The climb

The climb
Climbing together

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

PTSD Reactivation

Kitten therapy
I feel obligated to provide an update on my President-elect Trump PTSD reactivation.

The reactivation of PTSD symptoms due to present-day stressors has previously been observed and commented upon in the psychiatric community. Trauma reactivation and treatment has been a topic under some consideration for over 25 years, though most of the research centers natural disasters and combat veterans. Other women have written articles about what this election means for a woman with PTSD, a domestic violence survivor shared how Donald Trump was triggering her PTSD. A caller on the Thom Hartmann Show described how triggered she was by the election. The Women's Radio Network also ran a piece on PTSD and the Election.

Triggered, Trump, Trauma

I've also put aside my personal reactions and tried to understand the viewpoint that rejects or reduces the use of the term "Triggered" to something akin to feeling uncomfortable or mildly offended. I've seen friends misuse the term, as well, from a place of good intentions. I've seen unfortunate articles like this that perpetuate the mislabeling and minimization of trauma reactivation - and I'm sure that this gets cited because of the misleading title. I don't agree that triggering is just as debilitating for everyone, especially when used so loosely. LOL jokes replacing "trauma" with the word "Trump." If you feel unhappy, shocked, depressed, even deeply nihilistic about the world as a reaction to the US 2016 election, it is not the same thing as living with PTSD.

The thing about language is that our use of words, in many ways, defines our experience of reality; at least, according to Linguistic Relativity, also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis or Whorfianism. The strong version of the hypothesis suggests that all human thoughts and actions are bound and defined by the restraints of language. This is generally less accepted than the less emphatic assertion that the restraints of language shape the individual and social group's experience of reality to a degree, as in the case of a spectrum, rather than the reductionist view of singular causation. I digress, as usual. Check out that link if you want to go down that rabbit hole.

When you aggregate data, you lose information in your analysis. The ability to subdivide groups within your sample in meaningful ways can be useful in predictive analysis that attempts to understand something like vulnerability to sickle cell anemia or Tay-Sachs disease. The same is true when you take a terms that is used in psychiatric diagnosis and start generalizing to the rest of the population. One could philosophically argue that we could all be diagnosed with one or more psychiatric issues. As my Dad used to pun, one might, but I'm not one. That is for another blog post. I've digressed quite enough!

Even if you don't have PTSD, your experience of anxiety, anguish, and depression is real. I recognize it. I honor it.

This is not to say that Trump-induced anxiety is not a real thing. I'm sure that it is; therapists are reporting a rise in the reports of anxiety, depression, and all the down and dirty sequelae that have been previously identified in the literature are being related to PTSD. One therapist described the flood of rape survivors among her clients calling her after the weekend of October 7, 2016, when the infamous "locker room banter" recording emerged in the media. There have been reports of a sharp uptick in online-counseling-seeking to cope with post election emotions. There was even a quora post about election-related PTSD.

I don't doubt the data. I doubt the interpretation of the data. The narrow popular understanding of trauma has been limited to victims of natural disaster and combat veterans, and this has been reinforced in entertainment and news media. I assume this has likely resulted in a whole subgroup of people living with complex PTSD being somewhat ignored in the literature, like the proverbial elephant in the room - survivors of abuse. In the LA Times, Robin Mather discussed how survivors or domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, could be triggered to the point of incapacity by the election.

To be blunt, there is an epidemic of violence in America, and we are surrounded by people who live with the consequences of trauma to varying degrees of severity.

The epidemic of violence

If there's anything this election cycle has taught me, it is that the normalization of abuse in American culture has culminated in the election of a president who encompasses, in a nutshell, all the behavior and personality traits that have been linked to abusive partners. I think it's just acceptable behavior for most of our society, except for a very insulated bubble where the normalization of the cycle of violence and the power and control dynamic has not occurred so overtly. There is an epidemic of violent behavior in the US, and the methods currently used to address crime have resulted in a nation that boasts the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. We imprison almost twice the number of people that China incarcerates, and roughly three times the number of people incarcerated in Russia. Check out this interactive tool.

Why am I talking about the number of people in prison? Because this is a reflection of the consequence that comes from addressing violence with violence. Any parent knows that yelling usually temporarily resolves a problem or usually escalates a situation. Speaking in softer tones, softening in the face of rigid and hard anger and the irrationality of temper tantrums has a way of dissolving the hard shell on the outside of an angry person, which allows the way for communication and - TA DA! - an actual resolution to the natural expression that humans have in the face of what seems like insurmountably complex problems. The Prevention Institute has proposed a community based approach to resolving violence, and I respect the effort but personally feel that the responsibility lies with each of us to address the violent tendencies within ourselves.

Back to me...(or you)

I'm doing OK. I have no energy left for outrage so most of the new seems hilariously absurd to me rather than terribly tragic. I have decades of experience, and I am re-emerging from my fog of reactive depression. Being ruthless in cutting ties and doing self care, and seeking alternative methods to address coping via acupuncture, massage, therapy, and mindfulness practice have been instrumental in finding a way through. As they say in Gestalt Therapy, "the only way out is through."

I've withdrawn from organizations and taken a hiatus from my doctoral studies. I've become somewhat ruthless in my pursuit of self-care.

There's a certain degree of personal redefinition that occurs in the praxis of recovery from trauma. Elizabeth Harris did a fascinating exploration of Violence and Disruption in Society from the perspective of the early Buddhist texts. Ideally we learn how to deal with ourselves with loving kindness and compassion, and thereby can extend this to others. This is the path I have decided to take. If it resonates, follow me.

Ain't nobody talking about pacifism up in here

Here I want to emphasize the difference between Nonviolence and Pacifism. Karma can be translated as volition: choices lead to commitments, limitations, consequences. Dependent arising/origination can be understood within a single lifetime - our collective choices, interactions and transactional relationships with each other create a complex web where the commitments, limitations, and consequences mesh with each other. The Buddha reduced the concept of dependent arising to a handful of experiences/conditions that can be generalized to increasingly complex situations. One of the categories (unsurprisingly) is ignorance, which could be quibbled with and reduced to even more categories but at some point the efforts toward being reductive can reduce the effectiveness of the model because of the sheer number of categories.

Nonviolence is the surface layer of a heart filled with love and compassion, but the passive acquiescence to and enabling of violence is not part of nonviolence. Indeed, observing the perpetuation of harm without consequences can be considered acquiescence to violence. Compassion and loving kindness should be as ruthlessly interrogated as you might examine and deconstruct any obstacles to embodying these ways of being. Idiot compassion can masquerade as compassion, to the detriment of the giver and receiver. Imposing the wrong notion of compassion, harmony, and patience only perpetuates suffering. Avoidance is cowardly.

