Soy Negra Latina Americana, born and raised in Los Angeles. I grew up in government housing in Pacoima, a predominately brown and black community. I learned at a very young age that being black was a problem. My twin brother and I often received direct and indirect messages on who was better looking or worthy of love based on who was lighter. My brother often got rejected because he was darker, which sent me the message that I was “safer” in my body than he was. But, nonetheless, I wasn’t; and I started hating being in my skin and wishing I could magically make my blackness go away. I avoided the sun and eating anything brown, especially wheat bread.
In our community, we were often targeted by the neighborhood kids for being black. We were rejected from play activities/gatherings, called the N word, and bullied. I remember being physically attacked on our way home from school daily. Being black became more dangerous when older kids started targeting us. At one point, a kid attempted to burn my brother. I remember feeling confused, terrified, sad, and angry. I often asked my mom why…why are people mean to us? Why did we have to be black? Why are we poor? She knew this struggle far too well as she was also a victim of violent racist acts in Guatemala.
My mom stayed close to us by volunteering at our school to protect us. But, I also protected myself and my brother by fighting back. I was quick to defend us at all cost. I was constantly in fight mode, even when I was terrified inside.
As you may have already realized, I came into this world with inter-generational trauma and was chronically exposed to adversity growing up. However, today I want to talk to you about something not everyone is awakened to – the effects of systemic oppression and racism. Whether you’re aware of this or not, systemic oppression negatively impacts how you relate to yourself and others, especially black and brown people. It impacts the way you lead, parent, teach, do business, and deal with conflict.
The systemic oppression and racism I have endured all my life has been violent and brutal, to say the least. These systems had me convinced I was inferior, incapable, and unworthy. Worst of all, these systems taught me how to oppress and dehumanize myself, and I didn’t even know it. The tools I learned in school to be successful in life were the exact same tools silently killing me. These oppressive systems literally trained me to reject every part of my being in order to “survive and belong.” I blamed myself for any of my “shortcomings” and struggle, and the truth is it wasn’t even my fault. I numbed and silenced myself to the microaggressions I experienced daily. Talking about racism and oppression was taboo before this pandemic and the brutal murder of George Floyd.
When I would call it out, I risked being accused of spreading hate, getting written up, and being identified as “the problem.” I often found myself asking: “how can I empower myself within systems designed to oppress me?” Gaining material possessions, a higher education, more money, social media views, etc. was not the answer. I struggled with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and health complications due to the aforementioned. I was desperate for an answer. I felt defeated, hopeless, exhausted, devastated, sad, and angry. I did not want to teach about confidence or empowerment until I figured this out. But, there were a lot of moments I thought I wasn’t going to make it.
I never gave up because there is more at stake here. Our black and brown people are dying. Not just at the hands of police brutality but from mental health illnesses and health complications as well. We are being disproportionately impacted by design, and it is devastating.
I finally found myself in a place of hope when I was mentored by a group of beautiful and powerful human beings doing the inner work. I was guided and called forward with love and compassion. I was held in my pain and reminded of who I am at my core and essence. I reconnected to my power, sovereignty, creativity, joy, and love.
This is my birthright and my responsibility to cultivate in my life. This is what it means to me to be truly free and liberated. This reclamation has given me the strength and courage to lead with compassion, have the brave conversations needed to dismantle and deconstruct systemic racism and oppression, and speak my truth with confidence and conviction for our people.
2020 is a year where I got to embody my power and voice for our community fully, and I am here for it. I’ve been waiting for this moment all of my life.
Michelle Morales is a Negra Latinx Americana, born and raised in Los Angeles. She has been on a mission to free and empower herself to pave the way for our Black and Brown communities. She is a dance and teaching artivist, educator, speaker, advocate, and consultant.