The Mythical Norm
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Excerpt from “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” by Audre Lorde (1984) "Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows “that is not me.” In America, this norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure. It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society. Those of us who stand outside that power often identify one way in which we are different, and we assumed that to be the primary cause of all oppression, forgetting other distortions around difference, some of which we ourselves may be practicing. By and large within the women’s movement today, white women focus upon their oppression as women and ignore differences of race, sexual preference, class, and age. There is a pretense to homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist.... Refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women..."
I recently participated in a 10 week women’s healing circle facilitated by the realest, most badass lover @naomi_renee8a of @wisewomenwellness8a (go follow her right now, you can thank me later). In the last week of the circle we talked about our “sister wounds”. In my processing, I was made conscious of a wound I’ve been carrying since childhood. Growing up, I received attention for being a “light-skinned girl with long hair.” Of course, I was so much more than that, but that is what was given attention. I hated it. I remember people saying things to me like “You think you’re all that because you’re light skinned.” I remember, caregivers telling me that friends and family who I had conflict with were “just jealous.” I don’t remember having conversations about taking responsibility for my role in conflict or drawing boundaries for myself with people if they really were mistreating me out of jealousy. Without knowing it, I began thinking "it's not my fault and there's nothing I can do about it." It was almost like a mantra.
I knew I wasn’t treated equal to my darker skinned peers. I also knew that I hated it and it made me feel isolated. I wasn’t Black enough and I certainly wasn’t white enough. I’ve thought a lot about this in recent years and the different ways this phenomenon plays out. I’ve thought about how many times white women have said to me “I didn’t choose to be white” both in defense and despair. That’s the thing about a system that makes people right or wrong, more or less human, more or less valid, more or less powerful based on an arbitrary categorization of features. It doesn’t benefit anyone in the end. We all become either unconsciously fixated on maintaining the closest proximity to the “mythical norm” as possible or consciously fixated on rejecting it. My experience has been of the latter. It manifested as never wanting to be noticed, because I was never noticed for the things I was most proud of. I thought that if I was smart, resourceful, creative or talented on top of these qualities that awarded me unearned attention it would make other people like me less or not feel good around me. I wanted people to feel good around me, so I made myself small. That’s a habit that has followed me into adulthood.
My healing looks like allowing myself to be big. To be seen and powerful while also holding myself accountable. To loving, honoring and amplifying the voices and experiences of people who will not be heard in a room when I will. To never viewing myself as separate from the conditions that sometimes give me a closer proximity to a nasty kind of power and sometimes harm me. To never viewing myself as incapable of healing from those same conditions. To invest in communities and structures which exist in a paradigm that centers interdependence. I have decades of unlearning to do. Those learnings live in my body. They are the pit in my stomach I feel when I know I need to speak up for myself or someone else who isn’t being honestly or rightfully represented. They are the fatigue I feel when I have done too much for someone else’s dreams, while ignoring my own. They are headaches, sharp and stabbing, my body's alarm when I have forgotten to give it what it needs. Yoga has helped me access a greater sense of freedom by giving me the ability to notice when my body is trying to communicate. It is a holistic toolbox, that aids me in both interpreting and responding to my body’s messages. It is a philosophy that holds that difference is both a necessary and fundamental truth of the human experience. There isn't one way to be "normal." Embracing this truth is liberating.