The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Chögyam Trunpa Rinpoche described the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the wind horse very elegantly, and this is where I see the heart of nonviolence in practice "... it is the energy of basic goodness. This self-existing energy is called 'wind horse' in the Shambhala teachings. The 'wind' principle is that the energy of basic goodness is strong and exuberant and brilliant. It can actually radiate tremendous power in your life. But at the same time, basic goodness can be ridden, which is the principle of the horse. By following the disciplines of warriorship, particularly the discipline of letting go, you can harness the wind of goodness. In some sense the horse is never tamed—basic goodness never becomes your personal possession. But you can invoke and provoke the energy of basic goodness in your life..." (Trungpa, Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, pg. 84-85, Shambhala Publications).

There is a basic human wisdom accessible to anyone for the cultivating (I hesitate to use the word 'work' because that is definitely not the proper verb, and if you try for it, it won't happen...oddly enough), which Chögyam Trungpa described as the sacred path of the warrior. The sacred warrior conquers the world not through violence or aggression, but through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge. The warrior discovers the basic goodness of human life and radiates that goodness out into the world for the peace and sanity of others. Trungpa's book costs less than $1, used, and it's worth a read if you are interested in understanding this in more depth.

So that's where I'm at. You say you want a revolution? It has to start with you.

Tibetan Wind Horse depicted on a prayer flag

Friday, November 11, 2016

What exactly do you need me to do?

Yes, what I had assumed was unthinkable since this time last year has actually happened. The scenario I sincerely believed to be utterly impossible in 2015 has now come to pass. Some people are glad. I am not, so if you are yay! I am happy that you are happy, but I just need a moment. I might need several moments. I am sure that my fellow humans across the ocean in the UK are also taking moments, likely in a more understated manner than I...

I'm not with them

In a phenomenon I have observed in recent days, as much as white women hashtagged #Imwithher and wore their nasty woman t-shirts with pride, white women and wealthy white people in general were responsible for putting the current president-elect in the position that he currently enjoys. I can't even look at the first 100 days proposal, I just can't right now. I just need a moment. Self care, ya'll, self care

OK. Back. Also, some white people are vehemently distancing themselves from the demographic responsible for the current situation. Complaints include (but are not limited to):
  • I'm not with them
  • I hate the stereotyping that is going on here
  • Not all _____
  • I didn't vote for Trump but, {insert comment about how we need to be unified}
  • It's not fair to just group me with them
  • I'm not just a stereotype/statistic

People of color (POC) - and pretty much every person, loosely defined informal group, officially recognized group, community, and subculture that lack the agency, self-efficacy, or capacity to participate in their government - have been living with the consequences of being stereotypes their entire lives. Understand that the statistical formulas that define poverty are outdated and unable to measure poverty accurately, and that there are more poor people around you and among you than you are probably comfortable thinking about. I'm pleased that this experience is being shared with a group of wealthier white people. Being uncomfortable is good, experiencing the visceral and real experience of a way of life that you might intentionally distance yourself from is a good thing. This is how we build compassion.

Remember that population level statistics cannot be extrapolated to the individual because the data point of interest is the the population. Demographic groups are loosely classified together because of arbitrary points such as gender, ethnicity, race, religious beliefs, age cohort (and for the convenience of measurement and tracking, I'm sure) .

If the shoe fits, and statistically it does, then don't get defensive. Just be like, "ok cool, I know to have more conversations about smashing the patriarchy with my fellow church goers," rather than reacting and immediately trying to distance yourself a la "it's not my problem I didn't vote for him don't get that doody splash onto me".

You catch more flies with honey

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, as the saying goes. This may be more common in the American South, or maybe it's used in the rest of the US. Here's the thing about that. 

You can catch more flies with excrement and decaying flesh, too. Should we gently place the information in front of our friends and neighbors who voted for the person that they did because, whatever, they liked his economic policy, liked that he was an "outsider," or responded the the fear-based messages in addition to the endlessly nauseating media coverage that almost entirely centered the current president-elect? I don't think that works. I am generally frank and direct, I appreciate that. I admit a personal bias in the following, but this is an opinion piece.

We have been caring, and nice, and talked around issues, and dithered, for the past 40 years without making any actionable progress. Little concessions, sure, but obviously just band-aids over wounds that went uncleaned, hankering for debridement, and those wounds have festered for so many decades that the infection may be antibiotic resistant, or so deeply rooted that we may be too late. Sepsis may have set in. At the very least, anyone familiar with wound care knows that the whole mess needs to be unwrapped, the infection drained and the long-awaited debridement that will now also have to address removal of necrotic tissue must occur. And it will hurt. It will hurt an awful lot. But let us not shy away from the pain because there is work to be done. 

That sounds depressing, but just look at was has erupted with what is, in the span of American history in total, a schmear on the timeline, the briefest of sparks carried on an errant breeze from a sparkler that quickly extinguished. You can't tell me that spark didn't fall on a forest floor of kindling that was the perfect temperature, whittled to the perfect size and aching to be ignited by the tiniest whiff of a spark.


Personally, I have found that most people don't do a damn thing until they are persistently uncomfortable. So I have no problem making people uncomfortable. As the saying goes, addicts don't get clean until they hit bottom (which is a misnomer, from experience I can say there is no bottom, you can always go lower until you die, but you can go higher, too).

Many white Christians are addicted to the unexamined benefits they receive from the system that centers whiteness (not being white, but rather whiteness - the qualities that comprise which are mutable, constantly change, and are often attributed to the dominant cultural narrative but actually enter the narrative through intention on the part of those who have the largest amount of financial and social guessed it, the obscenely and inter-generationally wealthy whypeepoe). What if those benefits were gone? No one wants to come off their own stuff when it gets to the dirty dirty of being human.

Sit with the discomfort. Hold it in your hand like you would extend compassion to those who voted for Trump.
Image result for holding an uncomfortable white person

I don't think that certain folks are ignoring the protests against the president-elect because of the tone of the protesters, so much as the context. Look at how little attention has been given to the vital work of the first nations water protectors in Standing Rock, who are hunkering down for a long and bitter winter on the Plains to continue to protect the water supply not only for themselves but for all of the white communities dependent on the interconnected veins that are the lifeblood of our Mother Earth.

I think it's important to talk to other white folks, to start those conversations, because the spaces for POC are sacred.

I was at a conference whose title centered racial equity this summer; there was a breakout session for the indigenous and first nations representatives...and a small cadre of white ladies, with very positive intentions, came in there and  smiled and just totally invaded the space. These are nice white ladies that work hard in their own communities to support mothers - and they demonstrated their privilege in their unspoken assumption that that space was somehow theirs to enter as their pleased.

Many white people are now asking their friends, family members, even strangers on the internet or bloggers, who they kinda sorta know vicariously, "What can I do? I want to do something!" They are turning to POC in their family and social circles for answers, support, a way to help, what to do.

