The Complexion Chronicles
TaRessa Stovall @taressatalks
The Truths in Being ‘Raped into Existence’
Any level of Black or partially-Black ancestry in the Americas and the Caribbean contains the potential time bomb of heritage shaped by ancestors who were, as famed author Junot Diaz said recently, “raped into existence.”
As we Multi-racial people (and those who love and care for us) consider the many nuances and complexities of navigating identity, this particular family skeleton demands to be acknowledged in our journeys.
It’s painful. It’s ugly. It can be perplexing, frustrating and full of contradictions. But it is history, it is truth and it cannot be ignored.
In the USA, for instance, it seems that the vast majority of folks who self-identify as Black or African American with roots in this nation’s enslavement experience have some White DNA—with a good chance that at least some of it came from the normalized violence of plantation rapes.
This sometimes presents a conundrum in the public discussions about Mixed-race identity, because one cannot sidestep the question: “But aren’t all Black Americans ‘Mixed’ anyway?”
Clearly there is a difference between one’s Mixed ancestry coming through that historical trauma and being a modern-day Mixed person born of a consensual relationship between two people of different races. There is also a difference between having grown up in either enslavement, Reconstruction or Jim Crow, and coming of age with Mixed heritage today.
But we cannot sidestep, gloss over or fail to acknowledge that “raped into existence” dynamic if our Black ancestry has roots in the Diasporic world shaped by the European slave trade.
As Junot Diaz said at a Martin Luther King, Jr. event at the University of Missouri:
“I was born in the Dominican Republic,” he said. “My work, among many of the things that it wrestles with, wrestles with the kind of, the often invisible and vigorously disavowed, long shadow of enslavement. I’m very much interested in how people like me, who are part of the African Diasporic community, and how do we deal with the consequences of the fallout from the calamity that we call slavery. And most specifically, I’m kind of interested in how do bodies like mine that were raped into existence – our community doesn’t look the way it looks without systematic rape – and so how do communities like ours, with this long history of sexual violence and sexual predation, how do we as a consequence of that wrestle with the possibility of intimacy. In other words, where does love reside in bodies that spent centuries being told that they could not partake in love?” Hear the rest of his speech
This stopped me in my tracks.
“…how do we deal with the consequences of the fallout from the calamity that we call slavery … how do bodies like mine that were raped into existence …”
Because this trauma, this hideous truth, resides in most of our backstories. It’s sometimes vaguely acknowledged, but until these words from Diaz, I’ve never seen it so boldly articulated and confronted in a manner that will not allow us to look away or brush it off as so long ago that we’ve synthesized it as part of our shared history and moved on.
It’s time to stop and unpack this. To face the devastating truths and figure out how we balance acknowledging them with finding ways to feel strong and proud in our identities.
I think of this as I watch many People of Color—especially Multi-racial people—eagerly have their DNA tested to learn more about their histories, their ancestry, the stories of how they came to be.
Sometimes the answers aren’t solely in the percentages that the DNA testing companies send to offer a numerical and geographic portrait of our genetic backstory. And none of us exists outside the context of racism.
We can’t just brush off the past as irrelevant, or so long ago that it needn’t be considered. We must grapple, too, with how our family members who aren’t part of this group can find ways to acknowledge and respect this fundamental and defining difference, even as we figure out how we’ll interpret it in our complex family dynamics.
There are no easy, painless pathways or pre-existing answers. No roadmaps to follow, no arrows to point the way.
But we can look honestly at the many ways that centuries of racism inform what we see when we look in the mirror, when we gaze at each other, when we name and claim the labels that tell the world how we want to be considered.
We’ve got to employ the Ghanaian concept of Sankofa—“go back and get it”—and study and grapple with the past in order to reconcile it with our present, and better understand how to move into a Multi-colored future. We’ve got to accept the pain with the pride, the ugliness with the beauty, and the tears with the triumphs. We’ve got to acknowledge that many of us were shaped at least in part by White peoples’ hatred, dominance and the need to wipe out our Black-and-Mixed ancestors’ sense of humanity. Each piece of our puzzles reflects an essential part of who we are and what we have the potential to become.
There is no possible way to develop healthy, honest Mixed-race/Multi-racial identity that contains any trace of Diasporic Blackness, until we do this work. Until we pick the crops of this nasty legacy and determine what to do with their yield.