In 2014 I married a man who would call me the n-word regularly as a ‘joke’ because according to him, words only had the meaning you gave them and I needed to be ‘de-conditioned’ to the word.
This man was white, and I am bi-racial with a black South African father and a white German mother, and at the time I let him call me the n-word because I really did see myself as an n-word, as a worthless piece of human flesh.
I had been living with the idea that my life was worth nothing for as long as I could remember, and it wasn’t until a life-altering Ayahuasca ceremony that sent me to the psych ward and initiated me into the shamanic practices of my Zulu Ancestors that I had the chance to re-evaluate the origins of this deep self-hatred (and divorce my husband).
My mother and father met in Alberta after his family had fled South Africa during the Aparteid. He was a DJ and she was a waitress. They fell in love, got pregnant and moved back to my mother’s home town of Alliston, Ontario (the Potato growing Capitol of Canada) where he was the only black man, and we the only mixed-race family. Together they had three children with myself coming last in 1990.
My father suffered from bi-polar disorder, depression and drug/alcohol and gambling addictions for most of his life which, studies have shown develop from unhealed, unprocessed trauma.
The effects of the Aparteid on my father’s spirit and psyche were very apparent; after years of being beaten, almost drowned and having cobra snakes set on him as an innocent child, he started to believe the philosophy of his oppressors- that his life didn’t matter, that he was stupid, unworthy and innately inferior.
Eight months after I was born, his depression got so bad that he left my family; taking a wad of cash savings from my mother’s sock drawer she had for Christmas along with the car her parents bought her and wasn’t heard from again for years.
He came back sober, and I was introduced to him when I was 2 or 3. We started to spend time together each month, and as I got older I became curious about my family history, but my father felt too much shame to divulge what it was actually like growing up in South Africa-and this being a time before the internet, was my only connection to understanding what it meant to be black.
As the youngest of three, I witnessed my older brother and sister be bullied at our all-white Catholic school. My brother was called ‘nigger’ all the time and got into fights regularly. During our visits with my father he sometimes talked about Malcom X and encouraged my brother to use violence to fight the violence he was experiencing at school.
As a sensitive and violence-adverse child, this scared me to death. I did not want to fight. I did not want to be bullied. I did not want to feel like I was different and therefore less-than, so I did everything I could to protect myself which manifested in me staying out of the sun so my skin would get as white as possible, and I started using skin-bleaching creams that I would steal from the local drug store to secretly apply to my face and body religiously.
At school, I knew that I was different not only because of the color of my skin but also because I had a single mom. All the kids at my school had two-parents families with stable jobs, loving homes, swimming pools and cottages. I was ashamed to be black, ashamed to be in a broken family, and ashamed to be poor.
In complete fear of being an outcast, I instead became the Queen Bee, the Regina George of my elementary school and made sure that I was so perfect that no one would ever be able to make-fun of me. I made sure I had name brand shoes, name brand clothes, perfect make-up and hair, straight A’s and became the most popular and cruel girl in the school yard.
My insecurities lead me to making clubs at school that I was in charge of and could control membership to. I used to make kids at school who admired me and wanted to be my friend, hang on the monkey bars for the entire 45 minute recess in intense heat and humity in order to gain admission to my ‘secret club’. It brought me a false sense of security to know that I was the one in charge and no one would ever be brave enough to try and take me down.
When I got to highschool I became more and more interested in drama and I started to notice that people didn’t like me, not because of my skin color but because I was mean, closed off, and inauthentic.
Being in an artistic environment where I was encouraged to let go and show the real me, I started to soften a little, until one night my older brother was at a bar in my hometown and a fight broke out and the police were called. My brother (who is approximately the same size as Cara Delavigne) had nothing to do with the brawl, but because he was the only black dude there he was jumped by five full-grown male cops and thrown into the town jail for the night.
I was outraged, as were my family, but when we tried to do something about it, the white chief of police started coming round to my mother’s restaurant to intimate her, and let her know that she was powerless and that as a cop he could do whatever the fuck he wanted.
This incident broke my heart, shattered it to pieces, and made me feel helpless once more. I had to steel myself again in order to move forward, but that pain was never explored or healed by my family.
After high school, I went on to study acting at Humber College in Toronto and was, again, the only black person there besides one black students who only stayed in the program for a couple of months.
I was living my life as if I was white, and my skin had become so white that most people didn’t even believe me that my father was black.
Entering into the film industry in Toronto, it was clear that black and mixed people didn’t have a place there, so I continued to pretend that I was white and that I was fine with living a lie. In my industry I was surrounded by white people, white crews, white producers, white actors, white casting directors and eventually when I moved to Los Angeles I met more white people and eventually married one, the one who would eventually start to call me ‘nigger’.
By this time I was completely lost. I didn’t know why my life wasn’t working and why I couldn’t function as a human being. I was depressed, listless, disempowered, small, and wanted to be invisible.
Feeling this way is what turned me to Ayahuasca, the shamanic plant medicine from the Amazon forest that was meant to cure soul sickness.