That's like asking a traumatized person that you've just pulled from danger, "OK, what do you need from me, I need you to clearly articulate and use specifics and also recommend the particular approaches that would be most effective for you.", not gonna happen. Talk amongst yourselves.

I know the whole thing about how people do not like to broach uncomfortable topics in their social circles and risk making people uncomfortable or alienating them...especially in America. That is, depending on what circles you move in; I am obviously frank and I appreciate that in my friends. Hi friends, who comprise 99% of my blog readership!

And yet that is where these conversations needs to happen: awkwardly at family reunions and PTA meetings and with your coworkers. We have to make everyone feel the discomfort, because that is how human beings work. We react to discomfort and try to alleviate it. We shift our weight when standing, unconsciously, we breathe, cough, sneeze, sigh, yawn.

The only way out is through

In Gestalt therapy there is a saying, "the only way out is through." We have to pass through a dark place of defensive anger, shame, resentment. Sometimes people get stuck along the way. You can only wait for them to find their way back to a place where they can hear you again. That's meeting people where they are at, and I think that is a way to respect that individual's ability to provide consent. If a person who has racialized beliefs, or is an outright racist, and they do not consent to being convinced of the benefit of alternative approaches, respect that. They will eventually find a way.

More than convincing, I think the process more about chipping through the fear that is at the heart of most of many Americans, and among many citizens internationally, reflected in popularly supported (but not necessarily well thought out or wise) actions to dramatically alter the political landscape of their nation. This is not simply fear of the "browning" of America (or in the UK), but also fear of the changes that the economy is going through, the people the tech boom left behind, the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, the disappearing middle class. that end, here are some resources. Read them, watch them, or not. It's up to you. I provide them for your perusal and I encourage readers to offer their own suggestions.

There is a three part documentary you can rent I think on Vimeo but probably also pirated on YouTube called "Race: The Power of an Illusion" - I would start there.

The African American Intellectual History Society curates #Lemonade: A Black Feminist Resource List, also rich with resources if you have the time and willingness to delve deeper.

A primer on the racist foundations of higher education - Craig Wilder's "Ebony and Ivy"

The MTV documentary "White People" is actually interesting to me because it shows young people who are able to be led into different ways of thinking in a very clear way (hooray for the montage), and there have been some nuanced analyses of the backlash to the documentary itself that are also valuable.

The work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law researcher who introduced the Critical Race Theory framework. Her written work in Mapping the Margins is an old school primer that serves as a foundation to understanding the disparities evident in various domains in American experience, from the civil and criminal legal spheres to health disparities and representation in governance or leadership roles in business and commerce.

I also love this exploration by The Daily Racist, "Why Poverty and Racism Affecting White People is Statistically the Best Kind" - the pics are awesome, the tone somewhat confrontational, and the piece is rich with links that can be used for further fodder if you want to delve even deeper down the rabbit hole.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Written by Cynthia L. Sears, MS, CHES, CLEC, notPhD "You can’t be lazy; You can’t afford to not be tough; You can’t afford to believe that you are not enough.”
Every time I think of my struggles I also think about my mother. Of how her past is so heavy that sometimes the burden was enough to make her drop to her knees How she would stand back up and continue, bloody but unbroken.
It makes me put my head down, Toughen up, and keep pushing. Because I carry her. I carry you. I carry me - Or maybe it’s just my personality.
Buckle down, chin up. Buckle up, chin down. Don’t stop moving, like a shark in the ocean, or any other aerobic organism, I need to breathe to live - to transfer those gases between outside and in.
Like a shark, I only breathe when I move. If I sit still too long I’ll suffocate on the weight of all the shit that I can’t just let sit.
Passed down through generations of women who were made to believe That they were not enough, through fault or circumstance But the truth is, all of that... is bull shit.
How can I carry all this? No one handed me this package. No one gave me all this. it’s just me. my perceptions.
A story I chose to write Because it’s all inside my head. And if it’s in my head, by rule of everything, it must be mine. So...
If it’s my story, I’ll own it, I will consciously write it. Now. Let me think of a story where it’s not so hard. Where the struggle gave way to experience. Just sensation. Moving through space.
Not bad, or good. No value at all, just experiences chained together, woven into complex stories, woven into each other like a skein of yarn with a center pull strand. To unravel a fabric that is tougher than leather: My Skin.
Tougher and thicker than armor, Lighter than bright, clear light. This must be new technology. Some development, an advancement. A level up? And maybe if I’ve leveled up - God, I must be in God Mode. I have all the creative power to choose whatever perception brings most growth to me.
Growing not like any tree, like just any old singular, living thing, in the image of some divine and singular being - No, all patterned the same, like shivering birches. Populus tremuloides suckers with a shared system of rhizomes to some degree, intertwined through multidimensional clustering events and points of contact that merge like the particle wave of light and move with fluid-like motion in waves and currents that can be predicted through application of fractal mathematics...
Maybe some starry-eyed graduate student will map these out: and then present at some bloated academic conference as a powerpoint presentation where they slide-read in a small conference room at some commercial conference center in some urban area where there is enough interest in having conferences to justify the construction of a behemoth of a building, used for nothing else, so big that it feels absolutely apocalyptic.
And there will be maybe 25 people in that small room and of those 25, perhaps 10 were paying attention - but, maybe one had to leave early, or three forgot to take notes, or two weren’t all that good at taking notes, and only one bothered to ever look at them again. Magically, this one might happen to be, by random or fateful chance, in a field where there is excitement about stuff like this. Not religion, metaphysics, quantum physics, string theory, Maybe social network analysis and mathematical modeling; or, Big Data with interest in corporate behavior modification applications with potential to be lucratively monetized.
And maybe they will be funded sufficiently to write a paper, that by some infinitesimally minuscule, less that .001% chance (oh, what a p-value!) gets published in a high ranking journal, with sufficient wherewithal to generate the hype to host a well-attended, live-streamed press conference that someone cares enough about to make hashtags, Twitter feeds filled with screenshots, maybe even a few memes with political statements and sophisticated pop culture references that resonate with the particular audience capable facilitating sufficient excitement and energy.
So, “many people” is actually just a small, specific silo. A professional sphere in some slice of academia that doesn’t mingle much with other slices of humanity, though we are perhaps the most diverse and bizarre species spread like a parasitic schmear across the face of the planet that sustains us.
If or when the message is finally popularized, it won’t much resemble that conference presentation author’s work - Some studious snot still toiling for wages well below the federal poverty level, waiting for the end of the hazing that lasts for half a decade or more, so that they can look back, after earning their title, and maybe remember the long-forgotten presentation when they see the popular movie, based on the book, based on the model that kind of resembles a sliver of their original hypothesis, and shrug, apathetic, “not enough to be guilty of plagiarism.”

