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Changing the Narrative

The harshest way that internalized racism confuses me is by attacking my intelligence; it causes me to struggle to trust my own mind. One of the many advantages of attending an African-heritage workshop is that, in the absence of racism, I experience two things:

• I remember that I have a good mind that can think well and has wonderful thoughts and great ideas.

• It feels natural for me to be leading.

So, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend a recent quad-Regional1 African-heritage workshop led by Fela Barclift2 in New York City, New York (USA). One of my highlights was a talk Fela gave on forgiveness. She held out that instead of passing judgment on other people of African heritage, we could decide to forgive them for doing anything they needed to do in order to survive. That concept resonated with me, and I discharged about it during the workshop.

On Sunday morning, I attended a caucus group that watched the first hour of the movie 12 Years a Slave.3 And after two days of discharge, closeness, and connections with other Co-Counselors, and wonderful talks on the ways internalized oppression plays out4 for African-heritage people, I found myself feeling angry at the Black characters in the movie. Interestingly, my anger stemmed from hearing them speaking eloquent Standard English.

It occurred to me that I had been associating great intelligence with some level of assimilation into white culture. Subsequently, I realized that I had been passing judgment on and challenging the integrity of African-heritage people who find value in things, including but not limited to the English language, historically available only to people of European heritage. I felt angry because I was restimulated by the visual of people who looked like me unapologetically thinking broadly and taking up space when I too seldom give myself permission to do the same.

Noticing all this led me to a re-evaluation: Distress recordings from internalized racism would have me believe that African-heritage folks who openly exhibit how knowledgeable and eclectic they are must not be in touch with their roots. To contradict that, I decided that I needed to change the narrative in my head about what African-heritage people are allowed to know. I can start by forgiving myself for having these struggles. And I can stop limiting my own possibilities. Then I can determine that it is good for my people to have exposure to a plethora of experiences, and reaffirm the reality that we are all entitled to have the biggest lives possible.

Nneka Inniss
New York City, New York, USA

1 A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of several Areas (local RC Communities).
2 Fela Barclift is the Area Reference Person for the Brooklyn Bedford-Stuyvesant Area in New York City, New York, USA.
3 12 Years a Slave is a 2013 historical drama film adapted from the 1853 memoir Twelve Years as a Slave, by Solomon Northup.
4 “Plays out” means manifests itself.

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00