Revelation of the Self: Confronting the Internalized Ableism of my Identity

There are things I have learned about myself, recently. Things that have been true for a very long time, but which it took time for me to process as a part of my identity.

Why does it take so long for me to connect my reality with its implication?

Perhaps it is simply another way in which my brain gets stuck.

But I think there are two other reasons. Both are a kind of internalized prejudice.

One has to do with social norms, with stereotypes and stigmatization and fear and contempt. If these traits are part of my identity, then I am Like Them, and They Are Different and They are Bad and I am Not Like Them.

The other is an internalization of the refusal to respect marginalized people’s self-definition and self determination. If Those People cannot define themselves, and I cannot define myself, then I certainly cannot define myself as One of Them.

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Seeing My Heart on a Page: Diversity in Poetry and Rabbi Brody’s “Etz Chayim She”

This weeks post on my blog Words of Realms, ‘Seeing My Heart on a Page: Diversity in Poetry and Rabbi Brody’s “Etz Chayim She” ‘, may be of interest to some of the followers of this blog, as it contains a very personal reflection on what poetry–and one book of poetry  in particular–means to me.

I Have Always Been Afraid

It was only recently that I realized
That I’ve always been afraid,
Or anyway I can’t remember when it started,
when I first asked “why do they hate us”, “or why did we come here”, or “when will it happen again?”
And so I can only assume that I have always been afraid,
Or at least since I was old enough that fear meant more than crying out
For my mother’s breast.
I remember the first time I asked what the old Torah in glass case near the entry to the temple was, and why we didn’t take it out all the time like the others.
Why only the Rabbi carried it, ever so carefully, when he and the old woman rounded the sanctuary
Once a year.
I remember asking, and I remember my father answering
And I remember that I must have been very small, because I cannot remember how old I was.
And I remember that when he said it was from the Holocaust, I knew what he was talking about.
I remember what must have been the first time I ever sat through a lesson on the Holocaust in public school,
Fourth grade, surrounded by goyim.
I don’t remember when I learned the word goyim. If it was before then, or after.
But I remember that in that moment, in that hour, on that day,
I understood what that word meant.
I understood then better than I had before:
There were us and them,
And the them would never understand what it was like to be us,
And they didn’t care to.
That between the way that I saw the world
And the way that they did
Was an ocean of tears,
And far more than six million dead ancestors.
(I would realize later that it was more complicated
Than us and them
But all the goyim I knew then were white.)
I remember learning what happened here,
In America,
Not a decade after the Shoah was done.
I remember learning what happened before, and I remember talking
About what happened now.
I remember hearing my rabbi’s stories
Of when he was a child.
But I also remember
That I already knew.
When did I first realize why my grandmother came here?
There’s a film on our shelf that tells the story
With mice instead of people, to make for more palatable consumption.
But what was on that tape was never a lesson.
Never really history, either.
Just life.
I remember finding out what year we left,
And which part of Russia we had been in.
I remember finding out how close I came
To never
At all.
But by then I had known for all my life
Why we came here.
When did I first wonder when it would happen again?
When did I first know that I was hated?
Not the understanding
That still comes everyday in waves and stabs,
Every time that I am reminded how lucky I am
To have gotten off light.
How lucky I am
That I was never searched for horns,
Or locked in a bathroom,
That coins were never thrown at me in the hallways.
How lucky I am
That I am alive.
When did I first know that I was hated?
When did I first know
The sky was blue?
Before I had words or names for it,
When all I had was the color
And the sky.
It was only recently I realized
That I have always been afraid.
Another step in realizing that I am Other
From the people I grew up with.
And only recently I realized what that fear means to me,
And how frightened I am
Of losing it.
Sometimes the doctors give me drugs
They say that they will make me sleep
Or take my fear away
And I am afraid to take them.
If I am dead to the world on a regemine of sleeping pills
Then what will I do
If they come in the night?
And if they take my fear away
Than what will be left
To keep me safe?

A Reminder to Myself

It is Uncomfortable to say I am white passing.

To identify myself with my oppressors when already, I see them in my mirror,

(I am an olive tree painted white, and it is poison),

When to pass I have to hide from the sun,
Keep my hair straight and my smiles small,
And discard the clothes I wear that connect me with my people.

But I am white passing.

Discomfort in the mirror, in the soul, and in my family does not erase my privilege,

Or the thin layer of safety that I have
That they do not.

(How long would I last once they were taken—a day? a week? a month? How long, when I am them, before the paint was chipped
Or I found myself falling
Without their support?)

I am white passing.
It is Uncomfortable
To reiterate how much I look like someone I am not,
And redraw the lines between me
And my family.
But I am white passing,
Afforded privilege by my status.
I am trying very hard
To remember that.

People look at me and see me Differently
From my mother, my sister, my family.
I am white passing,
And I need
To remember.