Monday, October 31, 2016


This is hard to write. I want to talk about the term triggered (LOL jokes! haha). No, really. I'm a survivor. Being public about this to the degree that this blog allows goes against my upbringing. What about the consequences? What will people think?

I don't know what people will think. I have no control over their filters and processing and internal associations. I don't know if I care. I'm at a low point, a nadir - this is the actual dark night of the soul that I assumed I was going through months ago! I am laughing about that now because of where I am today. So much lower. This is going to sound awful - but there is no hitting bottom. There is no bottom. If you are low, you can always get lower. Luckily, you can also always move in the opposite direction, which I refuse to call "up" because I don't agree with the associations that come with the term.

Image credit:

Recently, I was almost completely incapacitated by of one of the darkest emotional places that I have been in my recent memory. I've been darker places. I didn't understand why, at first. I've gotten used to forgetting and glossing over. It's a great survival mechanism that provides a certain degree of cheerful interlude in the way that gruff, antisocial withdrawal and accompanying violent and antisocial impulses simply cannot. If you're faced with the necessity to escape, please consider cheerful nihilism! I'll write more on that if anyone expresses interest. I'm nothing if not willing to procrastinate.

The whole GOP nominee grabbing a pussy thing...this is not a political commentary. It's about trauma, I guess. Sexual trauma, and the fact that being female means you have a 1 in 4 chance of having been sexually assaulted. I think it's more 50/50, because of all the rapes and sexual assaults I survived, I reported not a single one.

I was molested when I was 5(ish? - could have been at age 4). I was sexually assaulted by a teenage boy when I was 12. I confided in a friend, who said with deadly seriousness and a grip on my arm that I will never forget, "don't tell anyone. It will just be horrible and you'll have to tell everyone and they will think you are lying and nothing will happen anyway. I promise it will be worse if you tell." Most rapes go unreported.

Most reports demonstrate this to be true. I suppose that justice is cold and blind, and these are how cases must be examined in order to provider the appropriate evidence for a decision that has a higher likelihood of approaching "the truth." I suppose that there is no room for consideration of being human, a child, vulnerable, or the idea that no sane individual would put themselves at risk for the kind of terrible scrutiny that rape victims are often subjected to.

This is actually true for any individual or group that are subjugated, muzzled, systematically oppressed, etc. You learn very early that there are parallel realities. Some people have access to stuff, others do not. Some people have power, others have a little and always want more, some have none. You can comply, really that's all you can do, but it doesn't matter because even compliance is no guarantee that your oppressor won't randomly change their mind and, through the power of cognitive dissonance, shift the target of acceptability in their own mental schema to disallow whatever that complying individual or groups' current demonstration of compliance. Gaslighting, o hai.



I'm sure this is a familiar term. In many ways, my passion for social justice and racial equity stem from my experience as being powerless. You comply, be still, do as you're told, and they will eventually leave you alone. Sometimes, though, the very compliance seems to incite an avarice. You see the eyes change, go blank and blind and they become enraged with the compliance because they don't want you to comply. This murderous rage that exists in some just wants to be fed. If you comply, the standards change. You no longer know what to comply to, every gesture you make, every effort to calm the situation down only enrages them. They even reach out and prevent your attempts to calm and soothe yourself. There is an animal inside us, all of us.

Some people have befriended their animal, and in this way the animal is tamed. But some people deny the animal, or fear it, and in this way the animal can take control in moments of weakness when resolve has been tested. When you are angry, in pain, when you lose yourself in the moment and forget everything but right now and this moment. I've seen it come over the face of more than one person, obliterating their individuality. It is the same face in every scene, regardless of the time that lapsed between, regardless of the physical body engaging in the atrocious act.

And then you are left with a choice, of course. Continue to comply, perhaps to your death, or act out in concerted defense...or an alternate choice, one that seems to have always worked for me. Dissociate. Remove yourself. Become what they want you to be for that moment, until you can carefully and quietly sneak away. Body safe. Soul and heart broken. This is survival, and perhaps part of how our species became so successful that we are actually destroying our own habitat. You just pick up and put back together and become as much as you can with what you have left. Each time, a little diminished, but ultimately successful if you live long enough to pass on your precious knowledge, through birth or transference.

It's not the end of the world to let part of yourself die. There is a lot there, believe me. That's the whole point, I think. You'd have to be bigger. Big enough but able to continue even with nearly nothing left. And it's not an instantaneous choice, either. You get a grace period, (LOL "grace" is an awkward term for the horrific post traumatic numbness that permeates everything like "the nothing" from The Neverending Story). So you have some time to be numb and consider, if you are of that constitution: do I let myself die? Or do I hold on to this pain and let a scar heal over the still-exposed thorn.

I've done both. I became a bloated, cellophane-wrapped, anesthetized sac of sadness by holding onto pain because I feared death. Not suicide, mind you. That's death, too, but honestly a bit easier than the death in little bits - at least in my personal worldview. When you decide after a time that the bloating and cellophane are cumbersome, then you can also choose again. And it hurts in an indescribable way to let part of yourself die. Sometimes you have to turn your back and walk away. Other times, you can gently hold yourself and care for yourself with love while you allow that piece of you to pass away. Sacrifices to the gods or the universe or your ancestors or nothing, the little deaths that allow you to actually go on living.

With each incident I lose more of myself. Raped again in my second semester of university; it's my fault because I was under age and he brought me to a bar where he knew the bartender and I could get beers - 2 coronas don't usually make you feel like the floor is swinging back and forth, I now realize. We'd been set up by my then-best-friend. I stumbled through my life in a haze, a permanently retracted position like a beaten dog. Always, always expecting to be hit. I suppose with each incident I became more vulnerable to the next. Compliance can lead to that, too.

Abusive relationships, home invasion, drug abuse to numb the pain, and finding myself in positions where I was freely sacrificing myself. Not for survival, not out of empathy, but out of a deeply felt sense of utter nihilism. Existence is pain, nothing means anything, embrace the Epicurean delights that are available in the hellish world we live in, consequences be damned, because this is all you get, baby. This is it. Either live like and die like you mean it or be one of those timid waifs that exists on the sidelines safely existing on scraps of mediocrity...

Mud and Lotuses

I've worked diligently for over three decades, to fight the good fight. Keep my head up. Struggled to believe in the decency and goodness of people. In the face of some really terrible situations I struggled through and composted all that shit. Medium for growth. No mud, no lotus blossom. I've got like a Martha Stewart (TM) style menagerie of lotus blossoms freaking sprouting out of my dome and slithering out of my ears and nostrils and every available orifice.

And yet. And yet. I have life, I have stress. Things are tough. I tend to withdraw socially when I am struggling most, which also means a lack of the empirically proven very helpful social networks that lessen the blows from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." I find that people are willing to help, but that nothing seems to assuage this depression that has been crawling quietly up my spine for the last 6 months. Not even hugs. I've had a series of spectacularly awful events in my professional and personal life that make me want to burst out into Santa Claus belly full of jelly style guffaws. How can it be this absurd, really? Am I just going insane?

