Once upon a time, in a land through the trees and over the mountains, past the great ocean and beyond the three-sided place of mystery, a warrior-princess was born. She was a daughter of the sun and played happily in her homeland, where her almond-shaped eyes and spiral wavy hair set her a little apart from other sun-children. Her skin was a sapodilla brown, the colour favoured by a year-round hot, lazy, tropical sun.
Her land was not always peaceful because the people of the sun had been colonized and imported as slaves or indentured servants by ghosts who whispered their orders on sheets of dead trees, made as pale as their skin. It was during the time of the colonizers that the children of the sun learned to see the differences between them, so even though they lived in an equatorial paradise, there were constant rivalries among them.
The ghosts benefited greatly from the polarization that afflicted the children of the sun and encouraged it. It prevented a concerted overthrow of the colonizers and their cruel ways. Some even say the ghosts deliberately started the rivalries, to force the children of the sun into better workers, but I think this is giving the ghosts too much credit. In any event, the false divisions allowed them to be conquered utterly and lay the foundation for troubles to come.
In time, the ghost people exploited all they could from the land and then they departed, leaving a broken and exhausted country, bereft of accessible resources, bereft of properly functioning infrastructure, and with no practical plan for running itself. Of course, once the ghosts departed, the rivalries among the children of the sun grew and grew and the country became a dangerous place to live. In quick measure, the parents of the warrior-princess, the King and Queen, decided to move to the land of the ghosts, perhaps reasoning that if they couldn’t beat them, they would join them. The warrior-princess was just over two years old.
The little princess was baffled by her new country. Although she was very smart, teachers did not call on her and she found she had to make war to be recognized for her extraordinary work. Ghost children were recognized and accorded good grades without having to make war. The warrior-princess began to feel tired.
She could feel the suspicious eyes of the ghost people following her everywhere, waiting for her to fail so they could hold her up as an example of how bad the children of the sun were. Often, when the warrior-princess spoke, no-one answered or even recognized her. She found she only drew responses when she spoke about the ghosts. They would deign to communicate in that instance. Otherwise she was silenced.
Over the years, the warrior-princess accepted the value placed on her head by the ghost people, she began to believe that she was, in fact, nothing. Instinctively, she sought a recognized identity by throwing herself into many different groups. She volunteered. She spoke sacred words of systemic change and emerged as an activist, apparently strong and sure (at least on the outside).
The King and Queen had tremendous difficulty adjusting to the ways of the ghosts. In that time, before the national proclamation that all peoples were to be considered equal, many vile and vicious things were done to hurt the people of the sun. The little, not-so-subtle barbs of living in the ghost world told the King and Queen over and over that no matter who they were, what they did, nor who they became, they would never be accepted.
The ghosts wounded the King and Queen deeply and repeatedly, striking at the core of their persons and wearing down their souls until they were only flickering shadows of themselves. Of course, this made exploitation of them and other children of the sun, very easy indeed.
The King and Queen often felt the sting of the ghosts thinly disguised ignorance and arrogance. Their equatorial paradise was portrayed by the ghost media as a backward place, which lacked technology and a proper functioning infrastructure. It was always implied and sometimes stated outright, that obviously the country was so lacking because its people were lacking.
Never was it broadcast that the colonizers destroyed the harmony in which the King and Queen had lived. It was not told how nonsensical rules, ill-adapted for their Eden, had been imposed with nary a question being raised in the homes of the colonizers. None apparently knew or thought to question why many of the ghosts chose to retire to these backward places, nor why the ghosts sought to darken their skin to resemble the people of the sun, whom they secretly reviled.
The King and Queen were taught that the spicy foods of their land ‘were not appropriate for an office environment’. In time they became ashamed of their spice. Eventually, so great was their fear of appearing different that they only infrequently ate their spicy food and definitely not on the nights of their ballroom dancing lessons, fearing that the ghosts would smell it on them as they danced.
So great was their indoctrination into the ghost culture that they soon embraced the colourless and tasteless food of the ghosts. Despite their efforts, the King and Queen faced frequent, subtle insults and colossal unfairness. Even though the King worked in the government, which was supposed to be endorsing equality efforts, one of the King’s bosses proclaimed that he was “going to get all of the Pakis out of the government” and looked meaningfully at the King, not caring that he was not a ‘Paki’, seeing only skin kissed by the sun.
The King and Queen tried to inspire their daughter to achieve top marks in school, because if she was only equal to the ghosts and was competing with a ghost for a job, why should the ghost people hire her? This refrain was repeated so often in her childhood that the warrior-princess began to regard it as a prophesy.
The constant insignificance with which the King and Queen were viewed took its toll. The King became enchanted with and enslaved by drink and the Queen took her frustrations out on the warrior-princess. Perhaps the Queen intended to toughen our warrior-princess against the ways of the world, but she instead reinforced our heroine’s deepest insecurities with her cruelty.
