Let’s Talk About Race

Let’s Talk About Race

I would like to begin this post with the acknowledgement that this is a very emotionally charged topic. I request that people give me grace if I misspeak and unintentionally say something that is offensive. My intent is never to divide or alienate. My mission is to remain Clearly Alive and empower others to do the same. Within this context, I humbly ask for us to enter into a discussion about race.

I am a Racial Chameleon.

People see me as whatever race they think I should be.

“What do you mean he asked you what you are?”

I chuckled as I observed the confusion on my coworker’s face.

“He wanted to know my ethnicity. What was my race?”

“What a strange question. You are obviously white.”

My coworker could not fathom that someone would point blank ask me “what” I was. I told him that I actually field that question frequently from people of a variety of backgrounds. It does not offend me, but it does highlight inherent bias.

See, I am a racial chameleon. White people assume that I am white. Non-white people know that I am not white.

You see me as whatever race you think I should be.

In reality, I am Assyrian.

My great-grandparents, with their eldest son John. My mom was named after this incredibly strong and courageous woman.

My relatives fled slaughter from a genocide largely ignored in history books. At the beginning of the Assyrian Genocide, the Armenians welcomed with open doors into their country the fleeing Assyrians. As a thank you, the Turks expanded the genocide to include the Armenians as well. The Assyrian genocide that sent my family as orphaned refugees through Ellis Island is just a small footnote in the Armenian and Greek genocides.

But even those three genocides are just small footnotes in what became known as The Great War. Humanity has only so much capacity to acknowledge atrocity at once before it becomes just too overwhelming. For example, many of us did not even learn about the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic until this year.

My family was fleeing slaughter on the tails of World War One during a global pandemic that infected one-third of the world’s population. Our story is often overlooked and ignored.

“Why do you call yourself a hostage?”

It is exhausting to constantly have your personal narrative questioned.

Discussions about race were fairly common at my previous place of employment. My coworkers came from all over the world, and we worked with many international teams. But still, this particular coworker’s response caught me off guard.

“What do you mean?” I asked him to clarify.

“You keep telling me that you are Assyrian. That means hostage in my language.”

I was stunned. I knew that the government of Iran refused to recognize Assyrians as a valid people group (thus further contributing to the narrative that we do not exist), but I did not know that the citizens were taught that “Assyrian” was a synonym for “hostage.”

I went home from work that day and cried.

Below are some typical responses that I have received over the years when I tell others that I am Assyrian:

  • Assyrians do not exist today.
  • No you are not. You are white.
  • Assyrian? What’s that? Never heard of it.

And then this one…

  • Why do you call yourself a hostage?

Can you imagine responding to someone’s statement of “I am Black” with the question “Why do you call yourself a slave?”

Let us visit gaslighting.

Be cautious of those that constantly question the validity of your experiences.

Y’all, I wish I could express how deeply my heart aches during this time. I consider myself an empath, and there is just so much justified pain in the USA right now. I feel paralyzed.

But you know what I can do? I can listen. I can validate. I can speak up and say, “You are completely justified in your anger and hurt. This is not right.”

What I refuse to do is gaslight. This spills over into more than just discussions about race. Let us take a brief moment to consider some examples of gaslighting.

With Respect to Chronic Illness

I live with an incurable disease. When I express some of my struggles, I was told, “It’s not that bad. Stop being overly dramatic.”

That is gaslighting.

That is wrong.

With Respect to Abuse

I am a survivor of domestic abuse. When I confided in a few individuals immediately after my husband’s attempt to murder me, I was told, “No. I do not think that he is capable of doing that. I know he loves you. You must be remembering things incorrectly.”

That is gaslighting.

That is wrong.

With Respect to Race

I am Assyrian. When I share my race with others, I was told, “That cannot be true. Assyrians do not exist anymore. You are white.”

That is gaslighting.

That is wrong.

With Respect to “Black Lives Matter.”

When you tell a BIPOC that “All lives matter” or “You should not be angry” you are refusing to acknowledge deep wounds that span multiple generations.

That is gaslighting.

That is wrong.

Let us create a space to listen.

Let us foster a community of healing.

When someone confides in you with a part of their journey, be it with chronic illness, abuse, or racial injustice, train yourself to pause and listen before you speak. Do not immediately spout off the first dismissive statement that pops into your head. Often, that first thought only further alienates.

Saying statements like “Well, at least its not cancer” or “All lives matter” are not helpful. And if they are your go to responses, please contribute to the betterment of the environment and do not waste oxygen.

Instead, practice saying “I am sorry you experienced that. Is there something tangible that I can do right now that can help you?”

Let us create a space to listen.

Let us foster a community of healing.

Let us breathe.

Let us remain Clearly Alive.

Amber Nicole is Clearly Alive