I see these gracious gestures from friends and family's like I'm behind glass. Or under water? And their words are distorted. I can see what they are showing me but it does not compute. I can't seem to wrap my mind around anything.

I take my chinese herbs and get massages, acupuncture, I go to therapy and I take my Western prescribed medications. I lay in my bed. The tears roll down my face. I seem to have lost the ability to accept support, for reasons that are multitude. I have a deep conviction that I have to do it myself. It feels like I have the flu, like that sensation of anguish where it's like you can feel every particle in the air hitting your skin? Like you're moving through jello that was made with insufficient quantities of liquid? I'm laying in bed, I can't scroll through my phone. I can't even hold it up to crush candies or effortlessly buy things to make me feel briefly not horrible on my amazon prime app. I can't breathe. I can't speak. Everything hurts.

I find myself irrationally angry at the three friends I've managed to contact in my withered state, who are not messaging me back. Where are you. How rude. Can't you find the time? I ask for so little! Like a junkyard dog, used to living on nothing - just throw me some scraps every few weeks, I'll be your friend for life. Even if you totally kick me in the head. Because You're Worth It. Unconditional love, baby, Radical acceptance. No matter what you do to me, I am eventually going to be alright with it because I am free to do the work to make that happen.

The other Sunday: Scene
I wake up. I can't seem to stop crying. The sun is shining, the weather is sweet. Solo parenting again. The children are mouthy and stir crazy. I am defeated. In the face of a temper tantrum about not getting to eat a second ice cream sandwich, I crumple in front of them like a sad mom in an after school special. I turn and walk away, hanging my head while being harangued by the tantruming child. Nanny 911 could use this clip ad nauseum for purposes of effect. I don't bother to respond. I shut my bedroom door and collapse into tears. Why is everything so overwhelming? Why can't I function today? The mountain of laundry...the dishes....the assignments. I'm a doctoral student. I have to ask for an extension, which brings a boil of old shame to a head inside of me because academics are my haven, my safe place, I've always excelled. I am brilliant, even in my nadir of depression I can recognize that. But brilliance is not equated with emotional stability. Indeed, the opposite is true.

If you don't keep it together, they will take your children from you. I flashback to family court, the dyed- bright magenta-red, stiff curly ringlets around the skeletal, pale face with overly-severe, drawn-on eyebrows, as the female attorney peered into my eyes from across a courtroom and said that my history of PTSD and 10+ years in therapy were a liability in the eyes of the judge.

Take a time out. Take your medicine. Tranquilo. Calm your tits, bitch. Drink you tea, sniff you some lavender oil, get your massage, meditate, watch something funny, take a shower, go for a walk. If all else fails rub ice on the soles of your feet and snap rubber bands on your wrists to keep you here. Ground yourself, bring conscious awareness to the soles of your feet and your body against the furniture and the pressure of gravity weighing you down so much that you feel like your feet are made of lead. /end scene

That Black Dog


Go to therapy every week, call if you have an emergency. There's always the suicide crisis hotline. Just keep working. Keep trying. Manage the stuff as best you can, let the rest of it go.

My house is not tidy. My children watch me go back to the room to cover my face with a towel that's been wadded up and folded so that I can sob into it without being heard. Do they know? They must. Sometimes they ask me to stop crying. People want to help but mostly they just want you to stop crying.

When they come, insisting on this and that, they ask me to be specific and I simply cannot. I can't make the words. I lack the resources or capacity to even speak. I just say, nevermind, I'm fine. No worries. It's cool. Crack the kind of jokes you know will make them laugh because like all depressives, you are a commensurate comedian.

Trudge into the kitchen and respond in monotone to the cheerful questions and endless chatter. Beg them to sit in front of the TV, or talk amongst themselves, or quietly sink into the background and let the internal agony of having to perform consume you.

I have to think to walk. Right foot. Left foot. Step step step. Open the fridge. All these steps. I think them through to make sure that I don't forget. I make sure that the children have used the toilet and are set up with snacks and drinks. In the evening, I let them watch TV too much. They drag laundry baskets of clean clothes I haven't folded in front of the TV and make their own lounges using clean laundry and laundry baskets and pillows.

I lay in bed and waver between waking and sleeping, in a world where I hear my children's every move and word, monitoring like a surveillance microphone, unable to rest, unable to get up.

It's been more than a decade since I was last this incapacitated by trauma. I've built a life for myself, a semblance of one. I have children, I am (was) getting a doctorate. My fifth degree, permanent student = permanent moratorium. I had a place and people. I had the capacity and position to help others. In the last few months I've seen this all slip through my fingers.

Understand this: I do not want to be a burden on the system. I don't want to need help. I want to be a contributing member of society. I fight every day and have fought every day to do the same thing that allowed me to survive multiple rapes and sexual assaults from an early age into my 20s - I survive. It takes more to think about all that risk and keep moving than it could ever take to blindly skip into danger with the blessing of oblivious bravado.

Eventually I go outside again. Put my game face on and take my child to therapy, make appointments, keep trying. I plaster a mask of normalcy onto my face and pry the corners of my eyes and mouth in an upwards direction, while intentionally relaxing my inner eyes and eyebrows and not flaring my nostrils. This is a face I have studied in the mirror. I make it when I want people to feel pleasant around me. Sometimes I lower my lids a little more, or tilt my chin in different directions, purse my lips, nod or furrow brows. This is how you figure out how to look normal, people. You study it, practice it, and find increasingly complex situations to test it in. When you add new features. those must be tested as well.

This is my experience of living with complex PTSD and being triggered. It isn't a joke, and as a consequence this post has taken weeks to write, which is not my normal. I'm at a place where I don't really know the way forward anymore.

This is triggered. Not feeling uncomfortable, or sad, or weird, or angry. Triggered is being overtaken to the point of being frozen, and then you are alone, inside that ice, doing the hard, hard work to chip your way out again, each time.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


I did a thing. Check it out. Subscribe to the channel if you want to see more vlogs and me making weird faces while I talk.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

It's getting cold in here, so put on lots of extra layers.

This is going to be a bit different. I'm taking scads of qualitative methods courses these days, and I'm also struggling with depression, so here goes nothing. 

You are the sky. Everything else is just clouds passing.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had trouble writing recently. I’ve threatened a blog post for weeks, now. The type of aimless writing associated with responding to emails and posting on the internet isn’t what I’m talking about – the productive type of writing is what appears to be the stumbling block. In a recent bad review of my performance my mentor criticized me as being low productivity. I hear the echo of some voice that belongs to no one I know and slightly resembles a caricature of my mother’s voice (but not really her voice), shrieking, “You’re SO LAZY!”

