complicated ancestors

also welcome to my substack

yesterday in our me + white supremacy circle my friend Karina led a meditation about doing this work for our ancestors who were not able to. for our ancestors who were not able to see outside of the racist paradigm they lived in and for our living elders even who are not yet able to shift their views. to dedicate this work of undoing internalized white supremacy to our white ancestors who benefited from it and upheld it for generations.

i have been thinking about ancestors a lot lately due to discoveries about an ancestor that my living family didn’t know the truth about. this discovery has caused reverberations across my family, and though we’re just in the beginning stages of it, i think the awareness of what happened is creating something like healing.

this query about ancestors started by looking to my roots for clues about the land-based magical  practices that might feel especially true to me. i wanted to know where “my” people are indigenous to and i’ve been realizing it is a complicated question. it’s also rooted in trying to understand whiteness, how far back do the behaviors of white supremacy culture go? 

i believe that humans are inherently tied to land, we are shaped by our environments and our relatives across the more than human world as much as by culture, systems, and communities of humankind. i have a hope to understand the lands of my people, the stories, rituals, relationships that formed my consciousness, and bring these ways of being into a practice for healing. 

last night i went down an ancestry.com rabbit hole. i was hoping for kind of a tidy exploration, head back a few generations and find where everyone moved from when. and these would be my homelands. 

there are some clear lines that i’ve known about most of my life. my maternal grandmother’s family immigrated from poland. my maternal grandfather’s mother immigrated from ireland. even these clearer lines i know are not a straight pathway to “the land my people are from” because slavic and celtic people all moved around a lot. but i have found my reading into slavic and irish paganism to be resonant and i will write more about all that here in future entries.

i learned that there are several that go all the way back to the early colonies. i didn’t know this before. although maybe it was assumed. i felt like i wished i hadn’t looked. i wrote out one family line on a piece of paper going back to my 8th great-grandmother who immigrated from england in the 1660s. on the line i added the dates of the american revolution, the civil war, native american uprisings, and the first slave ships. i thought about these people, who are my grandparents what they lived through, what they did, the worlds they upheld. i thought of the thousands of people alive today who are also her descendants.

i can’t say i even know where to begin to understand my ancestors or heal the wounds of settler colonization and slavery. but i want to try. i want to join the lineage of people that are trying. 

i do think understanding what whiteness is and how it was made is part of anti-racism work. not all of it. there’s lots to do in the present too. but i know there are some keys in my past, our pasts that are part of undoing racism, undoing capitalism, undoing empire. remaking community and culture with our chosen embers of the past and decomposing the rest through bringing awareness to it, taking responsibility for it, making reparations. 

for this series of dispatches i hope to share my personal experiences working to undo internalized empire-culture through my forays into ancestry, folklore, plant-work, and somatics. i don’t claim to have any answers or authority on these topics, and i know there’s a lot out there  to learn from. i do have my personal experience while in this learning and unlearning which is exactly what i will share.

thank you for reading. i hope to meet folks who too are working with similar inquiries so please email me with your thoughts, resources, questions, and critique.

erica