I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew that even after years of therapy, self-help books & workshops, meditation, yoga,and veganism I still didn’t feel better and I needed serious help, so when a friend in Topanga Canyon told me about the incredible healing power of Ayahuasca (saying it was ‘like ten years of therapy in one night’) I signed up immediately and four days later found myself in a ceremony.
What happened next had never happened to anyone I had ever known or heard about; after the ceremony, I was involuntarily thrust back into epic visionary states inside of the dream-realm the Ayahuasca medicine had brought me to- sort of like an acid-flashback, but one that lasted for forty days, and had me stuck inside a grand hallucination where I was initiated into the Illuminati by the ghosts of Albert Einstein and Nelson Mandela, and they sent me on an Earth Saving mission that almost killed me. (I tell this entire story in my memoir ‘The Big Dream; My Terrifyingly Beautiful Shamanic Initiation into the Arts’.)
After forty days of complete and utter madness, I ended up in the psychiatric ward of an L.A hospital, and was eventually released and sent back home to Canada where I was left to look at the leftover rubble from the destruction of my psyche, my ego and the rigid structures of fear & self-hatred that I had been living in.
The Western doctors told me that I had had a drug-induced psychotic/schizophrenic episode, but I got a second opinion from a Native American Jungian Psychologist who recognized what I went through was a classic Shamanic Initiation.
Together, this psychologist and I (who was called White Eagle) explored my ancestral history and found that in my ancestral tribe of the Zulu people this kind of Shamanic initiation is not uncommon and actually has a name- Ukutwasa. Ukutswasa is a calling, and I could feel myself being called from the inside by my African ancestors (whom I had denied my entire life) to accept myself as a black person, with a rich black history, with ancestors to call upon and a way of life connected to spirit that would eventually become the fuel & foundation for my creative life and career.
Accepting and embracing my authentic identity has taken years, and in that time I have had to sort through the contents of my soul piece by piece, putting it all back together in a new, integrated and self-loving way. Writing my memoir helped me do this. Psychotherapy helped me do this. Lexapro is helping me do this.
What I didn’t know was what that healing my insides was going to involve combing through the traumatic history of my family to recognize the wounds of my ancestors and figure out the way these wounds have festered and how they’ve show up in my soul and my body, in my family and in my society. Research shows that ancestral trauma is a real thing that is passed down in your actual DNA (its sometimes referred to as intergenerational trauma or transgernerational trauma if you’d like to do your own research on this).
I needed a way to connect with other black people for the first time in my life, so I decided to move to Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a black neighbourhood in Brooklyn where I finally felt like I fit in and was understood.
Living there I got to see the incredible strength and resilience of black people by going to black-owned businesses, restaurants and events. On the street where I lived there were many tiny black churches and I loved walking through the neighbourhood on Sundays and seeing black families getting together for worship (which I had never seen in Canda). I joined the local YMCA and would sit in the nude with old black ladies in the sauna and listen to their stories and be nurtured by their understanding and gentle ways. The way they embraced me was unlike anything I had ever experienced with the white elders in my original community who treated me like I was a bad and dirty little girl.
I loved the way that they weren’t afraid to talk about their faith, and spread their love of Jesus (I love Jesus too!) and found that the place in me that was afraid of being black was softening, and that I actually loved being black, and I felt more at home with black people than I did in the white communities I had lived in Los Angeles and Canada.
I had to leave PLG in March when the Corona virus hit, and have been in quarantine in my rural, white, and often very racist town in Northern-Ontario ever since.
When I first heard of the death of Ahmaud Arbery I cried for days. Then we were hit with the death of George Floyd, and I felt that same hopeless and helpless feeling creeping back into my being.
I reminded myself that to heal it is to feel it, so I let myself cry as I watched my friends marching in protests all over the United States on Instagram.
I have donated, I have tweeted, I have Instagrammed but it just feels like I am in an echo-chamber of people who already agree with me that Black Lives Matter and Ive wanted to find more ways to have a real impact on those who need it.
I’ve bought #BlackLivesMatter stickers for my car to show my support and am now being faced with another layer of internalized racism: I find myself terrified that if I put these stickers on my car that the windows will be smashed in. If I wear my #BlackLivesMatter t-shirt in my rural town (where it feels like no one cares and we live in some kind of white-people bubble) that I will be attacked. I feel torn between my own safety and trying to have an impact on this town that so badly needs to educated and transformed.
This is internalized racism. It is something that I am continually trying to heal and be with within myself. I am trying to find the courage in me now to not only accept who I am but stand up and be a good ancestor for the ones who will come after me. I am allowing myself to show up imperfectly while demanding that I do indeed, Show Up.
While I fight the fight within myself I decided that I could start with telling my story. I believe in the power of storytelling to change people’s minds and hearts, and I hope that reading this has given you some insight on what it’s like to live with racism, internally and externally. I hope it triggers something in you that will lead the way in the transformation of our Western world.
This is only the beginning, we have a long and arduous way ahead of us. I will continue to show up in my own way and hope that you will too so that no young person ever feels like their life is not precious or beautiful or filled with meaning.
Please take care of yourself during this time- we need you to be strong during this fight.
#BlackLivesMatter #Black Minds Matter.
Peace and Love to you all.