I can intellectually tell you that I am not lazy. That I have a 3.9 GPA in my doctoral program, which they say no one cares about but I do care about it, so I mention it. I have two children, one of whom has autism. He fell asleep next to me on the couch tonight, with his feet snugged up into the crook behind my knees and his body draped over my side. I slid out from under him and picked up his 65 lbs. body that is nearly as tall as me and carried him into bed.

I have a home and a family to maintain, in addition to school and volunteering. I have been making an admittedly half-hearted effort in this regard, recently. Since the beginning of August, really. All the fight drained out of me. I nearly called it quits, my friends. I nearly threw away everything.

There had been a lot leading up to this, of course. Chronic pain and an increasing effect on my mobility and energy levels left me sluggish at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t motivated. There were no positive, supportive relationships in my immediate academic setting. I learned recently that certain political maneuverings had increase tension in the department. I felt alienated, disconnected, and alone. In a manner typical to me and my family in general, I soldiered on. I forced myself to continue. I tried to communicate the struggle to my mentor but oddly enough I just don’t think I found the right words. Or maybe I said the right ones but she didn’t hear me…something got lost in the mix.

But that’s the most recent thing. If you had a few days we could climb back into my past, rung by rung, so I could reveal all my experiences that have led me here. And the experiences of my parents. And their parents. And so on and so forth. Not naming the names, as that chapter in the Old Testament, but naming the experiences. The emotional reactions that shaped what came from experience. The true legacy, that runs deeper than name. The legacy evident in your very epigenome. As usual, I digress. Back to the present.

I was charged with attending the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s 2016 National Breastfeeding Coalitions Conference as part of my participating with my state coalition. At this point I felt myself slipping into despair. I was doing the hard work of making lifestyle changes to address some of my health concerns. I stopped eating meat and dairy, lost weight, starting at least moving more. I was able to whittle down the number of prescriptions I was taking. But lifestyle changes can require a lot of investment, including time investment. It’s not like antibiotics where you start to feel better after 48-72 hours. I was also feeling a weird disconnect. The energy that had lifted me at the Kellogg First Food Forum has evaporated. I won’t be attending next year, and I’m a little disenchanted with the pursuit of knowledge in general because my idealism is dripping off of me like makeup sliding off my face in the Florida humidity.

Away we went, up to the conference. I drove with my family most of the way, then left them behind in Virginia to visit with family friends and their young son (at least they had a good time), and rode the train into the DC with a nervous stomach. There was a dessert reception going on at the time, but I’d already missed it. I had planned on getting takeout with a great friend and spilling the proverbial “t”, but I missed that, too. The train was slow. I ended up getting to the hotel late and ordering room service. I didn’t sleep well, tossing and turning through the night and waking, or rather getting out of bed, early - before the alarm went off. I painted on layers of makeup. I tried to smile as anxiety bubbled up inside my stomach. I wanted to throw up.

The Crystal Gateway Marriott is massive. Also note that there is a Crystal City Marriott in relatively close proximity, so that makes everything fun and confusing. I trudged down labyrinthine hallways in heels, went down an elevator, walked through a busy lobby and then up a double escalator, and through globs of people that tend to come together at the beginnings of large gatherings because it somehow makes more sense than floating as isolated agents…event though we’re all just looking at our phones.

I registered and got my random bag of things that every conference gives attendees. Some are “going green” and thus, bagless. This only serves to emphasize how empty one feels paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend a conference, receiving perhaps CEUs, but not even the courtesy of a Hollywood style swag bag with some samples of things and at least one full sized product. Stress balls and gum or mints should be mandatory, especially if you have lots of coffee available (coffee breath). There were lots of papers and a BPA-free water bottle. There was the requisite sponsor bingo sheet, encouraging us to visit all the display tables and listen to the various sales pitches to assuage the visibility concerns of said sponsors. I never do the bingo sheet. I can’t go through the process of pretending that I want to hear about their booth, because if I did I would listen to them of my own volition rather than being forced to in order to be entered into a sweepstakes.

I drank coffee and listened to the opening remarks. At breastfeeding conferences, I recognize lots of people, even if I don’t know them personally, because of the internet and the now requisite social media presence that is expected of anyone who is anyone. I found a lovely woman from NYC’s Department of Health to chat with. She had a French accent, which I found pleasantly refreshing.

The conference theme centered on racial equity, diversity and inclusion. If you have read any of my previous blog entries or happen to know me personally, you will probably know that I was vocally supportive of the opening remarks of Kiran Katira. “All of us have a story that we can use for social transformation.” I clapped vigorously, my hands above my head. I agreed out loud and nodded my head in agreement with her points.

You see, up until this point I had experienced this wonderfully connected feeling that there was a rising tide (not one that lifts all ships, LOL), but a kind of blossoming of social justice and racial equity, that mirrored my own blooming fascinating - an awareness of the significance of these issues in our current sociocultural contexts. I have seen the blood of my brothers and sisters and I feel the weight. Yet I began to feel unsettled. Looking around the room, around the table. Not everyone seemed to be as excited. In fact, I saw frowns of concern, pursed lips signifying words being held back. A ripple of – discontent? Discomfort, maybe. I’m not sure why. I feel alien. My feelers are out and I’m not getting that reciprocal excitement at the prospect of learning sometimes horrible truths that I tend to feel because I was made and created and built to be a scholar.

During the first networking break I was introduced to an MD, IBCLC but our conversation quickly soured as I expressed some discomfort with the reliability of the breastfeeding duration statistics because of the recent reports from qualitative studies that some parents report exclusive breastfeeding to their healthcare provider even when they are, in reality, combo feeding. For some reason the conversation became defensive. I didn’t understand why this happened and the unsettled feeling within me began to grow. I left the interaction feeling like we didn’t talk to each other, that no information was exchanged. I also had an accompanying tightness in my chest. Something was amiss. I have spidey sense in that regard.

Something is rotten in Denmark
I ran into some of my tribe from the Center for Social Inclusion’s First Food Racial Equity Cohort. One of them asked why I had been absent the previous day from the preconference workshop. I launched into a brief vent about my oldest child’s five-hour meltdown the day we were supposed to leave. As an autism parent, I just give in to those moments. It is what it is. The world won’t stop turning if I miss that meeting or whatever. I do what I must and always show up to salvage what I can, if there is anything salvageable. She told me that I had dodged the proverbial bullet. There had been some discomfort expressed in the preconference workshops. A lot of discomfort? I don’t know. The degree to which people feel comfortable communicating openly informs the degree to which anyone ever really knows what is actually happening. I never got the entire story, just bits and pieces as I moved through the day feeling disconnected and out of place.

