Permission to Belong

A Conversation on Racial Healing and Finding Our Way Back to Love, Truth, and Authentic Connections

Today, I will be diving into a topic that I had been holding close to my heart for some time now, but has taken me a lot of courage and vulnerability to unpack the difficult emotions that came up and decide how I want to embrace the heart of the matter. The topic I want to share with you today is on belonging, specifically related to race and systemic racism. I will be sharing my own close encounters with racial trauma and how I found healing and wholeness within in order to emerge out of racial oppression and various forms of disempowerment to restore a sense of belonging within myself and the fabric of our human connections.

My intention for this conversation is to help us find our way back to Love and our shared humanity by illuminating the illusions that separated us from the Truth of who we are and why we are here. I hope to inspire and empower each and every one of YOU to make conscious and compassionate choices that dismantle white supremacy as well as our own internalized racism.

With that, I’ll begin by sharing my own story.

I immigrated to the U.S. from China when I was 11 years old. Growing up in a homogeneous community where everyone looks and even dresses like me (we had to wear uniforms in school), I was not aware of the concept of race and racism.

During the first few years after I immigrated to the U.S., I encountered a series of racial incidents, from the seemingly naive question of “where are you from” to the blatant label of being a FOB or “fresh off the boat” that made me question my sense of belonging. While at the time, I didn’t understand how race shaped my life, these early experiences challenged my self-worth and imprinted a layer of shame around my identity.

For the next decade, I felt anxious, vulnerable and expose whenever I had to present myself in front of a large group. The excruciating pain of being ostracized drove my intense need to fit in. Instead of authentically expressing myself, I felt ashamed of taking up space and defaulted to being a nice, agreeable person who avoided confrontation at all cost.

It wasn’t until 2021, when I took a 8-week social justice fellowship that I unpacked my racial experience and re-examined my own racial identity. For the first time, I came to shocking realization of my own internalized racism and my subconscious beliefs that something must be wrong with me for not feeling like I belonged and that I believed I was inferior to others who are perceived to have more privilege. I became aware of the sheer magnitude of the often invisible scaffolding of white privilege and systemic racism across the backbones of our society and communities.

It was as if a veil had lifted and I felt waves and waves of swirling emotional tornados, from anguish and shame in one moment to hopelessness and grief in another. I realized that my mental, emotional, and physical well-being had been impacted by the lack of psychological safety from the undercurrent of systemic racism that shaped my experiences at school, at work and in my personal relationships.

I learned that “Asian American” was initially coined by graduate students from UC Berkeley (Go Bears!) who formed the Asian American political alliance back in 1968 to bring together Chinese, Filipino and Japanese students to stand in solidarity. At the time, Asian American label was a political statement that shifted Asians away from the “oriental” label towards a multi-ethnic, multi-class, and multi-generational coalition of Asians. However, since then, the blanket Asian American label emerged to homogenize and erase the struggles within distinct ethnic communities.

Furthermore, the “model minority stereotype” was used to pit Asian Americans against other people of color despite the distinct experiences, history, and oppression that stemmed from white supremacy.

My awakening to my own racial history coupled by the timely current events led me to learn more about the roots of racial history in America. In my processing of staying woke, I had to reckon with my own racial beliefs.

The truth is race is a concept, an idea, and that white supremacy is simply a belief, a figment of our imagination. And ideas and beliefs can be challenged and changed. Ultimately, the enemy is not a specific group of people. The real enemy is the outdated beliefs that created divide and disempowerment.

My racial healing journey began when I decided to look within to find belonging within myself.

In Brene Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, she wrote that “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are”.

Belonging is a fundamental human need and it is hardwired into our DNA. Finding belonging starts with giving ourselves the permission to belong within ourselves.

Here, I’m going to give you my 3 steps to giving myself the permission to belong:

Return to Truth by owning your Truth through the power of awareness

Start with your own healing through the power of awareness, mindfulness, body-based practices, such as body scan and breath work help to pause in the moment to notice bodily sensations, name the emotions, and working through emotions. For difficult emotions, such as grief, shame, and anguish, it is important to work with professionals.

In order to discern our Truth, educating ourselves about the history of racism and white supremacy in the US had been an important part of my journey. I also spent time learning specifically about Asian American history that was left out of history books. Books such as Minor Feelings and The Making of Asia America gave me the historical context that validated my own experiences.

Return to Love by prioritizing self-care and cultivating self-love, self-acceptance, and self-compassion

This is what Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield call “Heartfulness”. Learning to cultivate a level of compassion and love within oneself paves the path for having compassion for others and their own suffering. I highly recommend Tara Brach’s book on Radical Compassion and Radical Acceptance. We must first learn to find wholeness within and mend the internal divide because the outer world is simply a reflection of our internal landscape.

Return to Authentic Connections through courage & vulnerability

This is the step that was the most challenging but rewarding for me on my healing journey. We are social beings wired for connection. When you know your values and own your truth, you can find communities that make you feel safe to express your truth and share your stories. A community is a group of people with common goals, values and perspectives on the world and share a sense of support and fellowship. They are people who have your back during challenging time. I found myself actively seeking communities that reflect my core values of authenticity and mindfulness. I also reconnected with my cultural roots. Those experiences allowed me to solidify my own definition of my racial identity.

Racism, whether internalized or externalized, belies our deep underlying need and desire for BELONG, to be truly seen, heard, and understood. And I fundamentally believe this is true for both the privileged and the oppressed.

When we start to peel away the layers of our own deception and embrace our true nature, we reconnect with the Truth that human beings are truly equal. When we learn to do our own healing work and unlearn the conditionings that we have inherited, we learn to love ourselves fully and love one another.

Racial healing is ultimately a spiritual revolution for our liberation. When we free ourselves from the white supremacy ideologies, we free ourselves from the beliefs that we are not good enough, that we are INFERIOR to one group and superior to another group. Instead, we step into our Truth and RECLAIM in our worth and value.

From there, we leverage the Power of Affirmations, the power of your words / language to shift your conditioned Beliefs and create a new reality that aligns with our Truth.

Finally, the path to healing and whole-hearted healing is to become WHOLE in who I am - to embrace ALL parts of my racial identity and my roots. Only from my own authenticity can I authentically connect with others, to apply empathy and deep listening skills, and ignore the judgment, my own stories, but rather, to listen with an open heart, to accept others’ reality and truth.

As we step into a new beginning, I hope we can leave behind what no longer serves our collective well-being and step into a more united world that truly embraces all our colors.

You belong to yourself

There’s a reason you are here

And you are here to shine your unique light.

Allow yourself to be seen.

Allow yourself to be heard.

Your voice matters.

Your truth is your gift.

Let us choose to become freedom fighters for each other.

Let us choose to embrace both our shadows and light.

Because together we are One.

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