A Problem with Whiteness

My brother-in-law says to me he can tell when an Italian restaurant isn’t authentic. I think to myself that he wouldn’t know authentic Italian or Italian-American cuisine if it fell from the sky and crushed him, but I humor him. How can you tell, I ask.

When they’re run by white people, he explains. 

I stop, startled into silence by this assertion, mutely gaping as my father-in-law agrees.

“So, then,” I begin slowly finding my voice, “are you saying Italians aren’t white? Are you saying I’m not white?”

I am genuinely confused and the two starkly pale men of Irish ancestry standing in my kitchen seem confused as well.

My brother-in-law stares at me as if I asked the stupidest question he’s ever heard.

“Well, umm, uhh yea…” He is struggling for words and I offer him none. I let my brother-in-law flounder under my emerald gaze, until he is saved by my husband’s sudden appearance as he seems to have a sixth sense for when his family are making asses of themselves.

Am I white?

My grandfather is full-blooded Italian. His parents immigrated from southern Italy. My name is Italian. I have my great-grandpa Vito’s nose, I have my grandfather’s eyes and his olive complexion.

I have been mistaken for many different ethnicities, I’ve had people argue with me that I couldn’t possibly be of European descent because of how I look. I suppose I’m ethnically ambiguous, though that’s rather an odd term.

But see, here is the problem with whiteness–

You are only white for as long as the dominant culture says you are white.

Whiteness is a gift bestowed upon the ruling class to those of us less fortunate.

For the time being we are white enough. Southern Europeans, Roman Catholics, we are white enough.

But not too long ago, we weren’t.

The term “guinea” refers to those of us from Southern Italy who are darker than our more Northern cousins. It is a slur. It is a slur meant to call into question our whiteness. Because not too long ago, we Italians were not white. We were guineas and dagos and wops.

Am I white?

My friend from Japan is not as dark skinned as me, my friend from Cyprus is not as dark skinned as me, my friend from Morocco is not as dark skinned as me. Shouldn’t they be white?

Am I white?

White is not the color of your skin, white is the blessing bestowed upon the less fortunate by the dominate culture until suddenly it’s not anymore.

Until suddenly we are dagos and guineas and wops again because really, that’s what we were the whole time.

Am I white?

Six Months

I am not okay.

Six months ago today by father’s heart abruptly shut down and he died in the front yard of the house I grew up in. My sister was with him. Two of my parent’s neighbors were with him. Eventually the emergency responders were with him.

He died any way.

I talk to him all the time. I tell him  I’m sorry for everything I ever did wrong or anything that may have disappointed him about me. I ask him for advice, I ask him what I should do now. I apologize every day.

I feel like the worst daughter in the world and I don’t even know why.

My father and I were always close. He was loving and caring and I was extraordinarily lucky to have him as a dad.

Some mornings I wake up crying and I don’t know why. I mean, I suppose I know why, my dad’s gone, but there was nothing to set it off. I’m just alone, crying, not wanting to wake anyone up because no one really wants to talk about this.

I get so angry at everyone around me because everyone is treating me like I’m okay. I am not okay. I don’t know how I should be behaving to make people understand. Should I be drinking more? Crying more? Should my behavior be erratic and out of the norm? Should I not be going to work and living my life?

I don’t know what to do. Every time someone says to me they’re here if I need to talk I wan’t to scream and throw something. I want to smash everything in the room until I’m surrounded by objects as broken as how I feel.

Obviously I want to talk. I brought this to you. I’m telling you I don’t feel good. Of course I want to talk. But no one wants to talk to me. I am making everyone uncomfortable.

So I sit here and I write

and I cry into my coffee

and I stare at photos of my dad

and I wonder if it’s possible to just be alone forever.

My Father

This is not a normal post for me. This post will not contain musing of witchcraft or thoughts on magic. It will contain the story of the current worst moment of my life.

Two days ago I sat on my parents couch with my brother and my sister  and listened as my father told us the results of his biopsy. Cancer.

Cancer. 

My father has cancer.

I stared numbly at his face that looks so much like mine, at his nose that I inherited and at his mouth that was spilling out words that were all at once murky and perfectly clear.

Aggressive cancer. Cancer that spreads. 

I ferociously bit the inside of my cheek, focusing on the pain of that and not the pain in my gut as he continued. I looked over at my brother who stared stony faced at the hardwood floor and my sister who was already crying. I am the oldest, I am their keeper, I cannot cry. My father is not even fifty-five. I am not even twenty-seven. How is this happening?

I tried to listen to my father, I tried to understand what the doctors had said and what tests he needed, but all I could think about were his massive forearms lifting me up onto his shoulders. I was thinking about how he’d make me lay down with him underneath his car so I could see how to change my own oil. I was thinking about holding his hand and all the times I yelled at him or rolled my eyes. I was thinking about each and every lie I had ever told him.

And quite suddenly I imagined the chair he was sitting in empty. And I imagined my parent’s house without him. And I imagined a world without him. And I imagined my life without him. And my mother’s life without him. And my brother’s life without him. And my sister’s life without him.

And then I cried. The type of crying you do when you’re a child and your whole face contorts in the ugliest way, with snot coming out of your nose. The hysterical sort of crying that hurts your mouth and your throat and you don’t know how to stop. My face twisted in agony, but inside I felt numb and as empty as this whole fucking world was going to feel without my father.

Then my father smiled at me with all the kindness that is in his giant heart because this was what he was the most worried about- telling us. He was afraid of our pain, he was worried about our suffering.

I don’t know what I’m going to do or what’s going to happen.

Of Snakes and Journeys

A year ago I began down a path through otherworlds and underworlds, where visions flowed like water from a tap. I met gods and spirits and came to know my disir, my ancestral and  family spirits, who guided my journey as a wolf, shark, and snake. It was so natural and fluid that when the tap dried, I was at a total loss. Trance states became difficult, almost impossible to enter and the visions I received were clouded by the mundane and murky. My disir reached for me but I struggled to reach back. Hecate pointed a gnarled finger and named me lazy. What could I do?

Then one of the witches in my circle, more wise in the ways of Hecate than myself, suggested I stop trying to journey, she urged me to focus on the mediation, not the vision. Bah! What is the meditation if not a means to journey? Why breathe and chant and ground and cleanse if not for visions? I was frustrated and disappointed, I thought I was simply not talented.

I let my friend’s words take root and germinate for a few days before I conceded to myself that perhaps she was correct.

So I chanted and lit my sage, cleansing and clearing my space. I grounded and centered before me, besides, me, behind me, besides me, above me, below me, within me, and around me. I went back to the basics and focused on my breathing, I focused on the rhythm of my lungs and heart and let that be my drum beat. When the room around me slipped away and Yggdrasil called, I had finally let go of my arrogance.

The great ashen tree lead me to a place of fire where a snake was waiting for me, my disir called Cilia. In my hands she poured henbane seeds, so I sung to them and they grew and flowered. I ate the flowers and through their poison I saw stars fall to earth and the cosmos stretch into infinity.

Hygeia by Gustav Klimt

Hygeia by Gustav Klimt

While I journeyed through chaotic plains, my friend and fellow witch at Crescent Over the Crossroad was also speaking to a snake. Her great python is wise and had words for all vision seekers, oracles and seers alike.

Oracle work is not a tap to turn on when you wish or to turn off when you choose.”

You cannot take small bites of the visions,
you will choke.
You must swallow them whole.”

The otherworld is not a tap we may turn on and off at our own whim. The worlds do not flow for us, but through us.