Another highlight of the conference, after the lovely presentation by Dr. Katira, was a talk given by the phenomenal Dr. John Wesley Days, Jr. This was the first I had heard of his work but his explanation of his journey was a lightbulb moment for me. I realized that in holding onto what I had previously believed to be the only avenue to acquiring knowledge and information was causing me suffering because I assumed it had to progress in a linear fashion. Another blog post about the results of that a-ha moment will have to be reserved for whenever the dust has settled enough to disclose all of that hot mess. Let’s just say KRS One will feature.

Things sort of became a blur after that. I found myself at odds with colleagues that I was surprised to be at odds with. I had this bizarre disconnect happen during Dr. Days talk, where I was uplifted and transfixed, and turned to share the wonder and amazement to find the woman next to me rolling her eyes, tapping her fingernails on the tablecloth and generally having the appearance of an angst-ridden teenager that wanted desperately to be somewhere else. If she had seen her own body language she might have been more aware of possibility that the resistance she felt was from something deeper than boredom. She kept shaking her head, and again I observed the absence of communication – as I glanced at her I could see that she assumed I was reacting in a way similar to herself, and when I mentioned the applicability of a concept he introduced she chuckled as if I were making a joke. It stung. How do you bring that up to colleagues? You don’t of course. Custom dictates that you swallow you feeling and paint on a smile.

I think I started to disconnect after a while. There were no safe spaces available for me to retreat to, aside from furtive conversations with equally drained members of my tribe who also had nothing left to give. I sat through a presentation that had the word “diversity” in its titled but mentioned nothing of the sort. I had enough and walked up to the microphone during the Q&A, and said something along the lines of “Is there anything the organization actively does to recruit participation from groups other than those similar to yourselves? Have you personally invited the gatekeepers or do you just have an ‘open door’ policy?”

The speaker stammered and then admitted that they had not. Another member got up in her defense and mentioned that they had “a gay person” on the coalition, which sounds tragically like “I have a black friend!”

I covered my face with my hands. As a racially mixed person, I often feel out of the loop in these tensions. I feel like there is a secret, full-blood club that I can never really be part of. All my old high school insecurities about not being accepted, you see, never really resolved.

It seems that most had missed the memo about asking people of color to talk about racism, and I was disappointed in the lack of overt ally-ship by some. There were a few rock stars I must give mad props to – Elizabeth Brooks pretty much saved my faith in humanity during my own presentation where technical difficulties sparked with existing interpersonal tension to completely undermine my ability to give a coherent presentation. I actually had to walk out of the room during the second panelist’s presentation to emotionally collect myself with the help of some beautiful souls (Andrea Serrano, Nikki Killings, Mona Liza Hamlin, the one and only Queen Kimaree Bugg and anyone else that I didn’t see or mention because I was a hot mess in the bathroom). Liz asked me to elaborate on points I had touched on and I was able to calmly and clearly present the critical race theory analysis I had traveled so far a distance, figuratively and literally, to present.

After the presentation I left and went back up to my room. I got locked out somehow and sat on the floor at the end of my hallway with tears leaking out of my face. People walked by me without a glance. The engineer who showed up was a kind woman with a Mexican accent who called me honey and told me to go ask the front desk for my voucher for a free meal. I pulled myself together and went down for a halfhearted attempt at the awards ceremony but I didn’t even know what was happening at that point and I felt almost psychedelic. I felt like I was tripping on acid…not hallucinating, because that has never happened to me on any of my forays into the world of mind expansion (which may or may not have happened during my college years, such a cliché). Just like my perception of reality was altered. People seemed foreign and alien to me. I walked rapidly up an escalator to escape the incessant chattering of two male tourists in their 20s. They were of the type that pitches their voice up slightly at the end of each statement, making everything sound like a question.

My family had arrived by then, to help me with the transfer of belongings to the second hotel in DC that I was staying at, because that is what you have to do when you attend conferences and are getting reimbursements from sponsoring organizations that have very specific requirements for participation. I was able to relax in bed in my hotel room, temporarily. I got my free meal to go and brought it up to the hotel room and split crab cakes and a green salad. Why do I never think to put corn kernels into a salad? It’s actually quite good.

That night I drank a lot of wine at dinner with my tribe. I came back to the dim hotel room where my children were already sleeping. My youngest sat up and asked for me. I fell asleep holding him in my arms, but again my sleep was restless. I was comforted by his little warm body sleeping soundly next to me. His older brother shared the other bed with his Dad. Everyone snored or breathed deeply. The sound of their sleep also comforted me.

The next day, I was to attend a training to learn about how to talk about race in organizational and institutional settings. This agenda had been abruptly cancelled and we took the day to collectively process. Initially I felt pretty good about things. This is my tribe, right? Then after I communicated a piece of my existential despair related to academia, that I had lost faith in a lot of what it meant to be a faculty member in a University. That the reality of what I saw, and what I had learned about the racist origins of our higher education system (See Wilder, Ebony andIvy) had left me in a position where I didn’t know if I wanted to or could tolerate being within that system as a professional…another participant raised her hand and asked to comment off what I had just said.

I sat and listened to her defend the university tenure track system and her belief in its value. I understand that she meant me no harm, that she was speaking her truth. But the unfortunate side effect was that I slid into a place deeper than existentialism, questioning my path and wondering if I could make meaning, and I fell into nihilism. The sincere conviction that everything is chaos, nothing matters, and there is no such thing as truth, beauty, or goodness. Just random events that have no inherent moral value.

This was right before lunch. I tried to contain myself, but found myself weeping. I skipped lunch. Tears leaked from my face. I could no longer even participate in the activities. I sat and observed and simply could not stop my tears. They welled up over and over. For six hours I sat in that conference room on the sidelines, quietly sniffling, rubbing my eyes and cheeks raw to hide the wetness of the tears that couldn’t stop.

I left without saying goodbye to most. I was walked home by a lovely woman from the Bi-national Breastfeeding Coalition on the Texas border. Her stories distracted me. I was grateful. I hugged her.

I’m still in that place, though. I’m trying to refocus on what I have to be grateful for, even though part of me thinks that it’s just random anyway. That is the end of this very odd blog post. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Fifth Race: Tolerance for ambiguity

From this link that talks about the Society for the Study of this awesome human:

La Conciencia de la mestiza (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa) struck me in a very visceral way. “In a constant state of mental nepantilism, an Aztec word meaning torn between ways, la mestiza is a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another. Being tricultural, monolingual…and in a state of perpetual transition, the mestiza faces the dilemma of the mixed breed” (p. 100). Which collectivity does the child of two cultures speak to?

My father came from the Appalachian Mountains, in a rural town that is literally clinging to the side of a mountain, surrounded then by tobacco farms and now by the desolation of deep mineral mining spotting the landscape. There is a deep-rooted culture there, born from the Scotch-Irish-Welsh immigrants that settled there after the first wave of Western expansion into the New World. The land is not welcoming enough to strangers to encourage an influx of new blood, except perhaps in the flatter, more urban areas. The music, the lilt in the voices, the food, the ritual, are soaked in every aspect of living. The breakdown of the social structure is evident in the upkeep of the homes. Those that are tidy, even in poverty, have not yet succumbed. 