Unwittingly, the warrior-princess absorbed her parents learned self-hatred at her most fundamental level and slid further into nothingness. On the outside, she was a high-functioning achiever, but her life experiences confirmed the unspoken, half-formed tendency towards destruction of herself, which would manifest later in her life.
Despite the (eventual) national proclamation that children of the sun were equal, the warrior-princess learned that she could be in line and others who came after her would get served before she did. She learned that even if she miraculously found a voice to object, she was dismissed. She learned that lines seemed to move slower once she got to the front, as if no one wanted to transact business with her.
She began to wonder if her money was the same as the money that ghosts had. It looked the same and she got it from the same place, but it always seemed to provoke expressions of disdain, accompanied by a reluctance to touch it.
She learned to accept being followed by store detectives. She learned that the colour of her skin was a crime waiting to happen. She learned that the ghost police did not serve nor protect her. They were instead suspicious of her as she discovered when she phoned them for help to stop domestic violence happening on the floor above her head. Their first task was to question her extensively, stopping the fighting only after they had evaluated her and surveilled her apartment, taking their time to decide she was trustworthy after all.
Sometime later, after her apartment was broken into, they declined to take fingerprints and she was not told anything about the leads she offered them, an abandoned sweatshirt and transit ticket. They told her blatant untruths, not realizing that she had a police friend and knew the rules of evidence. She said nothing, knowing that speaking would not force them to do their job and pay attention to her case. A few years later when her purse was stolen, she was again told nothing could be done. She knew she would have to protect herself, because she could not rely on the ghosts and their fine words and their noble oaths, none of which seemed, in reality, to include her.
She began to notice the way she was made to feel like an outsider, the special emphasis ghosts place when they talked to her, on her kind of hair and how it must be difficult to control. She could never find make up that matched her complexion. She learned that she was not beautiful through fashion magazines.
She noticed but didn’t realize until later that all the dolls of her childhood were ghost dolls, all the heroes, ghost heroes, and all the villains were people of the sun. In the movies, on the television, in the news, in magazines, and in the stories the ghost people told, it was always the same story. Despite the brave words of the politicians, she soon discovered that she was actually a fourth-class citizen in the ghost world.
This definitely vibrated in the attitude of her teachers, unspoken but effective nonetheless, that perhaps she could go to university but she could never dare to earn a high income. She found she was directed away from professions and towards more supporting roles, the undeclared message that she could never perform in a leadership capacity rang loudly from those who sought to ‘educate’ her. Those teachers whose demeanor did not contain this message did nothing t correct it.
Our warrior-princess had the gift of song. She enjoyed brief, early recognition of her talent but this was quickly rejected by her parents, who knew that for their daughter to succeed in the ghost world, she must have a solid education in a practical skill. They did not waste time on this, and insisted that she pursue a course through university. In fact, when she was six and her wish upon throwing a coin into a wishing pond was to go to university. There was no deviation from this plan.
By the time she went to university, things had changed, and the princess began to perceive that she did have some value: it was between her legs. She was judged exotic, ethnic and from the peremptory behaviour she encountered, she was apparently also available. But she soon realized that even this value was only a novelty, a passing fad. Proof fell from the lips of one of her lovers, “You’re the darkest woman I’ve ever had.”
The warrior-princess smarted with this and vowed never to be ‘ethnoticized’ again. She determined to make some changes. She became a lawyer (I told you she was smart), and aimed to influence the ghosts who had significant decision-making powers.
Too quickly, she learned that the laws were infused with ghost preconceptions and the legal community was socially even further backwards than the mainstream community (she thought about 50 years or so). The so-called agents of justice were entrenched in notions of their own superiority. In that world, it mattered that she did not own a pony as a child, or attend exclusive schools, that she put the wrong cheese on the wrong cracker. In that world, it mattered that she was a sun daughter. She was told in a variety of ways.
It was inherent in the surprise that marked the ghosts’ faces when she told them she was a lawyer and was sometimes accompanied by a double-take. It was in the way that she was mistaken for her own client who had a Spanish sounding name, by a judge that she had met several years earlier. It was in how she was forced to dissociate herself from her roots in order to be accepted as part of the profession. It was the shock that thundered behind their eyes when they saw she enjoyed a type of privilege. It was in the objections they voiced to her exercise of privilege and the reaction of the institutions in removing her privilege with facile explanations and shifty eyes.
She covered her ever-growing nothingness by throwing herself into equality and equity groups. She joined cultural/ethnic/racial organizations, knowing this perspective does not echo along the corridors of power. She was determined to effect change here. She quickly found, however, that these groups were dominated by men, that the voices of women did not carry the weight of decisions within them, not even the reasoned voices of educated, well-traveled women. She soon gave up on these groups.
She also nourished feminist groups with her sweet heart and soul, pouring her essence into this very important work. She believed in these groups and their potential for change because she believed their nicely-worded mission statements and mandates, which said they welcomed all and strove for equality both within and without their ranks. Tragically, she believed them.
