even knew he was in the room — everything in my body ran cold, and I knew I had a responsibility to write about my former relationship to that man. And once I started writing, I started to realize what a predatory, unapologetically sexist pig I had allowed into my life for years. Then I received the phone call from the second man (whose photos were fraudulently aired in the original story, wrongfully identified as being of the RCMP officer, but still not negating the bone-chilling nature of the photos themselves). This was a man who I also knew intimately well, though he too was estranged from me, and he was phoning me out of the blue demanding that I take his photos down off of my blog. My body filled with adrenaline and outrage, and I acted immediately on information about this man that I had been sitting on, waiting for 9 years to know what to do with.
In other words, the skeletons still remaining in my closet despite the massive volumes of sensitive and highly controversial insight I had already published about myself up to that point, were literally bursting out once the graves of the Musqueam ancestors were disturbed. And for the record, I don’t believe in coincidences.
In the backdrop of all of this, I lost my housing and nearly everything I owned; was repeatedly threatened with battery and assault by complete strangers; was being sexually harassed by a man who became territorial to get close to me and then became increasingly sexually fixated on me; was being smeared, libelled, hatemailed, and threatened by the RCMP officer’s peer group, which had at one time even been my own peer group for years; and was receiving private correspondence that quite seriously put the fear in me that I was at very legitimate and high risk of vanishing, care of the Hell’s Angels. Just as all of these crises finally began to fall away that Winter, a man I had only met when I moved in with him attempted to kill me. I wish I had the privilege of just making this shit up as I go, or sensationalizing and exaggerating, but this is an unfortunately accurate portrait of my life over about the course of six months total—what a person’s life looks like, sliced into ribbons.
Of course, none of this is typical for someone of my race to endure. And in fact, other white people persistently remark at how unbelievably traumatizing it is for them just to stand by and witness even a fraction of what I have had to endure alone, or with little to no support. Several asked me how it keeps happening to me, as if to suggest that there is any reason other than the fact that this is the life I inherited by virtue of birth lottery—which landed me in an extraordinarily abusive household, where I received all sorts of instruction in what horrific things I allegedly deserve and how to cope with them by running from one abusive situation to the next, just for the thrill of the honeymoon phase of the cycle of domestic violence. Knowing that these kinds of experiences, and their sheer persistence, is common among people whose family has endured genocide but continues to pass on the trauma to subsequent generations, helped me to landmark this space wherein I find myself. Learning that the term for this is “trans-generational trauma”, and learning about my own ancestry, helped me figure out why I feel like I have such a profound connection to the indigenous communities all across this land: my experience of injustice is inextricably linked to theirs.
And in fact, I’ve written about that horizontal solidarity throughout the time I’ve been publishing new entries on this blog. My most recent two articles, openly pleading with unidentified individuals that they leave the upcoming reconciliation week to take place in peace despite their grievances about some of its funding, and taking atheist role model Richard Dawkins to task for child rape apologism, both express that horizontal solidarity with indigenous peoples in overwhelming volume compared to the amount of time I spent in either piece focusing directly on how my own lived experiences intersect with these very serious issues.
Like virtually any other time I do this type of writing, I expect that I may be lashed out at—especially by people who think, while looking at the colour of my face, that race is just skin deep. I know that these are words dangling very precariously on a thin line, suspended above the entire history of colonialism. For that reason, I put a great deal of forethought and energy into every word to ensure that I am not crossing that threshold, and not committing a breach of white privilege by taking up more than my fair share of space in that subject or minimizing the subject itself. And I know that like virtually any other time I do this writing, the actual amount of time I have spent compiling my thoughts will make no difference to someone who will impulsively judge their quality solely on the basis of my ancestry. It hurts when it happens, and I normally brush it off. But when it happened this time, because both a minority of young indigenous adults and their settler allies assumed that I’m too white to be worth listening to, it was hurting me directly where I have experienced trans-generational trauma, and where my work to heal myself from that has closed gaps between myself and several residential school survivors, indigenous elders, community leaders and teachers, and prominent local indigenous activists.
This time, I was accused of doing nothing more than making a lot of white noise — i.e., White Whine, white guilt, whitesplaining, taking up “too much space”, being too white for a seat at the table with the small minority in question, being too white to have meaningful relationships with the non-white people who are most disproportionately impacted in literally every vector of the conversation, being too white to know anything of what I’m speaking, making everything “all about me”, “speaking for” indigenous people, “speaking for” indigenous elders, “speaking over” indigenous people (in a passive medium, no less, where it is functionally impossible for anyone to speak over anyone else), “trolling”, “hijacking”, acting “entitled”, and generally being too white to be worthy of being heard — and in fact, most of this came from another white person.
I’ve been watching this white person, and I’ve been noticing her conspicuous absences and her equally conspicuous public appearances. I’ve been watching her, and I’ve been taking mental notes on how high she gets from being seen doing “activist shit” in public. I’ve been watching her since shortly after, out of the ashes of Occupy Vancouver, an equally territorial and Eurocentric environmentalist movement rose, which she took great pleasure in assuming leadership of. I’ve also taken note of her very extreme attachment to the version of democracy offered by the colonial state power (e.g., antagonizing people for refusing to participate in elections), which I should think contradicts the “radical sovereignty activist” image she was conveying while antagonizing me in relation to my race this week. I’ve been slowly marking down my observations of her over time and actually haven’t felt for months now that she is a trustworthy person or is willing to do the internal work that is needed of every ally to the causes she gets All The Good Feels from being prominently involved in. And I haven’t said a word until now, because until now, she had actually just kept her head down and done the legwork as she was told, even though in between, she would be constantly posting to social media, revealing to everyone among her contacts just how incredibly fucking high on herself she gets.
Several young non-white people (most or all of whom, for all I can tell, are of indigenous heritage) also tried to use my race to dismiss, negate the content of, or silence my request — which is actually of a very narrow scope — or tried to use their own race to assert authority over me. I get this a lot no matter what I do or say, and it normally doesn’t bother me, because it doesn’t actually mean anything except that this is someone with whom I cannot build horizontal solidarity. They don’t want that from someone who looks like me, and that’s their right to determine, not mine. I’ve learned to recognize this fairly immediately and to just not engage any further, or to engage in a very limited range of specific ways, which generally lead to my withdrawing from further interaction anyway. I assumed that this is the case for a majority of those involved this time as well, but regardless, something is still lingering with me about the very prominent (but very young) indigenous person for whom that white woman felt the need to turn hostile towards me (perpetrating literally every thing she was wrongfully accusing me of doing in the process, all the while trying to ‘splain to me what my politics are about).
I may never actually figure out specifically what it is that is bothering me so much in relation to each of these two individuals, but it is my sobering experiences of marginalization and violence that frequently carries me all the way across racial lines, often as far away from other white people and their lateral aggression as I can reasonably remove myself, that I then draw upon to relate closely to racially marginalized people and their lived experiences. Perhaps one day, these two individuals and their friends and allies will finally see more than just the colour of my face. Until then, I’m sure they’ll just keep getting angry that they think I’m claiming false oppression.