In 1955, my grandfather erased his name.
He went from the German-Jewish Armin Boroschek to the “American” sounding Al Blaine.
As a refugee, he was leaving behind his identity as an oppressed minority in a home country that had murdered his parents, siblings, and most of his extended family.
He was taking on the new identity of an American white man. He was gaining belonging in another system that was built on violence and oppression.
I never got to talk to him about it, but I’m sure he thought it would keep his young son, my father, safe. I’m sure he thought it would give him more opportunities in this new place.
What about in your family? Do you know where your ancestors came from?
If your story is like mine, and your ancestors became white,
do you know anything about what parts of their identity they gave up to belong?
And even as those of us who are white mourn what was lost in gaining white belonging, let’s remember that our ancestors even had this choice.
For people whose ancestors were enslaved, they were violently stripped of their identity. They didn’t have the option to gain any advantage for it, the way my ancestors did.
What does this have to do with what’s happening today?
If you care, like I do, about welcoming refugees into this country, and about dismantling white supremacy in general, get serious about tending to your belonging. Then you’re not dependent on white dominant culture to belong.
There are two paths I recommend especially for white people, and I recommend pursuing both of them:
1. Learn where your people came from. Find out as much as you can about them. Find out what they gave up to have the safety and stability for you to come into being.
2. Learn the skills to be in relationship. That’s what belonging is. We create belonging when we create relationships where we feel seen, safe, and cared about. We can create belonging for ourselves and others when we know how to do this. And once we can create our own belonging, we have so much more power to challenge the dominant (white supremacist) culture.
Looking for a first step? Join Josh Blaine, Nicole Bauman, and me for a free one hour webinar called Getting the Support You Need to Change the World. Think of one or two friends or colleagues who you’re shoulder to shoulder with, and invite them to come along, too.
Even if you can’t make it, sign up if you’re interested; we’ll make sure you get the recording.