#RJC23 Opening remarks from RE-Center Executive Director Natalie McCabe Zwerger

#RJC23 Opening remarks from RE-Center Executive Director Natalie McCabe Zwerger

Y’all this, like any other learning space, is meant to incite. To provoke. To ignite you. It is meant to spark. A learning space that doesn’t do those things is a missed opportunity. I want to invite you to not miss the opportunity of today.

As I enter this learning space, I am ready to absorb and leave this space different than how I entered. 

What does this mean? It means that I am committing to you all that I am receiving the learning that Dr. Simmons offered, the gems that Cornelius is about to offer, and the gold our workshops facilitators will shortly deliver as antidotes to the poison of white supremacy that runs through my veins. It runs through many of yours too, so work with me for a moment.

In their book, How we fight white supremacy, Solomon and Rankin (2019) offer this definition:

White supremacy defines our current reality. It is not merely a belief that to be white is to be better. It is a political, cultural, and economic system premised on the subjugation of people who are not white. That subjugation takes on an infinite number of forms and is enforced with varying degrees of physical violence, mental abuse and robbery. White supremacy is the voice in our collective heads that says it makes civilized that one group of people gets to annihilate, enslave, incarcerate, brainwash, torture, sterilize, breed, and terrorize other people. White supremacy establishes, upholds, and normalizes hierarchy based on the premise that the less Black you are the closer you are to God. (p. vii)

White supremacy is me. It is all of us white people. It is those of us who hold other identities but sit in white skin. My blood is that of the enslaver, the colonizer, and the colonized.

My relationship to white supremacy as a white Puerto Rican cis hetero, non-disabled, neurotypical Catholic person with significant class privilege, has roots.

From around the age my daughter is, I was already being taught by my abuela that I shouldn’t go out in the sun or I might get dark like my cousins. Conditioned already as la Blanquita in the family that my hair texture was better smoothe and not “kinky” as my family in Cabo Rojo would say. I was conditioned. This was the work of that collective voice in our heads. This was the power of it infiltrating my body.

White supremacy was the white fraternity brother who raped me in college, but it was also the advice I got from Boricua friends and trusted Latina professors who discouraged me from reporting the violence because I was too drunk, too sexy, too provocative.

White supremacy holds me to a different critique as a woman executive, as a Latina woman executive. It tells me many days I am not good enough or that the minor mistakes I make carry more weight than if I was a mediocre white male leader.

Flowing through my veins the messages are clear. They have been my whole life. They have silenced me. In turn, I have silenced others. I have harmed Black and Brown friends, colleagues, team members. I have caused hurt by replicating the same harms caused to me. You see the systems of white supremacy harm all of us and prompt us to hurt each other.

It isn’t enough as a person with white skin to know white supremacy exists, to acknowledge it, to name it. I have to counter the poison it has poured through my veins because it uses me as a catalyst to harm others. And this is why I continue to learn and absorb and receive and grow. This is why spaces like today are a gift. They are ingredients in my antidote to white supremacy and its power over and through me. These speakers- Dr. Simmons, Corn, the facilitators- they are alchemists. The back of your shirts have a quote from one of these brilliant folx, Jillian McRae, who is the educator I wanna be when I grow up. Jillian says “Once you are aware, you are responsible.” We are all aware that white supremacy harms us. We are now responsible for the antidote. Use today as your opportunity to heal and be nourished and grow so that you are no longer a viable host for the pain that you might be perpetrating knowingly and unknowingly in this world. Together we can create something different and today might just be the spark.