After a few years, she noticed something very odd. Although she felt she was counted as family within the feminist circles in which she traveled, her voice seemed to mutate and become another voice, a ghost voice of a certain class. When she tried to draw attention to the systemic problems that daughters of the sun faced, even and especially within feminist groups themselves, she found her voice was ignored, not heard, disbelieved. Her words served only to inform the wind.
When the princess realized this, she felt the profound betrayal so deeply, it became actual pain. She began to notice their comfort with the privilege of their ghost skin and their absolute denial of such privilege. She began to notice how they continued to associate ‘black’ and ‘dark’ with negatives and would not stand to have the violence inherent in their language pointed out to them, despite their frequent and oft-stated objections to the violence against women inherent in everyday speech.
She could not believe that after all she had given to this community, that they could silence her voice as they had been silenced, that they could treat her as if she did not exist as they had been relegated to non-existence, that they could marginalize her as they had been marginalized. Her pain bloated, inflamed, engorged and became unbearable.
The deafening silence from the feminist ghosts almost succeeded in extinguishing the light of the warrior-princess but she was saved by another daughter of the sun. They found they experienced the same dismissal by the ghost feminists. Together they formed a new group of women lawyers who were also children of the sun. Together these extraordinary women enjoyed many raucous dinners and even initiated some important changes in the structure of the legal landscape. Their adventures continue to this day.
But I must return to the tale of the warrior-princess. It was only upon moving far away from the life that she had fabricated that she began to realize the disconnection between her outer and inner self. She was forced into painful introspection.
She realized that although she believed she was an activist and working for change, what she was also doing was attaching a multitude of labels to herself. Once the labels had layered themselves so closely to her that they became a second skin, she could safely ignore her own nothingness. You see, the princess had discovered that in actual fact, she had no self.
She began to realize how her activities served to both camouflage and manifest her own private void. She realized that she had covered herself in labels. She was deathly afraid that if all the labels were pulled off her, there would be nothing left. Her fear was absolute. The camouflage was effective – she lived for years like this before she realized the danger of the labels and her own burgeoning nothingness.
She realized that she had learned all the lessons she had been taught so well that she began to sabotage herself. She began to live down to the opinion of her as untrustworthy. She acted on the very deeply held and effectively hidden beliefs that the colour of her skin made her a criminal just waiting to materialize. She got what she believed she deserved. She became what she feared the most, by becoming a failure, but more importantly, failing by her own hand. All of this without being aware of her own machinations.
She missed the comfortable illusion that her life was one long, adventurous road-trip. Although she was clever enough to continue to sell this picture to the world, she knew in her heart that she was still running from a part of her past she could not remember. She knew deeply and truly that her journey had always been from and not to.
She rejected the very idea that she was in denial. ‘Preposterous’ she thought, a little too firmly. ‘Just what am I supposed to be in denial about?’ But no one crossed into that cordoned-off area in her soul, the silent place where no light shines, where no one goes and (more importantly) from where no one ever returns.
The warrior princess found the gaps in her memory were titanic. The princess found she was not a warrior when it came to recalling memories and reclaiming the pain of her past. You see, the warrior-princess found it easy to self-destruct, but difficult to face the cause of that destruction.
Although the warrior-princess had sought out various forms of therapy, she found it almost completely useless. Although the therapists meant well, they were human and therefore products of their own prejudices. Although she understood this, she found they didn’t help her and one many have hurt her with his disbelief and quiet skepticism. After moving to a different part of the ghost land where more children of the sun had gathered, the warrior-princess discovered the joy and therapy of writing. Through her writing, she is slowly amassing the courage to examine the bogeymen of her past.
The princess has recovered a little of her warrior spirit. The warrior-princess realized that she must overcome the negative voices that she must still be hearing because she is still acting on them. The important difference is that now she realizes she is acting on these messages. She now knows she does not have to have all the answers but she does have to continue to unravel the origin of her own, private, destruction and to change the message.
She has begun to forgive herself for her mistakes and to learn from them. More importantly, she accepted that she has made mistakes and will continue to make them. She has learned that she does not have to pick up what others throw at her, knowing that they always throw that of which they are most afraid to find in themselves. She has discovered a personal strength she did not even know she had.
The warrior-princess has also begun to learn the power the power of her personal truth. She is learning to be who she was, not who she (or anyone else) thinks she should be. She is learning to pursue happiness with everything she had, knowing that she is worth it, knowing that she deserves it and knowing also, that it was within reach. Strangely, a very hard lesson for her and one she continues to learn. Oh well, la luta continua.
I could tell you that the warrior-princess lived happily ever after, but the story does not end here. She discovers the process of life is never-ending, that she will always need to discover who she is and who she is becoming, because she is constantly changing. She simply vows to be true to herself, no matter what may come. She also tries to help others learn from their own challenges and walk the path of contentment. She still travels among us, incognito, of course. Who knows, one day, when you least expect it, you might just run into her…