dragging it into the light
My dad left us when I was 16.
It seemed almost normal, the next chapter in what was unfolding. Everything seemed ‘almost normal’, back then. How he’d transform, explode, when he got angry; how he’d put down or get violent with mom in front of us; how he’d change back and hold us, assure us he’d do anything to see our dreams through.
I could never understand his anger until I could begin to understand mine, and at the root of this anger was shame. As the months unfolded and I sat in the discomfort of facing myself I discovered I lived with a multi-faceted shame, as I’m sure he did too.
When Stories of Ours started, it was an attempt to show my mom that we could, actually, heal. Our traumas are shared. I wanted to show that her experiences as an immigrant, survivor, mother, and everything else are experiences shared by many. Increasingly, it has also been my way of struggling against the tides of hatred that seem to be a permanent part of our lives. By inviting others to share and listen to our stories, and complicating the narratives that exist around us, we move towards togetherness.
This summer, this project brought me to the University of Cambridge with 24 other people from several different countries as part of the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship - a program of intense learning, discussions, and dialogue centred around entrepreneurship, social sciences and cross-cultural leadership. We had challenging conversations about real problems that affect us daily, and how we can simultaneously follow our beliefs while respecting others’. We opened ourselves to error and, therefore, learning.
Professor Ray, of the University of Kent, visited us to speak about the relationship between shame and violence. Pointing to a paper published by Thomas Scheff and Suzanne Retzinger, we discussed at what point shame, a deep yet largely undiscussed emotion, could lead to violence and aggression. According to Scheff and Retzinger, it is when we repress shame to the point of unacknowledgement that it can spark rage and, subsequently, violence.
The defining link between the things we’re fighting - racism, sexim, ablism, classim, transphobia - is something that has always made me bristle. Perhaps based on my experiences, perhaps based on my temperament, I just loathe violence.
But it seems almost normal now, something we just accept. Everything seems ‘almost normal’, now. How we can transform, explode, when people live experiences unfamiliar from ours; how we can ignore histories of colonization, watch ourselves ignore Black and trans bodies disappear more rapidly than others, watch ourselves throw our hands up thinking we’re not part of the problem; how we can sit back in our comfort, assure each other we can do anything to see our dreams through.
Shame is not the root cause for all trife, but it should not be overlooked. It seems the only way to kill our shame is by staring it in the face and flooding it with empathy, and dragging it into the light.