My Mind Was Colonized, But I Gave Myself Permission To Be Free

Because the one thing I have the power to control is my mind. An essay about breaking changing my mindset about being Black.

My Mind Was Colonized, But I Gave Myself Permission To Be Free
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My mind has been colonized. It has been for a long time, but I’m working on it.

When I say my mind has been colonized, It’s been hijacked for decades by descendants of colonizers, inappropriately taken and used as a tool of White Supremacy to maintain dominance over me. I had been comparing myself to my Black neighbors and White people, strategizing how I could be better than they were because that’s the American way. I was working to figure out how I would infiltrate systems, offices, and organizations to take what was mines. Better it appeared had some pretty perks. I wanted to get some of what was out there for me and mines.

Eventually I’d learn the hard way you can’t take anything from the descendants of colonizers. They dominate everything and everyone.

My parents taught me as much as they could about White Supremacy and good old Southern Jim Crow. But they also shaped and molded my mind so I could blend in with the descendants of colonizers they told me about. My mother taught me how to code-switch in school, on the phone, and while in White spaces, and she helped me assimilate so I could survive the racial caste system I was born into. It would help make my life a little easier for a season, or so they thought.

I was born in South Carolina only 8 years after Jim Crow laws were made illegal with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some, rebelling, colonizing spirits never die. Growing up and living in South Carolina I didn’t realize how much of my existence was subjected to the undying remnants of colonization.

Having a colonized mind is like learning a new culture and speaking a second language, except you have no say in the matter.

To bring some balance to all the depressing inequality, segregation and racism I would experience and to teach me and my siblings we weren’t always captives of the descendants, victims, or helpless, submissive descendants of slaves, my parents also taught me about Black American and slave history. As I got older, I’d learn more about our struggle for freedom, equality, and basic civil rights were still tied to the descendants of colonization. Freedom and equality only lasts a generation it seems.

We are always fighting for something. It’s a fighting spirit we’re taught as children and it’s a skill we carry throughout our life.

The colonizers imposed their language and culture on us. Their language and culture was handed down to me by my parents. I was told I needed to speak our nation’s unofficial language, English, and forsake my culture’s native tongues, making the language of an African descendant of slaves secondary. I spoke “Black” at home, with family, school, and in my community, or at work with my friends, and America’s unofficial language when out in public. My racial identity has constantly changed to coincide with the various civil rights movements in addition to the complexities of my heritage. I’ve gone from being Negro, to Black, to African-American. Now I identify as a Black-American.

I grew up segregated, living in predominantly African-American/Black communities. My parents drilled into me that better was never where we were. Go to the White schools, because they are better. They have better resources and more money. Don’t live where Black people live because they are bad. Move to the White communities, because they have better amenities, the best opportunities for young families. Go work for White people because they pay better. Take classes so that you’ll be able to be around them and fit in.

I did all the cultural things that should’ve led to things being better for me and my children. I took ballet and piano. I twirled batons and entered beauty pageants to become more polished. I stayed thin; I straightened my hair with relaxers, and I dressed in a manner pleasing and nonthreatening to the descendants. I listened to pop music by White artist so that I’m able to make conversation when in White spaces; I stayed abreast of current events so not to make a fool of myself; and when I had children, I taught them all that I learned to keep them safe and colonized. I named my children’s safe European names so they wouldn’t be labeled and so they wouldn’t have their resumes tossed because of the negative stereotypes associated with ethnic names.

As I lived and learned about some inconvenient truths linked to my Black skin, I became hostile towards my voluntary (and forced) assimilation. I asked myself why must I change to comfort Whiteness to feed my family? Why does this invisible set of rules continue to exist? Why is Whiteness always centered? They shouldn’t have the privilege or power of erasing my culture, my heritage, our tongues.

So I began to rebel. I began decolonizing my mind and life. And while there are many things I have done in my life that I regret, decolonizing myself is not one of them. It’s like an awakening. It’s like going to school again. I’m unlearning all the lies and myths about Blackness spread by the descendants.