My mother is from the other side of the world, was raised in a country that had known colonialism, revolt, and civil war without respite. Being the active, take-charge person that she is, my memories of childhood are saturated with her presence, and the strange knowledge that this person who was as intimately familiar to me as myself, who I had known before I had even known that I was a person, was considered foreign and alien to the cultural context that I lived in. I never hear her accent. I mean I do, but I don't. This is the first voice I heard, and knew. It can't sound accented.

A tolerance for ambiguity might be the title of my autobiography. I have a curious capacity to maintain psychological fortitude in the face of overwhelming complexity and ambiguity. I live in a world of flat gray, where black and white and moral high ground cannot exist. I can’t even have a proper argument without being consumed with shame at my temporary blindness to this reality.

The 5th Race?

Jose Vasconcelos (1882-1959) was one of the most influential Mexican intellectuals of the 20th Century. He theorized, in a manner that was quite contrary to the white supremacy of his time, that the Latin American mestizo constituted a new, "cosmic race," marrying the virtues of Indians (in the idealized manner of the "noble savage") and Europeans. Vasconcelos believed that this fifth race would be the race of the future.

Vasconcelos was, by no means, some utopian genius who was born before his time. His description of this ideal 5th race is rife with stereotypes and simplistic, two-dimensional misconceptions: "His soul resembles the old Mayan cenote [natural well] of green waters, laying deep and still, in the middle of the forest, for so many centuries since, that not even its legend remains any more. This infinite quietude is stirred with the drop put in our blood by the Black, eager for sensual joy, intoxicated with dances and unbridled lust. There also appears the Mongol, with the mystery of his slanted eyes that see everything according to a strange angle, and discover I know not what folds and newer dimensions."

However, the idea of this 5th race has gummed up the works in my thinking cap. As a person of mixed race, living in a country that is still tearing apart at the seams because of the consequences of racialized a person involved in researching and understanding health behavior...I find it curious that we continue to parse out race as we do.

The Curious Case of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

Pictured here with one of his fav skulls
Blumenbach, a German anatomist and naturalist, was the student of Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carolus Linneaus. He is responsible for creating the single most influential of all the hierarchical race classifications - and it was not only NOT based in science in any way, shape, or form, his process was riddled with errors! So, there's that whole bizarre aspect of the reality we currently exist in. He basically had a lot of skulls. Let's not really explore why or how. That's probably for another blog.

In the third edition of his seminal work On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1795), Blumenbach was the first to propose five generic and hierarchically arranged racial groups specifically named “races” based on the study of human skulls: (1) the Caucasian, Caucasoid, or “white” race (Europeans); (2) the Mongolian, Mongoloid, or “yellow” race (Asians); (3) the Malayan or “brown” race (Polynesians); (4) the Ethiopian, Negroid or “black” race (Africans); (5) the American or “red” race (Native Americans).

Ironically, Blumenbach opposed slavery and professed to believe in equality, but he chose the place the Caucasoid at the top of the hierarchy because a skull that he found in the Caucus mountains was particularly beautiful and pleasing to him.

The influence of Blumenbach's Taxonomy on the US Census is partly related to the adaptability of the taxonomy to a sociocultural contract that centers whiteness, it was also just a matter of timely coincidence.

In her book Raising Mixed Race, Sharon Chang explains this event in more detail. It's breathtaking to consider the sweeping implications of the legislative posturing that characterized congress at that time, when slavery was still a central component of the American economy and tensions were escalating between the North and South. "Right between publication of the first (1776) and third (1795) editions of Blumenbach’s On the Natural Variety of Mankind. 18 The requirement for population enumeration, based on racial categories being solidified by white scientists at the time, was aggressively pushed by southern slaveholders seeking to insure that the South’s growing white and Black populations would be carefully counted for the purpose of increased white representation. Northern delegates actually opposed the provision, but it was passed, and the federal census has become the national template for racial categorization."

The "new" mestiza consciousness 

In 1993, this was the cover of TIME Magazine. Of this oft-cited image, Chang criticizes: "I seldom see recognition of the fact that the magazine used mixed race to operate out of age-old white racial framing and push an age-old white worldview on the future. First, Time sidelined contemporary multiracials by coopting their experience with a voiceless, lifeless avatar. Then the magazine fabricated a mixed race Galatea who was really “two thirds” white when the world’s actual population majority is Asian and African."

The idea that a post-racial utopia can be founded merely on the intermingling of the races is simplistic at best. Although race mixed challenges the mutable frames of whiteness that come from the racialized society, and while in many ways racial mixing reproblematizes concepts that had been assumed to be dead, it has not at all meant the end of race. Post-raciality is colorblind idealism; relying on some future racial utopia founded merely in racial mixing and bottom-up approaches that come from the community rather than from policy and legislation is incredibly loaded, dangerously unseeing, and potentially reinforces those racialized ideologies we see to escape.

The 2014 US Census projected that non-Hispanic white people would comprise less than 50% of the population by the year 2040. It's important to remember that the white racialized ideological frames that became part of the legislative foundation of the United States did not evolve in a vacuum. Just as trade has forced globalization, so too must our contact with other cultures and ways of knowing force an evolution in the concepts that we have tried to cling to so strongly that the forces of this delusion are literally ripping the fabric of the nation apart.

In 2013 roughly 12% of new marriages in the US were between spouses who reported different races. Photographer Martin Schoeller captured the changing face of America in a photography series featured in National Geographic Magazine.


The thing about identity is that it is not solid or immutable. It changes according to context, place, time, circumstances, and your own personal growth. Dr. Nina Boyd Krebs used the term "edgewalkers" to describe those who can move between cultures and traditions with a certain degree of comfort. Krebs envisions Edgewalkers as happy ambassadors who welcome questions regardless of the intent of the questioner, and who have the capacity to respond with equanimity and calmness. They enjoy confounding people, relying on humor and patience to use racial encounters, whether positive or negative, to spark authentic dialogue about dominant historical narratives and counterstories. 

As with most things, though, the work must begin at an individual level. Anzaldúa does an excellent job of characterizing this invisible labor: “The work of mestiza consciousness is to break down the subject-object duality that keeps her a prisoner and to show in the flesh and through the images in her work how duality is transcended. The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, between males and females, lies in the healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts. A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war.” (Borderlands, Anzaldúa, p. 102)

Soy un amasamiento – I am an act of kneading, of uniting, and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings. (p.103)

She becomes a nahual, able to transform herself into a tree, a coyote, into another person. She learns to transform the small “I” into the total Self. Se hace moldeadora de su alma. Según la concepción que tiene de sí misma, así será. (p.105)