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  • Writer's pictureElyn Selu

Kamala Auntie and My White Privilege

How an Indian American family loved me and grew me up

September 11, 2020 · I've been feeling my way through some things around cultural appropriation. This is a long read, so thanks for moving through the process. Maybe you'll find some understanding as you move through your own exploration. I was one of those white, cis-gendred people who really prided myself on my activism and allyship with everyone in the LGBTQ community. I'd never felt so supported and nurtured as a writer than when I was among my fellow queers at LGBTQ writing conferences. When I attended writing conferences that weren't focused on queer writers, I struggled with the hyper-competitiveness at writer conferences that were mostly focused on white, cis-male writers. I also had a whole big bushel of pride for being an ally to my friends who weren't white. I've been lucky that friends were always kind and patient with my stumbles and learning curve. I've been present to some powerful and transformative healing by staying present through the growing pains of addressing my privilege. When I was an undergrad, I lived most of the time with my best friend's family. They were from India. I found myself in a family unit that was way more regulated and present than mine could manage. Kamala Auntie and Uncle, or Nan as we kids called him, took an interest in my studies. Uncle praised me for working 3 jobs while going to school full time. I felt seen and loved. Because of my time with the Manava family, I fell in love with everything Indian and Hinduism. As a formerly very naive, Christian, small town white girl, they grew me up in ways that still resonate deeply for me today. Some of my favorite memories are of Auntie wrapping me up in a sari and then sending me on my way with my too large Western stride. Before my diagnosis of MS, I worked with Cherokee Medicine Woman, Mechi Garza. I have a stepbrother and uncles who are Native American. Mechi literally changed my life and put me onto the path of a healer. She inspired my last name, "Selu," which is Tsalagi for "Corn Goddess." Recently, I've found my passion again. I feel called to work with ancestral trauma. We all carry the burdens of our ancestors in our psyches, in our bodies, and in our DNA. There is powerful, lasting healing that comes from setting those burdens down. Once we do, the gifts and love of our ancestors comes rushing through. I feel white people especially need to understand why their ancestors came to the Americas. What were they leaving behind? What sacrifices did they make? Who were the family members never to be seen again? How did they deal with that level of grief and longing for a home they would never see again? Have we dealt with the traumas from centuries of invasion, war, rape, and pillage? How can Europeans recover if we can't access our own medicine practices? I have consulted with colleagues who are BIPOC for guidance about how to move forward. Everyone is feeling so much pain and activation right now. I don't want to be another white cis woman appropriating anyone or anything. I want to hear from everyone and also stay true to what my elders and teachers have taught me. My colleagues and teachers tell me to practice and teach what is in my heart. I've been immersed in Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean medicine for much of my adult life. I've also practiced Wicca, but even the most staunch witch will tell you that we have little idea what pre-Christian healers did before the Burning Times. The teachings of Indigenous and Afro-Carribean healers remind my body and psyche that once a long, long time ago, my European ancestors had their own medicine. If I take what my mentors have taught me I honor them and also honor my ancestors who tell me that I am a Medicine Walker. So, I share this picture of me in a sari. For some it will feel like appropriation. I honor your feelings and your hurt. I can never comprehend what centuries of colonialism feel like for you. I cannot wear this beautiful fabric without also acknowledging the devastating effects of colonialism. For me, saris represent memories. This photo makes me smile for 2 reasons. Number one, I was about to perform the wedding of one of my dearest friends who was also wearing a sari and asked me to wear mine (I also wore a sari for my college friend's wedding). The second reason is because putting on a sari is a meditation. The fabric and weight are important for the kind of event you're attending, and the wrapping takes time, skill, and patience. I could never wrap as quickly and easily as Auntie or her friends! There is a decision in whether I bring the extra wrap from the back of my body and over my shoulder, or wrap the extra material over my shoulder from the front of my body as in this photo. Women wear saris differently depending on what part of India they are from. I like both styles. Every time I put on a sari, I think of Auntie, her love, our laughter and joy. However, if I want to truly honor Kamala Auntie, Mechi Garza, and all of my teachers, I must continue to stay present for the pain, trauma, and rage of those I claim to love. #whitefragility #appropriation #honoring #homage #IndianAmerican

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