Everything I’ve learned from the descendants isn’t bad. They’ve shown me a world I might not have ever known had they had educated me under Jim Crow with their hand-me-down books, racist teachers, and tight grips on all things public education. I’ve learned how to do business beyond color lines, although I dislike the griminess, savagery and coldness that comes with doing business the way the descendants do it.

I learned how the descendants have snatched, horded, infiltrated or colonized some of the most beautiful places on earth, places that our ancestors lived for thousands of years. Just follow “them”, them being the rich and cultured descendants. They have turned some of the most beautiful places on earth into secret playgrounds for descendants to live, vacation, and enjoy. I see the fruits of their violence, I also see the trauma from their occupation. It’s indescribable. It makes me want to decolonize my mind and soul even more.

Having a colonized mind is like learning a new culture and speaking a second language, except you have no say in the matter.

We’re all doing what we have to survive the mess all of us we’re delivered into. I don’t hate the descendants. Most of them are just like me except they were born into privilege and their ancestry tied to inflicting violence upon us. What I dislike about some descendants is their inability to see us as human. They’ve chosen to walk in the footsteps of their descendants, inflicting violence and trauma upon Black and Brown people, carrying on the horrible legacy of modernized colonizing. Some will pretend we are equal, but they act in ways that maintains visible and invisible inequality.

Those descendants are reliably unreliable. There aren’t enough good descendants to counteract the bad ones, so the colonizing spirit lingers on.

I decided a few years ago to set my mind free because that’s the only place where I am truly allowed to be free.

My mind is the only place I have control. I’m unlearning a lot of the things they taught me and my parents because they were wrong. Most of what they taught us was to ensure the descendants remain the dominant group here. But I’m on a mission. I’m not only decolonizing my mind, I’m teaching others what I’m learning along the way. The singing group EnVogue had a song that said, “Free your mind, the rest will follow.” The rest means my body.

My body is slowing being liberated, and my body and actions are following suit. I’ more careful about labeling my people and my communities bad because I realize how they got that way. I no longer disregard my trauma or my connection to other Black people nationally, and I am not in such a rush to forgive White sins against Black skin these days. I go through the five-stages of grief for my trauma. America doesn’t have a timeline for repairing or atoning, and I don’t give my healing a time limit. I have a healthy respect for the African diaspora and American history these days. I’m learning I spent half my life living a lie.

I want the truth. I want to engage with people who are interested in doing the work of bringing about equality. I want to be around people who believe people should get the same, or be treated the same, or be treated as equals.

Do they believe people should be treated the same? That’s all I care about.

Most people of privilege, regardless of racial identity, don’t truly believe in us all being treated the same because it entails sacrificing, dividing, moving over, returning, replacing, atoning, apologizing, thinking of others, loving and uplifting the poor, providing opportunities, and being selfless. These people are believers in capitalism and colonialism, two violent systems with principles based on taking and enslaving.

Understanding how these systems work us to death, pays us inequitably, take from the poor to give to the rich, and makes us all slaves to something, I needed to change my mind so the rest of me can follow. It’s okay to think differently, I decided it was fine for me to reconnect with my heritage, and shamelessly embrace my culture. All of it. I know our ancestors fought hard during the civil rights movement for us to use the same bathrooms as the descendants, to eat at lunch counters next to descendants, and so that me and my children could attend the same schools with the descendants, but I often find myself wondering if it was worth it.

It seems Blacks and Native Americans have suffered the most. We’re the only ones in this nation who were displaced and forced to assimilate to the culture of the descendants. The trauma and confusion of colonial dominance has had a profound impact on both groups separately and collectively. It’s undeniable. Every time I hear some statistic comparing us to the descendants I just roll my eyes.

I’m a lady of a certain age now, and I realize my mind is a terrible thing to waste. I’m taking control of the one thing I have the power to control, and that’s my mind.

My mind was colonized, but I am giving myself the space and permission to set me free. It’s a painful, yet beautiful journey.

©2019 Marley K. All rights reserved.